In 1947 Tolkien wrote in a letter to his publisher and friend, Stanley Unwin, that The Hobbit is not as simple as it seems. In the spirit of this sentiment, Adam Roberts seeks to fight against the dominance of The lord of the Rings (and who knows the simple and action filled The Hobbit move adaption - should ask him one day!) and uncover the fascinating depth of The Hobbit in The Riddles of The Hobbit; the first critical engagement with tolkien's great novel to explore 'the riddle' as a key principle.
Riddles have lost none of their power over us: we are as fascinated by mysteries, from sudoko to whodunnits, from jokes to philosophical conundrums. The Hobbit is a book threaded through with riddles; most obviously in its central 'Riddles in the Dark' chapter, but everywhere else too — what does 'Good Morning' mean? What is a burrahobbit? How many versions of the Hobbit are there? Why did Tolkien find it so important to re-write the riddles in the dark scene? What is the buried secret in the nine riddles Bilbo and Gollum swap between one another? What are Ents? Dragons? Wizards? What is the magic of the magic ring?
All these questions, and more, are answered in The Riddles of the Hobbit, the first critical engagement with tolkien's great novel to take 'the riddle' seriously as a key structuring principle of the novel.
Riddles are more than a diverting pastime; they are expressive and beguiling rebuses that touch on larger mysteries, powerful questions and paradoxes also embodied in the Catholicism that informed so much of tolkien's imaginative life.
Ringing widely across tolkien's creative life, The Riddles of the Hobbit explores the importance of riddles to the Anglo Saxon and Norse cultures that inspired him, and discusses scores of riddles offering (usually) more than one answer for each. This is a critical study of the playful aspect of a great writer that takes his playfulness seriously; it explores and embodies ingenuity; and comes to some original and — on occasion — startling new conclusions.
Other ideas under investigation include: The Hobbit as a riddle containing riddles; the novel's relationship to The Lord of the Rings and the 1930s; the riddle of fantasy's commercial success; the importance of 'Alvíssmál', about a riddle contest between a god and a dwarf. It is all there... any for one thing, even the seasoned Tolkien fan can still learn new things from this excellent book.
In this enlightening exploration Roberts uncovers the nature of tolkien's handiwork and illustrates how the act of reading is in fact an act of unriddling. It was my honor to read the proof copy and now looking forward to see the book being released so I can get hold of some copies. Guess some of my friends will really enjoy the gift I have in mind!
1. The Anglo-Saxon Riddleworld
2. Cynewulf and the Exeter Book
3. Riddles in the Dark
4. The Riddles of the All-Wise
5. The Puzzle of the two Hobbits
6. The Riddle of Bilbo's Pocket
7. The Riddle of the Ring
8. The Lord of the Rings and the Riddle of Writing
9. The Volsung Riddle: Character in Tolkien
10. The Enigma of Genre Fantasy
11. ...And Back Again.
Adam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. He is also the author of more than a dozen science fiction novels: his most recent, Jack Glass (2012) won the BSFA and Campbell awards for the year's best science fiction novel. He has published a number of critical and academic works on science fiction, 19th-century and other topics and we also know him from the Tolkien parodies The Soddit and The Sellamillion.
Spread the news about this J.R.R. Tolkien article: