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Hobbits Still Charming Readers

September 3, 2001 at 3:51 pm by Strider  - 

Em sent us in an article from the “local paper” (no name was given), a nice little tribute to J.R.R’s legacy and literature the day after the 28th Anniversary of his death.

Hobbits still charming readers

By Mara D. Bellaby
Associated Press

LONDON – Before Harry Potter and wizards, there was Bilbo Baggins and Hobbits.

The hairy-footed, diminutive creatures charmed children and adults worldwide when British writer J.R.R Tolkien introduced them in his 1937 fantasy book “The Hobbit.”

Since then, “The Hobbit” has continually graced children’s recommended reading lists. Tolkien’s fantasy epic, “The Lord of the Rings,” was named the top novel of the 20th century in numerous surveys of British adults. And poet W.H. Auden once declared it “one of the best children’s stories of the century.”

Fan clubs have sprouted across Britain and the world, as die-hard Tolkienites seek each other out to converse in Elvish, read aloud parts of the novel and debate whether or not Balrogs have wings.

Now the first installment of the $273 million “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy is due to hit theaters in December, not long after the first Harry Potter movie, putting Bilbo and Frodo in direct competition with the students of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And HarperCollins, Tolkien’s publisher in Britain, is releasing a new edition to tie-in with the film. Houghton Mifflin is doing the same in the United States.

If Tolkien’s enduring popularity in his home country is anything to go on, the elves, orcs and wizards the inhabit Tolkien’s Middle-earth should hold their own against Harry Potter.

Tolkien “is not ironic and modern and all-knowing, but he appeals to people,” said Ian Collier, a member of the British-based Tolkien Society, which welcomes fans from around the globe.

“It is a great story and like all great stories, it connects with people in some way,” said Collier, 35, who has read “The Lord of the Rings” 25 times.

Description of the trilogy
The trilogy describes the perilous journey by hobbit Frodo Baggins across Middle-earth to territory deep inside the control of Sauron, the Dark Lord. Baggins must reach the Cracks of Doom, a fiery chamber, and destroy a magical ring before Sauron can recapture it. If the ring falls into Sauron’s Hands, he will be able to dominate the world.

But it is the background scenery of the novel, rather than its plot, that seems to captivate most readers. Tolkien creates a new universe with its own fantasy creatures, language, genealogy, history, and geography. For many readers, Middle-earth becomes as vivid as the real world, though slightly more exciting.

“A lot of us lead fairly humdrum lives, so sitting on a commuter train and having something to read which takes you away from that is very attractive,” said Tolkien Society member Trevor Reynolds.

Plug Tolkien’s name into an Internet search engine, and hundreds of devoted Web sites appear. In Britain, the Tolkien Society boasts about 400 active, fee-paying members. Smaller clubs can be found in most British cities.

Britain’s Tolkien Society also has about 150 members in the United States, where smaller city or university-based fan clubs are equally as numerous. Tolkien groups sponsor Internet chats, meet to discuss their favorite author and attend Tolkien-related events across America.

Tolkien’s popularity also stretches far beyond English-speaking countries, “The Lord of the Rings” has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, and fan clubs exist everywhere from Germany to Russia to Japan.

But academics and other writers have been reluctant to embrace Tolkien, who died in 1973. fantasy writer Michael Moorcock once said, “The Lord of the Rings…. is Winnie the Pooh posing as an epic.”

Tolkien’s literary popularity has perhaps been hurt by his enormous popularity, said Thomas Shippey, a former Oxford University fellow and Tolkien expert who now teaches at St. Louis University in Missouri.

“There is a deep philosophical and literary snobbery, a strong class element,” Shippey said. “There is a literary bourgeois the believes it shall decide what is literature and what is not, and they get very annoyed when they aren’t followed.

“I wouldn’t say academics have been cautious; they have been violently hostile for nearly 50 years,” said Shippey, who write “J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century.”

Even at Oxford University, where Tolkien taught, the press office concedes that the closest then can come to a Tolkien expert is a specialist in 20th-century English literature.

Shippey said that one of the reasons may simply be professional hostility between English literature and English language professors, who often must compete for jobs in the same department. Tolkien was the latter.

Tolkien’s fans said they aren’t sure what the author would make of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy being filmed by New Zealand’s Peter Jackson. His family reportedly dreads it. Lawyers acting on behalf of the Tolkien Estate did not return repeated telephone calls from The Associated Press.

The Tolkien Society has taken a wait-and-see approach, but individual members, such as Reynolds, said they are excited. Reynolds said the he expects the movie will introduce a new generation to the tales of Middle-earth.

But as most Tolkien fans agree, getting people to read the books has never been much of a challenge, despite a lack of critical approval.

Posted in Old Special Reports on September 3, 2001 by

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