FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Genevieve Cogman on The Hobbit
Stolen books, secret agents, forbidden societies... it's all kicking off in Book 3 of the Invisible Library series, The Burning Page.
Below, author Genevieve Cogman tells us about her very earliest pop culture memory - a moving movement of reconciliation in J. R. R. Tolkien's masterful The Hobbit.
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I remember that when I was six years old, my parents read me The Hobbit as a bedtime story.
(Let me point out that this was over thirty years ago, and the very idea of the Peter Jackson movies wasn’t even a possibility. All right, maybe Peter Jackson had already had the idea of making movies out of Tolkien’s works thirty years ago, but at the time they certainly weren’t available for me to watch.)
So the night came when the Battle of the Five Armies was over, and Bilbo had woken up and was being carried to safety. Everything was going to be all right now, wasn’t it?
But then the story came to the point where Thorin was dying. He’d done the right thing at the end – almost too late, but just in time – and he wanted to apologise to Bilbo before he died.
"Farewell, good thief," he said. "I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate."
I sniffled, and then I cried, and even though I insisted on getting to the end of the chapter that night, I do remember crying.
I’m not sure what it was that made quite such a deep impression on me. As noted earlier, it was over thirty years ago, and I was six years old. I think that part of it was the sudden realisation that there wasn’t any way to take back the action or save the day this time. That Thorin really was going to die (and did, a few pages later) and that even though the end of the book was generally happy for a lot of people, Thorin was still gone, and nothing was going to bring him back to the people who’d been his friends. (And Fili and Kili too: “Of the twelve companions of Thorin, ten remained. Fili and Kili had fallen defending him with shield and body, for he was their mother's eldest brother...”)
I remember that Bilbo cried too.
Then Bilbo turned away, and he went by himself, and sat alone wrapped in a blanket, and, whether you believe it or not, he wept until his eyes were red and his voice was hoarse. He was a kindly little soul. Indeed it was long before he had the heart to make a joke again. “A mercy it is,” he said at last to himself, “that I woke up when I did. I wish Thorin was living, but I am glad that we parted in kindness.”
I think that six-year-olds are perfectly capable of understanding some important things. Especially when they’re this well-written.