The Hobbit, Unfinished Stories and how they changed me
Date: 19 Aug, 2012
During the early spring of 1970 I was in third year juniors, and for a few weeks we had a student teacher. I don’t remember her name, but she was young, had dark hair, a flowery dress and an accent that indicated that she was not a local. Not that any of this information would help narrow down a search for her. I have a vague sense that her regional accent was West Country, but it could just as easily have been Essex or anywhere else for that matter. Not remembering names’ is one of my failings I’m afraid, and as I don’t want to refer to her as the student, I’m going to call her Miss Smith.
In stark contrast to our regular teacher, whose emphasis was on mathematics, precision and discipline, Miss Smith leaned heavily towards English, the arts and free expression. In earlier years, previous teachers had always read to the class for the last half hour or so of the school day, a practice that had stopped at the beginning of third year. Miss Smith had obviously not been told of this fact, or maybe she just didn’t care for other peoples rules.
‘Has anyone heard of “The Hobbit”?’ she asked on her first afternoon.
She began to read.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel; a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors.”
Every afternoon she led us deeper and deeper into a world of Wizards, Dwarfs, Elves and Goblins. We followed Bilbo on his journey through the forest and his brush with the trolls, the finding of the ring in the dark tunnels beneath the misty mountains and into Mirkwood as he journeyed towards the lonely mountain and the dragon. The dragon was the goal; I wanted to know about Smaug. There were setbacks along the way as Bilbo journeyed, but with each instalment the excitement built as we got closer and closer to Smaug.
And then Miss Smith left us.
The story hung in the air, unfinished.
Time moved on, through the summer holidays and into fourth year. There were other things to think about, next year I would be moving up into the seniors and the work got harder. We had to learn to write with ink. That meant inkwells and dipping pens; seriously, I’m not kidding. Soon, that year was over and I had a new bike for the summer holidays. The new school needed a uniform and there was a certain amount of excitement in that, it was different and it gave a sense of belonging to something larger.
In the autumn of 1971 I started the seniors. There wasn’t an inkwell in sight; we all had to use biros. The juniors seemed to have existed in some sort of time warp. The regime at the seniors was different, alien, the lesson for each subject was taught in a different classroom by a different teacher. For English we had Mr Huckstable, and he began to read to us; “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”.
Throughout the previous year I hadn’t given The Hobbit a second thought, but now my passion for the story was renewed as Mr Huckstable retraced the chapters that Miss Smith had read to us. Once again I descended into Tolkien’s fantasy. Onward, onward, I thought, faster, faster. I wanted to get to the parts I hadn’t heard yet, I wanted to hear the end of the tale. I wanted to hear about the dragon. Another two readings and we would be into new territory and closer than ever to Smaug.
And then Mr Huckstable left to go to another school.
I was beginning to suspect a conspiracy. In fact, I was so incensed that this had happened again, that I went to the library and got the book out. Perhaps I should have taken this action eighteen months prior to this second let down, or perhaps I’m just thinking what I would do now and not what a ten year old would do.
I did finish the book; it took me two nights reading by torchlight under the covers.
The experience changed my life in a number of ways; it gave me an abhorrence of unfinished stories, even unfinished sentences drive me mad, and a love of fantasy that I have never lost.
And now Tolkien’s masterpiece has been made into a film, or three films if I hear correctly. I’m relying on Peter Jackson not to let me down.