Classic Remarks is a meme hosted by Krysta and Brianna at Pages Unbound. Each week, they pose a question about classic works of literature in order for readers to engage in a continuing conversation about elements of classic literature, the literary ‘canon’, and the timelessness of story. If you’re interested in participating, you can find the schedule here.
So it’s 1993. I’m in sixth grade, and my friend N sits across from me in Mrs. C’s homeroom class. In addition to having been friends since third grade, N and I are geeks. We both love Star Wars and the tie-in books that are starting to come out. I’m staying up late to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with my dad, while N is reading comic books. During those free minutes before school started, we happily jabber about whatever it is we’ve been watching or reading lately.
Then one day, N starts going on and on and on about this book he’s reading. It has elves and goblins, and there’s this dragon, and oh yeah, there’s also this creepy guy in a cave, and it’s the best thing ever, and N’s already read it twice.
Sixth-grade me thinks this sounds like the best thing ever, too, and asks what it is.
N’s answer changed my life.
You see, 1993 is pre-internet in every home. My family wouldn’t get home internet service for another two years– and we were early adopters in my little hometown. This was also pre-Amazon, pre-Google, and really, pre-being-able-to-find-anything-online. Sure, you had “search” engines like Altavista, but it was difficult at best to find what you were looking for. It’s what led me to read some dodgy X-Files fanfic that was most definitely NOT appropriate for a fourteen-year-old.
So what did the lack of internet availability mean for an eleven-year-old geek like me, who was far away from a source of geek culture twenty years before geek culture was the epitome of pop culture? Well, I don’t mean I got made fun of at school, if you were wondering. It just meant that finding quality fantasy was really hard to do. I basically read the entirety of my public library’s SFF section by the time I graduated from high school, and that was mostly Mercedes Lackey and cheap mass-market paperbacks with such titles as Dancer from Atlantis. Sure, I got a grounding in 1970s and 80s fantasy with Terry Brooks and David Eddings novels, but it’s difficult to say that The Sword of Shannara or The Belgariad are actually good.
Which is why that day in sixth-grade was especially important for my nascent geek self, because the book N recommended that day was J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s tale, The Hobbit.
I went to the school library as soon as I could after N told me the book’s name and found a copy of The Hobbit. I don’t remember how quickly I read it, but I was hooked forever. The next time I was at the school library, I grabbed the only other Tolkien book that was available: The Return of the King. Sure, I was initially confused by what was going on, but it just goes to show how good the story of The Lord of the Rings is if a confused eleven-year-old will keep reading the story in the reverse order, and then go on to read the story (in the right order) another twenty or thirty times over the ensuing twenty-seven years.
Finding the works of J.R.R. Tolkien deepened my appreciation of history, literature, and great writing. It gave me examples of friendship and heroism, and the belief that no matter how hopeless things seem, you have to keep fighting anyway.
So thank you, N, for recommending The Hobbit to me all those years ago. You’ve probably forgotten all about that day, but I haven’t.