Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” compared to Homer’s “The Odyssey”
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The Odyssey is an epic poem written by Homer and passed down the centuries by the oral tradition. The Hobbit is a fantasy novel authored by J.R.R. Tolkien introducing the world-renowned Lord of the Rings series. At first glance, the similarities might seem vague, but the veil opens when examined closely. There are many similarities between The Odyssey and The Hobbit.
The basis of The Odyssey and The Hobbit is the heroic journey. The Odyssey is told in the tradition of an epic journey while The Hobbit is told as a fantastic journey. The journeys themselves have many similarities. One similarity in particular is the impediments of the journey. The impediments of both journeys have monsters they have to defeat, people they must trick, and the environment they must tame. The main impediment of the journey in The Odyssey is the sea. Because they do not travel through water (except for a short barrel ride) in The Hobbit, the land is the main impediment. The rolling seas and high storms Odysseus faced are similar to the lofty mountains and dark forests Bilbo faced. Neither character could control their situation, but gods did not force the situation upon Bilbo. Another close similarity between The Hobbit and The Odyssey is the use of wine as a sedative.
Wine might not seem to belong in an essay comparing two journeys, however, wine plays an integral part in the journeys of the two books. Most importantly, wine helps the heroes escape from their captors. An example can be found in Book 9 of The Odyssey. Polyphemus traps Odysseus and his crew in a cave and is about to devour them. However, Odysseus lulls Polyphemus to sleep using wine and blinds him. He then escapes by hiding under his bushy rams (888-942). There is a similar allusion in The Hobbit: Bilbo uses strong liquor to lull the prison guards to sleep. While they are asleep, he frees his friends and they steal away in barrels. In both cases, wine was used as a sedative, which enabled them to continue their journey. Another example is the way they escape from the creatures they drug with the wine. Odysseus and Bilbo both show trickery by using a Trojan horse plot. Odysseus’s hides under a ram while Bilbo and his friend’s hide in barrels, both escape under the noses of their captors.
Although there are people and creatures that impede their journey, there are also people and creatures that help Odysseus and Bilbo. The similar helpers are Athena and Gandalf. Both Athena and Gandalf refuse to use their powers to interfere directly with the person they protect (Odysseus and Bilbo respectively). Athena could very easily have gotten Odysseus home, but she chooses to let Odysseus mature on his own with a little of her help. Evidence for this comes when Athena disguised as Mentor says to Telemachus, “What strange talk you permit yourself, Telemachus. A god could save the man [Odysseus] by simply wishing it¾ from the farthest shore in the world” (211-213). Gandalf is very similar to Athena in this manner. He does not directly interfere with the lives of those without magical powers. In Chapter 2 an excellent example is given, trolls catch Bilbo and his friends and threaten to eat them, this threat leaves Gandalf no choice but to free them. Instead of killing the trolls outright, he frees them by deceit. By tricking the trolls into an argument, Gandalf manages to have them turned to stone by the sun (trolls cannot be touched by the rays of sunlight or they are turned to stone). Gandalf did not directly kill the trolls; instead, he delayed them so they did not realize dawn was upon them.
The actions of the two heroes are quite alike. However, one must not oversee the qualities of the heroes themselves. Bilbo is very similar to Odysseus. The easiest to discern is that both use trickery to achieve their goal. Odysseus proves to be a wily fellow when he returns home but conceals his appearance and name. Had he revealed his appearance and name, the suitors who were well armed would have quickly killed him. Instead, he waits and draws the suitors to an enclosed room with no weapons; there he kills them all and reclaims his kingdom. Bilbo shows many of Odysseus’s qualities. Instead of rushing headlong into the Smaug’s (the dragon that is guarding the treasure hoard, a dangerous and cruel dragon) lair, he teases and tantalizes Smaug. This causes Smaug to rush out into the town where is killed by Bard.
These two classics provide the basic structure of the Journey. The similarities between the books are uncanny even though one is an epic journey and the other a fantastic journey. The Odyssey and The Hobbit are one of the greatest classics of Western literature and are quite alike with many similarities.