Written by the Shire Collective (Peter Archer, Scott Francis, and Jeff Gerke)
Trying to cash in on the Hobbit craze from Peter Jackson’s first movie into the franchise last month, Writer’s Digest Books releases The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook. The book’s claim that the lifestyles of hobbits and the adventures of its more famous representatives can teach us humans in this age of modern man about how to live life. The hobbits are simple folk, after all, and we can stand to be reminded to enjoy the “smaller” things in life.
The problem with this book is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. At the beginning and various middle parts, it is very much the life-guide book it professes to be. The book celebrates the hobbits’ cultural love for food and friendship, teaching how to be a good host. It professes how hobbits value their work and responsibility but also take time to enjoy their leisure.
However the book also tries to switch into a reference guide, explaining in layman’s terms the different races, cultures, monsters, and magic of Middle Earth. At times, it even tries to halfway academically explore the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo, comparing them to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and exploring them as coming-of-age tales.
This split focus then splits the dedication to each focus, lessening each. More importantly, it loses the audience that gets hooked on a single focus. Personally, I prefer the reference guide portions, explaining in simple language the various creatures in Tolkien’s works and the way magic works. Tolkien’s verbosity does occasionally leave one wanting some simpler explanation. What I don’t want or need is to be explained to that The Hobbit is a tale about growing up or that the One Ring is a parable of power and responsibility. I got that from the stories themselves (and from Spider-Man).
With that said, the life lessons from the book do convey from the lives of hobbits are good ones. Valuing relationships over material gains, and staying open to always making friends, things like these are good to keep in mind. The book even compares these to modern day, equating to hobbits’ nature of making friends to an overflowing list of Facebook friends, or even using five-toed shoes to mimic a hobbit’s barefoot lifestyle.
The question is: does anyone need this supplemental book to teach these lessons, or don’t they get them anyway from the actual books or their film adaptations? I’ve got to go with the latter, and while the book has some occasional good zingers, the writing isn’t entertaining enough to rehash what I’d rather re-experience from rereading The Hobbit, which is only slightly longer and much more fun.