The Lord of the Rings Readalong started this month! Hosted by Eva, Maree, Teresa, and Clare, this readalong is starting with reading The Hobbit this month, and we will all read one of the Lord of the Rings books each month subsequently. Until we run out at the end of April, and then there will be a great mourning across the blogosphere until everyone agrees to read, I don’t know, The Silmarillion. It is not a challenge. I have absolutely put my foot down and shan’t join any more challenges than the ones I already have, and this Lord of the Rings Readalong is not one. It is totally dissimilar. For one thing, if I fail at it, it will not be the challenge police but the readalong police who will get me. For another, I have already read all the books in question and will just be revisiting them like old friends. (Except The Hobbit which I will be revisiting like an insidious old enemy.)
Eva asks: Have you read The Hobbit before? If so tell us about that experience.
OH I WILL TELL YOU. What happened was, my older sister Anna was in love with J.R.R. Tolkien. This was back in the day when we were quite small and still shared a room; and she used to chant songs from Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as I was trying to fall asleep. I would say “NNNNNNNNGGGGG,” and Anna would say, “It’s from Lord of the Rings!” like that should make me feel better. Since I desperately admire Anna and yearn for her approval, I obediently went and fetched one of her copies of Fellowship and gave it a go, and I found it absolutely unbearable. The age-old story of so many would-be Tolkien readers: I got to Tom Bombadil and found it impossible to continue.
And if I managed to push past Tom Bombadil by sheer force of will (remember I was only eight or nine and did not possess all that much force of will), I bogged down at the Council of Elrond. I tried to blame it on being younger than Anna, but the bottom fell out of this excuse the next year, and eventually I concluded that Anna was just smarter than I was, and I would never love Tolkien. Then she got her own room, and I shared with my younger sister, and instead of All that is gold does not glitter as I was trying to fall asleep, it was more Hey Jenny? Hey Jenny? Hey Jenny? I had a Coke and now I can’t sleep. BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE. I’m bouncing on my bed. Hey Jenny? I can’t sleep. I’m bouncing on my bed.
Somewhere in the midst of my insomnia, I managed to read all of The Hobbit and hated it. I hated how the dwarves came in and made a mess in Bilbo’s lovely house, and I contrarily didn’t like Bilbo for being unwelcoming. There was just nothing about the book I enjoyed. In a way it was a relief, because it meant positively that I didn’t enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing style, and it allowed me to stop worrying about Lord of the Rings. I quickly contrived to forget everything about The Hobbit except the scene where Bilbo plays the riddle game with Gollum. That scene has always stuck in my head quite vividly, or at least it seems vivid – I guess I’ll see how well my memory aligns with the actual scene when I reread.
Thus did it come to pass that I rejected Tolkien utterly until the first Peter Jackson film came out and I grew curious about what was going to happen next, and whether the film had been acceptably faithful to the books, and why everyone seemed to think that the eventual saving of Middle Earth was All About Sam, and who Faramir was anyway, and how badass Gandalf was going to be when he came back. What I did was, I skipped Fellowship and that whole Tom Bombadil mess (figuring the movie would have given me the gist of the action), and went straight through into The Two Towers; and only when I had finished the second two books did I read the first one. I never returned to The Hobbit.
Cue dramatic music.
I have no idea what to expect, though I do feel confident I will still be annoyed at the dwarves’ intrusion into Bilbo’s home. My understanding is that Hobbit is far more of a children’s book, without the grandstandy (and I say that with love and affection) die-for-what’s-right hero ideal that we get in Aragorn – well, in most of the characters really – in Lord of the Rings. And there’s Smaug. I know there is Smaug because other books talk about him, but I do not remember him from reading The Hobbit in elementary school.
I am eager, by the way, to congratulate J.R.R. Tolkien for his excellent job in retconning the changes he made in the Gollum-ring-riddles scene after writing Lord of the Rings. But I do not expect much out of the conversation. I expect it will be like this:
Jenny: Hi, Professor Tolkien! I am Jenny! I like your books!
Tolkien: *mumble mumble*
Jenny: I just wanted to tell you, when I first discovered that you had to change The Hobbit in order to make it fit with Lord of the Rings, I was sort of sneery. Then I found out that you retconned the change by explaining that Bilbo originally lied about how it went with Gollum, and was eventually induced to confess the truth. That is hella clever. Well done you!
Tolkien: *mumble mumble*
Jenny: And you made up lots of languages, that was incredible, I really admire that.
Tolkien: *bewildering linguist babble*
Jenny: *wishes she had taken more linguistics classes*
Tolkien: I find you disappointing.
Not sure why I am so bent on having this conversation when I imagine Tolkien to be so mumbly and mean (I imagine him this way not based on those of his letters which I have read, but on Diana Wynne Jones’s description of his lectures and my recollection that he didn’t like the Narnia books). Maybe I will use that time to go chat with my hero Frederick Douglass and thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of social justice.