‘The Hob­bit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are must-reads

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION - By Sam Byrnes Sam Byrnes is a Gen­tr­yarea res­i­dent and con­trib­u­tor to the Ea­gle Ob­server. He may be con­tacted by email at sam­byrnes57@gmail.com. Opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the author.

If you haven’t yet read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” I highly rec­om­mend you do so, and the sooner the bet­ter. But first, you must read the pre­quel, “The Hob­bit,” or “There and Back Again,” which be­gins the tale of Mid­dle Earth and the ad­ven­tures of a hand­ful of dwarves and one hob­bit by the name of Mr. Bilbo Bag­gins.

It would be hard to de­scribe what these books have meant to me and my fam­ily over the years. I can’t re­call how many times I have read “The Hob­bit” out loud, but I do know I have read “The Lord of the Rings” out loud three times as my chil­dren came of age so they could un­der­stand the truths con­tained in the story of the find­ing of the one ring and the epic bat­tle to de­stroy it be­fore the world of Mid­dle Earth is over­come by evil. It is a story of good ver­sus evil that res­onates with hearts of all ages.

When Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings,” he wrote it as one book, but at a lit­tle over a thou­sand pages, it was deemed best to break the book up into three parts. So the first seg­ment is called “The Fel­low­ship of the Ring,” the sec­ond or mid­dle part is called “The Two Tow­ers,” and the third part is called “The Re­turn of the King.”

In “The Hob­bit,” we are in­tro­duced to a num­ber of unique char­ac­ters such as Gan­dalf the Grey, a good wizard who works might­ily to pro­tect all that is good in Mid­dle Earth. Then there are the dwarves who are anx­ious to re­claim their hard­earned trea­sure from an evil dragon ap­pro­pri­ately named Smaug.

Smaug had in­vaded the Dwarf king­dom of Ere­bor 150 years be­fore the time of the story told in “The Hob­bit.” He lives deep in­side the moun­tain where the dwarves had mined many jew­els, pre­cious stones, as well as gold and sil­ver. In fact, Smaug sleeps on this im­mense trea­sure and guards it against thieves. He of­ten flies about the coun­try­side prey­ing on men and their live­stock. And, yes, he is a fire-breath­ing dragon.

Bilbo is a Bag­gins which means he prefers big meals and all the safety and com­forts of home to un­pre­dictable and dan­ger­ous ad­ven­tures. This makes him an un­likely can­di­date for re­claim­ing hid­den trea­sure from a fire-breath­ing dragon, but Gan­dalf sees some­thing in Bilbo and in hob­bits in gen­eral that most do not and so chooses Bilbo to be the thief for a band of dwarves in­tent on re­cov­er­ing their price­less trea­sure from Smaug. Be­sides, Bilbo is a Took on his mother’s side and ev­ery­one knows that a Took likes a bit of ad­ven­ture to spice things up.

To say the dwarves are skep­ti­cal of Bilbo’s abil­i­ties as a thief would be an un­der­state­ment. In fact, Bilbo him­self is skep­ti­cal of his abil­i­ties and does not go will­ingly. But go he does and, in the process, dis­cov­ers hid­den strengths he was not aware he pos­sessed and goes on to sur­prise him­self and all his com­pan­ions, in­clud­ing Gan­dalf.

But, per­haps most im­por­tantly, he dis­cov­ers a ring on the jour­ney which goes on to be­come the main fo­cus of “The Lord of the Rings” nar­ra­tive. This fact is ac­tu­ally pretty amaz­ing when you con­sider that Tolkien had no in­ten­tion of writ­ing a se­quel to “The Hob­bit” and did not do so for many years.

“The Hob­bit” was pub­lished in 1937. It wasn’t un­til 1954 that “The Lord of the Rings” came out, and it wasn’t un­til much later that it be­came a clas­sic that was rec­og­nized as one of the great­est nov­els of all time. “The Lord of the Rings” has sold more than 150 mil­lion copies. It has been trans­lated into 38 lan­guages and, in 2003, it was named Bri­tain’s best-loved novel of all time in the BBC’s The Big Read.

There are so many things I could tell you about these nov­els. I could talk about Tom Bom­badil or Le­go­las the elf, or Lady Gal­adriel, or of Strider, and of Glam­dring, and of Orcs and Goblins, and of the chief wizard Saru­man and the evil Sau­ron, and es­pe­cially of Gol­lum. But the best way to learn about the many amaz­ing char­ac­ters is to read the books for your­self. And, if you en­joy read­ing out loud to your chil­dren, you can’t find a bet­ter story to share with them. I prom­ise you will find an ad­ven­ture that will cap­ti­vate the most dis­crim­i­nat­ing of tastes. And you might even learn how the game of golf was in­vented.

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