“There and Back Again”

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.”

I first heard those words sitting in my fifth grade classroom in the autumn of 1963. They were the opening lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (or There and Back Again). My teacher, Sister Shaun was reading the book to us, bit by bit over the course of weeks and months.

To my 10-year old self, this was a tale that captured my imagination and touched my spirt as all great stories should. And it was to be a book that I read, and reread numerous times in the years ahead. A book that I read to my sons when they were small and again to surrogate grandchildren while living in Uganda. It is a book that I hope I might read to my own grandchildren if they can sit still long enough to listen and if my daughter wants to listen (she has read it on her own many times, I know, but I never read it aloud to her) she is more than welcome.

The Hobbit, and the related Lord of the Rings Trilogy are more than just a child’s tale. They are stories of friendship. Of loyalty and steadfast courage in the face of adversity. They are tales of hope in times of darkness and of determination to remain true to what is good and right even when it is hard. They were tales of power in the days of WWII when they were written and they are tales of power today.

Great tales speak to our values and beliefs. They reaffirm what we know to be true about mankind and there is a resonance deep within us when we read them.

So, yesterday, I will admit to a thrill when I stood before Bag-End, the hobbit hole that was home to Bilbo Baggins and from which his adventure with dwarves and wizards and dragons began.

I gave full rein to my inner geek to relish the moment and to be transported by the visit to Hobbiton which Peter Jackson brought to life in his films with a loving attention to detail that made the story in which I lived vicariously again and again over the years come alive for me.

I’ll read the Hobbit again before my days are numbered. Maybe more than once. It always strikes the chord and always resonates for me. I hope it always will.

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