Ken Haigh on J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, SF Issue 71

The Tolkien Test

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As parents, we hope our children will love the books we ourselves enjoyed, the ones that turned us into readers. But as often as not, our attempts to interest them fail. I remember a friend who was disap­pointed he couldn’t get his grandchildren to share his love of Swallows and Amazons, a book that had had a huge influence on his life, one that had turned him into a weekend sailor, even encouraged him to build his own boat.

‘What went wrong?’ I asked.

‘They found it impossible to take the book seriously.’

‘Why?’

‘Well,’ – he reddened – ‘because it has a character named Titty. That might pass in the UK, but not here in Canada.’

My own Waterloo came with The Hobbit. Try as I might, I could not get my children interested. My own introduction to Tolkien had come in Mrs White’s grade five/six classroom. At the end of each school day, as a reward for good behaviour, Mrs White would gather her pupils in a semi-circle on the carpet and read to us. This was our favourite part of the day. Over the course of two years, she gradually worked her way through Enid Blyton’s adventure stories but then, toward the end of my final year in primary school, she announced she was going to try something new.

She gathered us together as usual and began to read. It was as if an electric current had gone through the room. We sat up straighter. We pricked up our ears. We had never heard anything like this before: trolls and dwarves, wizards and elves, magic rings and giant spiders, and not told like a fairy story, but written as if it had really happened. We loved it. Each day we rushed through our school work so that we could savour these last fifteen minutes of the school day.

Then the unthinkable happened. We reached the last day of term and she closed the book, unfinished, and wished us all a pleasant summer holiday. I immediately rushed to the public library, took out a copy and finished it. Then I started again

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About the contributor

Ken Haigh is a librarian from Canada who misses the days when his children were small enough to curl up in his lap and be read to.

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