One afternoon about four years ago, when Monkey was not feeling well, I started reading 'The Hobbit' aloud to her. It has been a long time, but we have finally finished it. It sat neglected on a shelf somewhere, being picked up at odd moments with the question, 'Shall we have a chapter of The Hobbit?' This method works okay when you are quite familiar with a story, because you can just read a bit and pick up where you are in the tale. My primary school teacher used to read to the class last thing on Friday afternoons and this was one of the books he read us, though I do not recall reaching the end that time.
This is not really a review, because I would be surprised if there was anyone left out there who needed telling about 'The Hobbit'. People bemoan the lack of female character in Tolkien, and in fact there are fewer in The Hobbit (none at all, that is) than there are in 'Lord of the Rings', but to be honest this book is all about the story, and most of them aren't human anyway. Monkey gave me, inadvertently, the title to this post, because she got very upset about the vast number of ponies that are eaten by Trolls or Goblins or Dragons, and we were very pleased to find that the ones that get lost in Bree in Fellowship of the Ring made their way safely back to Tom Bombadil and Fatty Lumpkin.
So, for atmosphere and amusement, the quote here has Gandalf and Bilbo introduce themselves at the house of Beorn, before bringing in the dwarves, but it is also a lovely example of Tolkien's descriptions of apparently insignificant things :
" 'I am Gandalf,' said the wizard.
'Never heard of him, ' growled the man, 'and what's this little fellow?' he said, stooping down to frown at the hobbit with his bushy black eyebrows.
'That is Mr Baggins, a hobbit of good family and unimpeachable reputation,' said Gandalf. Bilbo bowed. He had no hat to take off, and was painfully conscious of his missing buttons. 'I am a wizard,' continued Gandalf. 'I have heard of you, if you have not heard of me; but perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast who lives near the southern borders of Mirkwood?'
'Yes, not a bad fellow as wizards go, I believe. I used to see him now and again,' said Beorn. 'Well, now I know who you are , or who you say you are. What do you want?'
'To tell the truth, we have lost our luggage and nearly lost our way, and are rather in need of help, or at least of advice. I may say we have had rather a bad time with goblins in the mountains.'
'Goblins?' said the big man less gruffly. 'O ho, so you have been having trouble with them have you? What did you go near them for?'
'We did not mean to. They surprised us at night in a pass which we had to cross, we were coming out of the Lands over West into these countries - it is a long tale.'
'You had better come inside and tell me some of it, if it won't take all day,' said the man leading the way through a dark door that opened out of the courtyard into the house.
Following him they found themselves in a wide hall with a fireplace in the middle. Though it was summer there was a wood-fire bring and the smoke was rising to the blackened rafters in search of the way out through an opening in the roof. They passed through this dim hall, lit only by the fire and the hole above it, and came through another smaller door into a sort of verandah propped on wooden posts made of single tree-trunks. It faced south and was still warm and filled with the light of the westering sun which slanted into it, and fell golden on the garden full of flowers that came right up to the steps.
Here they sat on wooden benches while Gandalf began his tale, and Bilbo swung his dangling legs and looked at the flowers in the garden, wondering what their names could be, as he had never seen half of them before.
'I was coming over the mountains with a friend or two ... ' said the wizard.
'Or two? I can only see one, and a little one at that,' said Beorn.
'Well to tell you the truth, I did not like to bother you with a lot of us, until I found out if you were busy. I will give a call, if I may.' " (p.118-121)
Since I have been on leave we have launched straight after into 'The Lord of the Rings' and are half way through Two Towers, and enjoying it immensely, it is lovely to get really immersed in another world for a while.