the original

My dad read me The Hobbit when I was ten years old.  I barely remembered the story, from back then–just the pleasantness of the together-time, and the fact that my little brother got scared at one point and left the room.

But when I read Eragon to my own ten-year-old, I kept having deja vu.  By the time we got to the scene with the precarious ledge around the lake leading to the dwarves’ caves, where the menacing battle-trolls are bearing down on the heroes, I remembered where I’d heard it before.

So I pulled out The Hobbit.  Some of it we read aloud, and some we listened to in the car (a strategem I should add to the list for reluctant readers) after I downloaded the audiobook.  And yup: this book clearly struck the precedent for all kinds of fantasy that has followed it.  Some of Dr. Tolkien’s bar-setting renditions of mythological motifs include the unlikely hero, the band of helpers, the magical object, tunnelling into the dark, riddling with the enemy, thieving from the hoard, and rescue from the skies.

But in my opinion Tolkien’s highest accomplishment is his narrative voice: that benevolent, fatherly, omniscient voice that guides us with wisdom and humor through Bilbo’s adventure.  And when it comes to voice, a truer inheritor of Tolkien than the author of the Eragon books is Neil Gaiman. 

Reading The Graveyard Book aloud, as with The Hobbit, I felt powerful and wise, like I was wearing the mantle of a fireside grandfather.  

If you (or your kids) are dragon fans, or series fans, you’ll read Paolini sooner or later.  But don’t let The Hobbit give you the slip.  And regardless of your tastes in fiction, don’t pass up The Graveyard Book–it’s very, very special.