Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy Hobbit Day!

Celebrated: On this planet and in Middle-Earth since 1978

Before we begin, an admission: I never fully embraced the Lord of the Rings trilogy, although I loved (and still love) The Hobbit. I read The Hobbit in elementary school, and read the trilogy in middle school (1977-79). The Hobbit enchanted me, but the trilogy felt unnecessarily complex and detailed, I wanted more female characters, and I cared nothing about the battle scenes. So there.

That said, Tolkien's Middle-Earth is a dazzling achievement, a magical place anyone would want to visit, and a Hobbit's life is idyllic. September 22 is the birthday of both Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo Baggins, born 78 years apart, and celebrated by the American Tolkien Society since 1978:

Hobbit Day is a virtually ideal holiday, incorporating attractive elements of several others: the masquerade fun of Halloween, the feast of Thanksgiving, the exchange of greeting cards and gifts associated with Christmas and birthdays, the picnic atmosphere of Labor Day and Memorial Day, the fireworks of Independence Day (or Guy Fawkes Day) . . .
Hobbit Day caps Tolkien Week, a week-long celebration of all things related to J.R.R. Tolkien — Ronald to his friends — poet, polyglot, professor and practicing Catholic. (Among other things, Tolkien translated the Book of Jonah for The Jerusalem Bible, and he gets some credit for C.S. Lewis' conversion to Christianity, though Lewis became an Anglican.) Tolkien served in the Great War and trained to be a codebreaker in the Second World War, but did not serve. Before he became a best-selling author, he was best-known as the world's preeminent scholar of Beowulf, arguing in particular for the importance of the monsters in that narrative. 

The Fellowship of the Ring begins with Bilbo Baggins' 111th birthday party. Hobbits celebrate their birthdays with singing and dancing, games, presents for their guests (no gifts to the birthday celebrant), and, of course, plenty of food and drink. Hobbits eat six meals a day, when they can get them: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, tea and dinner and/or supper. (That's seven, but who's counting?)

2012 marks the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. The Hobbit was originally written as a children's book. After Tolkien completed The Lord of the Rings in 1949, he made two sets of revisions to The Hobbit to bring its story into conformance with the trilogy, but The Hobbit is still much different in structure and tone from the longer novels: lighter, less complex, faster-moving (not to mention shorter). Paradoxically, it turns out to be The Hobbit that requires two separate films in order to adapt to the screen. The first of these opens in December, and it wouldn't surprise me if people are already lining up for tickets.

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