Post originally published on 3/25/15
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” (The Hobbit, p. 1)
J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the most influential writers I have had the pleasure to read. I was first introduced to Tolkien when I was about five years old. I used to have my mother and brother read his Lord of the Rings series to me, until I had figured out enough to begin reading it myself. It amazed me, and still does, that he was able to create something that spanned the interests of both children and adults. You need only go as far as the opening line in The Hobbit to see this. He takes what a child would think of when he hears of someone living in a hole in the ground, gives it validation, but shows that it is not that at all, which fascinates the child more. He gives an adult enough to spark what is left of her imagination, and to put it in a pretense she can relate to.
I truly believe that my early introduction to Tolkien is what sparked my creative functioning and helped me to continue using my imagination as I grew. My parents were avid readers, and The Lord of the Rings series was one thing that all of us could always agree on. You see, hobbits do not like to be adventurous. If the itch arises, they prefer to hide this strain of themselves, pretend it isn’t there. But they can’t hide it forever, and this plays toward the curious and adventurous nature of children. They think adventures are these wonderful big things, but adults don’t necessarily care for adventure and rather enjoy living their predictable lives. The child can relate this likeness to his parents, and his parents can relate to the hobbit’s preference of comfort. When the need for a change and bit of adventure arises (think mid-life crises), adults can relate to, and almost want to live vicariously through, Bilbo’s adventures.
Tolkien reminds adults how to be curious and adventurous again. He gives us an outlet that doesn’t leave us feeling washed up when we return to our day-to-day lives. There is BBC archival footage talking with Tolkien about his Lord of the Rings series (which you can watch here), that takes you through some of Tolkien’s reasons for writing the way he did, as well as some people’s reactions to his work. I have to agree with some of the opinions shown in the first video: when you finish reading The Lord of the Rings, you come back to your life and feel like a little magic has rubbed off on things, making them more than ordinary. It’s the usual comforts such as food, drink, and tobacco, that make the Shire and hobbit life relatable, and also make the adventure into the wilderness all that much more magical. Children thrive in finding magic all around them. They are entranced by rainbows, sleight of hand, and many other things that adults take for granted. Adults, on the other hand, forget the magic that once was there, and Tolkien helps them to remember. He helps bring it back.
I believe Peter S. Beagle described Tolkien’s writing the best in an excerpt included in the beginning of one of my copies of The Hobbit:
“I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams, and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. […] Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.”
If you haven’t read any of Tolkien’s works, I strongly suggest you give them a try, especially on this, Tolkien Reading Day, of all days. You can visit the official Tolkien store here, and find out more about Tolkien Reading Day here.