“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.”
[J R. R. Tolkien]
One author that I believe set the bar for novelist in the twentieth century was J. R. R. Tolkien. The world he birthed in his books shed light on new cultures, creatures, and civilizations that seemed to be faint fairy-tales before he illuminated them. Through his bewitching descriptions and details, Middle Earth became as real and as curious to readers as the new world was to the explorers of the Age of Discovery. Now if only one could literally tie up the hiking boots, grab a compass and a rucksack full of survival tools and trek through The Misty Mountains as Thorin and company did.
(Actually, as I was doing research for this post I stumbled upon a wonderful interactive map of Middle Earth. Click here to check it out!)
After his books, the word “fantasy” was practically one-in-the-same with Tolkien’s writing. An article in Newsweek in March of 2017, Issue Editor James Ellis writes, “but there’s no doubt [George R. R.] Martin’s wildly popular work—in addition to countless others created since Tolkien’s time—wouldn’t exist without the sentence: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
In Farah Medlesohn’s, Rhetorics of Fantasy, she professes, “What Tolkien does is take the ‘otherworld’ fantasy developed in the 19th century and makes it child-sized, melding it with folklore and Norse myth.”
I personally am a huge fan of Tolkien. I read The Hobbit in twenty-four hours when I was fourteen. I loved everything about it! The riddles, the creatures, and most of all, the feeling I got from going on an adventure with Bilbo and the dwarves. Bilbo is a character that all the readers can relate to: a creature who stays at home, who in all regards to the idea, is below even a “novice adventurer.” A hobbit, who at the beginning of the story wants nearly nothing to do with the idea of a dangerous escapade, and would rather stay home with his pipe, his books, and his comfortable living. But a cause sparks his heart and leads him and the readers “there and back again.”
With Tolkien holding so much importance to the fictional worlds created today, I was thrilled to discover a children’s book about his life at my local library. John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler presents this revolutionary writer to a younger audience.
Each page describes different parts of Tolkien’s life, starting as a young boy whose mother read him stories at bedtime, to the passing of his mother and him living with his cold aunt. The book reads like a fictional picture book even though it is a standard children’s biography book. The book continues, documenting Tolkien’s fascination with creating new languages and joining the church as a young man. There is a page about him going off to war and witnessing the horrors of destruction and mortality, as well as a page of him sitting in local pubs with his writing buddies from college.
(If you know a little bit more about Tolkien’s writing group, “The Inklings,” you will notice that in the illustration of the group, one can pick out a young C. S. Lewis.)
The illustrations in this book catch the eye and ask for imagination! The bright yet softly blended colours enchant the book holder to linger on each picture to fully appreciate the world Tolkien lived in. And, to pay homage to Tolkien’s love for dragons, there is a hidden scaly beast on each page for the reader to hunt down!
One of my favourites in this book is a simple illustration of Tolkien grading papers as a professor. And it shows him looking down at a blank piece of paper among the essays and he writes on it, “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” Let the chills begin!
The last few pages of this wonderful book paint a picture of Tolkien following Bilbo and his companions on their journey. Each page is a piece of art, with swirling colours, and provides the reader with longing to be Tolkien walking along side these beloved characters. If there was ever a time to wish to be sucked into a book, it would be on these pages!
If you are a Tolkien fan and are looking for a way to get the young children in your life prepared to enter the fantastic worlds that are hidden behind each cover check this book out! John Ronald’s Dragons should be a book that every Tolkien fan, young and old, has on the bookshelf!
There is a reason that fantasy books are still one of the most popular genres for readers. And I believe that this was only made possible through fantasy pioneers such as J. R. R. Tolkien!
Love Tolkien and want to talk about it? OR Want more children’s books recommendations? Leave a comment here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on instagram at rose_on_reading and keep a look out for my next post!
For now, I leave you all with this quote by J. R. R. Tolkien:
“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
Your Tolkien Loving Friend,