haven't heard, today is the 75th anniversary of the publication of
J. R. R. Tolkien's book, The Hobbit.
in the United Kingdom.It took a while
to make it to this country.I still have
my copy, a paperback from 1965.I blush
to admit I thought the whole premise sounded silly—short guys with hairy feet?—so
I didn't read it until 1966.
Trilogy hit me like a bolt of lightning when I was an impressionable
sixteen-year-old.My best friend, who
had discovered it first, gave me a copy of The
Fellowship of the Ring as a birthday present in May, and I tore through
it—and then ordered The Hobbit and
the second and third books of the trilogy (hark back, o readers, to the day
when there were no online bookstores, and physical bookstores were widely
scattered and unavailable to someone not yet old enough to drive).The books arrived on the last day of school that
year, and I read them all in a mad rush.I recall bursting into tears at three o'clock one morning when the
corsairs of Umbair unfurled the flag of the king…Okay, I was a nerd.
hard to remember the innocent days before Dungeons & Dragons, or the Harry
Potter series or George Martin's series, but Tolkien gave birth to a genre that
captured a generation.A scholar of
impressive credentials, he created multiple languages within the books, Elvish
tongues based on his own academic field.More important, he tapped into venerable literary traditions that
embodied the eternal conflict of good versus evil, and made them sing again.
forgot the books.Once a nerd, always a
nerd?I reread the trilogy every summer for at least
a decade; I nearly wept when one volume was left out in the rain (and I rushed
to replace it). Even now I find myself referring to various elements from the
I live in a house filled with them.In
case you've forgotten, a mathom is a hobbit birthday present.To quote from the Fellowship of the Ring, "Hobbits give presents to other people
on their own birthdays.Not very
expensive ones, as a rule, and not so lavishly… it was not a bad system.Actually…every day in the year was somebody's
birthday, so that every hobbit…had a fair chance of at least one present at
least once a week.But they never got
tired of them." Doesn't that sound like a lovely system? (I have a
sneaking suspicion that they "regifted.")
I've traveled any significant distance, I find myself repeating:
The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began.
there is "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and
quick to anger,” which for some reason I find a very useful phrase. It's a much
more polite way of saying "butt out."
ways the books have informed my own writing.I always felt that Sam was the true hero of the Trilogy, and Frodo was
kind of a prig.That taught me the
importance of the sidekick, because no hero can succeed without help: wizards
are handy, as are kings and princes, but it's the good friend who saves the
a downside to Tolkien's writing, it's that his female characters are less
memorable.He celebrates the heroic
quest, but it's mainly the male characters who take the lead.
flaws don't matter, because the whole is so much greater than the sum of its
parts. So let us celebrate the anniversary that marks the beginning of
something wonderful. Who would have thought that a race of short creatures with
hairy feet would travel so far?