(Hopefully) There and Back Again

My old copy of the Hobbit, on the shelf with other Tolkien
and Middle Earth books.
A few weeks ago, one of the fellow bloggers I follow online, Peter Schweighofer mentioned how he was reading The Hobbit to his young toddler son. I asked him on Google+ how old his son was, because (as most of you know), I'm the proud dad to a recently-turned 3 year-old girl, and I've been wanting to read her Tolkien's book pretty much since before she was even born.

Peter mentioned that his son was 2 1/2 and they just started reading it, so I I figured that my daughter is probably old enough.

In preparation, a few days before her birthday, I told her that I had a special surprise for her on her birthday,  but it was something that I would share with her that night before she went to bed. My plan was to read her a page or two every night before she went to sleep, which is slightly messing up her nighttime ritual - typically my wife reads her a story before her bath time, and then she takes her bath, brushes and flosses her teeth, and then comes to get me in the living room where I'm enjoying a much deserved beer, glass of wine, or Scotch after having done all of the dinner dishes (and usually cooked the dinner, too, at least on work nights).  Then I help tuck her in to bed. 

But, I remembered back when my wife was pregnant with my daughter, that I sometimes would read The Hobbit late at night when my wife was having trouble sleeping due to some pregnancy pains she was experiencing. I guess she finds my voice "soothing" (aka, "boring") and it usually helped her to fall asleep pretty quickly. As a result, we never even made it past the first chapter, because my wife couldn't stay awake long enough. But, I always imagined that some of the story got through to my daughter subconsciously. 

A few Sundays ago, on her birthday, I reminded her of the special treat I had planned, and after she was all bathed and with clean teeth, she came to get me and I took her back to her room and her mom and I get her put into her PJs and then I put her in bed and brought out my old, yellowed copy of the book, which is technically my sister's copy (it even has her name written on the inside front-cover) but that she gave to me when she finished it. I explained to Joy how I remember reading the book as a young boy, although I was older than her - probably about 9 or so, as I remember reading it during the Summer between 4th and 5th Grades while staying at my grandma's house. I would hide under the covers at night with a flashlight to read because I was so excited by the book and didn't want to put it down. My grandma caught me a few times and chastised me in that way that basically let you know that it was okay as long as mom didn't find out.

Joy's eyes were wide and I began to read the book to her.  "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit..."

It's been about two weeks since we started, and we haven't read it every day. I've moved from reading it at night time, which was just too disruptive to her normal night time ritual, to reading it in the morning at the breakfast table after I finish my breakfast and am drinking my coffee, while Joy finishes her breakfast.  She is more awake and alert at this time, anyway, and I find that she remembers more of the story this way. Plus, I had the thought that there are some scary parts that might not be good to read to her right before bedtime. 

Each day I read to her, I ask her if she remembers what was going on, to help her try to use her memory. She has a very vague idea of the story, but at certain times, she's really surprised me. I constantly test her on the names of the dwarves, and she can't remember all 13, but she gotten good at remembering Fili, Kili, and "Glower" (aka "Gloin"). She asks me from time to time if they are good guys or bad guys, and also if there are any girl dwarves. She remembers Bilbo's name, and also that Gandalf is a wizard. At one point, I was quite impressed as we read - we had just finished the scene where the dwarves came to Bilbo's house and sang about how their treasure was taken by Smaug the dragon, and Joy announced that "I think they are going to ask Bilbo to go with them to get their treasure back."  Pretty darn clever for a three year-old, if you ask me. 

We just finished Chapter 2 this morning, and Joy is quite proud of the fact that she is farther in the book than her mommy ever got. She recognized that the trolls were "like the guy under the bridge on Dora," although we had to explain that the troll on Dora was a nice troll, whereas these trolls in The Hobbit were not that nice. 

Joy, like pretty much all toddlers, has absolutely no concept of ideas of killing and dying and so forth, so there are parts of the story that she's not grasping, and only once or twice I've altered a word here or there to make it more relatable to her.  I also stop semi-frequently to define words for her. Sometimes she asks me to, and other times I just stop and ask her "do you know what 'punctual' means?" She now knows it means "don't be late!"

I'm having a blast reading the book to my daughter- not only is it one of my favorite stories ever, but it's so much fun to "see" it through her eyes and her toddler's way of looking at the world. It's also a great refresher to read prior to Peter Jackson's movies coming out later this year. 


  1. I've read most of The Hobbit to my (at the time) 4 and 5 year old girls, and they seemed to really focus on Gollum, and they liked the trolls, creepy spiders, and elves. I had to skip some parts about killing also, since as Mennonites we choose not to teach our children about such things at a young age, plus they wouldn't understand, but they loved the story as much as they can at this point. They got bored right about where the dragon came into the picture. But it's kind of long for small children, so we took a break, and so I'm trying to read them Narnia at this point (plus it's a good Christian allegory) - they enjoyed the first film, and were able to watch the scary monster parts recently. They LOVE Aslan.

    1. Thanks for your comments - my daughter, too, often gets bored with parts of iThe Hobbit. We've talked about it, though, and she's opted to keep going, and in the future it just going to tell me when she's getting tired or when she can't pay attention any longer.

      The Narnia books are another good choice - I actually really didn't like the movies all that much, but I remember really enjoying the books as a Tween/Teen.


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