30 Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty

Book you’ve read the most number of times: The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Like Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, Moby Dick, Dracula, and a select few others, The Hobbit is the kind of story that we have absorbed through a cultural osmosis by virtue of its well-earned ubiquity. We’re all more or less aware of its basic premise – Bilbo Baggins sets out to find treasure guarded by a dragon named Smaug (oh, and along the way he finds a ring that turns into one of the greatest adventure of all time). Nevertheless, the first reading of this classic is one of the greatest experiences one can have as a reader. Whenever anyone, no matter their age group, is looking for something to read I recommend The Hobbit. I’m sincerely jealous of anyone reading it for the first time.

I first read The Hobbit when I was in junior high – pretty sure it was grade 7. I was sick at the time and wasn’t really in the mood to play “Ocarina of Time” anymore. I’d just finished reading Redwall and was a burgeoning Reader. My mom suggested it to me and I fell in love with it immediately.

I’ve already talked about Tolkien’s incredible universe in my entry on Lord of the Rings, so now I want to focus on something that I think isn’t really talked about enough: Tolkien’s prose. A lot of fantasy borders on the ridiculous or the purple, or both. It’s a difficult balancing act trying to give a fantasy narrative legitimacy. I think Tolkien achieves this primarily through his mastery of language. Being a philologist, Tolkien was a virtuoso with words. There is an exquisite sense of ease in the way Tolkien can describe scenes, or, as is often my favorite examples of his prose, landscapes:

The day grew lighter and warmer as they floated along. After a while the river rounded a steep shoulder of land that came down upon their left. Under its rocky feet like an inland cliff the deepest stream had flowed lapping and bubbling. Suddenly the cliff fell away. The shores sank. The trees fell away. Then Bilbo saw a light:

The lands opened wide about him, filled with the waters of the river which broke up and wandered in a hundred winding courses, or halted in marshes and pools dotted with isles on ever side; but still a strong water flowed on steadily through the mist. And far away, its dark head in a torn cloud, there loomed the Mountain!

That’s just me picking a random page. It’s all well and good to create a universe, but it’s worthless if you cannot convey it. An artist must possess the skill needed in order to situate the audience in his/her aesthetic universe. What good is imagination, no matter how robust, if you cannot bring it to life? That’s what separates the great artists from the bad, as far as I’m concerned: sure you can have great ideas for a story, but do you have what it takes to commit yourself to the craft in order to express them fully? Few do.



~ by braddunne on August 11, 2011.

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