Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hobbit Who Loved Dragons

J. R. R. Tolkien entered my life on a dreary winter day early in 1966.  I will never forget the moment, even if I don't remember the date.  I had been fighting bronchitis, strep throat, and a high fever for a number of days, and I was completely miserable.  My only comfort was a blue Sony transistor radio that was sitting on my stomach as I lay in bed.

(Referenced this way because of length)

Radio CJFX, Antigonish, Nova Scotia:  At that time CJFX played country, pop, rock, and Celtic music, and I listened to it hour after hour, day after day.  I tuned in for rock; but, because of CJFX's variety format, I was forced to develop an appreciation for Jim Reeves, the Clancy Brothers, Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence - not to mention John Allan Cameron and Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald.  However, the most important impact CJFX had on my life was introducing me to J. R. R. Tolkien.

That Saturday morning CJFX broadcast a program for teenagers that featured J. R. R. Tolkien and his book The Lord of the Rings.  I listened spellbound, and when I heard a passage from LOTR read aloud I was caught, for life:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1, "The Fellowship of the Ring," 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1967.
Getting my hands on The Lord of the Rings in Stillwater, Nova Scotia, was not an easy thing.  The nearest store that might carry the books was 35 miles away, and I had little money.  It was a long wait until the end of the school year when I won a prize that covered the cost of the books and my mother had the time to drive me to Antigonish.

I read the trilogy nonstop for days, and then the hunt was on for The Hobbit.  I couldn't find it anywhere!  We moved over the summer to Freeport, Nova Scotia, and a new neighbor, who had a teen-aged son visiting down in the States, heard about my fruitless efforts to find The Hobbit.  The son returned home in the fall with the book for me in which he had inscribed, "May the hair on your toes grow ever longer!"  The story did not disappoint!  
I have been reading and studying Tolkien ever since.

This weekend I know I will see Peter Jackson's movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  It will impact my Hobbit forever, just as Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies changed my LOTR forever.  So these past few days I have reread The Hobbit for the umpteenth time and Humphrey Carpenter's Tolkien for who knows how many times.  Just once more I wanted to journey with Bilbo and the dwarves from the Shire to The Lonely Mountain and back again with my visions of Middle-earth.

Carpenter, writing in his authorized biography of Tolkien, describes how Tolkien's imagination followed two different tracks during the 1920s and early 1930s.  On the one hand Tolkien was writing entertaining stories for children; and on the other, he was constructing his personal mythology that was eventually published posthumously in The Silmarillion.  The two tracks did not meet until one summer's day when Tolkien was marking exam papers.  Later in his life Tolkien could not remember the year this happened, but this is how he remembered the occasion:

     "One of the candidates had mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it (which is the best thing that can possibly happen to an examiner) and I wrote on it:  "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."  Names always generate a story in my mind.  Eventually I thought I'd better find out what hobbits were like.  But that's only the beginning."  
(Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1977, p. 172)

From a sentence written on a blank page in an exam paper almost eighty years ago came the books that have captivated millions and millions of readers and continue to do so today.

Tolkien went on to find out a whole lot about hobbits and much, much more about Middle-earth.  When I first read Tolkien's books and Carpenter's biography, it did not take me long to recognize that Tolkien was the quintessential hobbit.  He recognized this himself and once wrote, "I am in fact a hobbit." (Carpenter, p. 176)

It is fascinating to read about Tolkien's childhood and to speculate about what might have influenced his later writings.  Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.  When he was three he traveled with his mother and brother Hilary to Birmingham, England, because South Africa's heat was impacting his health.  While they were in England, Tolkien's father Arthur, back in South Africa, had a severe hemorrhage while recovering from rheumatic fever and died.  Suddenly, Tolkien's mother Mabel was faced with raising Ronald and Hilary on her own and with very little money.  She finally found a place for them to rent in the hamlet of Sarehole on the southern edge of Birmingham.  The hamlet, the Sarehole Mill, and the surrounding English countryside were transformed by Tolkien's imagination into the village of Hobbiton in his writing decades later.  (Carpenter, p. 176)        
Sarehole Mill

Moseley Bog, Close to Sarehole Mill

Mabel Tolkien began to teach her sons, and Ronald could read at four and write not long after.  Very quickly he demonstrated an interest in languages and drawing.  He loved to read, and his mother provided him with many books.  Ronald particularly liked The Red Fairy Book with tales collected by Andrew Lang because it contained "The Story of Sigurd." Sigurd is a hero from Norse Mythology known for slaying the dragon Fafnir.  From a this very early age, Tolkien desired dragons.  (Carpenter, p. 22).

Around the time he was seven, Tolkien wrote a story about a dragon.  Humphrey Carpenter quoted Tolkien's recollection of his early story:

     "I remember nothing about it except a philological fact.  My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say a green great dragon", but had to say "a great green dragon".  I wondered why, and still do.  The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a story again for many years and was taken up with language." (Carpenter, p. 23)

From these humble beginnings in his childhood, John Roland Reuel Tolkien went on to become a world-renowned philologist, artist, and writer of high fantasy:  a hobbit who loved dragons.
J. R. R. Tolkien

I hope Peter Jackson's Hobbit movie is every bit as good as The Lord of the Rings movies.
I'll let you know what I think very soon!


  1. Hi Louise, It's Barb - OMG, I remember that radio:o)You passed on your love of Tolkien to me and I have read Lord of the Rings almost every summer since 1967 (when I was in grade 5). I wish we could go and see the Hobbit together. Peter Jackson's Hobbit will be covered in 3 films - he says he's expanded to what Tolkien always intended??? It will be interesting to see what he has done!

    1. Hey Barb!
      I wish you were here, and that we could go to "The Hobbit" together! Terry and I are going tomorrow morning, and I simply can't wait. Sam (Parkway) saw it today and really liked it. He and Lisa are moving to Florida on the 28th. Boo hoo! You know we love Sam! Have a good weekend! I can't believe that Christmas is only 11 days away!

  2. I remember how The Hobbit was THE book to read back in the 60's....and I was one. Will have to reread it again....I can use a little fantasy about now.
    Heard a review about Peter Jackson's Hobbit film on the CBC wasn't a good one and the reviewer thought it wasn't near as good as his 'Rings' films. She thought it was flat and wondering why 3 movies. Your review will be interesting and as the reviewer said the Tolkien/Hobbit fans will love it anyway.

  3. Hi Jim!
    I just got back from Friday Night Date Night with Terry at our local bar - Parkway Bar and Grill. One of our favorite bartenders, Sam, saw "The Hobbit" this morning and really enjoyed it! I've got tickets for the 11;30 a.m. movie tomorrow morning. I cannot wait! Critics simply don't get fantasy films! I'll let you know what I think. I was at Barnes & Noble this morning having coffee, and I was looking at all the magazine coverage of "The Hobbit." All it did was increase me desire to see the movies. I understand that Peter Jackson dipped into the appendices and back history of LOTR to expand the tale to three movies. I'm a hopeless Tolkien/Hobbit fan, so maybe my review will be biased! Whatever, I will let you know. Have a good weekend!

  4. Hi Fundy!
    Well I agree 1000% with you, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is outstanding!
    I think I have seen all different versions and I loved everyone of them!
    To me it is an initiation journey, a journey each man should follow one day to enlightenment.
    Many thanks for all your comments on my blog, you are soooo sweet too!!
    Enjoy your Sunday!

    1. Hi Noushka!
      I, too, have seen all the different versions of LOTR and TH, and have enjoyed them all. There are so many ways to interpret LOTR, and an initiation journey to enlightenment is spot on! The mythology's themes get to the heart of being human, and everyone has a unique reaction.

      I plan to have more Tolkien posts in the future. One of the things I want to do in retirement is to study Tolkien at the level I've always wished I had time for. I saw "The Hobbit" and enjoyed it very much, once I let "my hobbit" go. I've read "The Hobbit" more than any other book, and many of those times aloud, so my version is pretty resistant to being overwhelmed by the movie. Now I have to wait a year to see the next movie. :(

      Have a great week, and happy bird snapping!

  5. Oh, what a wonderful post. Thank you for this.
    I find all of this so fascinating and especially his early love of language. "A great green dragon"...yes, that is exactly right, not "a green great dragon."
    Also, you must already know that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were very good friends. I love the story that Lewis told that he did not believe in God until he went on a motorbike to visit a zoo with Tolkien. (I just tried to find his quote, maybe you know it.)Anyway, I cherish those Christmasses that had the LOTR movies all in a row, my son loved them so. You can believe that he was at a midnight showing of The Hobbit this past Friday. He is now 23!

  6. Kay,
    Thank you for your kind comment! I know that Tolkien converted Lewis, but I hadn't heard the motorcycle/zoo part. I'm going to spend time delving into Tolkien, Lewis, the Inklings, etc. again, and I'll be on the hunt for that. It may be that I was so fascinated with the event that I skimmed over the motorcycle/zoo parts.

    I remember being up in Calgary, Alberta, at a movie with at least 15 members of my extended family when the one ring inscription suddenly appeared on the screen. I, buried in teaching and studies, did not know LOTR had been made into a movie, and this trailer was the first I knew of it. I was so excited I was inarticulate. All I could say was, "Look, look!" as I pointed to the screen. I was not disappointed!

    I, too, cherish those Christmases with the LOTR movies all in a row. I'm glad that your son loved them so much! I have them on DVD and look at them all again at least once a year. I used to pull all-nighters a lot, but there is just about nothing that will keep me up most of the night any more. A meteor shower or some major astronomy event, maybe - so I didn't make it to the midnight showing of TH! Kudos to your so. Oh to have the energy of a 23 year old again!

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend! I took a peek at your blog and became a follower. I'm looking forward to spending time reading it. Your pictures are lovely. But duties like grocery shopping are calling!

    1. My son really enjoyed The Hobbit movie and said he would like to see it again!
      Thanks so much for becoming a follower of mine. I like to think that anyone who follows me is a friend, so I welcome you, friend!
      (You will find I live my life in exclamation marks too!)

    2. Thank you, friend! I just started blogging, and the friendliness of people is wonderful. I hadn't anticipated that. It is so much fun meeting people from all over!

  7. So I see you moved from Wolfville to Stillwater....why did this happen? So many little non-Tolkien I nosy? If you can put mu picture on your post then I can ask questions, right!

    I tried to read this huge story of J R R Tolkien's but my world was full of athletics. No time or maybe my ADD prevented me...will never know!


  8. Hi Ron!
    I'm still plowing through lots of holiday tasks, so I'm behind on my blogs! We were in Wolfville so that Mom and Dad could get their B.Eds. Then Dad became principal of St. Mary's Rural High School in Sherbrooke, and my Mom had a teaching position there. Stillwater is about four miles from the school, and that's where we had our home. You can ask me anything you want! I don't consider you nosy, just curious. Curiosity is one of my favorite traits in a person! We've been experiencing a short blizzard today, and it has been very, very cold. Now it's clear, and the temperature is plummeting. I'm hugging the fireplace. I hope to check out everyone's blog and catch up on comments - then maybe do a new post. Between finishing the last Christmas cards and baking cookies for Terry's staff party Friday morning. Never a dull moment. If you haven't read LOTR, I highly recommend the LOTR movies Peter Jackson directed. I think they are excellent - and I'm a diehard Tolkien fan. Have a good evening!

    1. That really helps to put a lot into perspective. You know I remember looking into that WHS black school yearbook and I'm trying to figure out where and when. I suspect it was my old girlfriend's(another story) copy. As a matter of fact I'm pretty sure it was. OH so your parents were at Acadia U, that makes total sense. So did they teach for many years? like you!
      I got my BEd at Acadia in 1975..subbed in Annapolis County for one year while Jim taught at Lawrencetown School, the one in the Valley. Ironic that we live in L'town, near Hfx, all these years later. I need the ocean close..I think that why we are here!
      Also taught in Vancouver B.C. for 2 years, subbing and T.A. for an autistic child in an all-special school...loved it. This school no longer exists.I will attempt LOTR but I can't promise anything...reading long books makes me antsy and so I have veered off into blog land which is much for tactile(keyboard) and creative for me.
      Thanks again though!

    2. My parents did teach a lot of years. I'm in the 8th generation of teachers on my father's side of the family. My niece Heather is in the 9th!

      I've worked with a lot of autistic children, and I admired and appreciated my T.A.s so much - when I was lucky enough to have one! Kudos to you - that is not an easy job, although it can be very rewarding. I had no idea that you taught too! And here Jim and I have been talking about teaching!

      The ocean runs in my blood. One reason I've survived here is that Terry promised me an ocean a year. We haven't missed one in thirty years, and he has taken me to some unbelievable ocean spots from Labrador to Malaysia.

      Blog land is a great place! I am loving it, and I'm so glad you and Sophie pulled me into it. It is so much more than I ever expected.

      For me, the longer the book, the better. I love to lose myself in a good book! Don't feel badly if you can't get through LOTR - it is not everyones cup of tea. I don't think Terry would make it through the first page!

      I'm sorry that you haven't found the yearbook. When things calm down after Old Christmas, I'll have to copy some photos from it and send them to you.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.