I never really enjoyed Bilbo. To me, as a kid, Lord of the Rings was the real stuff, which I devoured again and again and again – dad had the series in a reviewers edition, translated to Swedish, three beautiful books now totally ruined by the pre-teen me sleeping with them under my pillow and then taping the covers together.
Renewed tries at the book did not alter my judgement.
Then an online acquaintance of mine, from the Green Dragon, posted a chapter by chapter analysis of the book. It was fascinating to see how much she could write about each chapter, in an interesting way, and I decided that maybe I should pick it up again but this time in the original English – I do have an Unwin paperback gracing my shelves.
And so I did.
The first half of the book is narrated as it is an oral tale, making use of the oral way of expressing what is happening. I am of course no expert in the English language, far from it, but to my ears the language of the first half is poetic, in a fun, rhyming, way. After the company pass through the Mirkwood the language starts to get more prosaic, and some of the flow of the text vanishes. At the same time Bilbo changes from a soft naive to being stealthily smart, in his own way, somewhat thanks to the Ring but also because he doesn’t strive for the big things, the gold, the treasure, or the heroism. The good things are the small things, like the smell of bacon and a cosy bed. The rest is only trouble. A kind of back to the roots nostalgia, which I dislike.
Despite this I can say that the original English is, while not great literature, certainly worth reading. The total opposite of the Swedish original translation, made by Britt G Hallqvist, which lack the poetry of the original text, even as it tries to copy it.
There is a new translation out but I can’t comment on it – the book is not good enough for me to own three different versions of it ;-)