Why is now a great time to read The Hobbit? Some of you are sitting there shaking your heads and telling me “Because it’s always a good time to read The Hobbit. Duh. Besides that, the Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit comes out December 2013.
For the diehard Hobbit fans it might be hard to believe that though J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is well known, it’s also often overlooked.
Corey Olsen, English professor (and Tolkien expert) at Washington College, in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, noted that Tolkien fans tend to fall in love with The Hobbit as children, then move on to The Lord of the Rings and never come back.
What a shame. The release of Peter Jackson’s movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey created a buzz for a time but for the most part The Hobbit lives in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings.
I think poor Bilbo Baggins deserves another look.
You might say “But I’m really more of a Potterphile than a Tolkienian nerd.” Or you might protest that you don’t have time to read.
But now you have kids! With kids come bedtime stories and an opportunity to revisit old favorites or find new ones.
Besides, story time really is about you, isn’t it? Bedtime stories are so obviously for secretly working your way through your own reading list while pretending to read to your children. Just kidding. Well, I’m not totally kidding. You’ll want to leave Gladwell’s The Tipping Point off the list for now. It’s hard to explain sociological changes involved in reaching a point of critical mass to a seven year-old. The Hobbit however is one of the few books that succeeds in entertaining both children and their parents.
I came to The Hobbit fairly early on. My dad was a fan of the unlikely hero, a champion of the little guy outsmarting the big bad villain. Bugs Bunny, Matilda and, of course, Bilbo Baggins are his people. So The Hobbit was a must. By age nine I had cultivated a pretty good Gollum impression. Actually, it’s only gotten better as I’ve gotten older. Sadly there are so few situations these days where talking like this is relevant.
For The Hobbit newbies a brief primer:
We meet Bilbo Baggins, a refined hobbit (Hobbit: A small relative of the human race, with slightly pointy ears, furry feet and a penchant for waistcoats) who spends his time enjoying the simple things is life: a good meal and the comforts of home. A knock at the door from Gandalf the wizard leads to a quest with a not so refined crew of dwarves. On their way to reclaim a stolen kingdom from a dragon named Smaug, they meet elves, trolls, goblins and fight in the battle of five armies. Bilbo all the while using his wits to defeat his much larger enemies.
The plot alone, especially in the second half of the book, is often enough to get readers lost in the world of gold, dragons, and a wizard, so make sure you emphasize Gandalf the Great. (I hear kids are into a certain wizard named Harry these days. Even though Gandalf is a far cry from the boy at Hogwarts, kids will be intrigued by the possibility of magic.) If that doesn’t hook them, tell them there’s a very unsettling scene with Gollum, in which he mutters insanely about how he’d like to eat Bilbo. Bilbo and the dwarves are almost cooked and served as dinner. There’s some pretty cool weaponry. There’s a magic ring that makes you invisible. Oh and there are fights with spiders and evil wolves.
Because of these elements of the story you may want to be a little careful with kids who are afraid of things that go bump in the night. For those who are mostly past boogey man fears, the “scary” scenes are more delightfully creepy than psychologically damaging.
The illustrations, though few, are beautiful and done by Tolkien himself. The maps at the beginning and end of the book are particularly fascinating. At least they were fascinating to me when I was a younger cartographically inclined nerd.
The story also begs to be read aloud. There are so many characters waiting to be given voices. The more animated you make it, the better. It doesn’t matter if your troll impersonation is more Kathleen Turner than uncouth creature of Middle-Earth. Give it a shot. I will warn you though, after doing Thorin, leader of the dwarves, I’m usually hoarse for a day or two. It’s absolutely worth it.
If you can read like Andy Serkis, you win at parenting.
Because the book was written in 1937, you may have to do some explaining once in a while, but for the most part, kids are able to follow the story and will be just as engrossed as you are.
This is a book crafted in the best way possible. It digs into the world of epic journeys and mythological fantasies and comes out with a message about loyalty, bravery and integrity.