I finally finished reading Tolkien's The Hobbit this week. It only took me 25 years to do it. Now to be clear, I haven't been carrying around the same copy this whole time. You know, reading a word a day. Could you imagine? No, what I mean is that after several false starts over the past quarter century I finally managed to read the entire story from front to back.
My first attempt was when I was in fourth or fifth grade, about 25 years ago, though I can't remember clearly as I had the same teacher for both grades so it all kind of meshed into one year. Anyway, my teacher loved to have his classes do book reports and our class prided ourselves on being a well read bunch of ten year olds so we cranked them out. We were always free to choose our own books, but of course there were a lot of books that were assigned to us and The Hobbit was one of them.
Well, unlike everyone else, I just couldn't get into it at the time. Perhaps I wasn't ready for it yet, or maybe it just didn't interest me, or maybe my ten year old brain was too distracted by other things. Maybe it was all of the above. I don't really know. I do remember that the copy I was given was old and beat up and published in the sixties. To a ten year old in the eighties, that was ancient! Funny how all these years later I love old books, but I've grown up a lot since then, in more ways than one.
After a while reading the Hobbit started to feel like a chore and I really lost interest. Needless to say I got a failing grade for that part of the class. That would have been okay if my teacher wasn't such a dick about it. "I'm very disapointed. I don't know why you don't like it. It's such a good story. Everyone else was able to do a report on it." And so forth. I didn't know it back then, but perhaps I didn't want to be like everyone else. They all moved on to the the Lord Of The Rings books and I dove into whatever I could find that was as far away from that genre as I could get. I remember reading my first rock and roll biography around that time. It was on Bruce Springsteen!
Time passed and I eventually ended up forgetting about the Tolkien books until the early 2000s when nerds the world over wet themselves on hearing that the LOTR series was being made into films. Suddenly that was all everyone could talk about. To be fair, the movies were really well done and deserved all the awards they won - and this is coming from someone who hasn't read the books and therefore can't argue about what they changed in the films. I watched them and I enjoyed them as far as anyone who enjoys a good movie with great special effects and brilliant acting would, but I still couldn't get past that mental block put up by my ten year old self. Why the obsession?
I did eventually start reading fantasy novels by other authors such as Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan and I actually enjoyed them, especially Goodkind's books. His stories really struck the right chords with me. Seeing this, Megan gave me the Tolkien books on paperback a few years ago as a way of gently encouraging me to give them another try. I did attempt to, but again my inner ten year old made up as many excuses as he could to get me out of it and they've sat unread for a few years now in our bookcase. I didn't want to break Megan's heart, so I made her a promise that I would try again when I was ready.
Fast forward to present day. There's a new Hobbit movie in theaters that Megan would really like to see and she once again suggested I give the book another try. Add to this that I worked at a major bookstore that was promoting the hell out of The Hobbit with stacks of books and toys everywhere, I reckoned it was time to buckle down and cross it off my list of books to read and be done with it. Whenever I had bits of spare time to read I put my ten year old self in his room and told him he was grounded while my thirty five year old self wandered through Tolkien's world following Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves through the Misty Mountains and into adventure.
You know something? It really wasn't half bad. I can see now why the book is as highly regarded as it is - and Led Zeppelin lyrics even make a little more sense now too! I will soon move on to the rest of the series, but a historical mystery/thriller by Brad Meltzer has caught my attention and I want to read it first.
I learned two things from all of this: First of all, things are more enjoyable when it's your decision to do them and nobody else's. Secondly, in some situations you have to let go of certain memories and not let one bad experience or fear keep you from trying something new. You never know what adventures may await you.
The Wandering Oak