If you are a regular reader then I'm sure you are already aware, but I'm in the middle of writing my first fantasy novel called Then a Penguin Walked In.

You weren't aware? Well, good news, you can read it while I write it, just go HERE.

Anyway, I have great love for the fantasy genre. In fact, you could say that I cut my reading teeth on fantasy. I mean, from age twelve all the way up through my early thirties, fantasy books were pretty much the only thing I read (apart from Douglas Adams, Stephen King, and the occasional Star Wars book).Yet, to be honest, I don't read much of it anymore.

But then, last summer, I began to get the kernels of an idea for Then a Penguin Walked In, and it got me all nostalgic for the books of my youth. So I've been trying, since then, to go back and read all those old books I'd read many times before. But here's the thing, I'd gotten rid of most of those books long, long ago. So it took a bit of doing, and the local library, to track some of this stuff down . . . and I've barely touched the surface.

I'd begun to really start giving this whole reading books without pictures thing a serious go in the early 80's. I was about 12.

But my love for fantasy goes back to 1977 when Rankin/Bass put out an animated version of the Hobbit on TV.

Well, I was just simply entranced. Dwarves, a wizard, goblins, wargs, elves, a dragon. This movie spoke to me on so many levels, of which, as a lad of just single digits, I didn't have many. But dang did it press all my buttons.

And a hobbit? What was a hobbit?

I'd never heard of the Hobbit before, had no idea that it was a book, much less a classic.

Eventually, I did learn of the book once I'd hit double digits. I'd stumbled upon it at the library in grade school.

The Hobbit was my introduction into the fantasy genre, and what was, for me at the time, "big boy books".

I wore that book out.

I mentioned in my love for Dragonlance that it was those books that had gotten me into fantasy. And yes, that's true. The Dragonlance books got me into reading more and more fantasy books.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, introduced me to fantasy as a whole.

I'd read the Hobbit because of the TV movie. I'd read the Dragonlance Chronicles because of the Hobbit. I devoured as much fantasy as I could because of the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Once I started down that path I left the Hobbit in my dust and didn't look back.

Even when I read Lord of Rings, I left the Hobbit on the shelf, despite the fact that it came in the box set with the trilogy of the One Ring.

Enter Peter Jackson and the movies.

Well, even then I didn't crack open the book. It wasn't until I recently watched the Hobbit movies for the third time that I picked it back up.

See, in the movies, in an effort to tie them in even more to the Lord of the Rings movies, our heroes are perused throughout by orcs. Heck, in The Battle of Five Armies, one of those armies are orcs.

As I watched this, I smiled to myself over the change. In the book, it wasn't orcs, it was goblins. In fact, my memory conjured up scenes of goblins riding wargs. But then I paused. Was that in the book? Or the animated TV movie? It had been so long that the two were melding together. It was then that I'd decided it was time to read the book once more.

Okay, so real quick, if you've never read the book, watched the movies, and have no idea what the story is about . . .

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit.

Hobbits are small, a bit roundish in the belly, and have thick leathery soles on their fur-covered feet. But most importantly, hobbits have a love of home and no desire to go out and see the world, much less go on an adventure.

But Bilbo does just that. But only after being visited by the wandering wizard, Gandalf the Grey, and no less than thirteen dwarves.

Gandalf, it seems, had promised these dwarves that Bilbo would accompany them on their quest to liberate their ancient mountain home from the great dragon, Smaug.

Bilbo, with much needed convincing, goes along with them and they have themselves many adventures.

My first impression after all these years?

Well, I couldn't help but smile when I read the opening:
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.
I did they same thing when I saw An Unexpected Journey for the first time.

That was the one thing about the book that really stuck with me over the years. That opening. And, like a hobbit-hole, it was comforting.

My second impression?

I forgot how fun the book was.

This wasn't what I'd remembered fantasy to be. I mean, I know it was considered a kid's book at the time (might still be, I don't know), but there were moments where I felt that J.R.R. Tolkien was doing Douglas Adams before Douglas Adams knew what to do with it.

The scene with the trolls was especially amusing. That's the stuff right there as far as I am concerned. I mean, you got three trolls, three monsters intent on eating our heroes, very scary stuff. Yet they go by Tom, Bert, and Bill. Not Slogoth Dwarfkiller, Flowgat the Skullcrusher, and Dazogran the Impaler of Anyone That Looks at Him Funny. Nope. Just plain old Tom, Bert, and Bill.

The movies were grim and serious with a few lighthearted moments. The book was lighthearted with a few grim and serious moments.

That's why I loved the book as a kid, and that's why I love the book still.

Grim and serious are never more grim and serious then when you drop them into a lighthearted story. It's something that I hope I can do with Then a Penguin Walked In, because it has to be done right. But when it's done right, those moments of grim seriousness are given more gravitas, they mean that much more. But it has to be done right, otherwise they feel out of place.

Tolkien does it right.

Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien. Thank you for the Hobbit.

My youngest, who is so in love with the Harry Potter books that she would marry them if given the chance, recently read the Hobbit. She too enjoyed the book. Not so much with the first movie. We didn't get more than an hour in and she was done.

So yes, one more time, thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Oh, and I was a bit surprised to discover that there were no orcs whatsoever in the book. Not one.

And the goblins riding wargs? That was from the animated TV movie, not the book.

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