Friday, September 21, 2012
Hairy Little People: An Anniversary
Today is the 75th anniversary of the publishing of The Hobbit. Tomorrow is September 22, the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
Back in junior high school, like many boys, I had pretty much stopped reading, even though it had been one of my favorite things to do since I was four. It wasn't that I no longer liked to read. I was too old for the books I used to enjoy and had not yet discovered something older that excited me, other than some Twain and a few other classics.
Then, one day, I came across The Hobbit, which my younger brother had brought home from the library as a reading assignment, although I don't think he ever actually read it. I was instantly hooked, from that brilliant first sentence that so many of us know by heart.
I became a Tolkien geek before I was even aware that such a thing existed. I would love to be able to read this book and The Lord of the Rings for the first time again. I devoured them and was amazed that such books existed for so long without my knowing it. I still have those ragged first copies I bought, and I don't plan to ever get rid of them. Few books have been such a big influence on my life.
For quite a while, much of my leisure reading was fantasy, with a few classics mixed in. Tolkien's books led me to look at his sources and influences, a major factor behind my raging fascination with medieval literature, which continues to this day. If not for Tolkien, I would never have discovered Beowulf before being required to read it in class. My introduction to that poem was to read it for fun. As a result, I've always loved it. For a number of years, I've read it at least once a year. Beowulf led me to the Icelandic sagas, which have become chocolate for my reading soul. The sagas in turn led me to one of my very favorite novelists, Halldor Laxness.
If not for Tolkien, I might not have become fascinated with the Sigurd/Siegfried legends and might not ever have discovered Das Nibelunglied, Volsunga Saga, Thidrekssaga, and other forms of the legend, as well as non-fiction explorations of those stories. I almost certainly wouldn't have discovered The Kalevala. I might never have gotten into Welsh and Irish myths and legends.
Much of my education would be vastly altered, including my post-collegiate self-education. My first novel might not be a Viking story. It started out as a retelling of the Sigurd legends, but then I changed my mind and did something else, although that influence remains in some scenes. A Sigurd retelling is still in my mind and could still happen sometime, although have several original ideas in my files. Those legends are to me, though, what the King Arthur stories were to Steinbeck, and pop up in various ways in much of my writing.
There are a lot of books that have influenced my thinking and how I look at the world, and that have inspired me in various ways. But few secular books, and maybe none, have had the impact on my life that The Hobbit has had. I have gone from Tolkien geekdom to mere fandom over the years, but I treasure The Hobbit and what it has done to my life.
So, happy anniversary to a book that has meant so much to my life, and happy birthday, one day early, to those most wonderful Bagginses, Bilbo and Frodo. May the hair on your feet never fall out.