on reading Tolkien

December 19, 2012

Observing people’s reactions to The Hobbit around and about this here Internet, it’s pretty clear that many people have a deep, personal, and powerful relationship to the book.  Their parents read it to them when they were small.  It’s the book that brought them to fantasy.  I’ve gotten to wondering how unusual — or not — my own relationship to the book is.  Because to be honest, I’m not a fan.  I recognize it’s a classic, it’s a fine novel certainly.  But I don’t have any kind of deep personal relationship with it.

My parents are strict science fictionist.  Growing up, we got lots of Star Trek and the Heinlein juveniles, but not a lot of fantasy.  They never read The Hobbit to us.  Actually, I’m not sure if they’ve even read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, even though Mom and Dad are both avid readers.  (Mom, want to chime in?)  They’re just not fantasy readers — pretty much the only fantasy they read is mine.   All the fantasy I’ve read, I did on my own, and it was Ray Bradbury and Robin McKinley who made me love fantasy.

What this means is my first introductions to Tolkien were the Bass-Rankin animated Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings.  What this means is that I really hated The Hobbit.  The Bass-Rankin film?  Couldn’t stand it.  Hobbits were these weird apple-headed creatures who were kinda boring and obsessive — like that creepy neighbor down the street — and the songs were twee.  I really wanted to like it.  But gah.  No.  Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, however, intrigued the hell out of me.  I mean, it had ELVES.  (Don’t judge me, please.)

When I finally picked up The Hobbit, I had a really hard time getting through it.  It was all creepy apple-headed people and twee songs.  But Lord of the Rings…ah yes.  Elves.  Except I really wanted to skip all the chapters with Hobbits in them so I could go back to reading about Elves.  (Again, don’t judge me.)  And what does all this mean?  When I discovered The Silmarillion, it became my favorite Tolkien book because it was all Elves and no Hobbits.

I will be forever grateful to Peter Jackson for rehabilitating my mental image of Hobbits and making them awesome.  I’m now able to go back to the books and read them for what they are, rather than imprinting on whatever horrible images the Bass-Rankin film managed to shove into my brain without meaning to.

I’ve only read the whole shebang twice — once as a teenager, and again starting ten years ago so I could compare to the movies.  My take on them was quite a bit different.  As a teenager, I read them and wanted to be an elf.  (It’s really hard being a teenage girl, but elves are automatically awesome.  Therefore, if I were an elf, I would be awesome.  Just trying to explain my teenage reasoning on the matter.)  Years later, I read them and thought, “These people are all going to need therapy.” (And then I immediately wrote “Strife Lingers in Memory,” now available in John Joseph Adam’s anthology Epic.  End commercial plug.)

Lots of people for whom The Hobbit has been their favorite book since they were wee sproglings, who re-read it all every year, are awfully emotional about the movie.  On the one hand, I’m grateful to be able to experience the movie without the emotional investment.  On the other hand — how wonderful, to have a book mean so much.  And this book means so much to so many people, it’s amazing, really.

I imagine if a movie ever gets made of The Blue Sword I’ll know what the true Hobbit fans are going through right now.

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13 Responses to “on reading Tolkien”

  1. Mom Says:

    I have never read any Tolkien. As Carrie said I am more a hard SF fan. I just started the Epic anthology and am having a terrible time with Robin Hobb’s story. I am kind of scanning and skipping through it. Epic fantasy has never appealed to me. Ray Bradbury I love, but his fantasy is rooted in modern life. I like Carrie’s story in the anthology a lot, but it doesn’t feel like fantasy to me. I like some urban fantasy – Kitty of course, but it has to be more rooted in reality and not totally fantastical. So – I don’t know where she gets it!

  2. WanabePBWriter Says:

    As much as I grouse to my friends about how much I dislike what was done to LOTR by PJ I do love the films and re-watch them from time to time. On reading them, I did not read as a child, LD issues, as a freshmen looking to avoid working on a term paper I found LOTR on the book shelves in the school library. By the time Frodo got to Rivendell, I had said to myself that I would like to be a writer. (I picture you Carrie in the library reveling in note cards, foot notes and reference pages. My own papers were always written in the two days of the weekend before the Monday they were due. )

    Even with all the problems I see with the films there are only two things I really have a hard time forgiving PJ for doing. The first is not so bad, the reluctant Aragorn, he was in the books if anything apprehensive about becoming the King, not fearful of the legacy of Isildur. The other which I still cannot get over is the robbing of the character of Faramir, in movie he is consumed by the need to prove himself to his father, in the book he is his own man understanding his fathers preference to Boromir. In a letter to a friend Tolkien wrote this or something like it “I did not intend him to be but today out of the woods of Ithilien Up walked Faramir brother to Boromir, I like him very much.”
    Anyway to stop the rant, as my friends tell me anytime I go off, all I need to do is save up about a Billion, live to the age of ninety or so and do my own remake.


  3. When I was six, my dad would read The Hobbit to me and my older sister every night at bedtime.

    As I grew up, I became dimly aware of The Lord of the Rings (though I didn’t realize it was a sequel to The Hobbit; I just thought it was some unrelated work by the same author), although my older sister did read, and love, it. In the fall of the year the first LotR movie was released, she showed me the Bakshi version as a way to introduce me to the story, though by this point I was somewhat more intrigued, particularly since I was told it was similar in some respects to Princess Mononoke, which remains my all-time favorite film.

    After seeing the Bakshi version (though I didn’t understand much of the parts in it covering The Two Towers), I tried reading The Fellowship of the Ring, but stopped once the Hobbits met Tom Bombadil. I then saw the first film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, and was swept away — it was the first fantasy film I had ever seen where everything seemed 100% real, rather than looking like it was created for a movie. By the time Sauron entered the battle in the prologue, I knew I had found my true calling, and that I wanted to work in the movie industry (at first I thought I wanted to direct, then turned my gaze to computer animation/visual effects, again thanks to LotR).

    In between the first and second film, I listened to the wonderful BBC radio drama of LotR–featuring Ian Holm as Frodo and Bill Nighy (!) as Sam–so I was definitely aware in the subsequent films of some of the changes that were made. However, I still have very few quibbles with these changes, since the special feature documentaries and commentaries for the extended editions of the films make it clear that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens were pretty hard on themselves when writing the screenplays.

    After the film trilogy ended, I liked to tell people that when the Hobbit movie was announced, I would drop whatever I was doing and go to New Zealand. And in a sense, that’s what happened, as I got to study abroad there at the same time that preproduction of the Hobbit movies was going on (back when Guillermo del Toro was supposed to direct them).

    On a final note, with regards to your last blog entry, Carrie: the reason why the Goblins look like those by Brian Froud may be because Alan Lee, who co-wrote/illustrated the book Faeries with Froud, and who also has done many wonderful Tolkien-related illustrations, was one of the concept artists on this trilogy, as well as the previous one. (Another Tolkien/fantasy artist involved with the concept art for both trilogies is John Howe, whose work includes some awesome dragons.)

    Anyway, wow. Sorry about the length of this comment.

  4. Griggk the goblin Says:

    When you are the shortest kid in class, and the last one picked for any team at P.E, then one can relate to Bilbo.

    Gandalf understood.

  5. catspaw73 Says:

    I developed a deep and abiding hatred for anything Tolkien at age 11, when my teacher took my book out of my hands, handed me The Hobbit and told me I’d like it as it was like what I was reading and it was more appropriate for me than what I was/had been reading. I was/had been reading Asimov, Phillip K Dick, Heinlein and some other hard sci fi authors, okay I’ll give her the more appropriate lol (I was reading their adult stuff :-D ). As a (at that time) hard sci fi reader I hated it. Did try LOTR in my late teens, but gave up after 2 chapters :-)
    My youngest read the Hobbit as an 8 year old and loved it and wants to read LOTR over the summer break as an almost 10 year old (and here in Middle Earth its summer currently :-D ) Hubby and kids are going to the Hobbit with friends, I offered to baby sit friends 5 year old, as I have no desire to see it.

  6. Carrie V. Says:

    Thanks for the stories!

    It’s so amazing, how context influences our reading…

    I had forgotten that Froud and Lee worked together — I LOVE Lee and Howe’s work — I have a Tolkien calendar they did together about 15 years ago around here somewhere…


  7. I did read the Hobbit at about age 10. I found it hard reading, but enjoyed it. I loved the elves, but as hobbits have large feet they won me over, having large feet myself ;-) DIdn’t read LOTR at the time, because I enjoyed Heinlein for SF and McCaffery for Fantasy much more. I have enjoyed all the PJ versions of the movies so far, which is saying something as I am normally not a movie fan. I usually much prefer the visuals I create in my own mind.

  8. Doruk Says:

    I could never finish Hobbit, and I couldn’t finish the third book of LOTR. The stories were interesting, but the characters were terribly boring. I am actually in that shunned little subpopulation that liked the movies a lot more :P Of course, I read them translated, so we can blame the translators, perhaps?

  9. Doruk Says:

    Oh, and I never got to read much fantasy as a kid since the books of that genre were not really available in Turkish back then. I did read quite a few fantasy comics, though (usually Franco-Belgian ones, I actually got to see Smurfs in Johan and Peewit ;) ), as well as Asimov (who was pretty much the only sci-fi available, beyond Jules Verne), Stephen King, and Dean R. Koontz (once my parents let me :P ).

  10. Adam. Says:

    Didn’t actually get around to reading The Hobbit until sometime in Uni. But we had an abridged version on tape narrated by Nichol Williamson since I was 5. I experienced Hobbits as they were intended; West Country farmers :-)

    And then Nichol Williamson was Merlin in the film Excalibur, best Great Wizard of all time.

  11. smsand Says:

    I got introduced to The Hobbit and LOTR at the school library where we’d get put in detention. The books being as big as they are, as soon as I was out of detention I would immediately get in trouble again just so I could spend the whole day back in the lib rary to finish reading the books. It never occured to me that, being a library, I could’ve just checked the books out. But then again, finding new ways to get detention was much more fun.

  12. Bethany Says:

    Carrie, I’m now grumpy with you*. I had never even allowed myself to consider the idea of a movie made of The Blue Sword, but now… goodness, that would be awesome… :) *not really, but..

  13. carriev Says:

    Bethany, I’m writing the screenplay for it in my head…I can see the whole thing… ;)


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