When I was a kid, my mom read to me a lot. From picture books to chapter books, my first exposure to reading was definitely through her. I don’t remember exactly when I got hooked on reading for myself, but I always remember being fascinated by the stories. Somewhere between The Secret World of Og and The Hobbit I really started to like reading for myself.
The Hobbit was an epic adventure to me, full of characters and creatures I had never heard of, using story tropes that were still new to me. It was like magic. I loved how Gandalf was always running in and out of the story, how the dwarves each had their own personalities and takes on the situations, Bilbo and how he always fell into things. The story was light and humorous, and perfect for a child. Needless to say I fell in love, and read it many times since it was first read to me. Later, when LOTR was read to me it was wonderful, but the lightheartedness of The Hobbit always made me happy.
The one chapter that got me every time was Roast Mutton. The trolls to me were hilarious, in their blundering, quizzical way, with Gandalf practising ventriloquism in order to keep them arguing till dawn. That was cleverness. Beorn and his ponies always intrigued me, and he never really ever did come back in anything else Tolkien ever wrote. Then there was Bilbo royally pissing off the spiders, sing and taunting them, driving them crazy. The dwarves up a tree, trying to get away from the Wargs.
It never bothered me that Bilbo passes out half way through the battle, ending with him shouting that the eagles were coming. It seemed somewhat realistic to me. Tolkien was always the master of creating a sense of nostalgia at the end of his books, and The Hobbit is no exception. It’s that sense of nostalgia that in the leaves a special sense of fondness by the end of the novel, the kind of thing that makes it like recounting tales with an old friend every time you read it. That’s why I consider the next 3 LOTR books fanservice ;P.
So why did The Hobbit change my life? It made me love the tropes of literature before I ever understood what a trope was. When you really break apart Tolkien’s works its truly incredible how many conventions he combined from classic literature to make an all-powerful supernarrative. Maybe that’s why his books were so good. He took everything good from everywhere. The Hobbit was one of the first stories that told me that literature held a lot of possibilities to be explored in the future.
I still have that beat up, chewed up copy of The Hobbit from my childhood. Somewhere.