A Life in Literature: Into Middle Earth

Richard Bateman 17 May 2014

We moved from Manchester to Lichfield a month before my eighth birthday in April 1993. I was devastated. In fact, I still haven’t really got over it. But there was one link – a connecting thread between the two places which ever so slightly softened the pain – and that was Bilbo Baggins.

In the second term of year 3, in Mrs Fuller’s class, a teaching assistant arrived. I can’t remember his name but I can remember his soft Lancashire burr because he read The Hobbit to us in weekly instalments. Thing was, I left for Lichfield after that term, and we hadn’t finished the story.

So, one of, if not the first thing that Mother and I went to buy in the little WHSmith’s in Lichfield was a copy of The Hobbit, along with the 4-cassette BBC Radio dramatization. The parallels between Bilbo and me were so obvious that I’ve just thought of them now. Bilbo was in Middle Earth; I was in the Midlands. It was meant to be.

My sneaky confession is that I still prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of The Rings. I read the latter a year later. I assume this was regarded as an achievement at my new school because I was paraded around the classrooms to be applauded for finishing it, which obviously greatly enhanced my reputation with the school bullies.

Gimli provided much-needed light relief in the films.                           Credit: YouTube

For all its epic scope and astonishingly completely realized world, LOTR is a tad lacking in light and shade. As in, it’s all shade. That’s why Peter Jackson turned Gimli into a clown for the films. The Hobbit had a certain wryness; it avoids taking itself too seriously, a perhaps not coincident concomitant of the fact that it was originally written for children.

What a revelation The Hobbit was. This is the first portion of my childhood reading that I know inside out to this day, the first drift into a more grown-up world of writing, the first serious hint of how powerful the combination of book and imagination could be. And it connected me with home for a bit longer. Thanks, J.R.R.