Thank you to everyone that submitted an entry for the March Rewrite Tolkien contest – ‘The Hobbit’ in the style of Douglas Adams. We had a lot of fun reading them!
Before posting this months’ winners, we wanted to announce that going forward, the contest will be held every other month. This will give everyone more time to submit their best work, and the judges more time to read and enjoy the entries. The next contest will be held in May – stay tuned for more details!
This months grand prize winner is:
“Untitled” by J.J. Lendi of Pittsburgh, PA. Congratulations, J.J.! Your entry will also be read live on TORn Book Club webcast this Sunday, April 6th; click the link for showtimes.
Our runners-up are:
“Untitled” by Tom Essex (whereabouts unknown) and “There and Back Again: A Hitchhikers Guide to Middle-earth” by Jim of Chicago, IL. Congrats to you both!
Untitled by J.J. Lendi (Pittsburgh, PA)
Somewhere in the recesses of history, before the advent of iPhones, eBooks or any other memorabilia beginning with a lowercase vowel, but after the beginnings of life on the planet, whether you believe life began with the Great Music of the Ainur, with creatures coming out of the sea and into the trees, or with one man’s unwitting donation of his own rib, there existed a world of magic, quests, and a fair amount of questionable jewelry.
This world was known to its inhabitants as Middle-Earth, though no one there seemed to know or care what exactly it was in the middle of or if they should be at all concerned about that highly suspect name.
This land of Middle-Earth plotted along for quite some time with a fair amount of drama. The many deceits by the evil Ainur known as Melkor, the sinking of great city of Numenor and the bending of the world, the Last Great Alliance of Elves and Men against the forces of evil in Mordor, and the final defeat of the Dark Lord Sauron by plunging his One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom.
This is not any of those stories.
But this is a story that involves a mountain, along with a healthy number of Elves, a fairly magical wizard, and a staggering amount of walking around. It does not, however, include any Dark Lords or places nicknamed “Doom”. So if that’s the only kind of thing you go in for then best to close this book now and save yourself from a rather disappointing perusal and the publishers of this book from a negative review on Good Reads.
However, if you are not overly obsessed with stories that culminate in the high-profile rescue of the entire world from the forces of evil and have continued reading, it might interest you to know that this book is chiefly about a rather oddly named chap called Bilbo who is in fact no taller than your average Kindergartner. In fact, this book has quite a few pint-sized heroes and villains, some of them called Hobbits, like Bilbo, who have the same basic interests as the stoner you lived across the hall from at University, some of them called Dwarves, who are more obsessed with digging in the ground than even the most avid gopher, and one particularly strange creature called Gollum, who is exactly as awkward looking as his name would suggest.
And while this might not sound nearly as exciting as a story with words like “Dark Lord” and “Doom”, where the entire fate of the world is hanging in the balance, it scores over that particular book in two rather important respects.
First, it’s much shorter, which makes it cheaper to purchase and faster to get through; and second, it’s one of the only books you’ll read this year that features a talking dragon.
But the story of the pint-sized hobbit named Bilbo, the story of his quest that doesn’t involve the end of the world, and the story of how that quest becomes inextricably intertwined with the lives of Dwarves and Elves and a talking dragon, begins very simply.
It begins with a hole in the ground.
Untitled by Tom Essex
This is a story of long ago, when spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry-footed creatures from the Shire were real small furry-footed creatures from the Shire.
Far out in the little known north of the unfashionable part of Middle-earth lies a small unregarded country known as the Shire, inhabited by a diminutive race known as hobbits, who are so amazingly unaware of the outside world they still think second breakfasts are a pretty neat idea (believing that time is an illusion, breakfast time doubly so).
This story begins as so many stories do: it begins with a house. This house was on the top of the Hill, and inhabiting it was Bilbo Baggins. He was fifty, never quite at ease with himself, and in appearance suspiciously like a three and a half foot Arthur Dent with hairy feet – and at present he no more knows his destiny than pipe-weed knows the history of Tobold the Old and the South Farthing.
It so happened that, on one fine morning when Mr Baggins was enjoying a pipe of Old Toby, Gandalf came by. He appeared to be an old man, but was in fact a Maiar spirit from somewhere in the vicinity of the Undying Lands. Bilbo had never, ever suspected this.
“Good morning!” said Bilbo.
One of the things Gandalf found hardest to understand about mortals was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, for example: “Good morning!”, and “You’re very tall”, and, “They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard”.
The wizard looked sternly at the hobbit in exactly the way a hobbit is looked at sternly by a wizard, and proceeded to give a complete etymological breakdown and, in the hobbit’s view, slightly pedantic analysis of the phrase “Good morning”, which was strange as he had been the one to use it in the first place.
“Can I help you?” said Bilbo, very much hoping the exact opposite.
“My name is Gandalf, and Gandalf means me.”
Bilbo had guessed as much, and hoped the old man’s obsession with grammar would end soon.
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure – the chance to see the wonders of Middle-earth on less than thirty silver pennies a day. And help a band of travelling dwarves reclaim a kingdom and a pile of treasure from an enormous fire-breathing dragon. Along the way, there shall be giant spiders, goblins (not exactly evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic and generally unpleasant, who wouldn’t raise a finger to save their own mother from the Ravenous Balrog Beast of Morgoth), deformed schizophrenic hobbits and malevolent jewellry.”
Bilbo was not fond of adventures. They made one late for dinner. And he had no desire to see the wonders of Middle-earth, no matter how reasonable the budget.
And he knew nothing about dwarves.
The Red Book of Westmarch has a few interesting things to say about dwarves.
A dwarf, it says, has a fondness for a wide range of food and alcoholic beverages. Whilst some prefer pork pies and salad, others may prefer mince pies and cheese, or raspberry jam and apple-tart. All have a particular love of ale (although they are as of yet unaware of the invention of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster). They are remarkably skilled at craftsmanship, and value gold and the stones of the earth above all else, even pork pies and salad. They are also proud of their beards, with many husbands boasting of their wives’ impressive facial hair. Although they can be calculating and cowardly, they are generally hoopy froods, though they have a very thorough and officious approach to contracts. Their poetry is generally accepted as being significantly better than that of Vogons.
Note: They have yet to fully appreciate the true merit of the Towel. When Mr Bilbo Baggins ran off without a pocket handkerchief, he failed to understand the true importance of a Towel, and later came to regret it.
Meanwhile, Gandalf leaned on his staff and continued to stare at the hobbit from under his bushy brows. This is about the most aggressive thing to do to a hobbit digesting his second breakfast, the equivalent of going up to a human and saying “Blood… blood… blood… blood…”, or a dispossessed dwarf king and saying “Homeless… homeless… homeless… homeless…”.
Or indeed dangling a piece of malevolent jewellery in front of a deformed schizophrenic hobbit.
The silence began to hang in the air exactly the way that bricks don’t.
Bilbo had begun to panic. He though seed-cake was in order. Seed-cake was good for occasions like this, he thought.
“Sorry!” squeaked Bilbo. “I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning!”
Please no more grammar lessons, he thought. Please no more.
“But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Goodbye!”
Bilbo scuttled back inside and shut the door.
Gandalf remained outside the door, laughing long and quietly to himself. Then, with the spike on his staff, he carved two words in large, friendly letters into the wood: ‘DON’T PANIC’.
There and Back Again: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Middle-Earth by Jim – Chicago, Illinois
Far out in the uncharted backwaters at the end of one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way was a small, obscure yellow star, and orbiting that star at a distance of 93 million miles was a small, obscure planet with a continent called “Middle-Earth.” On an uncharted corner of that continent was a small green country called the Shire, and in a hole in a small town of that land there lived a “hobbit.”
What are hobbits? No one these days has seen one, and some have called them myths. It is said that the Ents’ Compendium of Living Things has an entry on them, but no one knows for sure. That book is so long that the publisher still hasn’t finished it, and no one has been able to finish reading the first chapter of the proofs. The Red Book of Westmarch says hobbits are a race that looks like Men (who hobbits call the “Big People”) only much shorter, usually chubbier, and with large hairy feet.
This is a story of one hobbit, whose name was Bilbo Baggins. It is also the story of a remarkable book called The Hitchhikers’ Guide to Middle-Earth. The story starts with a house. More accurately, it starts with a hole, because Bilbo’s house (like most hobbit houses) was a hole delved into a hill. Not a damp, dank hole, mind you, or a dusty sandy hole. Or a giant hole in an asteroid that’s really the mouth of a space monster. It was a hobbit hole, comfortable and well-appointed.
One morning, Bilbo was just about to drink his tea when he heard a knock at the door. He opened it and saw a large group of hobbits with pickaxes and shovels. “Can I help you?” Bilbo asked. “Yes,” the leader answered, “you can get out of the way so we can level this place for the new mill.”
“Oh, excuse me.” Bilbo began. Then he shook his head in a double take. If he had started his tea, it would have been a spit take. “Wait, what? Why?”
“Mayor’s orders. The plans have been on file in his office for six months.”
“Otho! I should have known the Sackville-Bagginses would be behind this.”
“So will you get out of the way?”
“I most certainly will not.” Bilbo crossed his arms. “You’ll have to go over my dead body.”
“Oh, bother,” the leader, whose name was Ted Sandyman, said.
Just then, a tall old Man with a pointed hat, a very long grey beard, and a gnarled wooden staff strode past the workers and up to the front of Bilbo’s house. Bilbo and Sandyman were engaged in a staredown and didn’t acknowledge him. “Ahem,” the old man cleared his throat.
“Good morning,” Bilbo mumbled, then resumed his staring contest.
“Good morning?” the old man asked. “Do you mean that it is a good morning, or that you want me to have a good morning, or that you want it to be good whether I want it or not?”
“Er, I guess I didn’t really mean any of those. I’m having a terrible morning, and I don’t know who you are. So, good morning. The one that means good-bye.”
“Bilbo Baggins!!!” An angry cloud drifted across his kindly face. “I am Gandalf. You used to know me. To think I would live to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I had the Black Breath.”
“Gandalf! Good gracious! Not the Gandalf, the wizard who gave us such excellent fireworks shows when I was a boy. I had no idea you were still wizarding, or whatever it is wizards do. What brings you here?”
“We need to talk. Now,” he emphasized. Gandalf looked nervously to the eastern sky, as if watching for an approaching storm. “Are you busy?”
“Not really, just trying to stop this gang from destroying my house, you know.”
Wizards are literalists normally, and in his hurried state Gandalf had no time to appreciate sarcasm. Plus, of all those present he was the only one who knew that the workers’ plans for Bilbo’s house were, in the space of minutes, about to become a moot point. “Good, let’s go to the Prancing Pony in Bree. We can talk there.”
“Excuse me, but I think you missed my point. This good fellow,” Bilbo nodded at Sandyman, who nodded back, “says he and his gang mean to demolish my house, and I’m in the midst of standing off. So, no prancing ponies, no talking, no Brees.”
“Oh,” Gandalf trailed off in thought and he stroked his long beard. Once more he looked anxiously to the sky. He had no time for reasoning, and no desire to use force. That left only magic – the special words he learned long ago to make any crowd of hobbits disperse.
“Excuse me, lads,” he announced loudly. “With all this standing about, aren’t you missing second breakfast?”
Forty-two pairs of hobbit eyes looked at each other, then forty-two pairs of hobbit hands dropped their tools and forty-two pairs of large, hairy bare feet ran to their respective neighborhood pubs. Sandyman looked back, saw he no longer had no backers, thought about eating, gave an embarrassed half-bow and excused himself.
“Excellent!” Gandalf rubbed his hands together. “Now, let’s be off to Bree.”
“Why can’t we just talk here? We’re alone now and I expect they’ll be back.”
“Trust me, my dear hobbit. In about –” he paused and glanced furtively at the sky — “five minutes or so, here is the very last place you will want to be.”
“Oh, all right. Let me get my pocket-handkerchief.” Bilbo said, fumbling at his vest.
“Forget the handkerchief! But do bring a towel.”
“A towel, my boy. The most indispensable thing you can have when you’re out and about in Middle-Earth. If you’re shivering in the Misty Mountains, you can wrap it around you for warmth. If your friend is getting pulled into a willow tree in the Old Forest, you can use it as a lifeline. If you’re sleeping on the stones in Moria, you can fold it into a pillow. If you’re wandering Wilderland you can wrap your supplies with it. And if you’re wet from crossing the Anduin River, you can dry yourself off with it. Now fly, you fool! Our time is almost up.”
Bilbo ducked in and emerged a moment later holding a large guest towel. “Er, did you bring a wagon? Or a horse?” he asked, looking about. “Bree’s a ways off from here.”
“No wagon today, my lad. We’ll be hitchhiking.”
Before Bilbo could ask what that meant, Gandalf thumped his staff onto the ground. Bilbo noticed that its length consisted of five branches that wound around each other; at the top, four branches curled into a ball while the fifth stuck out, looking curiously like an outstretched thumb.
Then, Bilbo heard the rush of giant wings above him and looked up. “Look! An Eagle! An Eagle is coming!”
“That’s our ride, Bilbo. Hop on!” And they flew off on the Eagle’s back.
About Eagles, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Middle-Earth says: An Eagle is, of course, the best way to hitch a lift if you’re really in a pinch. Problem is, they only show up if you’re really in a pinch. They’re never around when a lift would be helpful or even important. No, it pretty much has to be the end of the world. There has been a lot of talk about this among the hitch-hiking community, but don’t mention it to an Eagle. One time, a group of Eagles rescued the last surviving warriors as their village in Beleriand was being sacked by Orcs. One warrior, Waldo, told his Eagle carrier: “You know, we might have avoided a lot of blood if you and your mates had shown up a little earlier. Or if you’d come by a day ago to tell us the bloody Orcs were coming. I’m grateful and all, but just saying.” Waldo never made it to the destination. And his best friend Beren, who stayed quiet, ended up becoming the greatest hero in history and marrying the most beautiful woman ever known. To this day, whenever someone is about to make a smart remark to a superior being like an Eagle or an Elf, someone else reminds them: “Where’s Waldo?”
After the first few shaky moments aloft, Bilbo settled in and remarked, “this hitching is not half bad. How does one go about it?”
“There’s a whole book on the subject,” Gandalf pulled a thick, weather-beaten leather book from the folds of his cloak and handed it to Bilbo. “The most important rule is here on the cover.”
Two words in large print, in the Common Speech, took up nearly all of the front cover: “DON’T PANIC.” They were repeated on the back cover in Elvish.
“Don’t panic,” Bilbo repeated. “I rather like it already.”
“Yes, don’t panic. And don’t look down.”
Bilbo looked down. And panicked. Because at that moment he saw a gigantic fireball consume the entirety of the Shire a thousand feet below, turning his home and his town, everything he knew, to ash and a whiff of carbon monoxide. He let go of the book. Gandalf barely managed to catch and save it before it fell all the way to the ground.
“Don’t panic!” Gandalf reminded him.
“The whole bloody Shire’s been destroyed! Now’s a perfect time to panic!”
“Fool of a Took! Be careful or you’ll throw us both off!” Gandalf grabbed Bilbo to steady him. For a moment Bilbo felt he was about to fall, and he fainted in Gandalf’s arms.
A few minutes later, the Eagle dropped them off at the sign of the Prancing Pony. Gandalf gently nudged him awake, steadied him, and helped him inside. Bilbo was still shaking as the innkeeper led them to a table.
“I guess I should thank you for getting me out of there. I gather that is what you wanted to talk about?”
“Actually, that was completely random and unrelated. I was coming to see you anyway, and it was just lucky I happened to come today. I found out about the demolition just this morning. A chance meeting, as they say here in Bree.” The innkeeper brought two ales. Bilbo downed half of his in one gulp.
Gandalf leaned close and spoke with a low voice. “To begin with, I’m not from Middle-Earth at all. I’m from a place called Lorien, many thousands of leagues West, across the Sea.”
“What brought you here?”
“Well, among other things, I’m a roving researcher for that book I showed you. It’s called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Middle-Earth. A while back I did a chapter on the Shire.”
“Really? What did it say?”
Gandalf cleared his throat, stood up straight, placed his right hand on his chest, and dramatically declared: “Mostly harmless.” He enunciated each syllable, with special emphasis on most, and sat back down.
This time Bilbo did do a spit take, spraying ale across the table. “Two words? That’s all you could think to say about my homeland? And now it’s all gone?”
“Actually, one word. The last contributor already said the ‘harmless’ part. I added ‘mostly.’” Again Gandalf gave the word extra emphasis, and this time he added a knowing nod and wink, brimming with pride. “And let me tell you, it took years of research, and I was considered quite the revolutionary back home for that. Anyway, I came to ask you to join us on an adventure.”
“I’ve rather had my fill of adventure for this morning, thank you!” And with that, Bilbo finished his ale and wiped his hand across his lips. He was about to get up and leave when he realized he had nowhere to go. “Wait a minute – did you say join ‘us’?”