The Hobbit is a popular childrens' book by J. R. R. Tolkien, written in 1937 alongside some other childrens' books like Farmer Giles of Ham. It... grew, in the telling.
Although /tg/ cannot truthfully say "The Hobbit is the book that started it all!!", infused with Robert Howard and with all Appendix N as we are; this one certainly had a heavy influence on 20th Century Western High Fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, the works and is often the book that started us all. It even inspired some Dark Fantasy as people saw what Tolkien wrote and were inspired or annoyed or both: on the negative side, Michael Moorcock with his Eternal Champion novels; more ambivalently George Martin with A Song of Ice and Fire. (Tolkien was writing a lot of Dark Fantasy himself, as it happens; but we won't see how dark, until his son will collate The Silmarillion and offshoots.)
Tolkien intended this story like others as a bedtime story for his children. One day, Tolkien's buddy C. S. Lewis (yes, THAT C. S. Lewis) found out about this one, read the draughts and said that he should publish it. Tolkien did so, and the book's growing success was part of the reason he expanded on this setting and wrote The Lord of the Rings.
Tollers in 1951 did a full Lucas on The Hobbit in the light of what the Ring would become; that is the version our generation has read, excepting some total nerds who bought "Annotated Hobbit" or "First Edition".
For purposes of timeline, read the Silmarillion article first.
The story follows the tale of Bilbo Baggins (the hobbit of the title) as wizard Gandalf tosses him into a band of dwarves in their quest to find a legendary treasure in their ancient lost city. The dorfs tell that their forefathers were driven out of by Smaug, a great and terrible dragon who is the terror of the northeastern lands, beyond the Misty Mountains. The dorfs need a burglar and hobbits are even smaller and slighter than they are, if you can keep the hobbit from stuffing his face (not like Bombur can talk). Off they all go, then!
On the long way to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves encounter trolls, visit Rivendell, hide from stone giants, flee a tribe of goblins below the mountains, quiz with Gollum, meet the shapechanging Beorn, survive a spider-infested forest, flee the wood elves' underground keep, sail many miles within barrels, visit Laketown and finally arrive at the Mountain itself. Bilbo shoots the shit with Smaug, but it catches wind that Laketown helped the dwarves and goes to kill them off. This triggers an exodus of humans, as well as wood elves, who hear that Smaug is dead and that his treasures lay untouched. A great battle takes place for the Lonely Mountain between dwarves from a nearby hold, the wood elves, humans, and the goblins and bat swarms of Gundabad. Some of the dwarves die, but the mountain is secure, and Bilbo goes home, wistfully reminding himself of this larger-than-life journey he didn't even want to embark on in the first place.
This journey sets off a train of events which would eventually lead to Tolkien's most famous work, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with Bilbo finding the One Ring and returning with it to the Shire, Sauron in his guise of the Necromancer being driven out of the Mirkwood and left for his true lair in Mordor, and many of the characters in the Hobbit that would go on to be in LotR undergoing significant personal growth and changes.
We're not here to tell you that The Hobbit was a perfect epic fantasy. The dwarves are bumbling fools, the eponymous hobbit is a trickster, and Gandalf jumps in and out at arbitrary points in the narrative such as to be a plot-device more than character. But... childrens' story. We judge this by Grimm, not by Aristotle.
Anyway, after the Battle of the Five Armies in which Fili, Kili and Bolg die and Thorin is fatally injured, the Northern Orc armies are severely broken and were left unable to provide much direct help to Mordor, only regaining strategically valid strength when allied with the Men of Rhun. Sauron, in his guise as the Necromancer is banished by the White Council back to Mordor.
At this point, Saruman starts to think about how he could make all of this better and Gandalf starts to think that maybe that curious invisibility ring Bilbo picked up might not be as minor an artifact as it appears to be.
It was not surprising, considering how popular the Lord of the Rings trilogy was, that at some point the entire series would be fitted to the Mithril Screen. Unfortunately the Tolkien Estate didn't do as well maintaining hold of The Hobbit as they did with Lord of the Rings and hoo boy does it show here.
Rankin Bass' Saturday-Morning Cartoon
This was faithful in a lot of ways to the original book in structure and perhaps tone... for better or worse.
Like the original book the Rankin/Bass version is aimed at children and you could almost call it a musical with songs adapted from the poems within the book. Smaug is decent in this adaption, being a lot more smug and witty then the Jackson version (which we'll have to get to), even if his cat like face is a bit derpy.
(After Ralph Bakshi's hash of the first half of Lord of the Rings, R-B got called in again to do The Return Of The King. We do not speak of such things here.)
Peter Jackson's Epic Fail
As the work on it commenced, it was announced that the Hobbit would be split into a two-part movie, which surprised many, but they went with it. The first act of the book moves at a breakneck pace anyways, and some much-needed characterization for our dwarf party would be a welcome addition. It was when it was revealed it would be a trilogy itself that cries of the fanbase rang through the air. Across the community, people complained about the film execs ignoring the book's anti-greed moral, along with jokes about the producers and the film studio execs comparing them to the Dwarves and even the dragon.
The first movie featured an awful amount of walking and future plot building. It had a few redeemable features, such as the spot-on portrayal of Bilbo and kickass glimpses of Smaug in the prologue and epilogue. We also get to see a nobler side of Thorin Oakenshield to contrast against his later gold-crazed state by the third act of the book. The aesthetics for Erebor were also quite nice, as we finally get to see a proper dwarf realm portrayed in the setting.
The second movie ramped things up, although it had frankly hilarious and/or stupid scenes. For the former was Orlando Bloom (Legolas) doing his best Eldar Harlequin impressions through long scenes of acrobatic juggles and jumps that just made the orcs seem utterly pathetic. There were rounds of applause for his displays in the cinemas, for Emperor's sake. Bard the bowman shows up, but because Legolas is our designated super-special-awesome archer he's been redesignated as "Bard the boatman." Somewhat fitting since he does smuggle the dwarves in by boat in the book, but it still underlies how downplayed he is (in the books he was a pessimistic but noble-hearted Captain of the Guard). Later, Smaug the dragon was awesome, despite being a wyvern unlike in the book or the original release of the first movie, until the stupid kicked in when the Dwarves and Bilbo ran rings around him without dying in the process. (In the book all the Dwarves were terrified of Smaug and never even entered his line of sight because "Nothing can escape Smaug once he sees it." The filmmakers also forgot/ignored how heat works.)
Like with the LotR trilogy, the first two movies are building up for a nice big epic battle in the third installment.
Sadly it was shit, as the third movie stank monkey balls, featuring more Legolas bullshit, random giant earth worms, protagonist plot armor so thick a black arrow couldn't pierce it, even more CGI and a dwarf-elf (so-called) romance plotline that went nowhere due to Kili's death (which is obvious in hindsight since he dies in the book which, remember, has been out for decades before most of us were born). The dwarves in this movie were also a lot cheesier than in the first one, what with them riding goats into battle and Dain sporting what looks like an anemic Slayer Mohawk (which would otherwise be awesome, but here it clashes something fierce against the more grounded medieval aesthetics of the film). Then we've also got Not!Wormtongue trying to avoid combat by dressing as a woman as he mockingly declares Bard the new king before skulking away from the battle (in the extended edition he falls onto a catapult and gets flung into a troll's mouth before being bitten in half). One wonders what Christopher Tolkien thinks of this rehash of his dad's work.
For a more in depth explanation about this (if you have an hour or so to kill) Ms. Ellis (Now Mrs. Ellis, she married in '19) has her videos...
Games Workshop wargame adaptation
Hey! We're on 1d4chan!!
Games Workshop has produced a new version of their Lord of the Rings miniature game, titled, to no-one's surprise, The Hobbit (Strategy Battle Game). The game however has failed to shake the very foundations of creation as was intended and for the most part is a cash-in with the very excitable teen boys who are over-bowed by the abilities of acrobatic elves (Thranduil model is fabulous) and wisecracking dwarves from the movie settings. Smaug also got an awesome model but he came with three problems; game-breakingly OP rules (a knock-down rule that works on everything except a Mumak, he can't be knocked down or moved against his will by anything and no courage tests every time he takes a wound... of which he has 20!), the model was too big for any carry case and came at a price that would make even Forgeworld blush.
Use your old models. New "evil" guys are pushovers. Game uses models from Lotr SBG but has changed rules. Monsters were buffed and can now hurl models with low strength value across enemy ranks knock them to the ground and suffer STR 5 hits. Elves seem OP but every elf fgt will cry if you take the Shadow Lord Nazgûl into your army (6's to hit, come at me bro).