5 Literary Cookbooks to Make You Feel Like You’re in Your Favorite Book!

5 Literary Cookbooks

Many readers dream of being able to travel into their favorite book–or at least dream of being able to try the food! Below we review five literary cookbooks that will take readers from Middle-Earth to Regency England.

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The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate MacDonald, Evi Abeler

Anne of Green Gables Cookbook

This book is charmingly illustrated with aptly-named recipes that correspond key moments in the story from Diana’s raspberry cordial mishap to Anne’s liniment cake. There are quotes from the Anne books scattered throughout, so readers know which lines inspired each recipe. Regrettably, however, there is no information on cooking history and only a brief biography of L. M. Montgomery at the end. I wanted to see fun facts about cooking in Anne’s time, even if the recipes are modernized for convenience.

The recipes look easy to make and generally require common ingredients, which is nice. However, perhaps because the book is geared towards children, many of the recipes seem pretty standard, like egg salad sandwiches, shepherd’s pie, and macaroni and cheese. There is nothing I could not already easily make without this book; even the raspberry cordial recipe is just raspberry lemonade.

I did appreciate the cooking tips at the beginning of the book, which make it–along with the simplicity of the recipes–a wonderful gift for children. I do not see myself purchasing a copy, however, since the recipes are so standard that I can already do most of them.

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Dinner with Mr. Darcy by Pen Vogler

Dinner with Mr. Darcy

This book is a delightful foray into the dining and cooking of Austen’s time. I loved the interludes explaining things like when meal times were taken or how tables were set, as well as the notes about how many of these conventions changed during Austen’s own life. The recipes are really interesting as many are probably not meals most would cook or eat today. Many of the meals are very meat-heavy, however, which is not really appealing to me. So any recipes I try out will likely be from the dessert and tea sections.

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The Little Women Cookbook by Wini Moranville

Wini Moranville clearly appreciates Alcott’s work and attempts to offer a cookbook that acknowledges Alcott’s beloved book while also providing recipes for authentic period dishes–thankfully updated for the modern cook. Recipes are mostly based on actual meals and food mentioned in Little Women. But other recipes are those found in the “receipt” book Meg consulted, or recipes that would have been common at the time. The result is that readers will feel confident that they are really experiencing something akin to what diners in the 1860s would have.

Fascinating historical facts and explanations intersperse the book, making it an interesting read for fans of Little Women, even if an individual does not feel like making any of the recipes. For example, Moranville illuminates readers as to the nature of the “messes” Meg cooked for Beth; discusses how the Marches, though poor, managed to afford lobster; and explains what a blacmange is. Other historical notes explain why Louisa May Alcott’s work was filled with apples, or talk about how her father was what we would now call a vegan. Moranville ends up answering questions about Little Women and its author that readers may not have even known to ask.

Easy-to-make recipes paired with full menu suggestions make this a cookbook that I actually use. I have tried the apple orchard chicken, the pickled lime cookies, the Dijon mustard, and the hot milk sponge cake–and I make the sponge cake regularly. I intend to try more recipes since they have all been delicious!

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The Secret Garden Cookbook: Inspiring Recipes from the Magical World of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden by Amy Cotler

This beautifully-illustrated cookbook was precisely the type of book I wished to find after reading The Little Women Cookbook. Period dishes are paired with explanations of how food would have been prepared during Mary Lennox’s time. The author also clearly explains the different types of food that might have been available in the countryside versus the city, and how people of different social classes might have eaten. There is even a section on recipes that were imported from or inspired by the British presence in India. Many of the recipes look delicious, and I have bookmarked a few to try out in the future.

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An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery by Chris-Rachael Oseland

I have to admit that I was expecting more recipes directly inspired by Middle-earth, so I ended up merely flipping through this book and not cooking anything. The dishes are mainly English countryside Victorian fare that J. R. R. Tolkien might have eaten. I was not particularly interested in recipes for things like steak and ale pie, venison cobbler, porter cake, and Yorkshire pudding, however, so maybe I am not the target audience for this book. Also, there are similar recipes in here as contained in The Secret Garden Cookbook–and I thought The Secret Garden Cookbook was superior. I did appreciate the historical notes about cooking and food in Tolkien’s day, however.

My Journey Through Tolkien’s Works (Guest Post by Short Girl)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

My Journey Through Tolkien

My Journey Through Tolkien

I will be honest: I did not read The Lord of the Rings before I watched it.

My family has always been the type that reads.  Even though I’m getting up in years now, my parents still do “family read-aloud.” Each night, my mother will read a chapter or so aloud from whatever novel we’re on to my father and me. It’s a fun time. I’ve had The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, the Inkheart books, and many other classics read aloud to me over the years.

Surprisingly, though, my parents didn’t read LOTR to me before they decided we should watch it one wintry eve when I was ten or eleven. Since I had never read the books, I was supremely annoyed at the cliff-hanger that the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, leaves viewers on. Granted, I had watched LOTR before (the creepy cartoon version, when I was seven, at school; it scared me so I tried not to remember it), but I was still upset. A few weeks later, I goaded my parents into a nearly six-hour long double feature to watch The Two Towers and The Return of the King in order to see what happened next. I remember loving Éowyn, who slays the Witch-King. She was a super cool gal, and my prepubescent self was dazzled.

Then I read The Hobbit.

I know what you’re thinking. Hold the phone, you say, you watched the LOTR trilogy and then read The Hobbit? When are you actually gonna read the LOTR books?!?

The Hobbit was another family read-aloud book, and, as a child, I liked the imagery of the maze of caves that Bilbo finds himself in, where he sees Smeagol. I liked how small the book was but how the characters could still go on such an adventure. The other problem was that my brother owned the copy of LOTR, a thick, dog-eared one with all three books in it, and he was at college.

Eventually, though, he left his book at home, and I stole it and began reading. I was in seventh grade, and I carried the thick book around in my backpack for weeks, reading during lunch, between classes, during breakfast, and before bed. The imagery was just as dazzling, the characters just as gripping. I still loved Legolas and Gimli and Frodo and all of them. Frodo and Sam’s friendship was really important to me, especially in the tumultuous time that was middle school. I claimed my brother’s book as my own and covered it in peanut-butter stains during my excited reading.

When The Hobbit movies came out, I went to see the first one in theaters, and I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see the whole book at once, but I couldn’t! My then-boyfriend was obsessed with Tolkien, and he got me a copy of the movie for Christmas. It was nice of him, but I didn’t end up seeing the other two movies. I decided to keep the magic of The Hobbit to myself.

Even though Harry Potter was my favorite book series growing up (still is), LOTR was an important part of my development. It taught me about friendship, doing the right thing, and going on an adventure. It was part of my family culture–my brother and parents and I bonded over watching/reading it. When I heard recently that there was a movie about Tolkien coming out, I was quite excited.

Of course, I’m older now, so I have to admit the flaws of both Tolkien as a person and also his writing, but his books paved the way for me to love fantasy, try and write some of my own, and to keep on exploring.

Books offer you the opportunity to go into a another world, and The Lord of the Rings series definitely did that for me.

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About the Author

Short Girl has been blogging at Short Girl Writes (www.shortgirlwrites.wordpress.com) for a little over three years. As the name implies, she’s a short girl who writes. Her blog is focused largely on book reviews, but includes posts on other aspects of the world of reading and writing. In her spare time, she’s usually making music, knitting, or…surprise, reading books.

The Hobbit: A Most Unusual Children’s Book

the hobbit

Conventional wisdom in publishing today suggests that the protagonist of a children’s book should be roughly around the same age as the intended reader.  Protagonists of middle-grade books, meant for ages 8-12, will likely be 8-12 themselves, while protagonists of YA books are almost invariably teenagers.  So it is that making a character thirteen can be enough to move a book from the middle-grade shelf to the YA shelf, even if nothing else about the book changes.  Considering that a difference in only one year can be enough for booksellers to promote a book to a different audience, it is incredibly strange that J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, arguably one of the most popular children’s books, centers on the adventures of, not a child, but a 50-year-old Hobbit.

Or perhaps this is not so strange, after all.  The history of popular children’s books includes Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Robinson Crusoe–all stories about grown-ups.  In addition, children have also enjoyed books like Little Women or L. M. Montgomery’s Anne series, where the protagonists age from children to adults.  When we consider the types of books children actually read, it becomes clear that they do not need to be the same age as the protagonist in order to enjoy the story.  Other factors, such as romance, adventure, or sympathetic characters also come into play.

In writing The Hobbit for children, J. R. R. Tolkien did not need to make Bilbo eleven or twelve both because Bilbo’s adventures are grand enough to inspire imaginations of all ages and because Bilbo’s feelings about those adventures are so relatable.  In other words, Tolkien relies upon his story and his characterization to create appeal and sympathy, rather than relying upon superficial similarities of age.  When Bilbo is whisked from his comfortable home out into the wide world, he becomes, in a sense, Everyman.  He dreams of doing grand deeds and seeing marvelous sights, but his more-or-less ordinary background has seemingly not prepared him to do so.  He does not know how to wield a sword, he is not accustomed to living on the road, and he has really no idea what to do with a dragon should he ever meet one.  Most readers can probably relate to Bilbo’s feelings of inadequacy and his confusion at some point during the story, along with his longing for something more than day-to-day life.

Today, Tolkien’s choice of protagonist would be considered a bold move, perhaps even an insurmountable obstacle to publication–and yet, the history of children’s books seems to support Tolkien’s feeling that a hero’s adventures can be accessible to everyone, regardless of age.  (Tolkien was, in fact, drawing upon the myths and legends that inspired him in his own youth–stories of the Norse gods, of Anglo-Saxon warriors, of medieval knights.  Of grown-ups.)  However, his example is worth considering.  How might the face of children’s publishing change if it were opened up to heroes of all ages?

5 Favorite Quotes From Tolkien’s The Hobbit (Guest Post by Rachel)

Tolkien Reading Event 2018

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Home and Hearth: The Many Ways of Being a Hobbit. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!  Check out the complete schedule here.


The Hobbit is an iconic book, one we all know and love. While Tolkien wrote many, many books, The Hobbit is what started such a fantastic series and fandom known as The Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit laid the base foundation for The Lord of the Rings and is just as an important story as the rest of the tale that celebrates hobbits everywhere.

This book has great storytelling, loveable characters, and wonderful life lessons and messages. Here are my top 5 favorite quotes.

1. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

This is one of my favorites. It’s simple, it’s the first line in the book, it lays the foundation for The Lord of the Rings, and it’s well-known by everyone. This quote is a nice introduction to not only Bilbo, but also to hobbits in general. Hobbits, in my opinion, have the best kind of life.

2. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

This is the perfect introduction to Gandalf the Grey. His personality really shines through this saying and it’s a funny line. Honestly, it got me thinking. Gandalf is right. What are we actually saying when we tell someone, “Good morning?”

3. “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

I read this quote as, “Never give up.” There are times when you’re going nuts looking for your car keys, and it turns out they’ve been hanging up by the door right where they’re supposed to be. However, there are times in our lives when we’re looking for less tangible things. We’re trying to figure out what the right career is for ourselves or we’re simply trying to find out who we are. The answer is never easy, but if you keep pushing forward, you’ll find it – even if it’s not what you expected.

4. “The road goes ever on and on.”

We can all channel our inner Bilbo with this one. We’re all on our own individual journeys in life. What are the right choices to make? Where do we see ourselves 5 years from now? The road goes ever on and on, indeed.

5. “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

I find this quote to be the most inspirational and so true to life. The media and news has been toxic for quite some time, but there are good people in the world. There are good news reports that, for whatever reasons, get buried underneath all the bad. There’s still hope, even if it’s hard to see sometimes.

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Tolkien was a fantastic writer with a wild imagination. He really made a way for himself in the fantasy writing world and has easily taught us a lot about life through fantastical scenarios. I won’t be running into an Orc anytime soon or be making friends with any Elves, but I can heed what I’ve learned and apply it to my life.

What are some of your favorite quotes from The Hobbit? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

“I’m a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in all things writing and gaming. I keep myself busy running two blogs among other things in the creative world. I’m currently working on a couple mystery books to be published in the near future. Feel free to connect with me on my Blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn.”

The Battle of the Five Armies: A Hobbit Movie Review

The Battle of the Five Armies

Spoilers if you don’t want to know any details about the movie. 

After first seeing the movie, my initial reaction was that there was not much to say that has not already been covered.  I’d only read two reviews before seeing the film, but both were similar and seemed to be spot-on.

First, there should never have been three movies.  Most of us already knew that, but it gets highlighted in the films in different ways.  The first two were filled with too many scenes of Azog chasing the dwarves around.  The Battle of the Five Armies no longer had that option.  It compensated by making every scene longer than necessary, by adding scenes that have no purpose at all (ex. Legolas and Tauriel go on a trip, stare at a fortress, talk about Elven history for a while, then travel all the way back to where they just came from), and by making a ridiculous percentage of the movie into prolonged battle scenes.  I went with a friend who normally likes action more than I do; he said the battles were boring because there were too many shots of the heroes fighting nameless orc peons.  He wanted the fights to at least be more personal, if there had to be so many.  (As an aside, after all this battle, we never actually see how it ENDS!)

Something else that people generally seem to agree on: There were too many random animals being used for transportation.  I can get behind Thraduil’s ride.  And definitely the wargs.  I was somewhat more baffled by the giant pig that Dain rode up on and by the giant mountain goats that materialized just in time for some dwarves to get up an icy mountain.  (A mountain which, incidentally, seemed to vary in just how close or far away it was from Erebor.  But, hey, it isn’t as if Tolkien very carefully tried to construct the geography of Middle Earth or anything….)

Also, the scenes that Peter Jackson added to the film took away from the story more than they added.  The scene of Gandalf, Radagast, Elrond, and Sarumon fighting Sauron and the Nazgul was apparently meant to help bridge The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Perhaps that would have worked better if Jackson had kept the same symbolism.  In the first place, I’m not sure if the Nazgul were sort of embodied here, or if they were supposedly invisible but given some sort of representation so the audience could see what the heroes were fighting.  (Side note: their armor was awesome. The visual details were some of the best parts of this movie.)  That does not explain the fact that apparently, if you know throw one off a cliff, they pop and teleport back to the top of the cliff to keep fighting you.   Secondly, Galadriel seems to be having an identity crisis.  I don’t even want to touch on why she seems to be having a romantic affair with Gandalf in these movies. Even more baffling is why her sudden glowing and speaking in a deeper tone represents her good spiritual powers here.  When she did that in The Lord of the Rings, it was to show she was being tempted to EVIL!  I still don’t know if glowing is good or bad.  Just whichever Jackson needs it to be?

I could go on with some complaints.  Some of the physics in the battle scenes is absurd even for a fantasy movie.  Kili’s death seemed to be about his love for Fili, but suddenly became all about his love for Tauriel.  Legolas spends a lot of time explaining Elven things to Tauriel as if she hasn’t been an Elf all her life.  Most importantly, the movie needs more Martin Freeman.  He is brilliant as Bilbo.  But, as my friend pointed out, the movie is 80% battle and Bilbo doesn’t do battles.  So we don’t see him.  However, I’d like to take a moment to point out some of the good things.

Unfortunately, a lot of the aspects of the movie that I liked best are somewhat transitional.  As I mentioned, the film is beautiful.  The detail paid to costuming, world-building, etc. is fantastic.  I love the visuals of Middle Earth.  I also love the soundtrack, and how well all the music fit the scenes and fit in with the other songs.  If you were to hear one of the songs without any context, you would know that it belonged to Middle Earth.

My favorite scenes were generally those where characters make a grand speech or have a touching moment with another character.  I’m kind of a sucker for someone making a dramatic monologue to convince others to fight to save their land and honor and whatnot.  The Battle of the Five Armies has enough to keep me happy, and they tend to be delivered sincerely and movingly.  We also get to hear a lot about Thorin’s honor and his greed.  The greed-moral, I admit, could have been toned down.    However, Richard Armitage generally does a good trying to add nuance to what is generally unsubtle dialogue. Finally, Bard’s relationship with his family is pretty cute.  I love that his son helps him defeat Smaug.  I do, however, feel bad for the older girl, whose only role in the movie seems to be to run away from things in fear.  The younger one does, as well, but at least she gets to look adorable while doing it.

So my opinion of The Battle of the Five Armies is mixed.  On some level, I recognize that, as a movie, it isn’t very good.  A lot things don’t make sense (usually things that were added to Tolkien’s work), and I a decent amount of time in the theatre laughing whenever something completely ridiculous and unrealistic happened (I don’t think the people around me appreciated it).  However, I have to have some fondness for it because it’s The Hobbit and it’s one more time we, as viewers, get to visit Middle Earth.  I also really do like Martin Freeman in this role.  Despite all my frustrations, confusion, and complains, I’ll probably watch it again sometime.  Maybe I can fast-forward through some of the battle.


Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit Unexpected Journey

Initial Impressions

No Spoilers

  • Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo and remarkably expressive.
  • Gollum is both cute and frightening.
  • Richard Armitage is an imposing, heroic, and rather handsome Thorin.
  • Most of the dwarves do successfully build their own personalities.  A few may get more time in later films.
  • Quotes from the novel are successfully incorporated.
  • There are lots of great nods to The Lord of the Rings movies.
  • There is enough background given for viewers who have not read the book.
  • The film is gorgeous.  (Though there were a few beginning scenes where I found it hard to find something in focus to look at.)
  • The score is impressive.
  • Minor changes made sense.  A few major changes made less sense, but I can live with them.
  • The movie is the perfect mix of comical and epic.  It retains the spirit of the novel, while matching the tone of The Lord of the Rings movies.
  • I am impressed.


“The Hobbit” Read-Along Chapter 12: “Inside Information”

The Hobbit read-along continues over at The Warden’s Walk and so do my rambling thoughts about the book!

Chapter 12 continues developing the philosophies underlying the actions of all the characters.  The Dwarves think about treasure, Bilbo thinks about home, and Smaug thinks about himself.  Their philosophies and not their physical prowess ultimately decide all their fates.

Tolkien does not portray the Dwarves in a very flattering manner at this point in time, stating outright that “There it is: Dwarves are not heroes but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money.”  Though Bilbo has repeatedly proven his worth to the group, rescuing his companions from the spiders and the prisons of Mirkwood, he receives little credit from  Thorin, who announces (rather pompously) that the time has come now for the Hobbit to earn his reward.  Even so, the Dwarves hope to aid Bilbo as little as possible in his burglaring because they fear too much for their own lives; only Balin dares to venture into the tunnel with the Hobbit.  A sense of duty does arise when their companions find themselves in direct danger, and Tolkien informs readers that they would save Bilbo if he got into trouble, but altogether their treatment of the Hobbit seems to rely on how much they think he is doing for them, and how well. They have focused all their thoughts and energy on the treasure so that their moral vision remains limited and they have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships that are not inherently useful to their goals.

Bilbo informs Smaug that the group has come to the Mountain not merely for treasure but also for revenge–but the evidence to support this seems limited.  The Dwarves actually neglected to take a living dragon into account when forming their plans, so clearly they have no intent to take back their home.  They want their wealth back–it’s as simple as them.  Maybe you can argue that stealing treasure from a dragon will anger him and thus counts as revenge, but such action seems to be lacking in symbolic victory.  Can you really imagine a tale like this going down into legend–a bunch of Dwarves loitering around a mountainside while they hire an unknown to tote out their former possessions like a common criminal?  The story is interesting and maybe some people will find the cleverness and bravery of the Hobbit admirable, but it really doesn’t do anything for the reputation of the Dwarves.

The greed of the Dwarves would have proven their downfall if not for Bilbo.  Thinking only of their glorious treasure, they are totally unprepared to face the reality of Smaug.  Bilbo can help them precisely because he doesn’t care about the treasure.  He cares about the right sorts of things–upholding his end of a bargain so he can return home to his comfortable hobbit-hole.  Love of adventure and a desire to prove himself also play a role in his exploits, but at the root of all his thoughts is the idea of a simple life unburdened by old grudges and the desire for excessive wealth.

Bilbo also stands in opposition to Smaug, who lays the foundation for his own downfall through his pride.  Even though he recognizes the flattery of Bilbo as lies, he cannot help feeling pleasure in even this fake admiration.  Desirous of impressing the Hobbit even further, he boasts of his invincibility, thus revealing the flawed spot above his heart.  (Note that Bilbo’s pride in his own cleverness also has unintended bad consequences as it focuses the wrath of Smaug on Lake-town.)  Smaug’s greed, anger, and overriding desire for revenge will all further combine to bring him to the edge of ruin; if he could only have overlooked the loss of a single golden cup and stayed with his hoard, the world might have remained content to continue ignoring his existence.

But these are all weighty matters.  This chapter is a prime example of a thrilling quest adventure story!  I’m not entirely sure why it worked, but Tolkien’s liberal use of the exclamation point really drew me into the action: “The glow of Smaug!”  It was like I was there!  Not only that, but this chapter is funny.  Tolls?  Bilbo has travelled all this way to get a fourteenth part of a treasure only to realize he neglected to consider transport and tolls to get it all home?  Did anyone bother to plan anything about this adventure?  Why does Gandalf keep disappearing?  Does he really believe this group is capable of accomplishing anything without him?  And why does Smaug, of all the characters, think about tolls?  I don’t believe that dragon ever paid a toll in his life.

So, what do you all think?  Have I been too harsh on the Dwarves?  Was Smaug a law-abiding dragon in his youth?  Weigh in and continue the read-along next Tuesday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!

“The Hobbit” Read-Along Chapter 3: “A Short Rest”

That’s right, everyone.  “The Hobbit” read-along is taking place over at The Warden’s Walk and I’m in charge of explicating/reviewing/pondering chapter 3!  I know I’m late in posting this and I do apologize for those who have been eagerly refreshing their screens in hopes of getting the next installment of the read-along.  If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you may have noticed that I’m not posting much of anything right now–and indeed won’t be for awhile (but that’s okay because Briana’s wonderful posts completely cover my absence).  My life is currently busy and complicated and all manner of crazy.  So, in the interest of fulfilling my obligations to the promotion of all things Tolkien, I’m not really going to explicate my chapter (sorry about that), but rather throw down some thoughts as they occur to me.  Feel free to generate more discussion in the comments (thereby imparting to this post some manner of legitimacy).

I’ve read The Hobbit several times and each time chapter three sticks out to me due to one thing: those Elves singing “tra-la-la-lally”.  I don’t think this is Tolkien’s crowning achievement in poetry, it is true, and I sometimes chuckle to myself over how a place known for its poetry and song could be introduced to readers with this particular song.  Poetic merits aside, however, the song presents much bigger issues to me.  After all, readers familiar with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion know that Elves are these ethereal, other-worldly beings remarkable for their nobility and wisdom.  Certainly no one envisions Hugo Weaving’s Elrond singing “tra-la-la-lally”!

I’m not convinced this moment can be explained away by saying that The Hobbit came before The Lord of the Rings since Tolkien did edit The Hobbit to make it fit more smoothly into his mythos.  Furthermore, we receive hints of the noble Elves we will come to know in Tolkien’s description of Elrond: “He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.”  So, maybe, if we try to fit Tolkien’s Hobbit Elves into our conception of his later Elves, we’re approaching his work from the wrong way.  Maybe we don’t need to perform mental gymnastics to create consistency.  Maybe Tolkien is being consistent, but our modern mindset hasn’t prepared us to recognize that.

Assuming the “tra-la-la-lally” Elves must be different from the Lord of the Rings Elves implies that silly and serious cannot exist together.  But the Elves are remarkable for more than their high poetry or tragic history.  They are remarkable for their connection to Eru and the Undying Lands.  Many of the Elves have seen the light of Valinor.  They have known joy.  Can the joy they have be related to the light-hearted songs and jokes of the Rivendell Elves?  And aren’t light-hearted song- and joke-making actually two of the most serious activities a person can engage in?  Life can be hard and full of sorrow, as the Elves, who have lost Valinor, perhaps know better than anyone else in Middle-earth.  However, they refuse to let sorrow have the last word; they engage in song-making, even silly song-making, because they know that no sorrow lasts forever.

*Note: I can’t recall from memory whether the Rivendell Elves actually were in Valinor (I’m inclining towards no), but I think the point about joy and seriousness still stands.  Plus, I’m sure that the Elves who were not in Valinor know and are affected by the tragic loss their kinsmen suffered.

Continue the read-along this Thursday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!

Guest Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien 2012

Since the theme of this year’s Tolkien Reading Day is “75 Years of The Hobbit,” we begin our event with a review of that work.

Andrea is the blogger from The Overstuffed Bookcase, a book blog of mostly young adult book reviews, with occasional adult book reviews thrown into the mix.  She is a wife, mother, Harry Potter fanatic and Dr. Pepper addict.  You can read more of her reviews at theoverstuffedbookcase.blogspot.com.

I may be one of the few readers out there who hasn’t actually read many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.  I read The Hobbit as a teen and, even though I own all three The Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit remains, to this day, the only Tolkien I have had the pleasure of reading.  Never fear, Tolkien fans, I plan to rectify this soon!

Even though my Tolkien expertise is nonexistent, I was thrilled when Briana and Krysta asked me to be a part of their Tolkien Reading Event, and I jumped at the chance to re-read The Hobbit and write a review.  So bear with me – this is my first time reading The Hobbit with a critical eye, and I’m sure all of my thoughts have been said before by many Tolkien scholars who are much more eloquent.

First of all, Tolkien’s writing is so superb that it is no wonder that his stories have become classics.  The Hobbit is considered by many (and perhaps was by Tolkien himself) to be a book for children, and Tolkien was obviously in agreement with many of the authors of children’s and young adult books of today who believe that they should not “dumb down” their writing simply because it is aimed at a younger audience.  But, as with so many authors today, his writing can be (and should be, in my opinion) read and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Tolkien’s characters and world-building are basically flawless, and with the help of a few maps and pictures, readers become the fifteenth member of the troupe of heroes as they set their backs upon Bilbo’s home in The Hill.  We are there with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves as they narrowly escape the goblins of the Misty Mountains; we, too, find ourselves lost once the party steps off the path into Mirkwood; and we rack our brains trying to come up with a plan to escape the dungeons of the wood elves, or to outwit the dragon Smaug.

The only drawback I found, and it is a small one, is that several of the dwarves in Bilbo’s party were not thoroughly fleshed out.  We got a good sense of Thorin, Bombur, Fili, Kili, and a few others, but many of them seemed to simply be there so that with Bilbo they were fourteen in number, and also to create a humorous scene in the beginning when they all show up on Bilbo’s doorstep.  However, I really did enjoy the humor.  It reminds me of how Douglas Adams would fabricate a situation and then explain how that caused something in our actual history.  For example, Tolkien had Bilbo say, “Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves,” and then Tolkien added, “and it became a proverb, though now we say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.”  As a lover of British comedy, I enjoyed all the subtle hints of humor that Tolkien sprinkled throughout this tale.

I also enjoyed the dichotomy between Bilbo and Gandalf at the beginning.  The hobbits who are most respected are those who are rich, and don’t get into any “adventures.”  When Gandalf first comes upon Bilbo, Bilbo uses polite phrases such as “Good morning” and “I beg your pardon,” and Gandalf points out that these phrases have more meanings than most of us realize.  Here, I believe Tolkien is commenting on how society regards politeness, and Gandalf represents a person whom some people would consider “uncivilized,” simply because he does not behave like the rest of them.  Perhaps there is even more here, and Tolkien is showing the diversity of society between those who are privileged and those who aren’t, and how they each behave and believe the world should be.  Or perhaps Tolkien is simply suggesting that a life not lived to its fullest is not a life lived at all.

The Hobbit is full of complex characters, interesting creatures, and such suspense that even readers who visit the tale for a second or third time may find themselves anxious for Bilbo and his companions.  It is easy to see why The Hobbit continues to be loved by people of all ages, and why J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have become the very definition of epic fantasy.  I would highly recommend this book to lovers of fantasy, yet I would also recommend this to anyone who simply loves a good book.

Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware

Summary: Reflections on moral and religious themes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy The Hobbit.

Review: I only made it to page 24 before I put this book down, so in many ways writing a review of it is unfair.  However, others considering reading the book may find my reasons for abandoning it so quickly helpful, so I will outline them here.

The foreward, written by Kurt Bruner (Ware’s coauthor of Finding God in The Lord of the Rings), does not bring the book to an auspicious start.  His writing is sloppy and his word choice questionable, causing him to come across as more ignorant than he probably is.  He is only beginning his second paragraph when he writes that The Hobbit “introduced the world to Middle-earth, magic rings, and nasty orcs” (ix).  The part about Middle-earth is true.  The part about orcs is technically true, but I have some quibbles about it and I believe many avid Tolkien fans will agree with me that Bruner has thoughtlessly glossed over some distinctions.*  But there is very clearly a long line of magic rings in literature—particularly rings of invisibility—that precede the publication of The Hobbit.  (In The History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins, John D. Rateliff cites magic rings in The Prose Edda, Platos’s Republic, and the story of Aladdin as some examples.) Perhaps Bruner is aware of this and never meant to claim Tolkien invented the concept of the magic ring, but unfortunately that is what his sentence says.

Bruner hurts his claim to authority further when in the very next paragraph he carelessly says, “Tolkien added words like Baggins and Balrog to our vocabulary.”  Adding someone’s name to one’s vocabulary is just awkwardly phrased.  Then, there are no balrogs in The Hobbit.  One could accept the fact that Bruner has stopped talking about The Hobbit to reflect on Tolkien in general at this point, but he and Ware make so great a habit of referring to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien’s letters, and a number of authors besides Tolkien that it becomes doubtful whether they did in fact find God in The Hobbit—or just everywhere else.

The best example (in the pages that I read) of Ware’s constant references to any book besides The Hobbit is the third chapter, “Doom of the Dunderheads.”  Ware opens the chapter, just as he did the previous two, with his revision of what happened in The Hobbit (more on this later.  Accept for now that he summarizes the plot.)  He reminds readers of the scene with the trolls.  He makes a general observation about “counterproductive stupidity” often being a trait of wicked characters.  Then, to prove that “evil is both foolish and self-destructive,” he quotes Scripture, Tolstoy, and Martin Luther.  He mentions the Grimm story of the Brave Little Tailor and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved with a plot to assassinate Hitler.  The chapter ends with a spiritual reflection: “We need not fear a power bent on self-destruction.”  Because each chapter is organized in a similar fashion, with only plot summaries and the quotes that are supposed to have inspired each reflection, it is difficult to believe that this book is really about The Hobbit.  My suspicions are that Ware may simply have wanted to cash in on the popularity of books on Tolkien.

Because Ware coauthored Finding God in The Lord of the Rings and he gives a nice account in his introduction to this book of how much Tolkien means to him, I want to believe he is a true fan and has a deep respect for Tolkien’s work.  Bruner raised my doubts as to the extent of his knowledge of Tolkien, and Ware is somewhat to blame for allowing doubtful content at the front of his book but cannot be held completely responsible for the things someone else says.  Unfortunately, Ware’s treatment of Tolkien’s material is not reassuring.  At the start of each chapter, Ware basically takes parts of The Hobbit and rewrites them.  He adds in lots of thoughts he thinks Bilbo had about his adventures, but he also simply takes scenes and rewrites them.  He puts quotes straight into the mouths of the trolls that are similar to what they say in The Hobbit—but just not the same.  For example:

‘Boil ‘em then,’ spat Tom, the third member of the troop.  ‘Boilin’s quicker.  Easier, too, for a couple o’ ninnyhammers like you!’

’Ninnyhammers, is it?’ shouted William, clenching his fists.

This sounds as if might have come from The Hobbit.  But it doesn’t.  If Ware wants to remind readers of the plot, he would do well with a summary.  Rewriting the book is, if not implied disrespect for the original text, very bizarre.  I really have no explanation for this.  I know only that I found it highly annoying.

Basically, this book looks as if it so were hastily thrown together that there is no real content .  Ware warns in his introduction that he might go off on a tangent, and he takes many opportunities to do so.  If you want a book about The Hobbit, this is not for you.  If you want a book about Tolkien’s religion, this is not for you.  Even if you just want a book with some good spiritual reflections, this is probably not for you.  Ware simply talks about so many things that he ends up talking about nothing at all.  So spend your money elsewhere.

*Orcs are in fact mentioned in The Hobbit.  There are a few scattered phrases mentioning their existence and describing them basically as larger and scarier goblins.  But the orc as we know it from The Lord of the Rings is not actually seen, and Bruner’s assertion that The Hobbit introduced the world to the race is essentially wrong.  The Hobbit introduced the word but not the concept.  The hasty references we do see have caused me to wonder whether they were even present in the first published edition of The Hobbit, or whether they were part of the minor changes Tolkien made to the book after the publication of The Lord of the Rings to make the works more consistent.  Note, however, that Tolkien did have the word “orc” at his disposal while writing The Hobbit (see The History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins by John D. Rateliff).

Published: 2006

A Few Books You Might Prefer:

The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings by Peter Kreeft

J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, & Religion by Richard Purtill

The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff