This is another entry in “Climbing the Stairs with an O’Fallon Librarian” where we explore the classics listed on the book spine stairs of the library.

I was so excited to write this staircase post because “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite books of all time.

Plot Summary

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a small person with large furry feet and a lovely home under a hill called Bag End. Hobbits are known for their appetites and unwillingness to adventure. So far in his life, Bilbo has fit this mold, but events are about to change Bilbo forever!

Gandalf the wizard shows up at Bilbo’s hobbit hole with a company of dwarves. They want to seek the treasures of the dragon’s hoard in the Lonely Mountain and they require the services of a thief. Somehow someone (Gandalf) gave the dwarves the impression that Bilbo was this burglar.

To his dismay, the dwarves believe it and Bilbo finds himself swept off into a grand adventure.

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There are many adventures even before reaching the Lonely Mountain. They encounter shape-changers and trolls. Goblins live in the mountains, giant spiders haunt Mirkwood Forest.

While escaping from the goblins, Bilbo is separated from the rest of the group. He finds a ring, a small detail that will change the course of his life. Shortly thereafter, Bilbo meets a creature named Gollum. Gollum wants to eat Bilbo, Bilbo obviously doesn’t want to be eaten, so they play a game of riddles to determine what will happen next.

He uses the ring to not only escape Gollum, but also to save the dwarves, who became prisoners of the elves of Mirkwood Forest.

Now in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain, the dwarves send Bilbo, and his magic ring, in to scout Smaug the Dragon’s hoard. Bilbo successfully infiltrates the hoard and manages to steal a cup. He also learns Smaug has a weak spot in his armor near his heart.

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When the dragon finds out that Bilbo stole something from him, he emerges from the mountain for the first time in many years and burns the lake town that developed in the shadow of the mountain. Smaug is defeated by a brave archer known as Bard, who discovers Smaug’s weak spot from a passing bird. The dragon dies and sinks to the bottom of the lake.

Because of Smaug’s damaging final foray, the citizens of the town and the elves of Mirkwood both come to claim the treasure. Thorin, the head of the dwarves, refuses to share and the three groups nearly go to war.

Suddenly, an army of goblins, who were drawn by Smaug’s death and the promise of treasure, attack and the three groups are forced to work together to survive. The giant eagles show up at the very end of the battle and turn the the tide in favor of the humans, elves and dwarves.

Bilbo finds his way back to the Shire with a magic sword he’s named Sting, and his magic ring, which will eventually play a major part in another story. His life is never the same.

My Thoughts

I’ve always liked to read.  From a very early age, I picked up books from the library, read them cover to cover, and went back for more!  I always filled up my reading log during the Summer Reading Program at the library and proudly earned stars on my large Book-It pin.

It wasn’t until my mother gave me her personal copy of The Hobbit that I discovered the magic and escapism of fantasy.  I remember thinking, as I was reading about Smaug and the dwarves, Bilbo and the riddle game with Gollum: “I didn’t know that reading could be LIKE THIS.”

It was a turning point for me.  I wanted more books exactly like THAT, whatever THAT was.

What I was looking for, which I didn’t even realize at the time, is the mythology and symbolism that is buried deep within the outlines of fiction, especially, in my opinion, fantasy fiction.

People used to gather around the fires at night and keep the darkness and creatures at bay, by telling each other stories.  Stories about the stars, each other, their families and friends… these stories were not just entertainment, but also lessons about life.

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They taught each other the meaning of the major human emotions, both positive and negative.  They were a tool to examine the heights of love, the depths of jealousy and despair, and how to navigate between all of life’s potential pitfalls onto a path to more self knowledge.

The stories were also a glue to bond people together- a type of community building.  The people who grew up together knew the same stories and believed the same ways.  Cultures, religions, entire ways of life came from these night time story telling sessions.

Modern life has very little in the way of “storytelling around the fire” but if I had to pick a guardian and bastion of this method, I’d have to point a finger towards the modern library.  Within its four walls, heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, are shelves and shelves of stories.

These stories, both fictional and non-fiction, allow readers to glimpse, for a moment, into the life and reality of another in a way that simple conversation or television programs do not.

Books are completely immersive.  They’re also extremely sophisticated tools in that they mold and change their meaning and appearance, guided by the reader’s own mind and inner reality.  When you match the right book with the right child, magic happens— like putting The Hobbit into my 12-year-old hands.

The only word of caution that I wish to add to this tale is that, once the child passes through that gateway into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, classics, or whatever it is that speaks to them— they will not return to you the same.  Like Bilbo said:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I know that I, for one, have never been the same.  Thanks for reading! ~Heidi

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