There and Back Again

The one book I must always have on my shelves. The one I would have with me on a desert island. The book I would have if I could have only one. (But if I could have more than one, say one more, the LOTR trilogy, in one volume, would be the other. Illustrated by Alan Lee, of course.)

I’ve been there and back again for twenty-eight years, since the story was first read to me in grade three, under a large tree in the Alliston, ON, St. James cemetery beside my elementary school. Mrs. Henderson read from a giant hardcover plastic-covered library book, illustrated by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, the copy of which I years later inherited when the book was discarded and my mom worked at the library, and which I promptly, lamentably, lost at a friend’s house. The Hobbit has been the single-most influential book in my life.

Mrs. Henderson, if you’re out there: thank you. I still have a crush on you.

I get the urge to read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings every Christmas. Unfortunately, I can’t live in the Shire or go on adventures on the neverending road, but I can read myself there!

Which books do you love to revisit?

[For those like me who care—though if you do, you probably already have it bookmarked—I give you The Hobbit Blog. Watch the production videos! And the trailer. Oh, the trailer.]

To see it much larger and clearer, and just all around better, click here.

  18 comments for “There and Back Again

  1. 26 December, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Wow that is serious high praise for The Hobbit. I haven’t read any Tolkien but now I’m curious to try him out. I was put off by him when I was forced to watch all three movies after they came out. Not a huge fan of the movies, but books are usually ten times better than their on-screen counterparts.

    • 27 December, 2011 at 12:42 am

      Oh boy. Hmmm. Not a huge fan of the movies!! I’m a major fan of them. I don’t know what to say now!

      The Hobbit is much different from the LOTR. It was originally a bed-time story for Tolkien’s kids, and is written with a much more…”for kids” tone than the trilogy. Part of my love for it does have to do with nostalgia, I admit, and part is to do with the Tolkien class I took in university where I cultivated a great deal of appreciation for the author, having learned about him. But part is simply that I think these stories are unsurpassed in scope, imagination, and beauty, especially when I think about all that was developed as background for them. He borrowed, yes, from myth and legend, but so many, many more, and not solely authors, have borrowed from him, tell-tale of the influence these stories have. Tolkien was a philologist, a true lover of words, as well as of storytelling. That’s got to count for something in telling a good story that takes you far over misty mountains cold. :)

      Let’s get you started:

      “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort….”

      Oh, you’re in for an adventure.

    • Mike
      27 December, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Hi Brenna

      As a long time fan of Tolkien I heartily recommend reading the books. If you like long, high fantasy you will not be disappointed. I have read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings over 20 times each and love them. While I was impressed with the movies I did not really like them. The books are much better!

      • 27 December, 2011 at 2:21 pm

        Even if you don’t love high fantasy, you can enjoy The Hobbit. Again, this is a story told with a storytelling tone, like a bedtime story. It’s rich in imagination but also landscape and character, myth and legend, history and language, nostalgia and, of course, adventure.

    • Sean
      24 March, 2012 at 8:48 am

      I am 38 and from this area the poster (Steph) stated (Alliston ON.) I do not see a way to contact him directly so I will place this long winded message here never to be seen lol)
      Today for the first time i actually wanted to try to find one of my teachers from St. James in Colgan ON. She was Mrs Henderson and she was young tall slim with short dark hair. I could count on one hand the amount of people I have tried to look for from my past. So why is Mrs Henderson different from so many other teachers?
      She was just starting out while i was about halfway through my elementary years. She taught me part of grade 5 (when she started) and grade 7 as well.
      She had such an inspirational way about her and she particularly could see things in others that most people dismiss. She loved the arts and the underdog and I expect if Steph was anything like I was then Mrs Henderson saw greatness in him when few others did. For me I remember her and George Keogh most fondly
      It is quite probable that she is the same teacher made reference to by Steph. Alliston/Tottenham/Colgan all contained Catholic schools and there were teachers who moved amongst them for favoured positions or locations.
      If this is the same Mrs. Henderson then I will say that it is a true inner beauty that she possesses and I am not surprised that she is remembered fondly by others as well.

      • 24 March, 2012 at 9:39 am

        Sean,

        I’m pretty sure Mrs. Henderson also taught me Gr. 7 as well as Gr. 3! I wonder if we were in the same class? :) I didn’t have Mr. Keogh but rather Mrs. Keogh as a teacher, and I think that was at FX O’Reilly, then.

        PS. I’m think you’ve confused me with a guy? My full name is Stephanie. :)

  2. 26 December, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    :) Is that your copy of The Hobbit, by the way? Beautiful cover!

    • 27 December, 2011 at 12:31 am

      It is my copy, yes! A well-read one, no less.

      In turn, I’ve read it aloud to a student I tutored and my husband. I’ve given it as a gift many times. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. :)

  3. Mike
    27 December, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Hi Steph

    I just finished re-reading the Hobbit. It was great to be in Middle Earth again! The adventure was as exciting as always!

    • 27 December, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Rereading it now I again realize how wonderful a storyteller Tolkien was. His tone is such that you the reader are included, and you can absolutely imagine lying in bed while he tells this tale to you. I’m really enjoying the warmth of it, the adventurous spirit he manages so well to conjure. And as always, there’s more I pick out from the story. I last read it only last year, but a year of life makes a difference to the reading experience.

  4. 28 December, 2011 at 11:24 am

    This is such a lovely book that appeals to all people of all ages. It’s so enchanting and inspiring. I don’t think there are enough words to describe how great it is!

    I know my boyfriend is a dedicated fan, and it’s his desert island book as well. As a result I think we have 5-6 different editions and all of them are definitely well read!

    • 28 December, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      That makes me smile. I too am the sort to have more than one edition of a book I love. It’s so good you don’t want to stop buying it. :) Or reading it, of course.

  5. Kathryn
    30 December, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    This made me smile. I loved this book when I was younger. I can’t wait to give it to my kids when they get a little older. Thanks for reminding me of this classic.

    • 30 December, 2011 at 6:12 pm

      Kath! I had no idea you liked The Hobbit! Will wonders never cease. Now I love you even more.

  6. 5 January, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I have never read The Hobbit. I must be the only person who never read it as a kid, or a teenager, or even an adult, and I feel it. (I love the memory you shared here, but it reminds me again that I can’t remember a single book that any of my teachers read to us at primary school. I remember being read to, and that’s it. Sad isn’t it?) But I want to get it, and the copy in your photo is the edition I have to have because it’s the lushest – also, it matches my edition of Lord of the Rings (ugh, which I also haven’t read. I got about 100+ pages in).

    It’s funny, but I don’t think I would have guessed that you loved this book. I tend to think of you as a straight-up lit reader, which isn’t fair I know. I’ve seen you read a variety of books, after all!

    • 5 January, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      I wish you could come over. I think my shelves might surprise you. I can get pretty nerdy about fantasy.

      That copy of The Hobbit is this one: http://www.bookdepository.com/Hobbit-Tolkien/9780395873465.

      This is not like LOTR, I promise. It’s got much more of a storyteller’s tone. It’s much less populated and complex than LOTR, and on the surface is just a great adventure story for kids, though of course there’s so much depth that adults see more into it, but also can enjoy it the way they might a children’s book. Try it.

  7. 8 February, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I absolutely love The Hobbit, but I just couldn’t get into The Lord of the Rings series. I think I may have to give it another shot though!

    • 8 February, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      I think you really have to be in the right mood for it. For me, the time wasn’t right till I was in my fourth year of university. And after having been read the Hobbit in grade three! I always felt like a dolt, but I was just too overwhelmed by the scope of it, all the characters, etc. One fine day I was ready. And then I couldn’t put it down.

      When you feel like a long journey, like an adventure, try it then. You may be swept off your feet and changed forever.

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