Tolkien Month, Day One – My Introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien

hobbit-book-cover

This was the cover of my first copy of The Hobbit

Tolkien month is here on the blog! Who’s excited? I can’t hear you!  Perhaps I’m the only one excited at all. So be it. Wait! I hear a cheer from the back. Okay, there are two of us.

Well then, you and I are going to have a lot to talk about. Onward.

I was probably six or seven years old when my Grandma Hanagarne came over with my birthday presents: an envelope and a package. The envelope contained what it always contained…a dreary savings bond.

The package also contained what my grandma’s packages usually contained: a book. It was a big one. Not in length–even from an early age I wasn’t really one to be intimidated by the thickness of a book. But this book, The Hobbit, was tall and wide.

The green dust jacket had a picture of an uppity-looking, smug dragon on it.

The Hobbit. I’d never heard of it but that didn’t matter. It was a book and it was mine. I opened the cover as she watched, and out fell a thin brass bookmark with my initials engraved on it.

JH.

“Can I go read it?” I took it up to my room after exclaiming over the wonder of my savings bond, sat on the bed, and slowly the world dissolved around me.

I won’t lie, I didn’t get into the story right away. It didn’t seem quite right to have a dragon on the cover of the book and have the story start with a tea party or dinner or whatever was happening.

I thought it was funny when the dwarves started arriving and Bilbo got flustered. I laughed at their songs as they made a mess of things and kept pouring out of the woods or mines or wherever they were coming from.

But I didn’t really get invested in the story until Bilbo headed out the door into…well, that was the point. I don’t have any earlier memories of reading a book with a Quest in it.

I was reading constantly, but it was Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain and Pippi Longstocking and the Ramona books and Harriet The Spy and Charlotte’s Web. None of those characters ever stepped out their front door in quite the same way Bilbo did.

I could not picture myself going out onto our porch and thinking “I have a really long way to go. I am now the official burglar of this expedition, and we’re on our way to steal something from a dragon that lives…how far away is it? I wonder what’s going to happen to me?”

The book had beautiful, full color illustrations as well. I would linger on the pages trying to break each picture into an invisible grid, and then go through the grid from left to right, then up and down, trying to make sure I actually looked at everything in each picture.

I thought the picture of Gollum in the riddles chapter was absolutely terrifying. I couldn’t stop looking at it. I actually still remember one of the riddles, and I haven’t read The Hobbit for years:

Thirty white horses, on a red hill

First they champ, then they stamp

They they are still

Long story short, I read the rest of it quickly and then read it again.

When I started reading more advanced fare than  Are You My Mother? and Where The Wild Things Are, I got out of the habit of rereading books for a while.

I was already aware of how many books there were out there and I could hardly stand the wait between finishing This One and starting That One.

But I reread The Hobbit, and I went through it more slowly the second time. And slower still on the third.

I can’t even really say why. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go in a way that no other book had yet.

I was worried when Bilbo thought the trolls were going to eat him. I was afraid when the goblins dragged them down into the caves. I wished I could change my shape when I got to Beorn. I wondered what a spider’s web would feel like if I was stuck in one. I wondered if it would be uncomfortable to sit on a giant pile of gold like Smaug the dragon.

I wondered at just about everything, and maybe that’s what it was. The situations were all thematically familiar, but alien in terms of situations I had experience with.

I have no memory of being aware of The Lord of the Rings at that point, and avid reader or no, I don’t think I would have been up for it.

Goals for this series

I have a lot to say and a lot of articles to write and a whole lot of discussions that I’m excited to have with you, assuming you’re still here at this point.

I think classifying myself as a passionate amateur is still going to be overdoing it. I love Tolkien and I can’t wait to write more about him and his books, but I’m going to need the help of the nitpickers.

This is not going to be scholarship when I write, it’s going to be more like one gigantic, month long fan letter, so don’t fuss too badly if I happen to misspeak about leap years in Numenor or if I don’t get the properties of  Mithril just so.

But! I want to hear about all that stuff as well, so if you want to write a hardcore fan article let me know. If you want to review one of the books, tell me. If you want to submit any original art, I’ll help you make yourself at home here in September. Whatever you can do, just ask if you’re interested.

For my part, you’ll get my thoughts and opinions on Tolkien and his work, but I’m not going to hold myself to any sort of academic standard.

I’ll say what I have to say, let you fill in whatever you like, and hopefully we’ll have fun this month.

Now then, first question: what was your first experience with Tolkien? How old were you? What were your early impressions like?

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the origins of The Hobbit, which will give me a chance to introduce some background about the author.