In this installment of my literary series, I return with a book that brings me significantly happier memories than the last one I discussed (Gamer Girl). Not only is it one of my favorite fantasy novels, it’s quite possibly one of the most famous fantasy novels of all time, and with good reason! Penned by linguistic and literary genius J.R.R. Tolkien, this beloved book serves as the prequel to the mega-popular work The Lord of the Rings. Guessed it yet? It could only be The Hobbit!
(Well, it could also be The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, or the Unfinished Tales …but that’s a different topic entirely.)
The funny thing about this book is that I never would have read it if it weren’t for sheer boredom! It was final exam week for my 8th grade class, I had finished my last test of the day early (as I tended to do), and remembered that I had brought a couple of books with me to read in the remaining time. One of these was The Hobbit, an old battered copy of my dad’s that I had picked up out of curiosity on my way out of the door. With nothing better to do, I began to read and was soon hooked! The story, enchanting from the very start, tells the tale of the comfort-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins, as he is pulled from his quiet and orderly life to embark on an adventure at the request of the wizard Gandalf the Grey and a company of thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield. Traveling across the land of Middle Earth, all the way from the hobbits’ land of the Shire to the ancient dwarven kingdom of Erebor, Bilbo and the company endeavor to reclaim Thorin’s kingdom and the dwarves’ wealth from the evil dragon Smaug.
When I first read this book, the first thing that struck me about it was its strange familiarity; I almost felt that if I were suddenly flung from “reality” into the world of the story, I would be perfectly at home. This became especially apparent to me during the parts of the story when the company encountered elves, and it must have stuck, because I’ve been imagining myself as one of that race since then! They are described as great lovers of laughing and singing who would only laugh more if you told them that their songs’ lyrics were nonsensical, knowers of many things, users of magic and other marvelous crafts, lovers of light, and overall “Good People”; in short, everything I could ever want to be in life or want in a community! Even my mother, who read through The Hobbit with me, found a group of characters to identify with: the hobbits themselves, with their love of comfort, peace and quiet, nature, and good food. Not only was I able to find a group of characters to whom I related perfectly, I also noticed amusing connections to “reality” that made the story feel real. Bilbo, for example, coined a proverb during his quest: “Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!” (this actually happened during the adventure, of course), which according to Tolkien later became our modern saying “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
If I had to define the main reason why The Hobbit is one of the most influential books I’ve read, however, it would be the simple yet profound lessons it taught me that I didn’t even realize I had learned until much later. Bilbo learns through his adventure that “the world is not in your books and maps - it’s out there,” as Gandalf says in the book’s film adaptation. As distressing as it is to admit, I – like the book’s titular hobbit – am a creature of comfort. I’ve always preferred reading, studying, and imagining rather than going out and adventuring. I like being comfortable, I like being in control, and most especially, I like being safe. But I realize that if I want to learn and grow, then being comfortable, in control, and safe aren’t always going to be options that I’ll have. Change (a nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable thing, change!) is necessary sometimes, and it’s also necessary to step of my comfort zone in order to achieve the change that needs to happen. After all, “It’s a dangerous business…going out of your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” This masterpiece taught me that being swept off isn’t a bad thing at all.
Years after I first read The Hobbit, I learned that Tolkien intended for the world of both this book and The Lord of the Rings to actually be the world we call “reality”; Middle-earth is our world as it might have been in the distant past. My first reaction? No wonder! In a way, it had never occurred to me that Middle-earth wasn’t real, because it had been real to me since I first read about it, whether through its characters, its connections to the present day, or its lessons that even now still ring true in my heart.
Have you read any books that you realized the significance of perhaps years later? Do you have any fond memories or experiences with Tolkien’s universe? Leave your stories below in the comments, and feel free to follow my blog for more of my literary adventures!