If Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy introduced you to “The Hobbit,” you may have the impression that each film has one book dedicated to it. After all, a total theatrical runtime of 474 minutes (almost eight hours) shouldn’t be possible unless the movies come from multiple tomes.
“The Hobbit” isn’t a book series. Instead, it’s a single 293-page tome by J.R.R. Tolkien, who’s also famous for penning “The Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) trilogy. If you’re looking for more books about hobbits, the Middle-Earth Blog counts “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” as another “Hobbit” book.
In the following sections, I’ll answer other possible questions regarding “The Hobbit.” In the end, I’ll touch on a few differences between the movies and the book.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a prequel as “a work… whose story precedes that of an earlier work.” Applying that definition to the film series, “The Hobbit” is a prequel since its events occur before LOTR.
“The Hobbit” book isn’t a prequel, however. Tolkien published “The Hobbit” in 1937, while the first LOTR book, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” came out in 1954. Since Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” and the LOTR books in chronological order, you shouldn’t consider the former a prequel of the latter.
Together, “The Hobbit” and LOTR make up the main storyline of Tolkien’s fantasy universe. With that in mind, you may wonder how many books you should read to understand how the Tolkienverse works.
If you’re not already familiar with Tolkien’s works, “The Hobbit” and LOTR are good places to start. For one, they form the backbone of the Tolkienverse.
Together, “The Hobbit” and LOTR make up four books. “The Hobbit” is a standalone novel, so you don’t have to read the LOTR trilogy to understand it. However, some events in LOTR may not make sense unless you read “The Hobbit” first, like how the one ring came to the Shire, the hobbits’ homeland.
You’re probably curious about “The Hobbit” book if you’ve only watched the Peter Jackson movies. I’ll address that in the next section.
If you love fantasy novels, you’ll probably love “The Hobbit.” The main character, Bilbo Baggins, is an ordinary individual who gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Along the way, he discovers there’s more to him than he realizes. It’s a standard hero’s journey but no less compelling.
Given that “The Hobbit” movies adapt the book of the same name, how faithful was Peter Jackson’s take on Bilbo Baggins’ story? The short answer is: The basics are there, plus a “few” (read: a lot of) bells and whistles.
There’s always a concern about how a filmmaker translates a beloved work to the big screen when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations.
“The Hobbit” movie follows the book’s basic plot. It’s an adventure story about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who (despite his homebody tendencies) becomes part of a treasure hunt along with a group of dwarves. The problem? A fierce and clever dragon named Smaug guards the treasure.
As most book lovers who’ve had their favorite works turned into movies will tell you, the books are “better” than the movies. Conversely, movie lovers will say that they prefer the visual medium over the laborious task of reading walls of text.
In the case of “The Hobbit,” is the book or movie better? I won’t give you a definite answer to that question. However, I’ll discuss overt differences between the two.
If the films ran for a total of 474 minutes and the book only had 293 pages, that means every page translated to around 1.6 minutes worth of runtime. Just what did Peter Jackson add to make the films run that long?
“The Hobbit” trilogy expands on the books.
The film fleshes out the characters’ personalities and motivations further. Also, characters only mentioned in the books play a more prominent role in the plot. Finally, the film adds several scenes the book didn’t have.
I’ll note the most noticeable differences between the films and the book in the table below. If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, this is the part where I warn you about spoilers ahead.
|Opening scene||Starts at Bag End||Starts with the fall of the dwarven kingdom Erebor|
|Frodo’s appearance||Frodo doesn’t appear in “The Hobbit” book||Frodo appears with an older Bilbo|
|Dwarves’ character design||Distinguished only by the colors of their hats. A few (e.g., Balin, Bombur, and Thorin) get additional descriptions of their age, size, and demeanor, respectively||Each dwarf has a distinct look|
|Dwarves’ personalities||Somewhat bumbling||Hardened, capable warriors|
|Radagast the Brown||Mentioned in passing||Investigates the Necromancer at Dol Guldur along with the White Council|
|Azog the Defiler||Mentioned; is dead by the time of the events of “The Hobbit.”||Functions as a co-antagonist alongside Smaug|
|The White Council||Doesn’t appear in the book||Happens while the dwarves are at Rivendell; consist of Gandalf, Elrond, Saruman, and Galadriel|
|Gandalf visits Dol Guldur||Doesn’t happen in the book||Investigates Dol Guldur and encounters the Necromancer after Radagast the Brown does|
|Legolas’ appearance||Appears in LOTR but not in “The Hobbit.”||Plays a more significant role in the dwarves’ escape from Mirkwood and the Battle of the Five Armies|
|Tauriel||Isn’t in “The Hobbit” or any of Tolkien’s books||Is original to the films; functions as a love interest for two prominent male characters|
For a complete list of changes, refer to TheOneRing.com’s excellent guide.
Peter Jackson took a lot of liberties with his film adaptations of “The Hobbit.” Whether these changes add or detract from Tolkien’s work is up to you to decide.
- Tolkien Gateway: The Hobbit (film series)
- Coming Soon: The Stretching of ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy: By the Numbers
- Middle-Earth Blog: Are There Two Hobbit Books?
- Merriam-Webster: Prequel
- Britannica: The Hobbit
- Britannica: The Lord of the Rings
- The Gold Knight: Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies’ ends bloated trilogy
- The Verge: Topher Grace is the latest Hobbit fan to recut the bloated Peter Jackson movies
- Vanity Fair: Lord of the Rings Star Takes Peter Jackson to Task for Bloated Hobbit Trilogy
- Grand Valley State University: The Monomyth (the Hero’s Journey): The Hero’s Journey
- The One Ring: The Complete List of Film Changes for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
- IMDB: The Hobbit Series