A Soviet view of hobbits
A Russian edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The hobbit has this illustration showing Bilbo Baggins and the dragon Smaug. You can see more illustrations from this edition at this web site.
It’s interesting, because the illustration is compatible with Tolkien’s description of hobbits, yet it isn’t quite how I pictured them when reading Tolkien’s books. That’s one of the reasons that I never saw, nor had any desire to see, the Lord of the Rings films. I felt that they would interfere with the pictures in my head when I read the books. My wife and son felt the same way. I did not feel the same about the Harry Potter films — I’ve seen the first four, and enjoyed them, and they fitted fairly well with the pictures in my mind when I read the book. But hobbits, no. I think one’s picture of hobbits is too personal.
But the Soviet edition’s illustrations are interesting from a cultural point of view. Has there been a new Russian edition of The hobbit since the early 1990s? Does it use the same, or different illustrations? Do these illustrations reflect a Russian or a Soviet view of hobbits?
How would a Bolshevik view Bilbo Baggins?
Does he represent the heroic worker liberating the wealth of the evil capitalist accumulator Smaug? Or does the grin on his face represent the thoughts of a self-satisfied capitalist who has successfully taken over a rival?
It would be interesting to know how the story is viewed in different cultures.
There is a child in our church in Mamelodi who is reaching the age where she can begin to read stories for herself. I was thinking of giving her one of the Inklings books to read, perhaps The lion, the witch and the wardrobe. But then I thought that the main characters are essentially middle-class English schoolchildren, and they might be too culturally alien to an African child in a working-class township like Mamelodi. It might be better to start with The hobbit, precisely because it makes few cultural assumptions. It is set in an alien culture, though hobbits do seem to share a lot of values with middle-class Englishmen. But it depends entirely on the pictures in one’s head, and those pictures can be anything you like, except that hobbits have hairy feet. So a child in Mamelodi might form an entirely different picture of hobbits from the Saviet ones, or from the Western capitalist ones, for that matter.