Into Dungeons Deep and Caverns Old

Once in a while, I hear from somebody who has never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Maybe they saw the films and that was enough for them, or they couldn’t stomach the prose. This is indeed a sad thing.

Looking back, I was at the time just a hobbit myself.

My mother persuaded me to read The Hobbit when I was in the 6th or 7th grade (c. 1988).

Having moved frequently, school to school, state to state, all I wanted to do was just hibernate in my bedroom. Every day of school was a day in Goblin Town. See David Foster Wallace’s “The Soul is Not a Smithy.”

But one day my mom put a book into my hands. She had just bought from Waldenbooks.

I looked at the cover. A rider on a barrel, floating out of the woods and into the mouth a certain windy, running river. And beyond? Another bend in the river.

Mom told me to just read it–“You’ll love it.”

Yeah right. I hated books. They reeked of homework.

I began paging through it quite skeptically. Then I saw the maps. And then: “What is this hole in the ground?” I asked her. Me, the little brat. Or perhaps, a little goblin.

Holding her ground, my mom said, “Keep reading.”

Sure. I sarcastically fulfilled her request. Swish, smack! My eyes scanned each stupid sentence balefully. I’ll show her, or so I thought. But by the time I got to the second page, I had to sit down.

Finding the nearest place to sit, a couch in the living room, and without taking my eyes from the page, without stopping reading, without speaking aloud, I journeyed onwards into The Hobbit.

It was as if I had been struck by lightning! For the next few days, I jumped out of bed hours before school just to read a couple chapters on that same couch.

On the bus to and from Goblin Town, I reread those pages. I began paying more attention to the world. The moon and the stars. Trees. Hills. I studied the maps. In class, teachers thwarted my studies. To them, I was doodling on paper. Distracted. I had gone off into the Blue.

Little did they know I was practicing Dwarvish rune craft. I was preparing years ahead of my time for a B.A. in English literature, and an MFA in Creative Writing. And for those shining three days when I first began reading The Hobbit my breakfast of Eggo Waffles were not Eggo Waffles. First they turned into Beorn’s honey cakes. And then in Lake-town, they were “cram,” a kind of biscuit made by the Men of Lake-town to eat on long journeys. And still a few days later, when my mom brought home The Fellowship of the Ring, my waffles turned into lembas, or Elven waybread. With magic words, Tolkien had the power to turn food-like products into food for warrior-poets.

Ever since then I have felt sorry for everybody who has not read these books. But not as sorry as I felt when I first cried my eyes out for Thorin Oakenshield.