Saturday, August 15, 2015

Of Hobbits and Books

Peter Jackson’s movies have done a great service in making stories come to life on the big screen. One of his greatest accomplishments has been his ability to make The Hobbit (also known as The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again) by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien) accessible to all. He has created a trilogy of movies that are visually stunning; and, in doing so, he has opened the door to a world of wonder, adventure, battle, and the triumph of courage over despair. Yet, I can’t help but notice that some believe that because they have seen these movies, there is no longer a need to read the books. I have begun to ask people if they have ever read any of Tolkien’s books. Several, jokingly reply, “No, I don’t need to, I have seen the movies.”

I know that it is not easy to find the time to read nearly 300 pages of intricate prose in The Hobbit and over 1200 pages in The Lord of The Rings; yet, I do hope that people will continue to read these two books. For all of the hours of amazing film footage found in the 6 movies, there is still much that cannot be covered and much descriptive language that cannot possibly be brought to life in a movie of this nature.

Many years ago I introduced the Hobbit to my daughters as bedtime stories; and with them I relived the wonder as they pictured this world in their minds. We read many other books together including The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis). Recently, a friend told me that he was reading The Hobbit to his daughter and I felt a sense of nostalgia at this simple joy. Reading aloud to another person is an experience in itself and allows both people to enjoy the book at another level. I suspect that my daughters still remember the voices of various characters and the tunes we made up for the songs and chants. Tolkien’s prose is some of the most poetic and evocative in the English language and speaks to deeper realities than the simple world of hobbits, dwarves, trolls, and elves.

Lately, my wife, Maureen, and I have been reading The Hobbit aloud to each other. Tolkien continues to speak to us of simple pleasures, profound fears, and great joys. Last night, as we were ending our day with the author's description of “The Last Homely House” in Rivendell, these words describing Elrond’s house captured our attention. We had to go back and read them multiple times.
"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.”[1]
Movies are able to impress our minds with a glorious picture of a location and may even make us want to go and experience “The Last Homely House.” But as Maureen and I read those two sentences, we were aware that these sentences meant more. They made us want to make our own home a place that was perfect for food, sleep, work, story-telling, singing, sitting and thinking, and a pleasant mixture of them all. We desired to create a place where “evil things” do not enter.

The narrative of The Hobbit reminds us that,
“. . . it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”[2]
I think this may also be true of movies. The “days that are good to spend are soon told about” and painted in the scenery of the movie. The battles, that are “uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale” and fill the content of many a scene in the movie. I wonder, when we think of the movies, do we think of the scenes in Rivendell, or the scenes on the battle-field? What does one remember from reading the books?

C.S. Lewis, a man who made a living reading, writing, and giving lectures, had this to say about his emotions when it came to tea and books. “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”[3] Perhaps we would do well to recover this feeling. On this rainy day in Calgary, I think I will go and put on the kettle!

[1] The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again;  John Ronald Reuel Tolkien; Random House, New York, 1982 Revised Edition; p. 51.
[2] The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again;  John Ronald Reuel Tolkien; Random House, New York, 1982 Revised Edition; p. 50.

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