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Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice and the Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien Conformity to the Genre of Fantasy

In: English and Literature

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Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien clearly conform to the conventions of the fantasy genre in a number of ways. The main elements of fantasy are discussed in relation to the two texts, with examples provided. This essay will discuss several of the core characteristics of fantasy literature, including the concepts of magic, otherworlds, good vs. evil, heroism, special character types and talking animals. These characteristics of literature are all identified in the two texts, Assassin’s Apprentice by Hobb and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.
Fantasy, as a genre of literature, is a story or series of stories, which exhibits certain definable elements that make the plot unreal and challenge the reader to suspend disbelief. There are many of these unreal elements, which feature in the fantasy genre. These unreal elements vary from mythical beasts roaming an imagined world to Earth-like natural settings in which animals take on human characteristics. There are also clearly recognizable conventions of fantasy, such as toys coming to life, miniature humans, magical powers, and time-warp stories. A fantasy novel would usually encompass more than one of these unreal elements. However, a fantasy story needs to possess only one of these unreal features in order to be classified as a part of the fantasy genre. Put simply, a fantasy story is one with at least one element that cannot be found in the human world.
Magic is the most basic element of fantasy; magic is what draws a reader to fantasy. Magic involves charms, spells or rituals used in order to produce a supernatural event. It's something that we humans are unable to perform, so we are intrigued by it. Both The Hobbit and Assassin’s Apprentice feature magic. For example, in The Hobbit, ‘wizards’, who are mythical practitioners of magic and wizardry, have the ability to cast spells, in one-scene Gandalf uses an enchanted sword that lights up in the darkness of the cave.
He took out his sword again, and again it flashed in the dark by itself. It burned with a rage that made it gleam if goblins were about; now it was bright as blue flame for delight in the killing of the great lord of the cave. (Tolkien, 1937. p 49)
In comparison, in Assassin’s Apprentice, Hobb includes a special characteristic of the main characters, in which they have a “skill” that allows them to share or take from others, their thoughts through mental telepathy – “They say that in the old days, when more men trained in the Skill, a man could tell what his leader was thinking about just by being silent and listening for a while.” (Hobb, 1995. p 177)
‘Otherworlds’ are an imaginative creation by the author of a place that is only a little or nothing like earth. It is a completely imagined world where anything can possibly happen and is only limited by the author's imagination. The author has two choices when introducing an imaginary world to the reader. The author can begin the book by locating all characters in this imagined world and never refer to what we know as the real world, as in Tolkien's Middle-earth. In The Hobbit, “Middle Earth” of which the story is set, is a central continent of a fictional universe setting of which the story is set and exhibits many earth-like features, with the exception of mythical creatures. This is a perfect example of an ‘otherworld’ from the fantasy genre.
Assassin’s Apprentice features a similar otherworld setting, the story takes place in “Buckkeep Castle”, which is part of the “Six Duchies”, near a mythical Mountain Kingdom, featuring in a an Earth-like world. This world is mentioned in the first sentence of the text – “A history of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.” (Hobb, 1995. p 1)
Universal themes are vital in a fantasy story. The most basic of these is the idea of good versus evil. There's always a good character trying to fight for what is right against the powerful force of a bad character. A great example of good vs. evil is in Assassin’s Apprentice and in The Hobbit with the perseverance in the face of danger against the Goblins and Wild Wolves,
So began a battle that none had expected; at it was called the Battle of the Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon on side were the Goblins and the wild Wolves, and upon the other were elves and Men and Dwarves. (Tolkien, 1937. p 190)
When Hobbs and Tolkien banded these bad characters into races, their loyalties became more easy to identify.
Thus, heroism is an imperative part of fantasy literature. It’s the concept of the heroes saving the day and becoming victorious over evil. Many times the heroes are ordinary people in difficult circumstances. They themselves don't know of their powers or abilities until they are called upon to perform heroic feats. It is that humble strength that we love to see. Some characters are guided by a larger, more powerful force—characters such as Bilbo by Gandalf in The Hobbit. Another example would be the character Nosy in Assassin’s Apprentice, who is a dog and rescues Fitz, another character who was moments away from death – “His worn teeth sank deeply into my hand several times before he managed to drag me from the pool.” (Hobb, 1995. p 457)
Special character types are common in fantasies. Some examples of these are fairies, giants, ogres, dragons, witches, unicorns and centaurs. These characters are appealing because they are so different from what we find in our daily lives. However, a great author can shape the character in such a way that the reader finds these characters believable. The Hobbit features many “orcs”, goblins, trolls and dragons, amongst others.
Whilst Assassin’s Apprentice does not feature any mythical creatures, it does however posses telepathically talking animals. The use of talking animals or anthropomorphism in fantasy stories can be used for several different purposes. Sometimes the animals can talk to humans, as in James in the Giant Peach or The Chronicles of Narnia. However, sometimes the animals only talk amongst each other and are incapable of talking with humans, as in Charlotte's Web, Redwall or Rabbit Hill. The need and use for communication is prevalent in both of these fantasy stories. Assassin’s Apprentice features mental telepathy with animals, in this case dog’s through the entire storyline.
But as I had discovered long ago, I could communicate with Leon, but there was no bond… The Wit was not dominion over beasts, but only a glimpse into their lives.” (Hobb, 1995. p 345)
Each of these motifs makes fantasy the distinctive genre that it is. They are present in both Assassin’s Apprentice and The Hobbit, thus conforming the traditional concept of fantasy literature. This essay discussed several of the core characteristics of fantasy literature, including the concepts of magic, otherworlds, good vs. evil, heroism, special character types and talking animals. These characteristics of literature were all identified in the two texts, Assassins Apprentice by Hobb and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Reference List
Hobb, R 1995, Assassin’s Apprentice, Voyager Books, London, United Kingdom.
McGowen, K 2008, ‘Fantasy Books: There's a Whole Other World Out There’, Yale National Initiative, Curriculum Unit, 6 March 2008, viewed 11 March 2015, <>
Tolkien, J. R. R. 1937, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, George Allen & Unwin, Great Britain, United Kingdom.

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