Scandalous! Five Ways in Which The Hobbit is Superior to The Lord of the Rings

This weekend saw the long-anticipated release of Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (which made a butt-load of money). And while I love The Lord of the Rings and grew up in the shadow of its huge, looming presence, it was only after The Hobbit film was announced that I realized how I often prefer the story of Bilbo Baggins. Thankfully we don’t have to choose; we can appreciate the strengths and weakness of both works. But in honor of The Hobbit’s release, here are five ways in which I think The Hobbit is superior to The Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit has better monsters and villains

Don’t get me wrong--I LOVE the Nazgul, and they are some of the most impressive bad guys to ever grace fantasy, but for all their menace, the Ringwraiths are minions, largely silent and without personality. They follow Sauron’s will and that is all. Most of the villains and creatures of The Lord of the Rings (hereafter abbreviated LOTR) appear as minions of Sauron (or Saruman in some cases).

So much of LOTR seems to be looking backwards... The Hobbit on the other hand seems to look forward.

The creatures of The Hobbit are far more colorful and varied in their appearances and their motivations. Tolkien may have reused the species in LOTR, but the trolls in The Hobbit have names and give us a sense of what trolls do in the wild, how they eat. I love Shelob, but she is just an older, larger version of the spiders that Bilbo attacks in Mirkwood. 

The Hobbit’s goblins (Tolkien’s previous version of orcs) have their own civilization, their own land, and they ride on wargs. Beorn may not be a monster, per se, and he ends up helping the heroes, but the skinchanger is an excellent addition to the story, adding a further element of the supernatural to the book.

And need I mention, the dragon?

The only character/creature that is improved upon in LOTR is Gollum. While I love his appearance in The Hobbit in the chapter "Riddles in the Dark," Gollum becomes a more complex and sympathetic character in LOTR. I'll give you that. 

The Hobbit has less wasted space

So much of The Lord of the Rings is taken up by walking and camping. Even though I love the trilogy, I’ve always felt that the pacing is off. There are inevitably parts where I am forced to slog through the books to get to the more exciting action. I understand that Tolkien uses much of those slower moments to help build the world of Middle Earth--from the history of the land to its geography, but while I have come to appreciate these moments after many years of rereads, I ultimately feel that they detract from the thrust of the story.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, moves along at a much faster clip. By the second chapter, Bilbo and the dwarves are on their way, and from the Trolls to the Battle of Five Armies, they are constantly facing a new danger. No sooner have the dwarves escaped the spiders than they are misled and captured by the Wood Elves. They escape the Wood Elves (in barrels no less) to arrive at Esgaroth.

And though we’re given plenty of action, it’s not just action. Mirroring the external journey is Bilbo’s internal journey, as he begins to understand himself better and learns what he’s capable of. Bilbo starts out as someone adapting to circumstance, and later becomes someone who changes the situation by making choices.

The Hobbit has a dragon

Just saying. Dragons are cool.

And in all seriousness, one of the things I appreciate about Smaug is that he has a personality. He has a point of view. His motivation may simply be that he wants the dwarves’ gold and their mountain for his lair, but he has swagger. He threatens Bilbo. They talk. In LOTR, Sauron is largely faceless and voiceless (though there is the guy who is the Mouth of Sauron). Most of his minions do his bidding and are little more than slaves. Smaug seems more an individual than part of the army of Evil.

Bilbo is less tortured than Frodo

Bilbo’s story is one of discovery, both external and internal. And while he deals with some serious danger, he comes to realize his strength, and he grows as a result of his experiences. The stresses of Bilbo’s adventure bring out his capabilities and he is a far stronger and more confident person by the end of the book than he is at the beginning.

Conversely, Frodo’s journey is all about survival. The stresses of Frodo’s journey wear him down and a large part of his quest is just to carry on. Granted, he’s dealing with the burden of the ring, and its insidious, invasive power. But I find Bilbo’s journey to be more interesting and the more attractive of the inner journeys.

‚Ä®Bilbo also seems wiser and more mature, despite The Hobbit’s appeal to a much younger audience. And he’s just so damned enthusiastic about things, whether it be maps or meeting new friends or helping his old ones.

Frodo makes a heroic choice in deciding to take the ring to Mordor, but from then on, most of what he does is about endurance, and while it is understandably a difficult struggle, I find Bilbo’s far more interesting.

And Bilbo makes his own heroic choice, choosing to stand against his friends, to betray the dwarves, in order to try to create peace. Bilbo makes the hard decision for what he knows is right.

The Hobbit has a better message

My other points may be a little tongue in cheek, but this is the point at which I draw the line. For me, the basic underlying theme of The Hobbit is so much better than that of The Lord of the Rings.

One of the things that always bothered me about Tolkien’s POV in LOTR is that it seems nostalgic and wistful, mourning a rural England on the way out. Tolkien seems resentful of industrialization, saddened by the loss of something he loves. Frodo never wants to leave the Shire in the first place, and finds himself longing to return, but can’t. The Elves realize that their time is passing, their world diminishing. There’s a sense of sadness in it all. A sense of loss. The underlying message seems to be all about the importance of home and the threat and tragedy of change affecting that.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, revels in change. It revels in adventure. Bilbo may be reluctant to leave Bag End at the beginning of the story, but it’s clear that there’s something in him, waiting to be expressed, something great. Something that might never come to be if were to remain in Hobbiton. Gandalf recognizes this even if Bilbo doesn’t. When the dwarves sing in his house, part of him stirs to the call of adventure, and while he spends a lot of the early parts of the adventure thinking about the comforts of home, he soon steps away from this and becomes as intrepid as the rest of his party. He even surpasses them in personal bravery.

In the end, we learn that though Bilbo returns home, he never stops traveling and going on adventures until, in the opening of The Lord of the Rings, he leaves Hobbiton for good, eventually making his way to Rivendell. At the end of LOTR, Frodo has been changed by his journey and can’t go home. There’s the sense that something is lost. He sacrificed something of himself to do the right thing, but you can tell that there’s a part of Frodo that wants to go back.

Put more simply, so much of LOTR seems to be looking backwards, not only at the history that led to the War of the Ring, but at the things that were lost. Those that move forward at the end do so in a world that has lost some of its magic.

The Hobbit on the other hand seems to look forward. Bilbo ends the story a changed hobbit, in a far better place than where he starts, and the whole world is open to him. He  returns to the Shire a rich man, with a magic sword and a magic ring. The world is a wider, more wonderful place and he’s just taken his first steps into it. I find this resonates to me more, it’s the kind of fantasy I enjoy most.

Those are just a few thoughts about the differences between the two books. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Agree but for different reasons? Let me know in the comments and let’s continue the conversation.

Image of The Hobbit (or There and Back Again)
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Price: $19.29
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (1973)
Binding: Hardcover, 319 pages
Image of The Lord of the Rings
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Price: $15.99
Publisher: Mariner Books (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 1216 pages
Image of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (the Hobbit / the Fellowship of the Ring / the Two Towers / the
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Price: $22.99
Publisher: Del Rey (2012)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 1728 pages
Rajan Khanna

Column by Rajan Khanna

Rajan Khanna is a fiction writer, blogger, reviewer and narrator. His first novel, Falling Sky, a post-apocalyptic adventure with airships, is due to be released in October 2014. His short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and several anthologies. His articles and reviews have appeared at Tor.com and LitReactor.com and his podcast narrations can be heard at Podcastle, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed Magazine. Rajan lives in New York where he's a member of the Altered Fluid writing group. His personal website is www.rajankhanna.com and he tweets, @rajanyk.

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Comments

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago December 18, 2012 - 10:43am

The biggest thing The Hobbit has over LOTR is it's shorter.  J/K, they're both fine books.  It's the stories in them that are boring.

Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures December 18, 2012 - 11:03am

I enjoyed this article. I love Tolkien, I have read th Hobbit a few times and LOTR twice now and I love them both. For me, the Hobbit is about adventure and possibility while LOTR is about surviving and saving the world from evil. The end of LOTR has always felt so bittersweet to me. Sam goes on to live a happy life but Frodo is destroyed and cannot stay home or have a normal rest of his life because of the Ring and what he had to do. None of them that fought to destroy Sauron will ever be the same and a lot of the magic in that world has disappeared which just fills me with saddness. This all being said I cant pick one over the other as I love being able to leave the world of Bilbo and the Hobbit and delve into Frodo's adventure and LOTR and I know my time in middle earth isnt quite over yet.

Wonder Woman's picture
Wonder Woman from RI is reading 20th Century Ghosts December 18, 2012 - 11:21am

I saw The Hobbit last Thursday night at midnight, then watched Fellowship on Friday night. I think the most striking thing that I noticed was how much more brave and in control Bilbo was during his adventure in The Hobbit than Frodo in Fellowship. Bilbo may hesitate a moment, but runs in, Sting first, where Frodo drops Sting & lets himself get stabbed by a morgul blade. Very interesting to see the difference between them. It makes Frodo's comment much more meaningful when he says to Bilbo, "I'm not like you." 

Wanted to add that, it's not that I think Frodo is cowardly, but it takes him awhile to build up to that level of bravado that Bilbo has when he sets off. 

Susan Baird's picture
Susan Baird December 18, 2012 - 11:32am

The points are good and in their way correct. But Tolkien was foretelling WWII and the darkness around it in LOTR.  I read and enjoyed Hobbit, and it is a much lighter tale.  But I've gone back to LOTR over and over for the wonderful complexity and characters. Gandalf is more fully developed and explained.  All the heroes are marvelous. There is Strider, (Aragorn) Gimli, Merry and Pippin. The ever faithful Samwise, who gave Frodo what he needed in a true friend. Frodo, for his darker side, was more complex than Bilbo.  Bilbo was not aware of the darkness and forged ahead, heedless.  Frodo hesitated because he knew, then went anyway.
And LOTR has the ENTS!

 

Grover White's picture
Grover White December 18, 2012 - 1:12pm

Excellent article.  I love both these books, and long with the Chronicles, were my first real reads as a child.

I read LoTR before the Hobbit, and then both all the way thru several times the first few years of my relationship with Tolkein's awesome stories, and I gotta say I always felt pretty much as you lay out here.  The Hobbit being the lighter happier time and the trilogy spelling the doom of that time; Hobbits getting bigger and turning into men, elves leaving, etc.

I do belive that was the point, that Bilbo got to enjoy that older, simpler time, and the next generation had to suffer the demise of that time because of mistakes (finding the ring, forgotten alliances, etc) made by their forebears.

Thanks for the nice thought provoking article though, I think I'll reread these again soon, after my current WoT reread is concluded, :).

JinJan's picture
JinJan December 18, 2012 - 3:55pm

Frodo was much more passive in the films than in the books; and if you've only seen the film you don't get a true picture of Bilbo's nephew.  

In The Hobbit, Gandalf met a Bilbo who had given up on adventure and settled for oncoming middle age.  Bilbo was still in denial when the Dwarves were gathered at Bag End discussing their upcoming adventure; and the blue touch paper of Tookishness only ignited when Gandalf interrupted his second breakfast after the Dwarves had departed.  After that, Bilbo initiated most of the heroism; largely thanks to the light interference of Gandalf.  The linear storyline was obvious and easy to follow; only Gandalf's absence gave a hint of another story unfolding elsewhere.

By the time Frodo's adventure came about, there were few who needed convincing of the value of Hobbits; but the High world of the Silmarillion had invaded the plot (though in the chronology of the writing, that was the other way around) and great (big) heroes overshadowed the Hobbits on their journey until Frodo and Sam took their leave of Faramir.  The Lord of the Rings divided into the stories of fellowship members following different paths, often only being told retrospectively to preserve POV.

The pace of The Lord of the Rings varies from battles to journeys; and I like this. The enormity of the journey undertaken is clear and so well realised that it was thoroughly absorbing.  The whole Legendarium is, in my opinion, sheer genius.

Stephen Rigg's picture
Stephen Rigg December 18, 2012 - 5:09pm

When you say that:

"Tolkien may have reused the species in LOTR, but the trolls in The Hobbit have names and give us a sense of what trolls do in the wild, how they eat."

Obviously you don't know much about the books, because Lord of the Rings was written first by JRRT, then he wrote The Hobbit as a prequel AFTER.

Lou's picture
Lou from AMERIKUH is reading Trainspotting December 18, 2012 - 5:49pm

I've never read LOTR and don't really care to....nothing about it really appeals to me. I was never able to get through any of the movies except Fellowship either, and I like that one alright. I am a huge fan of the Hobbit though, for a lot of the reasons mentioned in the article. Making everything bigger and scarier and evil-er isn't a good thing.

Has anyone seen the 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit? It's fucking wiiiillld awesome.

Lou's picture
Lou from AMERIKUH is reading Trainspotting December 18, 2012 - 5:49pm

I've never read LOTR and don't really care to....nothing about it really appeals to me. I was never able to get through any of the movies except Fellowship either, and I like that one alright. I am a huge fan of the Hobbit though, for a lot of the reasons mentioned in the article. Making everything bigger and scarier and evil-er isn't a good thing.

Has anyone seen the 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit? It's fucking wiiiillld awesome.

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list December 18, 2012 - 10:10pm

My nickname in college was Samwise, because I was known as being insanely faithful to my friends. I used to joke it was because I was chubby. I digress. Part of me feels a connection to LOTR because of my nickname and the love I have for the stories my dad used to tell me when I was young. He loves LOTR, read them in Bible College, and shared the stories with me. It is a connection I have with him, because we used to talk about the stories for hours. But, I have to say that Bilbo is amazing and I love his story so much. It doesn't feel as dark and heavy as LOTR. As mentioned, the pacing is also much better. I love how quick it is and how much adventure is packed into such a short space. Went to see the first film, in 3D, and loved it so much. Great article!

rajanyk's picture
rajanyk December 18, 2012 - 11:07pm

@ Stephen Rigg - I don't think that's true. Tolkien may have developed the world before writing Lord of the Rings, but the story was intended as a sequel to The Hobbit. In fact I believe he was pestered by his publishers for a sequel. And The Hobbit was definitely published first.

Stephen Rigg's picture
Stephen Rigg December 19, 2012 - 3:01am

@rajanyk - I'm 100% sure that it is true, he first wrote the LotR trilogy. then the Hobbit, however they were only published after he had finished them all, so he published them in order, and was pressured for a gap between the releases by his publishers.

rajanyk's picture
rajanyk December 19, 2012 - 10:02am

@Stephen Rigg - I don't want to get tangled up in this too much, but that's different from everything I've read previously. In Tolkien's collected letters he talks about beginning the sequel to The Hobbit in 1938, a year after The Hobbit was published. He also mentions writing specific sections of LOTR, so I find it hard to believe that it was already written. And keep in mind he's writing these letters to his son. Additionally, Tolkien revised The Hobbit after the publication of The Lord of the Rings to connect the two better (changing the scene with Gollum and the ring, for example). But if you have sources I can look at, please let me know. As I said before, he HAD already written much of the background lore of Middle-Earth, basically what would become the Silmarillion, before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings was published.

Dennis's picture
Admin
Dennis from Los Angeles is reading The Lord of the Rings December 19, 2012 - 9:18pm

Rajan is right.

Kyle Hill's picture
Kyle Hill May 6, 2013 - 4:52am

My parents got me The Hobbit at our tiny Safeway and it was the only one left!   They were going to wait till Summer but found it quit by accident and decided to get it for me for my birthday!

We watched it and you're right The Hobbit is better then The Lord Of The Rings in other ways you haven't even described!

 

I am not sure if I should post more or not as I am not sure if anybody is intrested in why I like it better so I'll leave it at this as I tend to repel people without knowing why.

 

The graphics of The Hobbit *Part 1* are MUCH more vibrant then Lord Of The Rings especially Rivendell however I was dissapointed not more of The Shire was shown.     My parents and I agree that Lord Of The Rings graphics engine was many times almost too dark to see anything and you're right about the sens of loss in TLOTR trillogy which doesn't paint a positive message of rebuilding a broken world. 

The Hobbit has a sense of innocence TLOTR does not have.