Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

I have a new hero and his name is Bilbo Baggins.

I really don’t know why it took me this long to commit to reading this book.  I don’t consider myself a fan of fantasy, so I don’t think I ever gave The Hobbit a serious look.  Actually, I did try to listen to it in audiobook format once, but I was put off by all the chanting (singing).  (Sometimes dramatized versions of books are hard to swallow, you know?)  Then I read Inkheart, a book in which each chapter is introduced by a quotation from another book (mostly works of fantasy, at that!), including The Hobbit.  Before I read Inkheart, I posted The Top 100 Children’s Novels poll and meme and asked my readers which of the books I haven’t read would they consider “must reads.”  Sherry listed The Hobbit first.  It was a literarily fortuitous coming together of events.  :-)

I love this story, but I’m almost afraid to write much about it and show my ignorance.  After all, Tolkien is an author about whom much has been written, and I’ve read nothing scholarly about him at all.  What I know about him is summed up in the preface of the particular edition of the book I read.  Oh, and I know that he and Jack Lewis were friends.  That’s it. 

Fear of showing my ignorance has never stopped me before, though, has it? 

One thing I love about this story is Tolkien’s obvious talent for inventing clever, unique, and melodius names for his characters and objects in his stories.  Some of my favorites from The Hobbit  include

  • Thorin Oakenshield
  • Orcrist
  • the Last Homely House
  • the Elvenking
  • Smaug

The humor of his naming the goblins such prosaic names as Tom, Bert, and William wasn’t lost on me, either. 

I wasn’t expecting this story to be a string of almost separate adventures, but that’s how I came to look at it.  Poor Bilbo and his company couldn’t any more get through one obstacle until they came to another.  My favorite episode in the book is Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum.  Gollum totally creeps me out–I think he’s much scarier than Smaug could ever be.  A whispering, hissing . . . what?  creature?  I’m not sure. . . that converses with himself and calls himself precious. . . it doesn’t get any more goosebump inducing, hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising than that. 

“What iss he, my preciouss?”  whispered Gollum (who always spoke to himself through never having anyone else to speak to).

Something about those double s‘s at the end of the words gets me.  Pure genius, that Tolkien.

Of course, what I love most about this story is simply Tolkien’s adroitness with language.  That’s the real magic in the story, I think.  It reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis and his way with words, but I don’t know if that’s because I am aware of his and Tolkien’s friendship or if it’s really there.  Here are a few of my favorite short passages from the story (I already shared one here!) :

I so identify with Bilbo at times:

“Thank you!” said Bilbo with a gasp.  It was not the correct thing to say, but they have begun to arrive had flustered him badly.  He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself.  He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he–as the host:  he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful–he might have to go without.  (9)

I love this description of Elrond and his home, the Last Homely House, located in the valley of Rivendell:

He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.  He comes into many tales, but his part in the story of Bilbo’s great adventure is only a small one, though important, as you will see, if we ever get to the end of it.  His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.  Evil things did not come into that valley.  (49)

Tolkien’s comparison here is PERFECT:

Before long the barrels broke free again and turned and twisted off down the stream, and out into the main current.  Then he found it quite as difficult to stick on as he had feared; but he managed it somehow, though it was miserably uncomfortable.  Luckily he was very light, and the barrel was a good big one and being rather leaky had now shipped a small amount of water.  All the same it was like trying to ride, without bridle or stirrups, a round-bellied pony that was always thinking of rolling in the grass.  (171)

——–

I know there’s much more to this story than meets the eye or ear.  The edition that I read (linked above) includes Tolkien’s own original artwork, I believe, and it also includes the first chapter The Fellowship of the Ring at the end of the story.  I’ll admit that I don’t usually like this–it seems like a cheap trick to get me to read the next book in a series, but I bit this time.  I think this is one book I’ll follow up on.  I would like to study up a bit more on Tolkien.  One thing I noticed is that there are Biblical allusions in the story—the similarities between Gandalf and the Old Testament Moses are not lost on me, but I don’t know much else to say besides that.  I’m definitely interested in reading more “into” Tolkien.

I’m linking this post up to the Classics Bookclub that happens quarterly at 5 Minutes for Books when it comes around again next week.  I’ll also link it up to the I Read It! challenge the next time it comes around.  This is a classic I’m so glad I read!  :-)

Read Aloud Thursday–Andre by Lew Dietz


This week’s Read Aloud Thursday is a surprise even to me.  :-)  I picked up the book Andre on our trip to the beach last fall at the used bookstore of the library we visited.  (Doesn’t everybody go to the library while they’re on vacation?) I was familiar with the story because I recognized the title (and the animal on the cover) from the movie by the same name, although I’ve never seen the movie.  I grabbed this book off the shelf after we finished Ramona the Brave because I had already decided that Peter Pan would be our next chapter book, but it would have to wait until Friday, our current library day. 

Andre is a short-ish chapter book in large picture book format.  It’s the true story of the Goodridge family and the harbor seal they adopted.  Andre was the third harbor seal Harry Goodridge adopted to train as a diving partner.  This book chronicles the Goodridges’ experiences with Andre (as well as with a few other animals) as they brought him home, and later, as Andre became a community hero and made his home in the nearby  harbor and eventually an aquarium.  While this is not fine literature, it is a nice departure from more flowery prose and a nice jaunt into the non-fiction, memoir-type genre.  My girls eagerly asked for one more chapter each time we read.  The illustrations by Stell Shevis are very child-like but do provide a nice break for younger listeners.  While reading this, I thought this would make a great story as a segway to a brief study about marine life or even just seals in general.   We didn’t do this, though–we just read it and enjoyed it.  One day I might manage to get my hands on the movie and show it to the girls, too.  :-) 

We have been reading short picture books, too, but I’m saving the best of the lot for a future post–probably next week.  Since the DLM’s arrival, I’ve found it easier to read chapter books than picture books to the girls.  It’s just easier to pick up a longer book and move it from place to place in the house to the various places I rock and nurse the little one than it is to have the girls pick out picture books and scatter them from here to yon.  However, we are participating in the summer reading program at the library, so we have an incentive to shoot for both quantity and quality.  :-)

So what have you and your family been enjoying these hot and humid days of summer?  Please leave a link to your blog post or a comment!

Have a fantastic Read Aloud Thursday!

What’s on My Nightstand

Has it really been a month since my last nightstand post?  We’ve had a very busy month, but with a new baby comes lots of “down time”–nursing, rocking, etc.–most of which is conducive to reading.  Is it strange that I can remember what I was reading when Louise was an infant and we spent a lot of hours together in the rocking chair?  I think the same will be true for DLM’s babyhood–I will mark it by the books I’ve read. 

Since last month’s Nightstand post, these are the books I’ve read and reviewed:

Hmmm.  Now that I type it out, it doesn’t look like so much.  Oh, oh yeah–I’ve also finished The Hobbit, but my thoughts on it will have to wait for (hopefully) tomorrow. 

In addition to the books I’ve read on my own, I’ve also finished a couple with my girls this month:

Since being introduced properly to Ramona, the girls have already enjoyed a couple of the Ramona books in audio.  Stockard Channing is the reader for the audiobooks we have borrowed from the library, and she does a fantastic job with the voices of Ramona, Beezus, and the other characters.  However, I do find it a little annoying to hear four-year-old Ramona’s whiney voice coming from the girls’ bedroom during rest time (or, as the case on Sunday morning, waking me up from a sound sleep after a rather sleepless night with the DLM), especially since we currently have our own resident four-year-old who does a pretty good whiney voice herself.  ;-)

But I digress.

As for what’s on the Nightstand for the next month, I’m pretty excited that it’s time for Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge againChronicles of Narnia
I’ve not yet decided what I’ll be reading this time around, but I’m pretty sure it will include The Voyage of the Dawn Treader since the movie will be coming out later this year.  In addition to this challenge, I have several books from the library that are really calling my name right now:

 

I picked up Vintage Veronica, a new YA selection by Erica S. Perl, from the new book display shelf at the library this past Friday.  We’ll see how it goes. 

Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite De Angeli caught my eye because I loved The Door in the Wall so much.  This might be our next read-aloud chapter book after we finish Peter Pan (or maybe I should say if we finish–we’re off to a shaky start).

 

I’ve wanted to read something else by Alexander McCall Smith since reading The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and La’s Orchestra Saves the World, especially the former.  Beth recommended the 44 Scotland Street series in the comments on my review of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, so I picked up the first book.  I’m looking forward to delving into a little mystery.  :-)

 

I scanned the shelves for a Newbery winner I haven’t read (thanks to the handy little Newbery Award stickers on the spines of the winning books, they’re easy to find!), and I picked up The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick.  I think I read Philbrick‘s Freak the Mighty way back in library school, and this new book seems like a huge departure from that title.  I’m really excited to add more Newbery winners to my list of books read, and the new Children’s Classics Award Winners challenge  at 5 Minutes for Books is just a small incentive to keep me picking up these great titles.  :-)

Of course, after finishing The Hobbit, I am also curious to read more about Bilbo Baggins and his adventures, so I might return all of the above books and go further with Tolkien.  ;-)  Then again, I need to re-read A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 for our July bookclub meeting at church.  I also feel like I’m due for some heavier non-fiction since I’ve spent so much time lately in fiction, and I have a Gary Thomas book I’d like to get to soon:

 

I’ve never read a book by Gary Thomas that didn’t absolutely blow me away (and I’ve read a few:  Devotions for Sacred Parenting, Authentic Faith, Sacred Parenting, and Sacred Marriage).  I think I need to make time for this one soon.

That’s a lot of reading!  I’m looking forward to the challenge!

(For more Nightstand posts, head over to 5 Minutes for Books.)

The Week in Words

I’ve been immersed in Tolkien for a while now, and there are so many memorable passages from The Hobbit that I’m really not sure which one to share for this week’s Week in Words.  I guess I’ll just pick one. . .

“That would be no good,” said the wizard, “not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero.  I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found.  Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary).  That is why I settled on burglary–especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door.  And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and seleted burglar.  So now let’s get on and make some plans.”  

Isn’t that fantastic? 
I hope to have my thoughts on The Hobbit up soon! 
For more Week in Words posts, visit Stray Thoughts.