Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit -- Yehaw!

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Professor  Tolkien doodled these words in a blue book while grading an exam for his students at Oxford University. 

Maybe he thought this would be a good way to start one of his short stories. He certainly had no way of knowing that this sentence and the story to follow would grow and grow until it would take over most of his life. 

With those simple words, he took the first steps of a journey—and as he taught us, “The road goes ever on and on / down from the path where it began…”

Tolkien’s engaging description of hobbit holes and the folk who inhabit them began a delightful fantasy novel called The Hobbit, published in 1937. It featured Bilbo Baggins, who like all self-respecting hobbits preferred the comforts of home to those “nasty, uncomfortable things” called adventures. 

First Edition of The Hobbit

Yet after “an unexpected party,” Bilbo winds up on just such an adventure—with thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim their lost home and treasure. And just to mix it up, Professor Tolkien throws in a wizard, a dragon, and a magic ring. A perfect recipe for mythic mayhem.

The Hobbit was followed by The Lord of the Rings trilogy, published as a series of three books, although it is really one honking big epic story. The main character of LOTR is Frodo Baggins, Bilbo’s nephew, who is charged with a great quest to deal with the ring Bilbo found in The Hobbit

First edition of Book One of LOTR

The Lord of the Rings was written between 1937 and 1949, much of it during World War II—and published in 1954 and 1955. After his father’s death in 1973, Tolkien’s son Christopher published more myths, poetry, and background information from Tolkien’s story world, notably in The Silmarilion.  

Gandalf the Grey

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Although Tolkien had already been working on some of the mythology of Arda and Middle-earth, that day when he doodled the first words of The Hobbit marked the beginning of his great adventure of bringing his world to our world.

The Misty Mountains

That simple declarative sentence has led to a literary empire of books, movies, and mega-merchandizing. In 2009, Forbes magazine ranked Tolkien as the fifth top-earning “dead celebrity” in the world—a designation that would probably make the professor laugh and shake his head. The Lord of the Rings is the second best-selling novel ever written, surpassed only by Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and The Hobbit ranks sixth on that awe-inspiring list. 

But more importantly, Tolkien gave the world one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century, sparking a great resurgence of interest in high fantasy.

And most important of all, Tolkien told a rip-roaring good story that still captures our hearts. So butter the popcorn! I can’t wait to see Part 2 of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit—The Desolation of Smaug. Yehaw!