I am reading through Tolkien’s books again (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). My Dad sent me this gem of an excerpt from an annotated version of The Hobbit. My favorite part is in bold. I, most fortunately, have had that precious experience with a “very small class of books,” and I couldn’t help but yelp with pleasure at how perfectly Lewis articulates that experience:
“The first two published reviews of the Hobbit are among the most sympathetic and perceptive. They appeared anonymously in the Times Literary Supplement and in the parent paper, the Times. Both were written by Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis. The first responds directly to the publisher’s blurb comparing the book to Lewis Carroll:
The publisher’s claim that The Hobbit, though very unlike Alice, resembles it in being the work of a professor at play. A more important truth is that both belong to a very small class of books which have nothing in common save that each admits us to a world of its own—a world that seems to have been going on before we stumbled into it but which, once found by the right reader, becomes indispensable to him. Its place is with Alice, Flatland, Phantastes, The Wind in the Willows….It must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown-ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous; but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.
The second review contains more insights:
The truth is that in this book a number of good things, never before united, have come together; a fund of humour, an understanding of children, and a happy fusion of the scholar’s with the poet’s grasp of mythology. On the edge of a valley one of Professor’s Tolkien’s characters can pause and say: “It smells like elves.” It may be years before we produce another author with such a nose for an elf. The Professor has the air of inventing nothing. He has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity which is worth oceans of glib “originality.””
-The Annotated Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
(Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson)