It’s always an agreeable thought to have a newsletter done well in advance, even if the text that follows was written for something else entirely.
There’s a lot more to The Hobbit than meets the eye, and it is impossible to remain several years in the company of people dedicating a phenomenal amount of energy to interpreting the book as a motion picture without learning a great deal more about a book I thought I knew.
Images are irrepressible things at all times; read a text, images spring into the mind. Our brains work that way. Usually though, this imagery is fugitive, and we cannot really retain more than a memory of it.
Unless of course, it’s your job. And it’s resulted in a lot of imagery. But, as a reminder that the book came long before the movies, here’s the 2013 Tolkien Calendar, with a couple of new paintings and a little text.
It’s about a place called Wilderland. And after three years of wandering, a place we have come to know quite well.
From left to right: A misty morning in Hobbiton, a window in Bag End (the study, I believe) and a modest Hobbit dwelling.
It’s easy to get lost in Wilderland.
Professor Tolkien had us all fooled; he’d given us a map but certainly knew very well we might not be capable of reading it.
Fooled into believing it is a children’s story, knowing full well that we have lost the grasp of symbol and language, and read words at face value. The Hobbit is a bedtime story, but like the tales gathered by the Brothers Grimm, it is a “true” tale in that it speaks, disguised in the colourful and exotic cloaks and trappings of fantasy, of very real things. Bilbo’s forgotten pocket-handkerchiefs are those careful daydreamt plans we make, the ones that dissolve in the face of sudden decisions.
And that is only the beginning of his adventures.
Nor do the dwarves, despite a century and a half of wandering, have an easy time of it. Once Thorin’s resolve sets them firmly on the path to Erebor, they are continuously captured, trussed up and imprisoned; indeed half of the book seems to happen underground or in the gloom and dark. And finally, when we reach the climactic denouement, we too are in the dark, only to wake up on the deserted battlefield with Bilbo, and to learn the fates of Thorin and his nephews. It is a reminder of how small we are in the scheme of things, but an affirmation that personal resolve and determination can count for much even in circumstance most dire.
The Hobbit is a story and a statement. The world is not polarized: good and evil, black and white. Peril is everywhere, but with it, colour and wonder and a sense of the merveilleux that must remain even when grown up and wise to Wilderland’s ways. It is a story for children, and a simple reminder that our horizons should not grow smaller as we grow up.
“Wild” is an ancient word, one which has roots in all the northern European tongues. It is a word that situates Bilbo’s journey beyond comforting borders, in the realms of danger and the unknown, far from the warmth of the Shire. It is the Perilous Wood of myth, the Tangled Realm, the far Marches on the border of the known world, where all is unfamiliar – and sometimes deadly. While we journey with the dwarves, who have been wandering for a century and a half, we really see it through Bilbo’s eyes. We are indeed in Wilderland.
Wilderland is inhabited by creatures of the kind that we imagine under our beds as children – long-armed grasping goblins, spiders and bats. It is also inhabited by the denizens of our dreams: soaring eagles, doughty dwarves, mysterious and alluring Elves.
Oh, and of course, there’s a dragon as well. It never does to leave a dragon out of one’s calculations.
Many of these inhabitants will be found peering (or leering) from the pages of this calendar, in imagery done over two lifetimes of imaginative peregrination through Wilderland. Alan Lee and I had many maps as well, to help us find our way around New Zealand these last three years. While they are rather more prosaic, it was tempting to imagine the margins filled with wondrous and strange creatures, like on medieval mappamundi, or scribble in “hic sunt draconis” next to “turn left after the railroad bridge”. Fantasy is always a journey. Whether on printed page or in 3-D, it’s always about the stories told.
The 2013 Tolkien calendar is published by HarperCollinsPublishers and can be tracked down here. Main text reproduced with the kind permission of the editor.