Stories for Children

Amy and I had a chance to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The Hobbit was originally published as a children's story. It was a ground-breaking work. JRR Tolkien took a genre that focused on short stories - children's fantasy - and stretched it out to novel length. He did this in the same year that Walt Disney stretched the cartoon genre from short to feature length in Snow White (there must be something special about dwarfs).

Throughout his life, Tolkien continued to fiddle with the Hobbit story.

First he darkened the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter, where Bilbo battles Gollum with riddles to win his passage out from under the mountain. In the original chapter, it's a fun game, simple and pleasant. Great riddles. Bilbo's last riddle - "What have I got in my pocket?" - rings a little hollow, but it allows the narrative to introduce the magic ring that Bilbo found and kept in his pocket.

Later, Tolkien decided that Bilbo's magic ring would have an evil origin and corrupting influence. This is the ring that stands at the center of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This ring leads it's owners to destruction. Betraying Isildur, the ring led to his death. Twisting Smeagol, the ring drove him away from community and flowers and sunlight into the dark under the mountain. Possessing this ring became a big deal. Bilbo, coming into possession of the ring, begins lying. And the loss of the ring has to be devastating for Gollum. None of this exists in the original, children's story.

Tolkien kept fiddling with this story.

He wrote something called The Quest of Erebor, which tells the story behind the adventure recorded in The Hobbit. Whereas The Hobbit focuses on a journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain to recover gold and kill a dragon, The Quest of Erebor plays with the broader context. The journey / quest of Bilbo and his dwarven friends established two healthy kingdoms in the North (Dain in the Lonely Mountain and Bard in Dale), greatly diminished the goblin population (in the Battle of the Five Armies) and removed Smaug the dragon as a possible ally for Sauron and threat to Rivendell.

For Tolkien, The Hobbit was not just a children's story.

What if there were truer, darker stories behind all children's stories? Those might be fun to discover. Those might be fun to tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment