Hobbits, notes Tolkien at the start of their eponymous story, are largely forgotten, easily missed and have little or no magic about them.

Or not. In the 75 years since he penned those words, The Hobbit has sold more than 100 million copies. In its opening weekend, Peter Jackson’s first instalment of the movie version broke records around the world. Clearly there is something a little magical about Hobbits after all.

The interesting question, however, is what that magic is. Why should an English boffin’s fairytale of elves, wizards and dragons continue to command such devotion? What craving does it satisfy?

To its literary critics, The Hobbit’s success is simply a sign of widespread immaturity. The story, with its faux mediaeval cadences and reactionary archetypes, is mere escapism – intellectual comfort-food for the politically disengaged.

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