Today is the 80th anniversary of the release of The Hobbit. In 1998 I received my first copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was a Christmas gift, tucked under the tree with all the others. The book was extremely oversized, the text huge and was filled with the beautiful artwork of Michael Hague. To this day it sits on my shelf (flat as it’s too tall to fit any other way) amongst all my other Tolkien books (as a platform, because, well, it’s huge).
I didn’t know how to feel about the book. On the one hand, my mother made it sound like the exact sort of book I liked. She looked so happy when I unwrapped it, so excited. She wanted me to read it so very badly, and I wanted to read it too. On the other hand, I was ‘grown up’ now. I was in third grade. I didn’t read picture books anymore, and this book had an awful lot of pictures. I was suspicious, conflicted. Mom always recommended great books (still does!), but I was too old for books with pictures.
I didn’t pick The Hobbit up immediately, strange since I normally devoured every book that crossed my path. I looked at the pictures, pretended I didn’t like them as much as I did, and was generally stubborn, digging my heels in for no real good reason. Then, one day in spring, I wound up going to work with my mom who, of course, brought my now several months old copy of The Hobbit with us. And, finally, I began to read.
I opened the book, propped it up on my knees as I slurped over in a chair, and tried to fight off the feeling that I was too old to read a picture book and what was mom thinking anyway? And that’s when a family friend and coworker popped his head into the office.
“Hey, Katie, is your mom in here or,” he asked, eyes moving from my mother’s empty desk (she’d gone to pick something up from the printer, I think) over to me. There was a happy gasp. “You’re reading The Hobbit?”
I peeked out from behind the book, nodded, but stayed quiet.
He cleared his throat. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” he began. The first three full pages were recited from memory.
I looked from the page to the man in front of me, my face no doubt one of shock and awe. When he finished, he asked that I tell my mom he’d stopped by. “That’s my favorite book. You’re gunna love that book,” he said.
Obviously, I did.
I have always loved reading. From the days when I’d force my parents to read my picture books aloud over and over again. Every night when my parents would pick a book and read it aloud before I went to sleep. The books my mother dug out of the attic for me to read. The collection of matching hardback classics my father had. These are important, but the individual days blur together, turning into one warm memory.
But this, this is a moment I remember, that I will always remember. It stands out starkly against the rest. I’m not sure why it stands out so much. Maybe it was the passion and liveliness of the impromptu reading. Maybe it was because it solidified for me that this was a book that grownups thought was great too, and that it wasn’t really a picture book at all. What I do remember was the feeling of ‘I want to do this.”
I’m not certain I knew what ‘this‘ was back then, not right away. I couldn’t verbalize it for a while, instead simply reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. Then, it hit me, all at once.
I want to write a book that people will love like that. It isn’t the sort of dream you lose.
The Hobbit was the first book I truly loved. It was the first book that made me cry. It made me want to read fantasy and nothing but fantasy. I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on after that, not that this wasn’t the case before hand. The Hobbit is important to me. It’s more than a personal favorite, or a genre defining title from a respected author. It is a book that helped shape who I am as a person – the sorts of books I love, the sort of power a story (even a short one) can have, and that there is nothing more important that sharing these stories (the ones that brighten a bad day, that help make sense of the senseless, and try to explain an otherwise inexplicable world) with others.