Review: The Hobbit / Author: J.R.R. Tolkien / Artist: Jemima Catlin / Publisher: HarperCollins / Release Date: Out Now
Peter Jackson has very much made Tolkien’s Middle Earth his own since he set out on the epic task of bringing the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the big screen. Tolkien’s children’s novel The Hobbit (or The Hobbit, or There and Back Again to give it its proper title), which effectively became a prequel to the Rings saga, is now on its way to becoming a movie trilogy of its own with The Desolation of Smaug, following on from last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, due in cinemas in time for Christmas. To both long-standing Tolkien fans and newcomers alike, the characters and creatures of Middle Earth will be forever associated with Jackson’s bold, striking visuals, extraordinary special effects and lavish, breathtaking actions sequences. To fans and moviegoers across the world, Bilbo Baggins will always be Ian Holm (in the Rings trilogy) and Martin Freeman (in The Hobbit) and Gandalf will always evoke the memory of the artificially towering, bewhiskered Ian McKellen. But this sumptuous, gorgeous new edition of The Hobbit, the first for fifteen years, may well go some way towards reminding fans that these characters lived and breathed in the minds of readers decades before Hollywood finally found a way to bring Tolkien’s extraordinary fantasy world to life.
This edition has been illustrated by Dorset-born artist Jemima Catlin, whose images – there are 150 of them, ranging from full-page plates to tiny postage stamp-sized caricatures nestling in the corners of pages – are scattered liberally throughout the book. Catlin’s illustrations are charming, simplistic and occasionally – such as in Bilbo’s confrontation with one of Mirkwood’s giant spiders – starkly dramatic. But without exception they offer a new perspective on characters we’re used to seeing through Hollywood’s eyes and they effortlessly reposition the story as a rousing adventure for children. The tale of young hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his journey to the Lonely Mountain with the wizard Gandalf and thirteen lusty dwarves to recover their ancestral treasure from the dragon Smaug needs little introduction, but this beautiful edition restores the whimsy, magic and sense of innocence which was inevitably lost in the bluster of the movie version. The intention of this new volume is to take a step back and allow a new generation of children to experience the wonder of The Hobbit without any preconceptions from the movies. It’s exciting to imagine children immersing themselves in Tolkien’s timeless tale, with Jemima’s singular depictions of Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the dwarves and all the creatures they meet on their unexpected journey firing and inspiring their imaginations and bringing vividly to life a world and a story which will stay with them forever. This is a seriously beautiful, cherishable, lovingly produced volume which absolutely deserves a place on the bookshelf of any discerning Tolkien aficionado, regardless of their age.