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Why are Critics Interested in the First Paragraph of The Hobbit?

Does the holiday season make you want to disappear into your hide-y hole? If only we were hobbits… 🤣

Kidding aside, I love the holidays.🎄I remember getting a book from Santa titled The Hobbit when I was a kid. My mother, a schoolteacher, always encouraged me and brother, and other children, to read. She must’ve put in a word with Santa 🎅🏻 to leave books under the tree, as my brother and I always had plenty to read, mostly second-hand books or ones borrowed from the library. But not on Christmas! At Christmas, we got new books! 📕To this day, the smell of flipping the pages of a freshly opened book brings back the warm feeling of scoring presents on chilly Christmas mornings. ❄️ ☃️

No wonder in college I took an elective class called Fantasy & Science Fiction in Literature. I wanted to take Conversational Spanish but this wasn't an approved class (for a degree in medicine 🙄). So I had to pick something else. I perused the curriculum and found a class that required reading The Hobbit. Um, yes, please! I signed up for that one.

With the beginning of this holiday season, all those nights studiously reading fantasy books for my homework came rushing back. I love heroic epic fantasies, sword & sorcery, and high fantasy. So it made sense I loved The Hobbit. So much, the scene where Bilbo and his friends have a run-in with the Trollshaws in Eriador inspired a troll scene in book one of my Anchoress series titled Shock of Fate.

In class, the professor asked us, "Why are critics interested in the first paragraph of The Hobbit?"

Chapter 1 "The Unexpected Party"

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." -- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

My answer: because it was so amazingly, expertly crafted.

In writing, the first paragraph sells the story. It must grip and engage enough to make the reader want to continue reading. Stories should describe the setting by the end of the first page. Writing must convey the character's wants. Tolkien delivers.

This paragraph intrigues the reader. What is a hobbit? Why do they live in a hole in the ground? Any why does that hole have the comforts sought by humankind? It makes me want to read on.

The setting is present. It gets rid of misconceptions about living in a hole in the ground. It's inside a hill, with light and windows. This hole is not nasty, not a dry-bared sandy hovel as readers would expect it to be.

Humankind creates many ways, especially their domicile, to separate themselves from nature. The paragraph shows the civilized, not the bestial difference between mankind and beast. It shows the world of the hobbits is man-made.

Setting up the hobbit in this manner leads the reader to get a pit in their stomach. We know what the hobbit wants: creature comforts. We have a good idea of what's going to be taken away. The hobbit's comfy home and quiet, unassuming life.

I'm compelled to read on...

Are you?

What are your thoughts on the opening scene of The Hobbit? Leave a comment and let me know! Or head over to Your Fantasy Portal's Facebook page and let's talk about it!

P.S. Have you seen the movies? I'd love to hear your opinion about them. If you haven't watched them yet, click here for The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy.

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