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If you haven't yet read J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," I highly recommend you do so, and the sooner the better. But first, you must read the prequel, "The Hobbit," or "There and Back Again," which begins the tale of Middle Earth and the adventures of a handful of dwarves and one hobbit by the name of Mr. Bilbo Baggins.

It would be hard to describe what these books have meant to me and my family over the years. I can't recall how many times I have read "The Hobbit" out loud, but I do know I have read "The Lord of the Rings" out loud three times as my children came of age so they could understand the truths contained in the story of the finding of the one ring and the epic battle to destroy it before the world of Middle Earth is overcome by evil. It is a story of good versus evil that resonates with hearts of all ages.

When Tolkien wrote "The Lord of the Rings," he wrote it as one book, but at a little over a thousand pages, it was deemed best to break the book up into three parts. So the first segment is called "The Fellowship of the Ring," the second or middle part is called "The Two Towers," and the third part is called "The Return of the King."

In "The Hobbit," we are introduced to a number of unique characters such as Gandalf the Grey, a good wizard who works mightily to protect all that is good in Middle Earth. Then there are the dwarves who are anxious to reclaim their hard-earned treasure from an evil dragon appropriately named Smaug.

Smaug had invaded the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor 150 years before the time of the story told in "The Hobbit." He lives deep inside the mountain where the dwarves had mined many jewels, precious stones, as well as gold and silver. In fact, Smaug sleeps on this immense treasure and guards it against thieves. He often flies about the countryside preying on men and their livestock. And, yes, he is a fire-breathing dragon.

Bilbo is a Baggins which means he prefers big meals and all the safety and comforts of home to unpredictable and dangerous adventures. This makes him an unlikely candidate for reclaiming hidden treasure from a fire-breathing dragon, but Gandalf sees something in Bilbo and in hobbits in general that most do not and so chooses Bilbo to be the thief for a band of dwarves intent on recovering their priceless treasure from Smaug. Besides, Bilbo is a Took on his mother's side and everyone knows that a Took likes a bit of adventure to spice things up.

To say the dwarves are skeptical of Bilbo's abilities as a thief would be an understatement. In fact, Bilbo himself is skeptical of his abilities and does not go willingly. But go he does and, in the process, discovers hidden strengths he was not aware he possessed and goes on to surprise himself and all his companions, including Gandalf.

But, perhaps most importantly, he discovers a ring on the journey which goes on to become the main focus of "The Lord of the Rings" narrative. This fact is actually pretty amazing when you consider that Tolkien had no intention of writing a sequel to "The Hobbit" and did not do so for many years.

"The Hobbit" was published in 1937. It wasn't until 1954 that "The Lord of the Rings" came out, and it wasn't until much later that it became a classic that was recognized as one of the greatest novels of all time. "The Lord of the Rings" has sold more than 150 million copies. It has been translated into 38 languages and, in 2003, it was named Britain's best-loved novel of all time in the BBC's The Big Read.

There are so many things I could tell you about these novels. I could talk about Tom Bombadil or Legolas the elf, or Lady Galadriel, or of Strider, and of Glamdring, and of Orcs and Goblins, and of the chief wizard Saruman and the evil Sauron, and especially of Gollum. But the best way to learn about the many amazing characters is to read the books for yourself. And, if you enjoy reading out loud to your children, you can't find a better story to share with them. I promise you will find an adventure that will captivate the most discriminating of tastes. And you might even learn how the game of golf was invented.

Sam Byrnes is a Gentry-area resident and contributor to the Eagle Observer. He may be contacted by email at Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 11/07/2018

Print Headline: 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' are must-reads

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