Tuesday, January 29, 2013


The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again was originally published in 1937--seventy-six years ago--yet the story can still delight. Originally written for children; specifically, J.R.R. Tolkien reportedly wrote it for his own children; writing in a style that he felt his children would enjoy. Given the time period, it is not especially surprising that portions of the story where violence comes in, are not watered down as you might see in a more modern 'children's story.'

Image: A ripped off image of the full book jacket artwork. No, I'm not reading a first edition, mine is a reprint from Houghton Mifflin. I'm not sure, but I think its the fourth edition; fifty-ninth printing. hello nerds.

Its clear from the narrative however, that this story is written for children, and there are many nods and side notes given to the reader directly from the narrator. [Speaking directly to the reader is by no means done only in children's stories.] Alexandre Dumas, I'm looking at you.

And just like Dumas, Tolkien tells his readers things like; "Now if you wish, like the dwarves, to hear news of Smaug, you must go back again to the evening when he smashed the door and flew off in a rage, two days before." So begins chapter 14, in case you were wondering what that nasty worm had gotten up to. This type of dialog with the reader, doesn't show up in The Lord of the Rings, unless perhaps in the prologue. I guess I'll have to read it again.

So... Our hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, goes on a journey--accompanied by a baker's dozen of dwarves and a pro tem wizard--only to find that he will end up going further than ever the Lonely Mountain, or a pile of dragon gold, could ever take him. His adventures not only reform his demeanor, confidence and bravado, but will eventually reform Middle Earth itself. Bilbo grows from burden, to companion, to asset, to confidant, and eventually to leader, conscience and friend to the dwarves.

This is a wonderful story to read to younger children, or give to older children to read on their own. Tolkien very consciously avoids talking down to children, dumbing down the story, or flowering up the 'truth' of the story, as he sees it.

You may have heard that Peter Jackson and Co. has made a little film adaptation of this book, and will be rolling it out in three rather than the originally discussed, two episodes. I won't get into the movie here, but you can clickedy on over here to see it lamb basted by Noah Berlatsky for The Atlantic.

Get yourself a copy of The Hobbit and read it. If you have the chance, read it to child. sing the songs! I would look for the hardcover version: the maps are printed on the end papers, and the illustrations are by Tolkien himself. Tolkien has a great hand for stylized landscapes.

Not convinced? Okay, here's my Hobbit story. The Hobbit was assigned reading in my 8th grade English class. In the 8th grade, I was not a reader. The teacher sometimes read aloud in class, we had quizzes, which I tried to complete, but failed; but I found that as I read the questions on the quizzes, and eventually the final test, I still didn't know the answers. But I wanted to. I 'borrowed' my copy of the book at the end of the year, and read it over the summer! The Hobbit helped make me a reader.

Yeah, Read this book. smoke a pipe, drink some ale!

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