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.

SOPA and PIPA: Should Writers Oppose Them?

If you’ve been bouncing around online today, you’ve probably noticed a number of “Stop SOPA” labels and posts about SOPA and PIPA. If you haven’t noticed, perhaps you’ve been working (good plan). I’m working too, but since the internet is a huge part of my business, I’m paying attention to things like SOPA and PIPA, because I care about keeping my business alive.

I’ve already written about SOPA and PIPA on my entrepreneurship blog, Do What Matters, Make it Pay, so I won’t cover everything here, but I will share a link to the American Censorship infographic and a compelling Ted video by Clay Shirky that explains how SOPA and PIPA assume “guilty until proven innocent” and have the potential to turn the internet into a censored wasteland.

 

Remember, visit Do What Matters to find links to more information, a petition, and other videos.

Bored? Just Edit a Classic and See What Happens

Huckleberry Finn on the MississippiIf you’re bored, craving attention, or just want to stir up a little trouble, try releasing a new edition of a classic. Preferably, make it something well-known and beloved, like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

I’m sure that Twain scholar Alan Gribben expected a bit of controversy when he edited a new edition of Huck Finn that replaces the “n-word” with “slave,” and “Injun” with “Indian,” but even he may have been surprised by the outpouring of outrage.

I was first alerted to the controversy by shrieks of “censorship!” on Twitter. It was refreshing to see “#huckfinn” as a trending topic, possibly displacing a teeny-pop star or imploding politician. However, I had to mildly quibble with the use of the word “censorship” (see “Deciding How Peeved to Be Over New Huck Finn Edition“).

I’ve been following the discussion from various sources. One of the best articles I’ve read is by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, who provides several compelling reasons why it’s wrong to alter art in “Don’t Censor Mark Twain’s N-Word.” The article was accompanied in our local paper by an outstanding editorial cartoon by Pat Oliphant, one of my favorite graphic commentators.

Other good articles have been showing up, including a few from NAIWE writers. You might also enjoy these additional posts and editorial cartoons:

Literature professor Scott Andrews addresses the issue in two thoughtful posts, Goodbye, cruel word and The Other N-Word.

“Tom the Dancing Bug: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Corrected to reflect modern sensibilities)” offers an amusing look at what a truly sensitive version of Huck would sound like. Oddly (or perhaps not so), it sounds like a publication of the NEA.

In “Twain Redone, Brenda Seward talks about her reactions to Twain’s writing when she read it in elementary school (can you imagine elementary school students being expected to read either Finn or Sawyer now?), and shares her viewpoint on the change.

Linda Anger, NAIWE member and owner of The Write Concept, Inc., offers another perspective inAltering the Classics.”

From NJ.com, an article discussing whether Twain might have expected controversy over his use of certain word, accompanied by three amusing editorial cartoons.

Mike Luckovich‘s cartoon on Mark Twain

If you’ve read an interesting article on the subject, or posted something, please feel free to post a comment below and share it. Altering the classics is nothing new, but it’s something that can easily get out of hand. People with good intentions bear watching!

“Half of the results of a good intentions are evil; half the results of an evil intention are good.”
Mark Twain
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
Albert Camus

Time to “Do the Next Thing”- My New Year’s Resolution

I’m not inclined to get too detailed with my New Year’s Resolutions, and this year is no exception. Four words is all it takes to sum up my intent for 2011. Here’s what it’s all about:

Do this. Don’t do that. Be this. Don’t be that…

New Year’s resolutions sometimes sound like the barking of a Marine sergeant dealing with raw recruits on a sub-zero morning. Personally, I’m a fan of warm covers on sub-zero mornings, and I tend to ignore barking of any kind (just ask my terrier). But I still like to go through the process of thinking back over the previous year, considering what went well and didn’t, and focusing on what I’d like to make happen in the new year.

I’ve discovered that simple is usually better when it comes to resolutions, so I try to boil down what I want to accomplish into one sentence. This year…. Read more….

5 Good Reasons to Go to a Writers Conference

I enjoyed the James River Writers Conference in Richmond last weekend, and am combing through my notes for all the good ideas I wanted to apply. There are a lot of them, but they’re all lining up after the non-fiction proposal I have to finish and send. The best part of the conference was just being around so many other people who loved to write. We could talk writing morning, noon, and night, and no one started yawning after the first sentence!

Whether you’re an established writer or just getting started, a writers conference is a great place to be. Here are five good reasons to go: (Read more…)

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-03

  • “Be not so bigoted to any custom as to worship it at the expense of truth.”
    -Johann Georg von Zimmermann #quote #
  • Knowing your “Big WHY” is the key to unlocking peace, prosperity and purpose: http://www.smartwomenwhy.com #
  • “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery was my birthday gift to myself. It was a wonderful read. Recommended! #
  • Create & upload an original children’s ebook by 9/30/10, and receive one entry in a drawing to win a free iPad. #kidlit #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-26

  • RT @dougleschan: Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together #quotes #
  • No amount of energy will take the place of thought. A strenuous life with its eyes shut is a kind of wild insanity. -Henry Van Dyke #quote #
  • RT @everydayedu: Just posted the Beach Reading Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Lots of great #homeschool posts! http://ht.ly/21Lwb #
  • Join #NAIWE for an interview with the StoryBlue Software for Writers creator! Today at 1:30 pm EDT on The Freelance Life. http://ht.ly/21Mvw #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-19

  • RT @TheWritersDen: Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. ༺༻ Augustine Birrell #
  • What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers. -Logan Pearsall Smith #quote #
  • Enough is enough. I’m quitting for the night, though there are still hundreds of e-mails to go through after being away. Enjoy the evening! #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-12

  • I’m starting the last unit of the last literature book I’m planning to write. It’s going to be wonderful to be done! #writegoal #
  • If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing. Ben Franklin #quote #
  • RT @KatherineBoG: Dear Life, Go away. I’m busy. I will talk to you in a week. Sincerely, Katherine / Love that! #
  • I have officially finished the last book in the Excellence in Literature curriculum series. May I scream? #writegoal #
  • RT @DailyCurmudgeon: It finally dawned on me that I was not James Joyce.
    SCOTT TUROW #writing #writechat #writegoal #
  • “You teach best what you most need to learn.” — Richard David Bach #quote #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-05

  • Remembering my father with love today- Howard Calvin Hanes, a WWII veteran. 1921-2003. #memorialday #
  • If you tweet on writing or editing, join the Writer-Editor Twibe to share your tweets & find interesting new peeps! http://twib.es/BUZ # #
  • Great article for writers w/ 4 ways to show character through conflict. http://ht.ly/1Ra1z #write #edit #
  • The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. -GK Chesterton #quote OK, no excuses for not meeting that #writegoal! #

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