When we first moved to Swansea, I started the local school half way through the 3rd year of juniors. These days that has a year number, probably year 5 or year 6 or year (x-b). I don’t know. I was 9-and-a-bit. Being the son of a serviceman, I was used to moving around and new places. I had also developed a reluctance to make really strong friendships, as they would always end after a year or two, when dad was posted to a new base. I’ve heard other with a similar background say the same thing.
So fitting in to the school didn’t pose a problem. I found I was better at English, reading and writing and slightly worse at maths and science. Different schools, different curricula, I suppose. It didn’t affect me much (except fractions – I was first exposed to them in Swansea. I didn’t understand them, despite the attentions of my teacher and my parents. Who needed fractions? two thirds of us, apparently.)
The one thing that I really looked forward to, though, was Friday afternoons when the teacher would read to us. I arrived half way through ‘The Hobbit’. I didn’t know anything about the story or the author, but I really enjoyed the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves. My parents bought the book so that I could catch up with the first half of the story. I was a good reader, and loved books so it didn’t take long.
Fast forward to the late 70’s. Punk was in, flares were out, prog rock was no longer appreciated. I was scared to go into the Virgin record store in Swansea because it was dark and full of older boys dressed in the black uniform of punks. But I frequented the local library and read as much as I could. usually science fiction from the grown up section, as kids books didn’t capture my imagination. Then I discovered ‘The Lord of the Rings’. And it was by the same author as ‘The Hobbit’. Heaven!
The copy in the library was in three volumes. I read volume one, but volume two was out so I couldn’t go further. I waited ages for volume two to come in, and borrowed 2 and 3 at the same time to make sure I could finish the story. It took a long time – the language was more difficult than I’d come across before but it was worth taking the time to read it properly. I loved the world of Middle Earth and all the things that lived there. I eagerly looked for more fantasy books, but nothing came close to Tolkien. I discovered some of his other books – mainly unfinished stories and legends of Middle Earth which made his fictional world more real. But nothing compared to the Lord of the Rings. So I read it again. And again.
Fast forward to 2001. The movies were due out. I couldn’t wait and went to see them in the cinema as they were released. As I recall, it was around this time of year that each one came out. I drank them in, because unlike many adaptations of books, these actually matched my imagined world of Middle Earth. All the characters and races were just as I pictured them in 1979. Of course I got the extended collectors editions of the boxed DVD sets – why wouldn’t I?
Fast forward again – 2007. I’m in the lodge at Gorak Shep having just returned from climbing Kala Patthar – 5545m above sea level and with the perfect view of Everest. It’s cold, I’m tired and I’m reading ‘The Hobbit’. It was a welcome reminder of home and something that didn’t need a lot of concentration to enjoy.
Two years later I gave that copy of the book to my friend’s little boy for his first birthday – she’d asked that all her friends give him the book that meant the most to them in their childhood. For me there was no question about which book it would be.
One more fast forward. No more after this, I promise. It’s yesterday. I went to see ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’, the first part of the Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson. I was on my own – it’s the price one pays for geekdom. I wasn’t the only loner in the theatre. Buying the ticket, the person behind the counter glanced behind me to see if I really was alone, and almost asked if I was sure I only wanted one. There may have been the faint look of sadness in her eyes, or it may have been sympathy for my obvious sad, lonely existence.
I sat and watched the movie – nearly 3 hours of it. I was hooked from the opening music. It was great – no disappointment. Once again, my Middle Earth was there on screen. In places I felt it was dragging a bit, but at the same time, I was enjoying every second. I’m biased, of course, but it just felt familiar and.. right.
Shameless plug – if you go to my 1-a-day Flickr site you will see my local library. It’s role in my reading history means it deserves a place there.