Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There and Back Again... Again

Currently Reading: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

My first exposure to The Hobbit came when I was probably around six years old. I was somehow forced to watch this version:

Bilbo Baggins in the cartoon version of The Hobbit

Naturally, I decided that hobbits were some of the creepiest creatures ever imagined and I began to believe that Tolkien had a rather twisted mind. To this day, I find this cartoon version of The Hobbit to be one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. Its on par with The Last Unicorn cartoon, an animated movie that has scarred every person of my generation.

The first time I actually read The Hobbit, it was assigned reading for my 8th grade English class. And it was one of the most miserable reading experiences of my life.

It was a Sunday in September. In fact, it was my 13th birthday. I was still floating on the high of spending my birthday weekend with my friends, giggling and having fun in the obnoxious, immature way that only 13 year-olds know how to. We’d gone to see Sweet Home Alabama and during the movie, I had successfully held hands with my crush du jour, making me silly with butterflies until that Sunday. My weekend had been one of my more perfect birthday celebrations and I had absolutely no interest in coming down from my high, especially not on my actual birthday.

My English teacher evidently had had other plans for my birthday weekend. She had piled us with homework that weekend. I don’t remember all of the specifics of the assignments, but I do remember that assignment was plural and that at the center of my suffering was – you guessed it – Mr. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I believe we were expected to read something like ten chapters over the weekend on top of two other assignments. Again, the exact parameters of the assignment escape me now. The irrational anger and extreme agitation I felt, do not.

I’ve always been a rather slow reader and at the time I was much slower given that I was, well, 13 and my attention span for reading even slightly challenging books was not particularly high. The ten chapters took me all day. I’m pretty sure I settled into our living room couch around noon and didn’t finish the assignment until about 6 PM.

And I couldn’t even breathe a sigh of relief. I still had all the rest of my homework which to contend. Never mind all of my other classes. I still had English homework to complete. The glow of my lovely birthday weekend was extinguished entirely by the obscene amount of schoolwork I was forced to do on my actual birthday.

The injustice of it all!

In my self-centered 13-year-old brain, I was still convinced that the world should have the decency to stop and relax in observance of the holiday that was my birthday. Shouldn’t teachers know not to assign any work on my birthday? Seriously, my birthday girl rights were being violated.

Guess I was doing my best impression of this girl.

To add insult to injury, the next day I arrived in my English class, completely disgruntled, only to hear my teacher proclaim:

“I realized over the weekend that I assigned an unrealistic amount of homework, so if you didn’t get through all The Hobbit reading, it’s OK.”

My classmates exhaled a sigh of relief. “Thank God!” they whispered, “I only got through about half the reading!”

I was dumbfounded! Even more than that, I was furious. My birthday had been wasted and it didn’t have to be?? I didn’t have to suffer through all that reading??

I’m fairly certain I saw red.

At the center of my rage sat The Hobbit. If that damn Tolkien hadn’t written such a tedious, wordy book with ridiculous songs and riddles, it wouldn’t have taken me so damn long to read it and birthday bliss could have been mine!!

And for years, this has been the impression of The Hobbit that I’ve carried around. I have firmly hated it and have believed it to be long winded with uninteresting characters and a plot that dragged. In a way, this belief has kept me from reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, despite the knowledge that they are by far my mother’s favorite and most re-read books. I just couldn’t forgive Tolkien for “ruining” my 13th birthday.

Now, 10 years later, I feel terrible about the abusive reviews I’ve given this novel.

I’m so glad I re-read this novel because the second reading has completely changed my opinion of it. In fact, I’m stunned by my previous assessments now, particularly my firm belief that the novel was incredibly slow paced. I could not disagree with this conclusion more. The story actually progresses at an extremely quick rate. This makes sense given it’s a children’s book and a fast pace is key to maintaining a child’s attention. But still, the speed of the plot floored me initially. I mean Bilbo is on the road beginning his adventure by the end of the first chapter for Pete’s sake! In an adult book, it would have taken at least twice as long! Additionally, I was somewhat surprised to discover that every chapter had a key plot point in it, another writing choice hardly ever made in adult books. In fact, every chapter almost had a stand-alone story within it, making it easier for a parent to read one chapter aloud before bed – as my sister pointed out. I guess given my choice of reading material these days, I had forgotten what it was like to read a book targeted for a much younger audience.

That wasn’t the only thing I’d forgotten.

Honestly, I had forgotten pretty much the entirety of The Hobbit’s plot. I remembered the bit with the trolls discussing the various ways to kill Bilbo and I vaguely remembered the part in which Bilbo meets Gollum, but other than that, I realized I remembered almost nothing. I’m fairly embarrassed at how new the book felt, despite the fact that I was reading it for the second time. I guess I didn’t really absorb much of the book through my indignation the first time around since the parts I remember occur in the third and fifth chapters. Apparently, I might as well have enjoyed my birthday for the amount I actually read.

But I’m glad I’ve read it again. It’s reading experiences like this one that remind just why it’s not a waste of time to re-read a novel. Yes, chances are my “to-read” stack of books will always be piling up towards the ceiling, but sometimes, it’s worth it to revisit something in the “already-read” pile. If I hadn’t, I would have continued to believe that I hate Tolkien when really, I now understand why he’s so beloved. I can’t wait to finally read The Lord of the Rings now!