A long time ago there once lived a young girl… who didn’t much care for hobbits…
One summer in my childhood, I attended a summer school program, which I really hated. I don’t think I hated it because it was bad—in fact I’m sure it was a good program. I just wanted to be at home, so I was going to hate anywhere that wasn’t home. (Ironically… feelings not too different from Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.) Anyway, during that program the teacher read The Hobbit to us and I remember just loathing it. I can’t even remember anything about the book from then, only the serious hatred I had for the whole situation!
Aside from loving a few Roald Dahl books when I was in elementary school (and my favorite of those I read was Danny, Champion of the World… one of the least “fantasy” of them), I have never really been attracted to fantasy/adventure stories in general. That’s not to say I didn’t have an active and crazy imagination, of course, just… eh. Dwarfs and kings and magic swords and epic battles were not my thing.
I never had another thought about Tolkien after that
traumatic summer program experience until I was in college and got dragged to the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, by a friend of mine who was a big fan of the books. Well, I thought the movie was great and totally engrossing, and that cliff-hanger ending got me (even though I knew it was coming). I ended up reading (and enjoying) all three Lord of the Rings books before the second film came out a year later.
Next month, a new movie version of The Hobbit will be released, the first of a trilogy of films to precede the LoTR storyline. So I figured I should finally get around to giving reading The Hobbit a real chance. I have a <ahem> “borrowed” copy from my mother—a tenth-edition printing of the revised version from 1967 (cover pictured above). I think I have had this copy on my bookshelves at least since I saw the LoTR films almost a decade ago, possibly longer. Within the first 20 withered, water-stained pages, I found an abandoned, yellowed coupon for a liquor store from the 70s. Nice!
I did like The Hobbit… but I’m not sure I can say I loved it. Fantasy, apparently, is still not really my thing. However, I do think the story is a wonderful classic and I’m so glad I read it. I loved many characters and scenes, and Tolkien’s thoughtfully detailed world- and history-building makes for extremely “real” mental imagery. His writing is delightful, lyrical, matter-of-fact, and laced with sarcastic humor. Bilbo is fun as a reluctant hero—gentle, sweet, humble, clever, and somewhat snippy. I don’t remember Gandalf being quite so curmudgeonly in LoTR, but maybe he was… it’s been about ten years since I read them. I have to admit my mind wandered during certain traveling scenes and the conclusion with the dragon and ensuing parts were a bit anti-climactic for me. But every pivotal moment before the climax will really stick in my mind—the trolls, the escape from the goblins in barrels, Bilbo’s interaction with Gollum, etc. Tolkien is brilliant in using these characters and the fantasy genre for deeper commentary on human behavior and society. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (pg. 273) Indeed.
I think fantasy just works better for me personally on screen than in writing. Looking forward to seeing what they do with the new film trilogy!
Read from November 4 to 11, 2012.