The year was 1990… something. I don’t know. I’m 30 now. I can see bits and pieces of my memory dying. I’m pretty sure I was in fourth or fifth grade though, if that helps.
I went to a parochial grade school and we always had a bit of an advanced curriculum. We were reading books and doing math that was at least one or two years ahead of regular schools. Our teachers weren’t always terribly bright about book selection (I ended up reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when I was in sixth grade as an example), and seemed to be concerned with having us read the classics without seeing if the class would be interested, it was the right reading level, or if it was even the kind of thing kids at a religious school should be reading.
On one hand, it was refreshing. On the other, it meant forcing kids to read books like The Hobbit and Jane Eyre way before they were prepared for them. While I eventually learned to appreciate and even read Jane Eyre for fun thanks to becoming an English major in college and picking up Jane Slayre, I have never gotten over my hatred of The Hobbit.
I know it’s a good book. It’s a classic. The thing is, The Hobbit and I just met at the wrong times in our lives. It’s true that back then I was a bookish little girl who loved fantasy novels, especially books by Ray Bradbury, Jane Yolen, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Mercedes Lackey, and I was reading beyond my years. J.R.R. Tolkien and his novels should have been a welcome addition, but I found I couldn’t get though The Hobbit. I rebelled against it, and it’s only the second time in my life in which I couldn’t actually finish reading a book. (The other was Moby Dick.)
Of course, now that I’m older and wiser I realize why.
Part of it is because I liked to use fantasy novels as a means of escape when I was a child. For about half of my grade school life I was bullied. Not terribly — other people have far worse stories than mine — but I was still excluded, gossiped about, and had a generally miserable time for a while. Rather than fight it and try to force my way in, I gave up and turned to books. Most of the ones I read had a female heroine, even if she wasn’t the primary character, to identify with. The Hobbit had none. There was no character my 10-year-old self could pretend to be as I read and, if I daydreamed, there was no place where I could self-insert. I didn’t want to be a halfling or a dwarf — I’d rather have been a human, elf, or X-Men-esque mutant.
Another part is that The Hobbit seemed very lore-heavy to me at the time. Even though I was young, I got the impression as I went through the first few chapters that there was more going on than what I was seeing. It seemed as though I were missing out on important matters. Unfortunately, since the book didn’t pique my interest, I didn’t care enough to read more of Tolkien’s works to see what I was missing.
Instead, I gave up. It’s shameful, but true. Being forced to read The Hobbit at an early age effectively killed any desire I would ever have to read Tolkien’s books. And, judging from what I’m hearing from friends about the new movie, I doubt seeing that trilogy would change my mind.