I stumbled upon this little gem over the weekend and thought it worth sharing. It’s a review of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in The Times Literary Supplement by his close friend and literary confidant Clive Staples Lewis.
To define the world of “The Hobbit” is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone…
No common recipe for children’s stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soil and history as those of Professor Tolkien – who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale. Still less will the common recipe prepare us for the curious shift from the matter-of-fact beginnings of his story (“hobbits are small people, smaller than dwarfs – and they have no beards – but very much larger than Lilliputians”) to the saga-like tone of the later chapters (“It is in my mind to ask what share of their inheritance you would have paid had you found the hoard unguarded”). You must read for yourself to find out how inevitable the change is and how it keeps pace with the hero’s journey. Though all is marvellous, nothing is arbitrary: all the inhabitants of Wilderland seem to have the same unquestionable right to their existence as those of our own world, though the fortunate child who meets them will have no notion – and his unlearned elders not much more – of the deep sources in our blood and tradition from which they spring.
The reason that the sweeping narratives of both Lewis and Tolkien remain relevant and continue to inspire new generations of readers is simple: They’ve got soul.
There is depth to their writing because they wrote about deep things – and from places of honest, genuine reverence and respect for such modern afterthoughts as “the wisdom of the ages” and “higher purpose.” This historical, metaphysical meatiness that Tolkien in particular used to undergird a uniquely original story in The Hobbit (and, even more so, in his Lord of the Rings trilogy) has fed the hearts and minds of millions for three quarters of a century.
While there is much to admire about contemporary epic sagas like Game of Thrones, the cravings of current-day novelists, screenwriters, and producers to rely heavily upon the shock and awe of copious amounts of blood and naked breasts, in my opinion, ultimately cheapens their stories.
Regardless of your feelings on that subject, there’s one thing from Lewis’ review of The Hobbit that I believe we can all agree upon:
Prediction is dangerous: but “The Hobbit” may well prove a classic.
Way to really go out on a limb there, Clive!
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