My first hobbit

The Hobbit 1966 Unwin editionWhen I first met Bilbo Baggins, he was a woman.

I was eight years old, on a mysterious school trip to a spooky old building, with no real idea about what was going to happen to me or my classmates. The previous week, our teacher had told us to memorise a series of strange words which had left everyone else bemused, but me feeling desperately proud of my own cleverness, since I seemed to be the only kid in the class who recognised Dwalin and Balin and all the rest of them as the names of the thirteen dwarves from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

It was just a few months since I’d read the book for the first time (it was my sister’s copy, the 1966 Unwin edition; I still have it but that’s okay: she never liked it). It transported my fevered child’s imagination in a way it had never been transported before. Imagine my excitement, then, as a school coach carried us off, packed lunches gripped tightly in hand, to Middle Earth.

Looking back, I can see the day for exactly what it was: a workshop laid on by a local drama group. For an eight year-old with an overactive imagination, it was pure magic.

The event began with us all clustered in the lobby of a big old house, shouting out the list of names we’d learned. At the end we had to yell, ‘Bilbo Baggins!’ at the tops of our voices, at which point an actress dressed as a hobbit bounded in and whisked us away on our adventure. I didn’t care that Bilbo was a woman. After all, isn’t that what pantomime is all about?

In each room we met different characters from Tolkien’s classic story, acted out little scenes and moved around to creepy music. We stumbled terrified through blackout to avoid the spiders of Mirkwood. We played riddles in the dark with Gollum. We even managed to steal a little of Smaug’s gold. By the time I’d been there and back again, I’d had the time of my life.

So it’s with a combination of excitement and nostalgia that I’m awaiting the first film in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. I so adore the vision of Middle Earth he established in The Lord of the Rings that I can’t wait to plunge back into it again. I’m lucky enough to live in Nottingham, which is one of just a handful of venues in the UK slated to show the movie on an IMAX screen in HFR.

The adult in me is especially interested to see how the higher frame rate looks. The child in me simply accepts this technological advance as both inevitable and – for this film at least – appropriate. The screen in my head has always been IMAX-sized, and my memories of that long-ago drama workshop have always played at 48 frames a second. The past is HFR.

And so, it seems, is the future.

2 thoughts on “My first hobbit

  1. I’m interested in seeing the HFR, too. I wonder if special effects will ever match our childhood imaginations? But, it’s getting close. (Still, maybe not as exciting or fun as your pantomime experience.)

    I didn’t read The Hobbit or LOTR trilogy until I was in college. Funny, though, how it seems like I always knew those stories – as if I read them when I was much younger. I guess it’s because I just a hobbit at heart and so I identify with Bilbo and Frodo and Sam.

    1. I haven’t read The Hobbit since I was a kid. It’s always been one of those children’s books I assumed I’d grown out of, although I do still return to its grown-up cousin, The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s walking a perilous tightrope – does he keep the new trilogy childlike, simple and true to the original? Or does he fulfil the expectations of LOTR movie fans and blow it up to grandiose proportions, at the risk of stretching its modest storyline beyond breaking point? I’m looking forward to finding out.

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