Recently, I was at the movies, and a preview came on of Peter Jackson’s upcoming film The Hobbit. Maybe it was because of the huge IMAX screen, but seeing that preview gave me chills. The Hobbit or There and Back Again (that’s its full title) is one of my most beloved reads. I first read it as a ten-year old, and I still read it nearly every year because it is truly timeless without any age limits.
You may be familiar with Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien because of the huge popularity of those wonderful films, but you may not be aware that there is a “prequel” (though it’s not really a prequel) to the story called The Hobbit. It was Tolkien’s first book, published in 1937 with Lord of the Rings following in 1954 and 1955. Some people call The Hobbit a biography of Bilbo Baggins, the main character, but I like to think of it as much more than that. Take a look at this first line:
“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.”
Thus begins the story of Bilbo Baggins! Legend has it that Tolkien was grading papers, and wrote that sentence on the back of a student’s paper, and he didn’t do anything with that sentence for years, but it sparked an idea for a book, which eventually made literary history.
Tolkien’s book focuses on the race of hobbits which are folk that are about 3 feet high with big, hairy feet. They live an idyllic lifestyle in the village of Hobbiton in the world of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoy the quiet of the daytime, smoking pipes, farming, digging in the dirt in their gardens, and eating delicious and rich foods.
Bilbo Baggins, while loving the life of Hobbiton, has always had a secret yearning for adventures. He gets his wish granted ( or rather it’s forced upon him) when the wizard Gandalf The Grey stops by and gets himself invited for dinner; when Gandalf returns for dinner, he brings a gaggle of dwarves with him. Bilbo’s house is thrown in disarray when the dwarves eat everything in sight, but after the meal, they start to sing songs about reclaiming their claim to a place called “Lonely Mountain.”
After this point, the characters set out for many adventures including captures by goblins, trolls, elves, gigantic spiders, a dragon, and all manner of creatures. This book is so wonderful for the imagination for people of all ages. It’s such a magical experience, and not because it’s classified as “fantasy.” Tolkien felt that his home country of England lacked a true mythology, so he created a world that looks a lot like England, even though it’s called Middle-Earth, and created this wonderful tale that truly has mythic proportions.
If you’re interested in Lord of the Rings, but haven’t read them yet, The Hobbit is an excellent place to start, or revisit even if you’ve read the other books. While Tolkien has immense pages of details in his writing, The Hobbit doesn’t overdo it. The beginnings of Tolkien’s books are usually where we get the most dense descriptions, and some readers either jump in and swim in the details, while others may find it overwhelming, but if you can hang in there, you’re in for a rare treat. I truly cherish this book, and I hope you will too!
CHAVIS’ CLASSIC CORNER
How many times have you read a book that creates a world that is so vivid, so real, and so alive that you would do almost anything to live in that world? One of my very favorite books does precisely that. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander,the start of an amazing literary experience!
If you’re not familiar with Diana Gabaldon, she came to writing after earning degrees in Marine Biology, Ecology, and Zoology, which is great for us because it means she loves details in her writing. She wrote the first Outlander book about 20 years ago, and it has gained a cult following.
Our central character is Claire Beauchamp Randall who moves to Scotland after WWII in 1946. While walking one day, Claire strolls through a “circle of standing stones” (much like a mini-Stonehenge), and gets sucked back in time to 1743 Scotland. She lands smackdab into a clan full of lusty lads, redcoats, blunt weaponry, and the like. In order to survive, Claire needs to be married off to one of the men in the Scottish clan she’s joined. Enter our hero James Fraser.
James (aka Jamie) is one of those heroes who literally leaps off the page with every passing chapter. If you thought Mel Gibson’s William Wallace was a hot, tough, chivalrous guy, believe me, you’ll love Jamie Fraser. He makes Wallace look like the playground punching bag. Jamie is the right mix of ruggedness, tenderness, and that “X” factor that will grab any reader’s attention, and it’s so much fun watching the growth of his relationship with Claire.
Despite the fantastical setting, Gabaldon incorporates a lot of actual historical content and detail in her books. In fact, she fought for years to get Outlander moved out of the “romance” section of the bookstores because her books are more than simple love stories. They are historical fiction. Gabaldon writes her two main characters with so much real-life details and behaviors that you will probably talk about Jamie and Claire as if they’re real people.
So be forewarned, you WILL get hooked, and hooked hard. While it’s not necessarily a “fast” read, it is one that is well worth the time. If you enjoy romance, Scottish swordsmen, chivalry, and history, I can strongly bet that Outlander will be a gem to treasure in your book collection. Face it, who doesn’t love a man in a kilt?
Right now, the teen novel is having its angst-ridden moment in the spotlight, and I have discovered that some of them are actually really, really good! Teen-lit has been my super-secret reading pleasure for about three years now.
One of my favorite series is the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. It’s a trilogy that starts with The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and ends with Mockingjay. The series ties around a post-apocalyptic America that, instead of “states,” has now been reduced to “districts.” 13 to be precise. The infamous District 13 revolted against the ruling body in the Capitol, so as a result, every year two people from each district are chosen through a lottery to compete in the Hunger Games, an arena type fight to the death, as a reminder not to ever question the Capitol’s authority.
The main characters from District 11 are Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mallarck, and a hot guy named Gail (I’m sensing a love triangle here). Katniss’ little sister gets chosen for the Hunger Games, and in an unselfish act of love, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. And with that, Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to the Capitol for the Hunger Games!
The first few chapters do a wonderful job of capturing the reader’s attention, but when the book gets to the part when the Hunger Games actually start, the narrative gets a lot more intense. I literally could NOT put this book down! Collins’ writing is fast-paced, yet still takes time to give vivid description without being cumbersome, which is one of the joys of teen-lit. It does the job of longer adult novels in half the time.
The Hunger Games really struck me as an Ayn Rand for beginners type of book where the protagonists struggle to fight the “man.” You will enjoy the variety of characters and the hugeness of the “arena,” that is designed like a forest. If you love a novel with teen romance triangles AND an anti-conformity social message, then Hunger Games is for you.
These novels have spread like wildfire after Twilight author Stephenie Meyers recommended them, but don’t just think these are one of those fake “author recommended” books; The Hunger Games is well worth the time.
For fun, you can go to this HUNGER GAMES NAME link and find out what you would be called in District 13.