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How to Return to Childhood: Read The Hobbit on National Tolkien Reading Day

Thank you, Mrs. Handy

The Hobbit hole...something to celebrate on National Tolkien Reading Day!

Beautiful but terrifying Mrs. Handy

When I was in fourth grade, I was put into a split class in a new school. The teacher, Mrs. Handy, was beautiful. Even as a kid I knew it. She had pretty skin, silky hair, and a slender, youthful appearance, looking far more like an older sister would look than my previous teachers. (My former teachers had all been maternal women who wore glasses old-fashioned dresses, and black lace-up shoes.)

Mrs. Handy terrified me. She didn't smile much and was definitely not the soft, warm, maternal kind of teacher I had expected. I spent most of that year not talking and avoiding her but not because I'd misbehaved or done anything wrong. I was quite simply, for some unknown reason, scared of her.

But I owe Mrs. Handy a huge debt. She introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkien, a writer whose works made me love stories.

Every day after lunch recess, Mrs. Handy would turn down the lights in the room and told us to lay our heads on our desks and listen to the story. (Maybe she didn't really like kids and needed the extra quiet time without the constant movement and jabbering of her students?) But I will never forget listening to her voice as she started the story,

"Far over the misty mountains old, Through dungeons deep and caverns cold, We must away, 'ere break of day, To claim our long forgotten gold."

I was hooked. Literally. The words reeled me in, sucked me to them, baiting my brain and hooking my heart into the story of Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit that I would never forget.

The adventure began...

No matter how afraid I was of Mrs. Handy, I loved her story-reading. Later, as an adult and educator myself, I understood what a great teaching strategy she had used to get students interested in a book with more complexity than the simple chapter books we were used to. She also understood the lure of the human voice and the power of tone and dynamics in oral reading.

This after-lunchtime reading period influenced me for the rest of my life. To this day, I'm a firm believer that reading aloud is a practice we should never abandon. It works for all ages and all stages of life. Scary Mrs. Handy taught me that, too.

Since my parents were readers, it was natural for me to continue reading. After the classroom recitation of The Hobbit by Mrs. Handy, I read the book on my own. Then, a couple of years later, my mother - who ALWAYS gave us at least one book for every birthday and every Christmas - gifted me with J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. It was a boxed set that I read, treasured, and kept for decades.

Father Christmas letters

Years later, as a young adult, Mother gifted me with Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters, a book he wrote and illustrated to entertain his children during the holidays. Every year, Tolkien would write a new letter. Elves, polar bears, and fireworks are all part of the ever-growing storyline, and I was delighted to share these stories with my own little girls years after my first exposure to The Hobbit.

(The publishers have now changed the name from Father Christmas Letters to Letters from Father Christmas!)

Even though I've enjoyed Tolkien at all stages of my life, I associate him with the magic of childhood, the belief in fantastical beings, the lure of treasures, and the Goliath-like fight against a fierce, fire-breathing dragon.

National Tolkien Reading Day!

I'm not the only one who was transformed by reading his books. Turns out, there's a National Tolkien Reading Day, and it's today! March 25th!

Living in a fantasy world can be very pleasant, indeed.

If you haven't read Tolkien, start with The Hobbit. Pick it up. Flip through the pages. Remember the first-time feeling of stepping into a story.

It takes me back to childhood and those glorious days when I could read for hours without interruption, believing in wizards and dwarves, ready to embark on an incredible adventure.

I may have been terrified of Mrs. Handy, but I thank her for the love of reading she instilled in me by reading The Hobbit to us every day after lunch.

Happy National Tolkien Reading Day!


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