Posts Tagged ‘The Hobbit’
December 2, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
November 19, 2013 | by C.S. Lewis
A world for children: J. R. R. Tolkien,
The Hobbit: or There and Back Again
(London: Allen and Unwin, 1937)
The publishers claim that The Hobbit, though very unlike Alice, resembles it in being the work of a professor at play. A more important truth is that both belong to a very small class of books which have nothing in common save that each admits us to a world of its own—a world that seems to have been going on long before we stumbled into it but which, once found by the right reader, becomes indispensable to him. Its place is with Alice, Flatland, Phantastes, The Wind in the Willows. 
To define the world of The Hobbit is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone. The author’s admirable illustrations and maps of Mirkwood and Goblingate and Esgaroth give one an inkling—and so do the names of the dwarf and dragon that catch our eyes as we first ruffle the pages. But there are dwarfs and dwarfs, and no common recipe for children’s stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soil and history as those of Professor Tolkien—who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale. Still less will the common recipe prepare us for the curious shift from the matter-of-fact beginnings of his story (“hobbits are small people, smaller than dwarfs—and they have no beards—but very much larger than Lilliputians”)  to the saga-like tone of the later chapters (“It is in my mind to ask what share of their inheritance you would have paid to our kindred had you found the hoard unguarded and us slain”).  You must read for yourself to find out how inevitable the change is and how it keeps pace with the hero’s journey. Though all is marvellous, nothing is arbitrary: all the inhabitants of Wilderland seem to have the same unquestionable right to their existence as those of our own world, though the fortunate child who meets them will have no notion—and his unlearned elders not much more—of the deep sources in our blood and tradition from which they spring.
For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.
Review published in the Times Literary Supplement (2 October 1937), 714.
1. Flatland (1884) is by Edwin A. Abbott, Phantastes by George MacDonald (1858).
2. The Hobbit: or There and Back Again (1937), chapter 1.
3. Ibid., chapter 15.
Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews, by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Copyright © 2013 C. S. Lewis Pte Ltd. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.
This article originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. Click here to read it on the TLS site.
April 3, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Such is the object that starts Bilbo Baggins’s quest and, later, marks the glowing center of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. And some speculate that it was based on a real Roman ring, currently on display at a Hampshire mansion.
Originally discovered by a farmer in the late eighteenth century in what the Guardian terms “one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country,” the ring was presumably sold to the family who owned the great house the Vyne.
It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading: “Senicianus live well in God.” A few decades later and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up: at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarfs Hill, a tablet with an inscribed curse was found. A Roman called Silvianus informs the god Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”
Here’s where Tolkien comes in. When archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler reexcavated Lydney in 1929, he consulted Professor Tolkien about the god’s unusual name; both men were apparently struck by the fact that the name appeared on both ring and curse.
Whether or not you believe this to be the inspiration for the One Ring, you can judge for yourself: it is on view, along with a copy of the curse and a first edition of The Hobbit, at the Vyne.
March 25, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Since 2003, the Tolkien Society has celebrated Tolkien Reading Day on March 25. Why today, which is neither Tolkien’s birthday, nor Bilbo’s, nor Frodo’s? The answer will be obvious to regular observers of the holiday: March 25 marks the downfall of Sauron.
February 22, 2013 | by Ezra Glinter
One of the best things I’ve ordered on the Internet recently is a Yiddish translation of The Hobbit. After getting lost in the mail in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it finally arrived: a medium-sized white-on-black paperback titled Der Hobit, with a dedication to the “workers and residents of the Newtonville Starbucks (my office).” The translator, Barry Goldstein, is a retired computer programmer, and reworking The Hobbit is only one of his hobbies. He is an arctic traveler who has taken several trips to Greenland, and he has rendered accounts of Shackleton’s voyages into Yiddish. He is also on the editorial team of a more momentous, if not quite as whimsical, project: the new Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary, released in January by Indiana University Press. Now, thanks to Goldstein, I have the Yiddish Hobbit, and the means to read it.
A dictionary is meant to be a reflection of a language (or a prescription for it, depending on your view), but the Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary reflects an entire culture. (In the interest of full disclosure, the dictionary received a grant from the Forward Association, which publishes the newspaper for which I work.) Unlike previous dictionaries, its audience is mainly English speakers, not Yiddish. It is aimed at readers of Yiddish literature (or Yiddish translations of children’s fantasy novels), rather than people who want to speak or write the language, though an English-Yiddish dictionary is also on the way. In the battle between descriptivism and prescriptivism it takes a middle path, erring on the side of the descriptive. Taken with its predecessors, it tells the story of Yiddish in America. Read More »
January 22, 2013 | by Sadie Stein