I’ve been rereading the Hobbit, for the first time in maybe thirty years, and I can’t help but be struck by it being possibly the most D&D thing I’ve ever read… including some books that were directly set in D&D worlds. It’s not just the moments where something in the early D&D rules was clearly taken from bits in the book, like “Oh, werebears can summon normal bears because Beorn the skin-changer could” or that the whole bit about intelligence and ego in magic swords probably spun out of the one line about Glamdring being “bright as blue flame for delight in the killing [of the Great Goblin]”, it’s much more fundamental: this is D&D at its core.
This is what a party looks like, even if early accounts are to be believed in the numbers of adventurers: 13 dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard; this is what motivates them: gold and to a lesser extent adventure, maybe a little bit of back-story; these are the places they go: across dangerous countryside where there is no king or law, through giant spider-infested forests, into subterranean lairs that stretch beneath entire mountain ranges where live goblins and worse, into lost mines inhabited by dragons. But most of all, these are the shenanigans that PC’s get up to: uncovering secret routes on a treasure map; discovering magic swords in a monster’s pile of loot; hiding while giants fight; killing goblins with sword and magic; nearly getting burned alive by clever, ruthless goblins; using rope, grappling hook, and convenient boat to try to solve the puzzle of crossing the creepy magical river; escaping via a hare-brained plan to hide in barrels to float downriver; discovering a secret door that is revealed once a year; running away from a dragon; aid in defeating a dragon through something they discovered while adventuring. Honestly, I could probably pull something from nearly every chapter. And throughout it all, what’s at stake is primarily their survival and whether they’ll actually emerge wealthy at the other end. Despite the presence of a prophecy, they aren’t the destined ones, the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance, and while arguably the party’s greed and foolishness after their success semi-accidentally led to a better outcome than if they’d stayed home they are not really the heroes of the Southlands.
Much more than The Lord of The Rings, but also more than the stories of Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, The Hobbit is what it’s all about.
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
– The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien