THE HOBBIT (Ballantine Books, $2.95) is the underpinning for THE LORD OF THE RINGS. In it, we're introduced to Middle Earth, the Shire and Hobbits - Munchkins with less technicolor and better architecture. The book, by J. R. R. Tolkien, chronicles Bilbo Baggins' quest to recover treasure from a fire-breathing dragon. Hobbits are not known for bravery or curiosity which makes Bilbo a fish out of water, and an unlikely messiah for Middle Earth. Tall people always got to be throwing shade. Though technically an introduction to LORD OF THE RINGS, THE HOBBIT stands on its own for Tolkien's creative genius and suspenseful prose. Coincidentally, as I sat down to post this summary, I learned actor Ian Holm whom portrayed Bilbo in several Hobbit films including Peter Jackson's masterful LORD OF THE RINGS epic, left our world this morning. He was 88. Godspeed.