Friday, February 17, 2017

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again - A Story for All Times

I was about six when my father returned from Boston with the Hobbit. Every day, he’d tell us the story. Thus it was that, long before I could read, Tolkien’s world came alive for me. Gollum, Bilbo, Gandalf, the dwarves, elves, bears, goblins, spiders and a dragon!

While it may appear to be a tale for children - and, indeed, the Hobbit is somewhat more child friendly than the Trilogy - it’s not really a book that most parents would feel comfortable reading out to their children. I might be more than a little judgemental but it seems to me that a lot of parents have a set idea of what constitutes books for children. Like the whole concept of baby food, literature too has undergone a rather unwholesome processing.

This is the edition that we had:

Let me lead you through the story as I remember it.

One fine day, a Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, prepares for a relaxed morning.

 Wait! What’s a Hobbit?
"I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it). Now you know enough to go on with."

The bell rings and it’s a dwarf. Before your mind’s eye begins running the Disney tape, press pause. Tolkien’s dwarves are much more dignified, for one thing.

Anyway, the bell goes on ringing and, one by one, or sometimes even two by two or more, thirteen dwarves enter Bilbo’s posh and cosy Hobbit Hole.  

And, as if that were not chaos enough, there’s yet another gate crasher and this is Gandalf. A wizard. Once again, I beg of you to switch off your Disney blinkers. And, if possible, the Peter Jackson visuals as well.

An Unexpected Party, the first chapter, plunges us into a scene of delightful disorder:
Chip the glasses and crack the plates!Blunt the knives and bend the forks!That's what Bilbo Baggins hates—Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat! Pour the milk on the pantry floor!Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;Pound them up with a thumping pole;And when you’ve finished if any are whole,Send them down the hall to roll!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!So, carefully! carefully with the plates!

And, before you can catch your breath, the party ends with the plan for a mighty adventure:  One of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, has to reclaim his kingdom from Smaug, a dragon. And, what’s worse for the comfort loving Hobbit, Bilbo is to be the Burglar!

Roast Mutton, the next chapter, is equally if not more entertaining. After trudging through harsh lands, the company, minus the wizard who has done the disappearing act, an act of which, as you will soon find out, he is inordinately fond, bump into three Trolls. Rather Bilbo is caught trying to pick a pocket.
Now the trolls were in dire need of a change of diet. As one of them puts it:
"Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrer," ...
However, in the nick of time, Gandalf arrives and saves the day.

After such a narrow escape, A Short Rest is a chapter that remains enshrined in my memory. Elf Elrond’s home is a place I would dearly love to visit when I am tired or in anguish.

Well fortified by this brief lull, we are plunged into one crisis after another from Over Hill and Under Hill onwards.

This is a very dramatic chapter from the thunderstorm on the hill to the capture by goblins…
Clap! Snap! the black crack!Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!And down down to Goblin-town    You go, my lad!
Clash, crash! Crush, smash!Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!Pound, pound, far underground!     Ho, ho! my lad!
Swish, smack! Whip crack!Batter and beat! Yammer and bleat!Work, work! Nor dare to shirk,While Goblins quaff, and Goblins laugh,Round and round far underground     Below, my lad!

This poem always makes me think of life as we know it now :)

Riddles in the Dark is yet another outstanding chapter for this is where the fateful meeting with slimy Gollum takes place. It is a creepy, clammy scene!

And the pace continues  with Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire where we hear wolves howl and our company is carried away by eagles.

Queer Lodgings is another favourite of mine. Beorn’s house and what happens there are both scary and enchanting.

Flies and Spiders is not for you if you have arachnophobia. But it’s another outstanding chapter in terms of fantasy. Spiders in an enchanted forest and hostile elves makes for a must-read chapter.

I confess that from there on I somehow don’t recall many highlights and often skipped Barrels Out of Bond in my many re-readings of this saga.

So you can even just listen to the story if reading is not your cup of tea.

But I’m so tempted to delve into the book again and resume what used to be an yearly pilgrimage through Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Trilogy!

I’m crossing my fingers here that, if you have not yet read them, my post will inspire you to do so. And if, sadly, your only link with Tolkien are the crass film versions, then I hope you will try the real thing now.

Tolkien is good reading. In many ways. Modern mythology, fantasy, literature and a just plain good read.  

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