The Hobbit: My Secret Shame

The Hobbit

Ask any fan of speculative fiction, and they’ll doubtless list The Hobbit  as one the must-read books of the fantasy genre. It’s the book that precedes The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and sets the stage for one of the most dramatic and epic stories of all time; one that spawned the ideas for thousands of other novels, movies, songs, and artworks and forever changed the world.

Am I over-selling Tolkien’s work? I don’t think so.

In a few days, The Hobbit will be the name on everyone’s lips. The first installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the book will hit cinemas around the world, and people of all stripes will be engrossed in the story of Bilbo Baggins as he ventures forth from Hobbiton in search of treasure and adventure. It’s an exciting time.

Several years ago, my sister expressed her enjoyment of the Lord of the Rings movies. She’s never been much of a reader, but she mentioned that she’d quite like to read the books. So I picked her up a lovely boxed set that included all three LotR books as well as a copy of The Hobbit. Being the type of person who likes to work through things systematically, she decided to read the first book first. (Makes sense, right?)

A few months later I was talking to her on the phone and asked her how she was going, and if she’d finished reading The Hobbit.

“Yes,” she said. “Well, no. Well… Yes.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“I was almost at the end, and I was really tired. So I stopped reading on the second last page. But that’s really the end. The story’s really over.”

And that was that. She never did read the last page of the book. I mean, sure, there’s no likely to be any grand surprises, but really? It just seems crazy to me.

So my husband and I were chatting last week about seeing The Hobbit in the cinema, and he reminded me of my sister’s unfinished book. I nodded and smiled and agreed that it was funny and then tried to change the subject. But it didn’t work. He talked about his favourite parts in the book, and told me about the first time he’d read it, and got all excited about seeing the movie, and then turned his attention to me.

How old was I when I read it? How many times have I read it? What were my favourites parts?

And that’s when I had to admit my secret shame.

I haven’t read The Hobbit.

Look, it’s not my fault. No, really, hear me out. See, when I was a teenager I was largely introduced to the sci-fi/fantasy world by a guy named Adam. He also introduced me to role-playing and war-gaming and the joys of Iron Maiden. (I had a crush on him, okay? He had a fair chance of introducing me to just about anything.) So he was reading The Lord of the Rings and I showed an interest in it because, you know, then we’d have something else in common, and so he loaned me his books one after the other so I could read them, and I read them all and LOVED them and thought they were the best things ever and then we started roleplaying MERP — which is the original Lord of the Rings roleplaying game — and I got to play a half-elf and go on adventures, and that only made me love LotR more, and…. okay, I’m getting off topic.

The point is, I read Lord of the Rings without any idea that The Hobbit existed. And when I learned about The Hobbit years later, it seemed silly to go back and read it. I was 16, and at that age where reading “kids’ books” was super uncool, and besides — I already knew basically what happened. Why read the beginning of the story after you’ve already read the middle and the end? Right? Right?

And then time went on, and people assumed that I’d read The Hobbit because… well, who hasn’t? And I went along with it. I read the wiki on the book so I knew the plot, and I got involved in conversations as though I knew what I was talking about.

Yes, I faked it.

But no more!

I admitted it to my husband and now I’m admitting it to you. Because the time for faking it is gone. Now is the time for reading it.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go update my TBR list and put The Hobbit at the top.

Have you ever faked having read a book? What books are you secretly ashamed never to have read?

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14 Comments

Filed under Reading, The Inner Geek

14 responses to “The Hobbit: My Secret Shame

  1. “He also introduced me to role-playing and war-gaming and the joys of Iron Maiden. (I had a crush on him, okay? He had a fair chance of introducing me to just about anything.)”

    To me writing this sentence is much worse than pretending to have read the Hobbit. Buying into the fallacy that Role-players, War-gamers, and Iron Maideners (it fits the rhetorical pattern so is the right word) need to excuse their hobby! Bad Logophile, bad!

    I read a lot and I used to read even more, so most boks people think I should read I have read. When I was at school I was ashamed of having never finished either Finnegan’s Wake or War and Peace; now I am happy to say that I did not like them.

    • Hahaha. When you’re right, you’re right. I don’t really feel the need to “excuse” my hobbies. I’m just amazed, looking back, how much this one person influenced my life. I can’t help but wonder, Sliding Doors style, where I’d be right now if I hadn’t met him. Would I still roleplay? Would I have a half-painted Dark Elf army packed in a box in the garage? Would my musical taste be completely different? Questions that can never be answered, right there.

      It’s funny, I also was ashamed in school not to be able to finish books that I’m now happy to say I just didn’t enjoy. (‘The Grapes of Wrath’ comes immediately to mind.)

  2. My early film education was from my father, and he didn’t like westerns (I’m not sure how many he’d ever seen, but it was enough for him to write off the genre).

    So, for years I had to fake my way through discussions of John Ford’s classic westerns. To my film-buff friends, it would have been inconceivable that I hadn’t seen Stagecoach and The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and so on. After all, I’m an Orson Welles fanatic, and how did Welles prepare to make Citizen Kane? He studied Stagecoach. Every night. For a month.

    So, like you, I decided it was time to stop faking it. I went through Remedial John Ford class, seeing the movies I mention above, plus the cavalry trilogy and My Darling Clementine (i.e., the essentials), plus a few others. And I finally saw what all the fuss was about. 🙂

  3. I’ve never read “A Brave New World”, “A Clockwork Orange” or “Animal Farm”. (The last to my greatest chagrin.) I have read “1984”, so I’m still grounded in the roots of the dystopian genre, but stil…

    Also haven’t read Asimov’s “Foundation” or other works…

    I also haven’t read tons of other books, many classics, but I don’t feel guilt about most of them.

    • I read ‘A Brave New World’ in January this year, and was suitably disturbed by it. I read ‘Animal Farm’ in school. Three times. (We moved schools a lot, and each school seemed to have a different idea of where it fit into the curriculum.) And thus, I despised it by the end — although I vaguely recall enjoying it the first time around. I haven’t read ‘A Clockwork Orange’, either, but don’t feel particularly guilty about it.

      The best thing is, the classics aren’t going there. We’ve got plenty of time to get to them. 🙂

      • There is no work of literature so great that it can’t be ruined by studying it in school. To his day I can’t read Moby Dick. I even used it as a model for something I was writing once, but I looked up the information I needed on the web rather than forcing myself to open the book again.

      • “There is no work of literature so great that it can’t be ruined by studying it in school.”

        This should be printed on a poster somewhere.

      • That’s sad but mostly true. (I actually read “1984” and “Farenheit 451” both in school and enjoyed them both. But then again, I’m a hard-core nerd.)

  4. Scott Zachary

    “Atlas Shrugged.”

    As a self-confessed Libertarian you would think I had. But I haven’t. I think Rand was a bit of a looney to be honest. Although I don’t admit it to many.

    Erp, I guess I just did.

  5. Pingback: Top 10 Catchphrases that should have been used in “the Lord of the Rings” « FanFiction Fridays

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