Sunday, September 30, 2012

reasons to read The Hobbit

Two brief writings of mine on The Hobbit have just been published.

1. Back in July, a German Tolkienist named Marcel Bülles, whom I knew from the 2005 Birmingham conference, started compiling "75 reasons why you should read The Hobbit before watching the films," the idea being, I think, that he would publish one each day during the last 75 days before the movie comes out. I was one of the 75 reasoners he contacted, and my submission - which was based on a blog post I made here, and prior to that on arguments made in my article "Summa Jacksonica" in Tolkien on Film - is now online on his new website. You can read the whole compilation - so far there's only two others; I think I was an early replier - here.

2. Jason Fisher, editor of Mythprint, announced that the September issue would be Hobbit appreciation month, and invited contributions. That issue has just been published. My piece, like many others, was on how I came to read The Hobbit in the first place. This one isn't, I think, already publicly online, and it isn't based on a blog post, and it goes like this:

The person I have to thank is my fifth-grade teacher, Miss Lloyd. Along with assigning endless subtraction drills, she had the more admirable habit of spending the last half hour of class, once or twice a week, reading us a chapter from a children's novel. One of the books we got through that year was The Hobbit.

This was 1968, so it was near the height of the Sixties Tolkien boom, but as a child in deepest suburbia I knew nothing of that. Nor did I know that the book was "fantasy": I had no such categories in my mind. All I knew was that this story opened up vistas of landscape and adventure deeper and richer than any other book I knew - many of which were, in fact, classic fantasies.

A few months later I had the opportunity to borrow a copy (paperback, with the Remington cover). I seized the chance to revisit this story - and to read chapter 8, which I'd missed from being out sick that day. For years afterwards, that chapter felt different from the rest of the book to me, because it was the only one I didn't first hear orally.

Miss Lloyd had told us there were sequels (that was the way she put it), so when I finished reading the borrowed copy I did something the likes of which I'd never done before. I gathered up $4 of my allowance, rode my bicycle to a nearby bookstore - now long gone - and bought all four volumes for myself. From that point I was lost to the world.

It took another six achingly long years before I met anybody else who'd read Tolkien and wanted to talk about him, and, when I did, I found that many of them tended to ignore The Hobbit or even put it down. That intrusive and lecturing narrator, for instance. I actually liked the narrator - I thought he was funny, and his lessons on what dwarves and trolls were like added to the believability of the texture. Gradually, The Hobbit has become recognized as a masterpiece in its own right and of its own, distinct kind. Studies of it for its own sake are growing, and now (sigh) it even has its own movie. It's not quite such a little fellow in a wide world after all.

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