In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Reading that sentence is, for me, like stepping onto the welcome mat of a beloved but infrequently-visited friend. Good company is sure to follow, and good food (or, in this case, descriptions of food).
But that sentence did not always affect me this way, nor does it affect everyone that way. When my mom first handed me the book, I was in high school and hardly made it past the opening paragraphs before I dropped it in favor of something with more drama, something probably written by Joyce Carol Oates. I did not encounter it again until a few years later, when the man I was smitten with recommended it (and love, as I’m sure you know, makes one willing to plunge into the lamest of books on the recommendation of one’s beloved). This time, The Hobbit took: I was irrevocably drawn into the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and, a few weeks later, into those of Frodo.
It’s fair to say that my taste in literature changed dramatically from that summer on.
(My life changed from that year on, actually, as I married that man the following winter. How much of his suit’s success can be attributed to The Hobbit? It’s hard to say. But introducing me to Tolkien certainly didn’t hurt his chances.)
I’m not sure how much I need to tell you about The Hobbit, really. If you’ve read it, you know all about it; if you haven’t read it, then you should. And if you’ve ever started to read it but lost interest within the first few chapters, try again. That’s the abridged review.
Here is the slightly longer one:
Part of the appeal of reading The Hobbit is, to me, the joy of reading something that was the first of its kind: we’ve most likely grown up hearing references from Tolkien’s books, and we’ve probably seen some (or all) of Peter Jackson’s movies. Tolkien has influenced so many authors that in their work, we’ve encountered themes and images that build upon his foundation. But I wish, sometimes, that I could have read his books when they first came out, when that sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” introduced a story the likes of which no one had heard before (I feel this way about the Sherlock Holmes stories, too).
The next best thing, though, is reading The Hobbit to our kids. My husband has called dibs on reading this one aloud, but I can’t wait to sit on the floor with my sketchbook and listen as our daughters meet Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin & Co. for the very first time. These stories are well-worn and familiar to us—we both reread the series every few years—but to our daughters, they will be a new sort of adventure, one that takes them the first part of the way into Middle Earth and introduces them to characters that will, we hope, become friends that we’ll all have in common.
And maybe, I hope, The Hobbit might have a hand in shaping the way they view literature from that season on. Maybe.
JRR Tolkien (1937)