The Hobbit Turns 80

There are authors who write copiously, and authors who think copiously. J.R.R. Tolkien was of the latter sort, and the world he created and the creatures within it have been part of my literary world for decades. I first read The Hobbit in high school—and I liked it. Then I read Lord of the Rings and loved it. At the second reading of The Hobbit, I finally fell in love, and the love affair has continued. I look forward to many more happy readings in the decades ahead.

This article by Joseph Pearce first appeared on The Imaginative Conservative and Intellectual Takeout, and is reprinted by permission. All Amazon links in the article are affiliate links, benefitting the original publisher.

The Hobbit Turns 80

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” When Tolkien wrote these words, which would become one of the most famous and most memorable opening sentences in all of literature, he could not have known what literary power would be unleashed by his creation of the diminutive hole-dwelling creature, Bilbo Baggins. This year, as we celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, we can see that the book’s success has been nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon. It is now rated as the sixth bestselling work of literature of all time, with over 100 million copies sold. As if this were not enough in itself, the adventures of Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, as told in the later book, The Lord of the Rings, have proved even more popular, more than 150 copies being sold, making it the third bestselling book of all time. Only Don Quixote and A Tale of Two Cities have proved more successful in terms of sales, and one suspects that most of the success of these two titles is due to the fact that they are set texts on high school and college curricula in the Spanish and English speaking worlds, whereas, in contrast, Tolkien’s books are hardly ever to be found on the syllabi of literature courses. In other words, the books by Cervantes and Dickens are bought under constraint, as required reading, whereas Tolkien’s books are bought freely as desired reading (none of which is to detract from the worthiness of Cervantes and Dickens).

What is the secret of Tolkien’s success? No doubt, it has something to do with his power as a storyteller; his ability to spin a yarn with unsurpassed mythopoeic skill. Perhaps it also has much to do with the epic scale of his work, which puts one in mind of Homer or Virgil, placing him in their illustrious company rather than in the company of his novel-writing contemporaries. It is much more likely, however, that the success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is connected to what they tell us about ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves. As Tolkien insisted in his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories” a good fairy-tale holds up a mirror to man. It shows us ourselves.

What, therefore, do The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings show us about ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves?

They show us that we live in dark and dangerous times. They show us that the power of darkness appears to be winning. They show us, as Galadriel says and as Tolkien also says in one of his letters, that history is a “long defeat.” And yet they also show us, as Tolkien adds in the same letter, that there are always occasional glimpses of the final victory of goodness over evil. They reveal that the devil, or Satan, or Sauron, or whatever other name we care to give him, is the Prince of this world and holds it in his sway. This is his domain, his dominion, which is why it is a vale of tears and a land of exile for souls seeking to serve goodness, truth and beauty, and not sin, falsehood, and ugliness. In terms of politics, the Dark Lord is always in the ascendant, which is why fools put their trust in politics.

And yet The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings show us something else, beyond the world of mere Power which is taken so seriously by those who are its servants. Tolkien’s epics show us that we are not the absurd creatures that the Dark Lord’s servants would have us believe that we are. We are not postmodern nonentities, nothing but meaningless mortals living meaningless existences in a meaningless cosmos. On the contrary, we are what history and tradition, and good theology and philosophy, have always taught us that we are; we are anthropoi and homines viatores. We are those who look beyond ourselves to the goodness, truth, and beauty of objective reality; and we are those who see our lives as a journey, a quest, an adventure, the purpose of which is to get to the heaven-haven of the reward, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say.

As anthropoi we look beyond the darkness to the light that transcends it and is beyond it. We agree with Samwise Gamgee that “above all shadows rides the sun.” As homines viatores we know that our Life-Quest involves a long and arduous journey in which we will face many demons and many dragons, wearing many disguises, and that we can face such enemies with courage, knowing that there is One who is greater than any dragon to defend us in our struggles, if we call upon His aid.

It is this understanding of who we are which is the secret of Tolkien’s success. He shows us who we are, who we hope to be and who we are meant to be, all of whom are who we were created to be. It is for this reason that The Hobbit is still going strong after eighty years. And it is for this reason that its success and the success of its successor, The Lord of the Rings, is so worth celebrating.

This Imaginative Conservative essay was republished with permission. Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore including Joseph Pearce’s Bilbo’s Journey and Frodo’s Journey. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

This post ‘The Hobbit’ Turns 80 was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Joseph Pearce.

Time Management Strategies for Freelancers and Entrepreneurs

How can you get everything done in a one-person business? When you look at corporations with separate departments for research and development, marketing, human resources, accounting, and more, it’s hard to imagine that a freelancer could possibly fill all those functions alone. If you focus on ROI (return on investment) and implement a few time management strategies, though, it can be done.

Consider ROI

Do the most important tasks first.The reality of a one-person business is that it can be messy—  interruptions happen. If you have a time management plan and a few strategies in place, crises and interruptions won’t derail your productivity.

Take time to think through which of your activities gives you the highest ROI. From which business activity do you earn the most? Is it

  • writing a new book?
  • teaching a workshop?
  • ghostwriting a full-length book for someone else?
  • working on your blog so that you can connect with your audience?
  • editing a manuscript?

When you know which activities are most profitable, you can plan your time so that your most productive working hours are spent on those tasks, and other tasks are relegated to less productive times of day. 

The 80/20 principle

For most people, 20% of what you do in your business produces about 80% of your income (Pareto principle). It’s hard to stay focused on the profitable 20%, because the other 80% — bill paying, shipping, customer service, filing, and other administrative tasks — clamors for attention, and must be done. Don’t waste your creative hours on these tasks; they are perfect for the afternoon slump when your focus is least sharp. 

Divide and conquer

Once you know what your highest ROI category is, and you’ve listed the tasks that contribute to the most profitable 20% of your business, create a weekly time outline that puts the most important activities first.  

My personal system for getting things done could be described as a divide and conquer method of management. Here’s how:

  1. Divide tasks by category
  2. Prioritize based on profitability
  3. Do the most important things first
  4. Outsource things that are not directly income producing.

You can find a brief, informal overview of the system at my Do What Matters, Make it Pay blog. The post is a response to a fellow writer’s question, so doesn’t cover everything, but is a start. You can find it at How to Get it all Done in a One-Person Business

Do you have any tips for time management that you’d like to add? Feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

Originally posted Feb 23, 2012; updated 2017.

Illumination: More than Just an Illustration


I have always enjoyed the arts of calligraphy and illumination. Just as an icon is meant as a means of seeing through to a reality, an illumination allows the reader to see more deeply into a text. One of my favorite illuminated manuscripts is the Book of Kells, a collection of the four Gospels written in Latin and richly illumined. It believed to have been created in a Columban monastery in Ireland, c. 800.


The page above is known as The Arrest of Jesus. Be sure to note the stylized postures, richly detailed borders and symbols, and the ornate text. According to Wikipedia, “Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasise the themes of the major illustrations . . . The leaves are on high-quality calf vellum, and the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with decorated initials and interlinear miniatures and mark the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art.”

That’s what makes illumination so meaningful for me. It’s both illustrative and symbolic, and every feature of it points directly toward its subject. I think of the hardworking monks bent over the big vellum pages, working during the short daylight hours and possibly by candlelight, and it reminds me that beauty and creativity are never dependent on perfect conditions. May I remember that when I’m tempted to complain about the lighting in my office!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and labeled as Public Domain in both its country of origin and the  United States.

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Famous Authors Insulting One Another’s Work

The Bronte Sisters by Patrick Branwell, c. 1834I’m all for civility and kindness, but honestly, this was too funny not to share. It takes a real wordsmith to craft some of these clever critiques. One thing worth noting is that almost every insult addresses a specific aspect of the writer’s work and phrases the critique in bitingly concise prose. If you must critique someone, this is a good way to do it.


Ten Rules for Writing First Drafts

Since I’ve been writing all day and have only two finished paragraphs and a whole lot of messy stuff on my page, I thought this poster was an appropriate reminder of what the beginning steps of writing look like.

The main thing to remember is that the first thing you write will not be wonderful, no matter how miraculous it seems after you’ve worked all day to produce it. You’ll arrive back at your desk in the morning and catch logical absurdities, unclear grammatical constructions, and blatant typos, then you’ll go on to commit more.

Keep typing. Keep revising. Eventually you may have something wonderful, but it will all start with that rough draft. Write on!

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts
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Start Planning for Summer Reading

Don't waste good reading time!Other than gardening, there’s no more satisfactory activity for springtime than planning summer reading. The stack by my reading chair is already teetering, but here are the first things I plan to read:

The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human BeingThe Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being, edited by Richard Gamble
I’ve been dipping into this for awhile, but want to go through and read it from beginning to end. It offers selections of writings from writers such as Xenophon, Augustine, Erasmus, and C.S. Lewis, all on the theme of what it means to be an educated human being. This is a book I will probably be dragging around for many months, as it’s abundantly rich in ideas.

Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture  by Toby HemenwayGaia’s Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

There are certain kinds of garden books I like, and refer to again and again. They are not the “plant this here and pull that weed” type of garden book. Instead, they offer a big picture overview of what it means to create an organic, healthy, holistic landscape. Permaculture is the pinnacle of that mindset, and as a movement, it has been growing. Although I’ve read other permaculture books, this is the best balance of big picture thinking with practical how-to instructions. Although it’s not yet summer, I dip into this book early, as it makes me feel that summer is right around the corner.

Chronicles of Narnia Box Set by C. S. LewisChronicles of Narnia Box Set by C. S. Lewis

Finally, I’m re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the umpteenth time. Each time I read them, I enjoy them more. It was C.S. Lewis who said that “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” He was right, and the Chronicles are just one of the children’s books I return to regularly. I find many profound and interesting books written for middle-grade readers, for the characters haven’t yet fallen into the modern tedium of premature romantic entanglements, and they are still considering big ideas.

So, what are you planning to read over the next couple of months?

Best Resources for Writers, Content Creators, and Digital Publishers

books-dtfree_122041-©DanielGilbey -smIf you write, and you’re considering the new frontier of digital publishing / e-publishing, here are links to resources that will help you learn how to publish in Kindle, DPS, ePub, iBook, and other formats. There are even a few tips on how to market what you publish.

Hubspot: Lots of free information and tools such as the Marketing Grader (try this– every website needs it!). This will help you with search engine optimization.

Google Analytics provides hyper-detailed statistics on your website, its visitors and sources, as well as the keywords used to search for it. This is an essential tool if you want to improve your search engine ranking.

Google Keyword Tool can be used to search for keywords related to your site. Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch used it to decide on the subtitle for their book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book.

StatSheep offers detailed YouTube statistics. Since YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine after Google, it makes sense for your brand to be there.

Adobe Creative Cloud: No matter what size publisher you are, you need this. For a relatively modest monthly subscription, Creative Cloud provides you with access to all the wonderful tools in Adobe Creative Suite, including InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Muse, Digital Publishing Suite, and Acrobat.

Richard Harrington Blog: A lot of good technical information about digital publishing, including useful downloadables under the Resources tab.

Colin Fleming: Watch instructional videos from the InDesign Evangelist for Adobe.

Terry White: Instructional videos on design and software from Adobe TV.

Subcompact Publishing is a lengthy, thought-provoking article by writer, designer, and publisher Craig Mod that takes a past/present/future look at the disruptive role of digital publishing.

Kindle Direct Publishing: Kindle is the biggest market for e-books, and here is where you’ll start your publication journey.

Apple iBook Author: Learn how to create iBooks with the free iBook Author app from Apple.

Apple iTunes Connect: Here is where you sign up for the iOS Developer program so you can submit apps to the app store.

Z-Mags: Create interactive magazines, catalogs, or magalogs.

Clickbank is a good option for PDF e-book sales (I have used it for years). CB makes it easy to set up products, securely accept payment, and even become an affiliate for other people’s products.

e-Junkie is a similar shopping cart service that works for both digital and tangible products.

From InDesign to Adobe DPS – Tips for Planning Your First Publication Tablet App

Adobe Step-by-Step Guide to Publishing iPad Apps with DPS – The single most essential guide you need for creating apps. It’s a free PDF download.

Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) Tips app is free from the App Store.

Kuler will help you choose beautiful color schemes for your website, blog, book, or app. There is similar site,, that is currently under reconstruction but also provides good information about the use of color.

Marketer’s Guide to Facebook Timeline and other marketing instruction from Jack Morton International, a global brand experience firm, on Slideshare.

HootSuite Pro - try social media dashboardHootSuite Social Media Management saves me hours each month as I keep up with various social media sites and postings. The HootSuite dashboard makes it easy to see many feeds in one place and to pre-schedule tweets and updates to go out when you need them too. I use the Pro version and find it worth it, but you can definitely start with the free standard version.

Gravatar is where you need to go to create an online avatar (the little photo that shows up when you comment on a blog post– I’m sure you’ve seen them in NAIWE Member Activity Feed). It’s free and simple to sign up and post the photo you want to use.

SoundCloud is a network somewhat like GoodReads, but for audio products. It allows you to store and share your audio files, and offers social features such as following, a personalized sound stream, and more.

United States Copyright Office: Everything you need to know about copyrights and how to register them.

Get more from your software with offers short, clear training videos for all kinds of software. There’s a subscription option, but there are also many free videos.

Creative Cow is an online community with helpful podcasts (some by Richard Harrington), tutorials, videos, and more.

International Association of Electronic Publishers (IAEPUB) is a new association dedicated to cutting-edge digital publishing technology. If you want to learn from creatively geeky types, this is a good place to be.

TAP2013 Website: There will be more TAP events, and this is where to keep up with them.

Photos and tweets from TAP2013 are hosted on Eventifier, an interesting service I discovered at TAP. Be sure to notice the nicely sketch-illustrated notes from one attendee.

Align: An online publication from Bates Creative This company is on the creative edge of digital publishing, as can be seen in magazine apps they’ve created for Heifer International’s World Ark (you’ve got to see that one) and the Marines. Their blog offers good tips, and the two apps linked here give you a sense of what is possible with digital publishing.

This list of links is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start. I hope you enjoy exploring these new publishing frontiers!

How to Open a New Book

Long ago, books were regarded as treasures and cared for with a measure of respect. This nostalgic excerpt details the way my grandmother taught me how to open a new book without breaking the spine. A hardcover book opened in this way is easy to hold and pleasant to read.

Publishing Frontiers and Fundamentals and Other Take-Aways from TAP2013

Technologically Advanced Publishing (TAP2013) Conference: Digital publishing, e-publihing, electronic publishing, and more.

NAIWE was a media sponsor of TAP2013 in Orlando.

I’m just back from the Technologically Advanced Publishing (TAP) Conference with a light sunburn and a head full of ideas for using what I learned.

For this event, I focused on learning in a completely new-to-me area– the publication of apps for iPad and iPhone, but absorbed information about many other aspects of the business of electronic publishing in workshops such as:

  • How to Start and Finish Writing Your Book – Richard Harrington (“Use the sticky note program on your computer to do informal mind-mapping before you start to write. You can drag notes around until you have an outline.” JPC note: I do the same thing in the slideshow view of Keynote.)
  • Design & Digital Publishing Essentials – Terry White (“When creating an app, be sure to indicate navigation points– tap, swipe arrows, etc.”)
  • Establishing Your Brand and Visual Identity Across Multiple Social Media Platforms – Rod Harlan (“Be consistent in how you present your brand. Coca-Cola has done a great job of telling its history through its Facebook timeline.”)
  • Copyright Still Means Something for Digital Publishers – Jeff Heninger
  • iBooks Author Fast Start – Richard Harrington (“An iBook is a container. It can include media widgets with slide shows, tutorials, etc. Short is good.”)
  • ePub, pPDF, or DPS: Which Format to Choose? – Colin Fleming (“The format– print book, ebook, app– is simply the container for information or story. Choose which will best fit your audience and content.”)
  • Hypersyndication: How to Deliver Your Content to Multiple Platforms – Richard Harrington (“I am one of the laziest but most productive people on the planet.” and “Give away 25% of everything you do.”)
  • User-Generated Content is Great (and full of Legal Problems) – Jeff Heninger (“In social media you’re one click away from forever.”)
  • Creating a Video Trailer for Your eBook or App Using Photoshop – Rod Harlan
  • Getting Started with Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) – Colin Fleming
  • Creating ePUB files with Adobe InDesign – Colin Fleming

In addition, there were five memorable keynotes:

  • Guy Kawasaki – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur
  • Scott Kelby – View from the Inside (“You self-publish to take control your content. Do it because you want to change the world, not because you think it’s the next big thing.”)
  • Skip Cohen – It All Starts with a Blog (Your blog is your home on the web. Build it and develop an audience now.)
  • Debbie Bates Schrott – Digital or Die: The Case for Captivating UX & Design to Bring Your Content to LIfe (“Use a flow chart to space out interactive elements such as slideshows, video or audio elements, quizzes, feedback forms, etc., when planning an app.”)
  • Jessica Meher – Inbound Marketing: The Secret to Your Success (“The businesses that the best educators will most successful.”)

And finally, there was an exceptionally creative idea implemented one afternoon– an UnConference with short, 15-30 minute presentations on a single, narrow topic. I presented “Write Your Way to Multiple Streams of Income: The 15-Minute, Five-Stage Business Plan,” and attended:

  • Creating Synergy Between Blogs, Books, and Workshops – Syl Arena
  • The Marines Magazine App: How We Did It – Debbie Bates Scrhott & Darrly Sebro
  • TAP into Actual Returns from Social Networking – Levi Sim (“Be a person; be a good one. Ask “what would grandma do?”)
  • Digital Sustainability – Alan Brusky

APE: How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch - Author, Publisher, EntrepreneurIn addition to a pocketful of business cards, I brought home a copy of APE: Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. It’s not only practical, straightforward, and well-written, but it also gets specific about the technology and services you will need. With a copy of APE at your elbow, you’ll be able to transform the manuscript in your desk drawer to a new stream of income. I recommend it.

Do I remember everything I learned? Not a chance. But I took lots of notes and plan to visit many of the links and websites that were referenced. You’ll find those links, along with a selection of other resources I think are essential for learning more about digital publishing, electronic publishing, or whatever you want to call it, in the next post. Enjoy!

Should You Feel Guilty About Your New e-Reader?


Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris

Are you feeling a wee bit guilty about the shiny new e-reader you’re enjoying? If you’re a bibliophile, it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that you’re betraying the cause of the “real book” and local bookstores by consuming books via e-reader. But what is the truth? Are e-readers and e-books going to kill print and drive libraries and bookstores out of business? I don’t think so–at least not yet.

I love print books, and I have the library to prove it–one of the boys started counting one day, and finally quit at around 5000, and he hadn’t even started on the upstairs. (Yes, I am getting ready to thin the herd, but no, it has nothing to do with e-books.) So . . . why would I ever want to read a book on my iPad?

Frankly, I don’t. I like the feel of paper. I like writing (with pencil, of course) in the margins and inside the covers. I want to be able to easily flip back and re-read specific passages even if I haven’t bookmarked or highlighted them. I don’t like reading off a screen, and I don’t believe it’s entirely good for children, either. I like the solidity of a real print book in my hand.

But practicality intervenes. I travel a lot and I read fast. This means that if I take print books, I need to take several. I also need to anticipate exactly what I will want to be reading through the duration of the trip. Since I am normally reading a minimum of 3-4 books at a time, this is cumbersome, to say the least. Baggage and weight restrictions put a severe crimp in what I can pack, and back issues limit what I can carry. And now that I am on the downhill slope to old, airplane and hotel lighting isn’t always adequate for reading.

So now I have a small library on my iPad. I don’t love it, but it meets a need so I like it. Our local library lends e-books as well as print books, and there are always free classics available. The e-reader serves a useful purpose and as long as I can catch wireless or 3G, I’ll never run out of things to read. Will it replace my print library? No.

The infographic below (and a study by BISG, the Book Industry Study Group) suggests that I’m not alone. It seems that people who own e-readers generally read more of both types of books than people who don’t have e-readers. A reader is a reader, so format doesn’t change that. An e-reader can even keep alive the love of reading for young mothers, solopreneurs, and others who barely have time to breathe. So you can be grateful without guilt for your e-reader, (but don’t forget to support your local library and independent bookstores!).

E-books Infographic

This infographic has been shared courtesy of