Nostalgia Reads: The Hobbit

nos·tal·gia [no-stal-juh] – noun:

A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

What happens when a band of dwarves sets out on a journey to avenge their relatives and regain their mountain hold full of treasure from a fearsome dragon? Well, they need a burglar of course, and the trusty wizard Gandalf knows just who to procure – little Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit living comfortably in his family home, eating eleven square meals a day (plus snacks of course!). Bashful Biblo seems like a hopeless edition to the band of sturdy dwarves, until they start getting into trouble and the only one who can help them is their burglar!

image from google

Now, I’m going to assume most of you have heard of this book (at the very least, because of the recent movie adaptations). It’s a book I make an effort to re-read every year because it’s just such fun to read – and it’s a quick read so I don’t feel guilty about not reading a book I’ve never read before. I do remember reading The Hobbit in fifth grade for a reading assignment (primarily because if I read it and aced the quiz I’d get all the points I needed for that assignment and I wouldn’t have to read any of the other assigned books), but before that, I recall watching the (strange) illustrated movie. Please, someone, tell me you remember this gem:

images from google

Looking back, I can say that this is a somewhat bizarre adaptation considering the mental images I’ve created after reading the book on my own and those that the movie franchise has provided us – especially where Gollum is concerned. I mean, I can sort of understand that maybe all that time at the lake in the cave would give him some amphibian attributes, but I think they lost a little too much of his humanity. That aside, if this movie was on Netflix right now (it’s not – I checked), I would abandon writing this post to watch it. I remember a lot of singing and I was definitely drawn in by Bilbo’s friggin huge eyes.

This film, simply titled The Hobbit, aired in 1977 as a TV special and was directed by Rankin & Bass (where are my Year Without A Santa Claus fans at?). The music in the movie was heavily influenced by the songs Tolkien wrote in the book, though Rankin & Bass did add a completely original song “The Ballad of the Hobbit.” I’ve just found out, it was released on DVD as well, and you can rest assured that I just added it to my Amazon cart!

image from google

The Hobbit was first published in 1937, and in researching this post, I found that Tolkien actually sent the manuscript to some colleagues first. It was one of his colleagues that gave the manuscript to Stanley Unwin, the head of publishing house George Allen and Unwin. Stanley had his ten-year-old son read and review the manuscript, since he was the target audience. The boy’s positive review was what led to the publisher’s decision to print the book! The book was an immediate success and I would say, still is a large success – it has been translated into over 40 languages and nominated for a few awards and has won the International Fantasy Award and the Keith Barker Millennium Book Award. Have I heard of either of these awards? No, but I still felt it worth mentioning.

After first reading the book for school (I did get full points on that quiz, by the way), I can’t say that my love for the book was immediate. I do remember being surprised that I enjoyed it, but also thinking that maybe there was more going on that I just wasn’t picking up on. I’m not sure how many years passed before I read the book again, but I know since then I’ve read the book at least six or seven times (probably more – wishing I’d started tracking my reading habits many years earlier!) and each time I read it, I enjoy it even more. Those of you who like to re-read books will understand when I say that for every re-read, I pick up on some new little tidbit or detail that I’ve never noticed before.

Now, my hobbitlove is strong and I especially enjoy reading the book aloud (even if I’m only reading to myself), and while there are certainly more hardcore Tolkien fans than me (confession: this is the only one of his books I’ve read! Don’t kill me), I don’t think you’re ever too old (or young, probably) to give this book a chance. It’s less daunting than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and while it doesn’t delve too far into the history and the land of Middle Earth, it’s an excellent primer. I don’t see what’s not to love about Bilbo! He’s tiny, charming, clever, and like myself enjoys order and routine but secretly craves adventure.

Clearly I’m not alone considering the various movies (like the ridiculous three-movie adaptation of The Hobbit) and merchandise made from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Not to mention, the immense fandom, from cosplayers to fanfic writers and let’s not forget those who learned Elvish!

art by victorior

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point, there was more than one edition of The Hobbit in my personal library. And so, like Smaug with his dwarven gold, I began my Hobbit hoard. It feels like my love for the book grows more each year, and because of that (and also because I’m a certified book hoarder), I now have 11 copies of The Hobbit and 3 full sets of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Some have colored illustrations, some black and white and I’m pretty sure at least one of them has no illustrations at all (sadness!) Hopefully someday my mum will let me adopt her editions from the 70s….I’d like to get my hands on an annotated edition too.

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Another little tidbit I found in my internet wanderings was that Maurice Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are fame) could have had a shot at doing some illustrations for The Hobbit! How fantastic would that have been? Sadly, when Tolkien asked Sendak for a few samples, Sendak’s work was mislabeled by the editor and when Tolkien saw wood elves labeled as hobbits, he felt that Sendak didn’t read his work carefully enough. Before the two could meet in person and clear up the misunderstanding, Sendak ended up having his first heart attack and the two never broached the subject again.

image from google

I can only imagine what an excellent edition that would make – especially if the illustrations were in full color! I almost wished I hadn’t come across this information, because now I’ll just lament not being able to own an edition that doesn’t exist.

So tell me, have you read The Hobbit? Do you share my unbridled hobbitlove? If you haven’t read it yet, why not? Are you wondering why I didn’t talk about the recent movie adaptations? It’s because I think they’re garbage! (Though Bannister Crumblebench did a great voice for Smaug.) Care to debate this? Hit me up in the comments!

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