The Hobbit is one of my very favourite children’s books. It is also (in case you had not yet noticed) at the cinema right now, go and see it if you haven’t already. It’s very, very well done.
One of the things which I think makes The Hobbit unique is the main character. This is Bilbo Baggins, uncle of Frodo. At the beginning of The Hobbit, he is already middle-aged, and he acts it. He likes the comfort of his hobbit-hole, and having a vast number of meals ever day. He is, all told, a respectable creature.
This is what is so weird about Bilbo – he’s so middle-aged, and I can’t think of another adventure book for children which has a human or humanoid main character which is not a child. J.R.R.Tolkein is really not talking down to his audience (a major character dies during the book, and it’s final), and I think that really appeals to children. It certainly appealed to me.
Bilbo Baggins is literally forced out of his comfortable Hobbit-hole and sent on an adventure with a group of dwarves. The dwarves are on a mission to reclaim their mountain from a dragon called Smaug, so you can tell it is a difficult mission to begin with. And then most of the book is occupied by their journey there, which includes trolls, goblins, a man who can turn into a bear and the giant eagles which you may recall from The Lord of The Rings.
What I’m trying to say is that it is a pretty epic adventure, but at the same time the language (and to an extent the sentiment) is simplified so that it is not nearly as difficult to read as The Lord of The Rings. It also provides a nice introduction to J.R.R.Tolkein’s world, since it takes place in many of the same places as The Lord of The Rings does, and tells the story of how Bilbo got the One Ring of Power in the first place.
There isn’t much I can say about it that I dislike – perhaps the songs, which I always skip in the book, but now that they have been made into a wonderful soundtrack I feel they have taken away my only quibble. It is a bit of an adventure book for boys, containing, I think, no female characters whatsoever, but then again I never noticed this when I was reading it aged 11, despite being a girl myself. I would strongly recommend giving it to any fantasy-minded young people you know, or reading it yourself if you have not yet had the chance.