Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966
This is the last book in Elijah’s little library. It is my contribution from my middle school years. My hope for him is that he can share this part of his family’s love for books and reading. It can be enthralling to be pulled into a good book. For Elijah we hope that he always enjoys these books and many others. And when he grows up, he will have the great privilege to share his books with someone special.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was my favorite book from middle school. It was the grandest adventure story I had ever read. It was my initiation into the fantasy genre. One of my most vivid memories of reading this book is the intricate hand drawn maps. I have always loved maps! Take a look at the picture below. To my middle school self, it was a wondrous adventure and this map fired my imagination.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This is the opening sentence for the book. That hobbit was the very comfortable, very prosperous Bilbo Baggins. A hobbit, who never looked for adventure. Hobbits are a comfortable, homey race much enamored of breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper and not adventures of any kind. How Bilbo becomes a thief, takes a journey (scandalous behavior for a hobbit!) and comes home again is an impressive story. It is a sweeping adventure story in which Bilbo encounters wizards, dwarves, trolls, elves and a dragon. My heart sang with the poetry of the dwarves and the elves. I always wished I could visit them.
One of the facets of this book that makes it opulent and complex is the poetry that Tolkien uses to set the scene, give perspective and move the narrative forward. Here is the first verse of the song, the dwarves sing a confused and horrified Bilbo upon their first meeting. It illustrates dwarfen humor.
Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates–
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
This song that explains the purpose of the journey for the dwarves. They were seeking a thief to help them retrieve their treasure. The journey takes them beyond the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain and the great dragon, Smaug.
Far over the Misty Mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day,
To seek the pale enchanted gold.
You may have seen the two movies based on this book. I have seen the first, but not the second. It was a good movie, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading this book. For me it was a stupendous read in middle school. It was the same wondrous read, when the girls and I snuggled up on the sofa one warm, summer day to read it together.
If you like fantasy books like this, you may also want to read about Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo in the great classic Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Tolkien was born in South Africa on January 3, 1892. His father passed away in 1896 and his mother moved the family aback to England. It is said that Tolkien remembered very little of his time in South Africa, but they were sharp. One of the most vivid was an encounter with a large hairy spider¹. His mother converted the family to the Roman Catholic faith, thus separating them from both sides of their family. The family lived in genteel poverty until his Mother’s death of diabetes in 1904. Their parish priest Father Francis Morton took Tolkien and his brother under his wing¹.
His story is so rich it is difficult to summarize it to any great extent. He was linguistically precocious. He mastered Greek, Latin, Finnish and other languages including the ones he made up. He went to Exeter College Oxford. He changed his degree from Classics to English Language and Literature. While still at Oxford, World War I broke out. He did not rush to enlist, but worked to finished his degree, which he did in 1915.
He did experience war first hand as a second lieutenant. He was eventually sent to the Western Front and participated in the Somme offensive. He became ill and was sent home to recover. By the end of the war many of his friends had been killed. After the war, he sought employment and returned to Oxford. He had several positions, but finally he was a Professor of English Language and Literature².
His imagination and love of languages enabled him to write masterpieces of fantasy literature. He is known as the Father of Fantasy. He was not however an easy author. Were it not for the advocacy of the publisher’s son, who had read and loved The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy would never been published¹. Writing fantasy epics was Tolkien’s hobby not his day job³. I am so glad that he wanted to spend time exploring language and fairy tales. He has given us masterpieces for the ages. Although The Hobbit was marketed as a children’s book, I consider it a book for anyone who loves rich storytelling and exciting adventure.
In preparing this short summary of his life, I was disappointed to learn that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was not an allegory of World War II. I thought I had read some place in the past that he wrote portions of it for his son, Christopher, who was in the RAF during that war. Alas, I was incorrect.
Upon Tolkien’s death, his son Christopher did comb carefully through his father’s papers and published several of his father’s works.
Here are some sources for more information on this author.
- Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFexwNCYenI