The Hobbit: Chapter One

I was eight years old the first time I read The Hobbit.  It was grade three and my school library had this classic copywhich my librarian recommended to me (perhaps the best recommendation from a librarian yet).  I borrowed it two weeks at a time, fighting other students who also wanted to read it and who borrowed it when I returned the book.  It took me almost the entire school year, but I finished it.

The way I remember reading The Hobbit, with this classic cover.

Then I never picked it up again.  I loved the book, I thought about the story often, I even attempted the Lord of the Rings trilogy a few years later (making it 2/3 of the way into the second book before collapsing from boredom in the walking scenes).  I picked up another copy from my mom when I decided it would be fun to memorize all of Gollum’s riddles and learn how to read the Dwarvish runes.  But I don’t remember reading it fully again.

Skip forward almost a decade and I’m a LotR fan (but not fanatic, I’m not one of those people…yet).  I’ve seen the movies a few times each, I’ve watched the extended editions, read some of the books, and played the theme music countless times in high school band classes.  I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that there was a prequel in production (albeit a decade after The Return of the King was released.  Is it that long already?!).  To avoid being too swept up in the chaos that surrounds movie/fantasy/cult/classic movie releases I didn’t read the hypothetical blog posts, Peter Jackson’s YouTube updates, or any other press material.  I didn’t even see the trailer until this week when I finally saw Nolan’s final Batman flic.

The original 1937 edition’s cover taken from a drawing by the author.

About the same time, HarperCollinsCanada’s staff did a bit of soul-searching and realized that quite a few (too many) of them hadn’t read the classic adventure story by Professor J.R.R. Tolkien.  To remedy this a Read The Hobbit month was created on The Savvy Reader(the HarperCollins’ book blog).  The idea was anybody who hadn’t read the book (and those who had already) could read it and follow along with the staff as they read it.  Discussions and activities (and maybe some giveaways) will follow and everyone will be prepared for the movie release in December.

My all-time favourite cover design for The Hobbit. Classic with Tolkien’s dragon but striking in black and red.

Even though I’m currently slogging through a Jack Haldean murder mystery I decided to jump into this and reread one of my favourite books.  I’ve also decided to blog about my journey through Middle Earth two chapters at a time mainly to help organize my thoughts, but also in case fellow Hobbit reading challengers pass my Hobbit hole and want to compare notes.

Not in this challenge yet?  It’s not too late.  The group of 21 who have signed up so far are only starting to read today, August 13, and you’re welcome to join as long as you can get to Chapter 10 by the 19th (and I’m sure we’ll welcome you even if you’re just shy of that).  Head on over to the Savvy Reader blog and sign up in the comments and join in the adventure!

Chapter 1

My current version of The Hobbit, HarperCollins’ 1993 paperback edition. (Mine has runes across the gold bars on top and bottom)

The first minutes back in the adventure and my imagination immediately returned to 13 years ago when I first read the opening lines.  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”  It is amazing how those classic lines and the entrance of the Dwarves (a remarkably abrupt beginning now that I think of it) conjure up so much imagery and imagination.  This truly is a fantasy, one where the imagination is set free to fill in a world already so shaped by Tolkein’s literary creations and academic mythology knowledge.

Reading the story as an adult has shown me a great difference to how I perceived it as a child.  When I was younger this story was an intense, adult, and lengthy work that I had to wade through but which opened up a new, amazing world for me.  Now it is a children’s story with hidden layers that I can better see with my knowledge of history and of Tolkien’s story.  The pages fly by, my mental images are shaped by the film version, the voices of the characters are different, and I have expectations of how I remember the story and how I think the story should go.

I don’t feel more constricted because of seeing the movies (and the new trailer, in which I think the Dwarves look a bit cartoonish, plus I’ll admit Harry Potter must have made some sort of mental imagery impact as well) or having a more rigidly defined picture of the world of Middle Earth.  In a way I guess I am imagining the story in the way I expect it will be presented in the film, but I’m also paying more attention to the deeper story.

Tolkien in British Army uniform, 1916.

Tolkien, a former researcher and writer for the Oxford English Dictionary and a revered professor of English language and its history (specifically in the Middle English period – Sir Gawain and the Green Night and Beowulf being two of his focusses) wrote The Hobbit for his children and it is much more evident to me as I read it now.  The opening chapter is remarkably like an extended bedtime story.  Examples of this are easily found in the first few pages, when you can almost feel Tolkien sitting next to your bed explaining the world he had created as if it were a real place and as if it was your own adventure.

“He may have lost the neighbour’s respect, but he gained – well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.  The mother of our particular hobbit – what is a hobbit?  I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays…” The Hobbit, p.14 (1993, paperback) [italics are my emphasis].

It had to happen. HarperCollins has dropped the classic illustrated covers in favour for the movie tie-in edition. “Now a major motion picture” will likely headline Tolkien’s books for the next few decades…

Because of this we are lulled into the storytelling mode, reading the words as if we were hearing them spoken out loud.  Readers also feel like it is the first time they are reading them because the story keeps you in the moment.  Instead of knowing if Bilbo agrees to go along on an adventure or not, I felt like I was kept guessing because of Tolkien’s style.  The narrator’s interaction with the reader and his questions about the back-story make me feel as if I don’t know the final outcome and that I’m caught in some too-fanciful-to-be-true but must-be-true story.

As I reacquaint myself with Bilbo, Dwalin, Thorin, Gandalf, and all the others, I’m looking forward to reimagining Middle Earth and rediscovering Tolkien’s literary magic.  I’m trying to read each chapter in one sitting, as if I were Tolkien’s child getting a bedtime story, to get the full effect of the plot and its orderly division.

I look forward to the HarperCollins discussions and hope you join us in reading The Hobbit once again!

(Remember those fanatics I mentioned earlier?  How do you think the changed cover art went over with them?  If you think it was a favourable change, think again.  My favourite is the mention to how far apart the towers were in LotR: The Two Towers and how contentious was the decision to show those two towers on the cover.  Yes, fanatics…)

5 responses to “The Hobbit: Chapter One

  1. I totally remember doing a read-along Hobbit play at SJD!!! I think Ben P.F. was Bilbo if I remember correctly.

    • Haha, I totally forget that! But that might have been the case, and he would have made an hillarious Bilbo for sure. I just remember reading it on my own.

  2. Pingback: The Hobbit: An Expected Disappointment (Part 1) | @befaster·

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