The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien, adapted by Charles Dixon & Sean Deming, illustrated by David Wenzel (Eclipse Book)
ISBN: 1-56060-054-3-1295

I’m a great believer in art remaining true to its roots: Nobody writes a novel with the ultimate intention of it becoming a lousy movie, nor a song or symphony merely to sell the ring-tone rights (maybe these days they do – it would certainly explain why there are so many bad books and crap tunes. Just call me the last of the dewy-eyed idealists, then).

So just to keep things straight: even though I’m about to review the graphic novel adaptation – and favourably – Read the Book. Even though there’s been a stage play, a radio drama, an animated feature and (soon) a two-film franchise – Read the Book.

Every time you see something leap the creative hurdle from original artwork to another, different, separate medium: Read the Book. Or comic or play or song or…

The Hobbit was first published in 1937 to world-wide success and acclaim. It won the New York Herald-Tribune Award for best juvenile fiction, was nominated for a Carnegie Medal and is rightly considered to be a classic of World Literature. In my overblown and utterly personal opinion it completely outclasses and knocks spots off the sequel Tolkien’s publishers demanded. You ought to read that too: it’s called Lord of the Rings.

In 1989 Eclipse Comics produced a three-part prestige miniseries adapting the Hobbit, which was then collected into a successful graphic novel that helped break the then-new format out of the comics fan ghetto. Since the company’s demise the collection has been re-issued by HarperCollins (1998, ISBN: 978-0-26110-266-8) and other companies and is relatively easy to find.

I’m sticking with the original here simple because it has the wonderful painted cover by David Wenzel gracing it. The story itself, of how a sedate and sedentary little Halfling called Bilbo Baggins is cajoled by the wizard Gandalf into leaving his complacent life of middle class prosperity for the seductive lure of adventure, is as enchanting as it ever was.

The diminutive Hobbit agrees, somewhat reluctantly, to become a Thief/Burglar for 14 disinherited dwarfs who yearn to liberate their ancestral home – and treasure – from the awesome dragon Smaug, and incorporates all the fascinating ephemerals that have graced Western mythology and tale-telling for centuries. (Read the Book).

Tolkien’s text is sensitively abridged rather than adapted by Chuck Dixon and Sean Deming, who strove to retain as much of the original as possible, whilst the illustration is by turns pretty, jolly, enthralling and when the dragon, goblins, trolls and especially Gollum appear, wholesomely terrifying. Wenzel started out as a wanna-be comics artist before moving into the field of fantasy and especially children’s illustration in the 1980s where he worked with icons like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and creators like Maurice Sendak, but he returned to comics for this project: probably his greatest achievement and one he’d dreamed of for much of his career (See Middle Earth: the World of Tolkien Illustrated)…

This is a truly magical interpretation of the classic and one that any devotee will find hard to dislike. If you are a lover of traditional fantasy you should get a copy – after you’ve Read the Book.

© 1989, 1990 the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. Based on The Hobbit © 1965 by J.R.R. Tolkien. Illustration © 1989, 1990 David Wenzel. Adaptation © 1989, 1990 Charles Dixon & Sean Deming. All Rights Reserved.

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