by Frederick Egan Castleberry
Most boys at some point in their youth scratch and claw their way into another world. Our imagination lures us there, propelling us down a rabbit hole of fantasy to a world of adventure, danger, and wonder that awaits on the other side. It’s a world where even the smallest person can change the course of the future. Some are greeted by giant peaches, talking lions, or boys who never grew up. I was welcomed by hobbits.
It was often as the temperatures dropped that I’d find myself in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Maybe it was the hard, cold embrace of December that kept me indoors curled up with it in my hands. I loved it. I still do. The story follows the quest of homebody hobbit Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. The tale is told in the form of an episodic quest, in which dwarves, elves, and wizards of Tolkien's Wilderland all collide in a fantasy of epic proportions.
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again had long ago been lauded by many the “original and still best fantasy every written” by the time I was dog-earing pages and yet it remains a classic in children’s literature to this day. Many in the UK and US are already familiar. The fairy story has been instrumental in stretching young readers’ literary minds for digestion of the works of Dickens and Shakespeare. With the highly anticipated film adaptation due out this December (in three parts no less—Middle Earth fans rejoice!), I’m currently revisiting the fantasy novel with my boys so they know “it’s a dangerous business, going out your front door.”
Shortly after the first edition printing in 1937, The Hobbit's publisher, Stanley Unwin, asked Tolkien for a sequel. Tolkien responded with drafts for The Silmarillion, but the editors rejected them, believing that the public wanted "more about hobbits". Tolkien subsequently began work on 'The New Hobbit', which would eventually become The Lord of the Rings, a course that would not only change the context of the original story, but also lead to substantial changes to the character of Gollum.
Pick up a used hardback copy from your local bookstore and experience the journey there, and back again, as Tolkien originally intended. Read it to yourself. Read it to your sons...and to all a good night.