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Children’s Literature Essay

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Ways in which J.R.R Tolkien’s the Hobbit Changed Children’s Literature

There are many authors whose work have made a great contribution to the world of literature and have changed it forever. Literature and its comprehension are very subjective. Thus, for different people in the different periods of their lives different authors have been influential, life changing, core shacking. Though, there are names that are regarded to be influential by most of the readers despite the time. The name of a modern high fiction writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien will surely be on the list of writers described above.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, best known for being the author of The Hobbit and its sequel The Lord of the Rings, was also a prominent professor and philologist. Even those that are not familiar with and are not fond of science fiction literature are well familiar with the work of this author. A lot of authors published high fiction works prior to Tolkien, though his pieces are so intelligent, different and breathtaking that it is he who is believed to be the father of modern science fiction literature. Moreover, it is him who is considered to have changed the perception of this genre of literature and have had an ever-last effect on the development of it.

This paper is going to discuss the contribution of Tolkien’s work from two perspectives. Firstly, the way Tolkien has contributed to changing children’s perception to reading and literature. Secondly, the way Tolkien’s work has changed the style of children’s literature, particularly children’s view of good and bad, heroes and villains.

It is vital to discuss Tolkien’s biography briefly, because his literary works have been created as the outcome of Tolkien’s surrounding and education. Being an orphan, Tolkien was raised by a priest, though his education was not religious – he attended Oxford. In Oxford the future writer majored in English Language and Literature. Most of all Tolkien enjoyed philology, and he had been fond of languages, their structures, their history. In was then when he started writing himself.

Back then it was not real writing but rather experimenting with the written word. In his works he used his personal language, created when he was young. Later this language would lay grounds for his future imaginary world – the Middle Earth. Tolkien started developing the story line of the Middle Earth and then these stories (The Silmarillion) evolved into The Hobbit in 1936. Tolkien’s writing style was created partly on base of old Slavic and Nordic mythology (From the biography).

Clearly only a very small part of Tolkien’s unique invented language and mythology was presented in The Hobbit. The public was very eager to learn more about this mystical world where everything was possible. Thus, from then on Tolkien’s older pieces as well as everything he would have written would be regarded as a masterpiece and received well even before they would come out.

The reasons for such a success are many-fold, though it is not always clear why The Hobbit has had such an influence on the contemporary children’s literature. From one point, it is a regular fairy tale about a little person – the hobbit who leads a quiet life in a little hobbit-village. He is neither decisive, nor adventurous. Thus, when being asked by the magician Gandalf to join his team on a journey he hesitates to answer. Though, later he takes up the membership in the team of dwarfs on a big journey to Lonely Mountain.

The Hobbit is the story about the journey, but mostly about the change and development of the main character (Bilbo Baggins). The reader sees how much Bilbo is altered by the journey. On many occasions in the story he shows bravery and wisdom – typical traits of a hero. Though, at the same time Bilbo is prone to typical flaws, such as greed for example. Nonetheless the good in him overrides the bad traits that come across his character. Seems like a typical fairytale – which is in fact it is not.

From another point, there is something distinct about this story. This distinctness was the factor that led the novel to become the changing force for children around the globe. It was this distinctness that changed the perception of children’s literature.

Let us try to analyze some of the technique used by Tolkien. According to Humphrey Carpenter a well know literature analyst and critic, in his work Tolkien employs themes of animism, which is a very important concept in child psychology (p. 43). This concept assumes that souls and spirits subsist not only in humans, but also in non-living objects and natural events, as well as that plants and animals – as living organisms – possess intelligence same way humans do (p. 98). Without a shadow of doubt, many other authors develop their stories using animism, though the way Tolkien uses this concept is distinctive. In his story one is not stroke by the fact that the trees are talking and the thunders have the minds of their own. The “liveliness” of these non-living objects is incorporated in the story so well that the reader does not feel this is unnatural. Such an approach to the world in Tolkien’s work presents children with a totally new “earth” making them more sensitive to the outside world. This also teaches the children to see when looking at something and to really understand when listening to something (Carpenter, p. 43).

Together with introducing children to the idea of animism Tolkien also presents them with such literary tools as allegory, hyperbola and epithet. These literary tools introduce the young reader to the idea that every situation can be looked at differently, can be presented differently, and that sometimes the words said do not mean what they seem to mean at the surface.

Even though Tolkien’s language is bright and vivid his books are easily read and on the surface deal with juvenile – “easy” topics. Of course this is not so, though when not getting deep into the symbolism of the story one can see just a fairytale about a traveling hobbit. Thus, by many the book is believed to be a good preparation of young readers for more serious books. It develops literacy skills and often serves as a great tool to develop a habit of reading with young people (Jones).

The above passages explain why The Hobbit is a very important and useful book for young readers and how it teaches young readers to appreciate and love the written word. However, not only The Hobbit changed the perception of literature and reading but also it has changed the perception of the figure of hero.

Once again, at the first glance The Hobbit is the story about the heroic trip of Bilbo the hobbit, meaning a regular fairytale, in which a hero overcomes hardships. But when taking a close look at the story line and at Bilbo himself we see that he is far from being a regular hero.He is not young, he is not strong, he is not adventurous, he was not brought up in a fancy palace, he was also not brought up in a village by a kind peasant because his real royal parents abandoned him. Moreover, he is not handsome, he is not ambitious, he is not looking for love, and at the end of the story, having gone through fire and water, he realizes that what he really enjoys is a peaceful homey life. Indeed, he is very different from other heroes we know from fairytales. But is not it what makes him so adorable, attractive and relatable?

When thinking of it one realizes that it is Bilbo who is a real hero and a real man. He is a regular human being, he is guided by selfish motives at times, he is hesitant to change, though in times of need he proves himself to be courageous, trustworthy, intelligent, and pious. On top of that, he takes the courage to admit that the world of adventures is not for him and he is much for comfortable leading his old life. The Hobbit is the only story in children’s literature that introduces the reader to a hero like this, and this and not something else is what makes it so dear for the readers.

The Hobbit changed the children’s perception of heroes and heroism. They learned that to be a hero you do not have to be beautiful or steadfastly brave, you do not have to be enormously strong or have super powers. They learned that there is a hero in every one of us that is waiting to be released. They also learned that once the hero is released it is the choice of one to continue with heroic adventures or to realize that these adventures are not for one. For this piece of knowledge and for many other the young and old readers will forever be grateful to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

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