The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

There is a rule in middle-grade fiction.

 

Your protagonist must be a child. 

 

Not only that, but they must be about the same age as or slightly older than your target demographic. 9 to 13 is good. 16 is probably too old. Write a middle-grade novel about a 16-year-old and many publishers might consider it unpublishable. 

 

Then there’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

 

Bilbo is a 50-year-old shut-in who wants nothing to do with adventure. Even an unscheduled dinner party is more than he can handle, to say nothing of dragons, goblins, and giant spiders. He’s a middle-aged man whose most interesting attribute is that a distant ancestor did something exciting once.

 

Bilbo is boring. He is not “relatable” to the modern audience.

Perhaps that’s why when I offered to read The Hobbit to my 8-year-old son he was appalled. “That book is weird,” he said. He was determined to hate it before we’d even cracked the binding. So I made a deal with him: he would listen to chapter one and, if he wasn’t hooked, we’d stop there and he’d never have to read The Hobbit again. 

When we finished the first chapter, Bilbo was the captive host of thirteen dwarves, his pantry was much emptier than it had been, and a wizard had set him on the career path of a burglar. My son couldn’t get enough and he begged me for more. 

 

That, of course, had been the plan all along. 

 

When I was his age, my mother introduced me to The Hobbit. She read aloud to her seven children nightly but storytime wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. Unfortunately, I was an incorrigible dyslexic and I couldn’t read to myself yet. That’s when mom got me The Hobbit on audio cassette. It became an instant favorite and I must have listened to it dozens of times. No book has had a greater influence on my literary development. 

 

So I knew that once my son got his first taste, he’d be hooked. 

 

And he was. 

 

The Hobbit is almost 90 years old, it breaks the rules, and it isn’t made for modern audiences. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just that good. We’re now on our second read-through and I expect that, like me, my all my children will return to The Hobbit again and again.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is the cover that I grew up with.

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