Friday, May 29, 2009

The Hobbit

Every so often this past semester I would walk into my my friend Paul's room, which was right beside mine, and browse through the books on his tall, dark-wooded bookshelf. In between the volumes on Spanish history and political theory was a sizable collection of fiction, from Forster to Dostoevsky. Every time I would scan the titles looking for something new, my eye would pause for a moment as it came across the particular shelf with the Lord of the Rings series. I would get excited, seeing the prequel to this wonderful series, the Hobbit, sitting right beside the others, and my hand would always move to grab it. But every time, right as my hand was instinctively reaching out, my brain would catch up to my impulses and I'd realize that Paul owned the Spanish version of the Hobbit. My hand would drop and I'd always get a little bit sad. I know a fair amount of Spanish, mind you, but there's no way in Texas that I am going to try to wade through the verbiage of philologist J.R.R. Tolkein in another language! I have a hard enough time keeping up with him in my English!

Well, Paul's bookshelf is packed up all neatly in a box somewhere, and I've made my way back to Texas for the summer, so I knew that if I wanted to read the Hobbit, I'd have to go get it myself. And that's what I did. I had planned to hold off on reading it until a vacation I'll be taking in the near future, but there are only so many times you can pass by a book that looks that delicious without picking it up.

The Hobbit is a storytellers story. It's in a class of fiction all by itself. The people at Barnes and Noble don't quite know what to do with it. They have it in the Sci-Fi area, but it's not really all that Sci-Fi. It's just incredibly good fantasy, so unless you actually go to the nerdy section of the bookstore, you're likely not to come across this great work just browsing through the normal fiction section.

I love how Tolkein tells stories. He lets the action guide you, and he slowly builds a framework for your imagination to run wild with. He doesn't just say a place is beautiful, he gives details that make the beauty come alive in your mind. It's fair to say that this book is a wonderful way to work out your imagination. If all you read is non-fiction, or the Dan Brown type fiction, you'll come out of the literary world of Tolkein's Hobbit feeling like you've dunked your head in a pool of fresh, cool water.

The story is built around the classic method that Tolkein used in the Lord of the Rings: an epic journey. Here Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit we meet in The Fellowship of the Rings, sets off on an adventure with a team of dwarves and the always-likable wizard Gandalf. They set off for the mountain which the Dwarves used to call home, hoping to displace the terrifying dragon that has taken up residence there and re-claim the buried treasure they left behind.

It's a story that you need to let yourself fall into. It is a quick read, but there's enough meat to keep you chewing as well. It gave me a taste of a kind of storytelling that often gets pushed to the side in our modern, cookie-cutter world. And any book that grabs your hand, carries you off to a far-away land, and deposits you in the middle of the action like Tolkein does is a worthy way to spend some time. Make sure and read The Hobbit before it comes out on the silver screen in 2012!


jamesfenwick said...

Great post, Mark. I remember reading The Hobbit in 7th grade (not because I was already that bookish, but because it was required) and I can honestly say that it is one of a few works that ignited my love for fiction and reading in general. I've yet to actually read the ring trilogy though.

And I thought you were in Birmingham for the summer...did you change your mind, or am I just illusional?

Paul said...

great, that's next on my list. right now i'm reading another one i read a long time ago for school= to kill a mockingbird\ and the book is reminding me just how refreshing and enthralling well written fiction can be

Samuel D. Smith said...

I still remember the feeling I had while reading the Hobbit for the first time. Wow. And then LoTR. An entirely new level.

Great blog! (Note use of rare exclamation point.)