When I was six (or maybe just before), my father read me The Hobbit, and it was an absolutely wonderful experience. I've wanted to recapture that experience with my own kid(s) as far back as I can remember; I even tried to read it to my little sister when she was in elementary school and I was in junior high or so, though for whatever reasons it didn't capture her imagination the way it captured mine.

But apart from quoting the first paragraph or so at Kim's belly repeatedly during pregnancy (my wife puts up with so, so much), I forced myself to wait: the last thing I wanted was to push my daughter into it before she was at a point where she could appreciate it. Holding off was sometimes a struggle for me, but I knew she just wasn't ready yet. And then, when she was just over five and a half, she noticed a copy tucked next to the couch where I'd been reading it.

"Is that the book you really like?" she asked.
"One of them!" I said.
"Can we read it?"
"I'm not sure: it's really long, and there wouldn't be many pictures. Maybe we should wait until you're a little older."
"No, let's read it now!"

I resisted at least a little more, but she'd gotten close enough to my target age/readiness that I couldn't hold out long, when she seemed so interested. There had some question of what version or edition to read: I knew she did better with books that had quite a few pictures (and I'd heard good things about the recent edition illustrated by Jemima Catlin), but a few months earlier I'd decided that I really preferred for her to have the chance to meet Bilbo, Gandalf, and the rest in her own head before being too entirely immersed in someone else's pictures of them. So I pulled out my old paperback (and eventually also my copy of J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, to provide a few visual embellishments), and we began. It was as magical as I'd always dreamed it would be.

I shared my excitement about our progress on Facebook fairly often. There were some nights when Kim took a turn reading, and of course there were breaks here and there to read library books and other things. But I thought I'd collect those Facebook updates here for posterity:

Feb. 5, 11:38 a.m.:
At her request, I just read Ms5 the first nine pages of The Hobbit: Thorin just fell through the door. She's enjoying it, and I'm delighted.
9:26 p.m.: She wanted to read more at bedtime. Bilbo's Took side has won out, and Gandalf is about to reveal Thror's Map.
9:32 p.m. [Kim]: From what I could hear from the next room, there was much singing :)
Feb. 6 [Me, responding to a friend's comment about a graphic novel version]: There's evidently a very good illustrated edition that's come out within the past 10 years or so, and Ms5 might be one step happier with that. But... I was torn, and I finally decided that I wanted her to have her own mental images if I could help it. So we're reading an old copy, the same edition my dad read to me. (It's not even quite the most modern version of the text. There are a couple of bits that vanished from Tolkien's final version that I miss, so I don't mind.)
Feb. 6 [Me, responding to a question from another friend, who hadn't started reading it to her son yet]: I was planning to wait until summer, just to let her build up a little more patience (especially for a book without pictures). But she was surprisingly eager, and well... my daughter begging me to read her the book I've been looking forward to sharing with her since before birth wasn't something I could turn down.
Feb. 8:
Read more of The Hobbit to Ms5: "Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!"
The lack of pictures and the long chapters is a bit tough at this age, but she's still having fun!‬ (We'll see if her momentum holds up.)
[Responding to a friend's comment that voices help]: I do moderate voice variations, but not over the top. (The trolls were fun, though!) Maybe I should try doing a bit more, but my dad still remembers me asking him *not* to do voices relatively early in The Hobbit at this same age. :)
[Responding to my friend Nick asking why I'm not reading her the Alan Lee edition]: What I've actually done is to show her Tolkien's pictures and sketches in "JRR Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator" after we've read past those points. It's not as handy as having images right in the book, but it's a nice way to reengage with the story in a second way.

(Also, I don't have the Allan Lee version: just an old paperback and "The Annotated Hobbit", which does have a fair number of pictures in styles from all over the world, but also all sorts of weird text notes in the margins and even some related images that aren't directly from The Hobbit at all. I decided that version might be a bit too weird for her... but maybe I should consider it.)
[Responding to an old friend and mentor's comment "good work, Stu! hope you did the troll's accents. Garn!"]: I won't say that I did them *well*, but boy, I certainly did them emphatically! :)
Feb. 11:
"Down, down to Goblin Town!
Ho ho, my lad!"
[Followup]: "Beater and Biter! Beater and Biter!"
[Followup]: (For some reason, Ms5 didn't approve of me stopping for the night just as the Great Goblin rushed at Thorin in a rage. So I relented, and we made it all the way to the end of the chapter. After Bilbo hit his head an "remembered nothing more", Ms5 hypothesized that maybe now he'd stop talking all the time about how much he missed his hobbit hole.)
Feb. 13, 8:26 p.m., post by Kim:
OH from the next room: "Baggins! We hates it! We hates it forever!"

Steuard is in heaven with tonight's bedtime reading
Feb. 13, 8:34 p.m.:
"Thief! Baggins! We hates it! We hates it forever!"

Ms5 spent half the chapter hiding behind my back, but I think she liked it a lot. :)
Feb. 17:
As Ms5 brought Kim in to sing her final bedtime songs, she was breathlessly filling her in on recent details: "...so then Bombur fell in, and he fell asleep! ... And then they saw fires in the woods and ran after them, but the fires all went out, and they did it again and again, and then Bilbo was all alone and had to go to sleep before he could look for his friends."
Feb. 20, 4:42 p.m., posted to my friend Nick's wall:
Happy birthday (assuming I have that right)! You seem to have arranged, very hobbit-like, to give *me* a gift today: many thanks! After school today, Ms5 and I caught up on the illustrations as far as we've read, and she seems to really like it. It's a great gift: precious, even. :) Have a great day!
[His reply]: Ha ha, that's perfect! He's my favorite illustrator, hope you enjoy!
Feb. 20, 9:27 p.m.:
More fun reading to Ms5. I even improvised a melody this time:
The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!
Feb. 23, 9:30 a.m.:
Forgot to share this progress update from last night: "Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars."

(I think Ms5 quite enjoyed the conversation. And I was very happy with how my Smaug voice turned out.)
Feb. 23, 8:45 p.m.:
Bilbo and the Dwarves just escaped the Lonely Mountain, while Smaug was mysteriously missing.

Ms5 then spent the rest of bedtime describing elaborate ways she'd evade the searching dragon & get back home. First, she would dig a new channel for the River Running so it wouldn't take her to the lake where Smaug had gone, but would go somewhere else. Next, she knows how to doggy paddle, so she'd go down that new river. When she got to Mirkwood and the path was blocked by the enchanted river, she'd climb into the boat and then jump! across. And when she got back to Bilbo's hobbit hole, she'd look all over to see all the rooms she hasn't heard about in the story yet.
Feb. 23, 8:52 p.m.:
With the end of The Hobbit in sight, Ms5 is demanding that we bring The Lord of the Rings with us to read on the JoCo Cruise next week.

(I really don't think she's ready for that, on multiple levels. Maybe when she's closer to being Ms7.)
[Responding to a friend's comment on 5 being too young]: I have trouble imagining it working at age 5, for just about anyone. I first read LotR somewhere around age 7 (maybe just a little before), and I think I've known one or two other folks whose timing was similar, but I know how much of an outlier I was on that.
[Top level followup]: Honestly, I think we should take at least a little break from long books at this point, just for variety. (We've been reading almost exclusively The Hobbit together for weeks now.) And once a longer book seems reasonable again, Kim is itching to start Ms5 on Harry Potter.
[Kim's reply to that]: I've just heard how fun it is to read aloud with all the accents, so I want to read it to her before she's old enough to insist on reading it to herself
Feb. 24:
"Arrow! Black arrow! ...If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"

Ms5 was incensed that I stopped just after Smaug's demise: "That was just too exciting! I need to know what happens next!" (Tomorrow... :) )
Feb. 26:
"The Eagles! The Eagles! The Eagles are coming!"

God, that's a great scene. Tears in my eyes. (Ms5 is sooo frustrated that we had to stop.)
Feb. 27:
Bilbo has returned to his beloved hobbit hole at last, and bought back his things (except the missing spoons), and even hosted Balin and Gandalf for their little reunion. An altogether pleasant ending.

It *felt* anticlimactic to me, tonight, though I'm not sure that's really fair. I have a sense that for all her unquestionable enthusiasm for the story, Ms5 has been getting less patient with it lately (there are a lot more words than pictures, even in the beautiful Alan Lee illustrated edition we've wound up reading from: thanks again, Nick!). She had taken to rolling around on her bed or even playing a little with toys while we read these last few nights, though if I stopped reading she'd immediately turn to give me a "Why did you stop?" glare. I'm glad that we're taking at least a bit of a break from *really* long books for a while.

And really, it would be hard for anything to top "The Eagles are coming!"; the rest of the book is pretty much just wrapping things up from there. It's a sad part, too: Ms5 was more than a little shocked when Thorin died, and seemed confused or almost disbelieving that Fili and Kili had been killed as well. And it was close enough to bedtime that I couldn't answer as many of her questions as she (or I) might have liked: throughout the last chapter or even more Ms5 must have recognized that the book was trying to wrap up the loose ends, so she started interrupting my reading with question after question of her own. Even though those questions (and the need to cut them short) took me somewhat out of the "grand finale" mood, I think they were a sign of just how interested Ms5 was in the story and in Middle-earth, so that really does warm my heart. (Alas, I couldn't tell her the names of all the Dwarves' fathers that she asked about off the top of my head, though I did tell her that Fili and Kili's *mother's* name was Dis. A lot of their parents' names were never stated, but I doubt that will satisfy her.) She's still insisting for all she's worth that we read The Lord of the Rings next, but hopefully our upcoming trip will distract her from that long enough for us to be able to divert her attention for a couple years at least. :) In the meantime, I'm really grateful that we got to read The Hobbit together, and that it went over so well. I've been looking forward to reading it to my own child since, wow, probably junior high, honestly. It was awesome.
[Feb. 28, 7:30 a.m.]: Chatting with Ms5 this morning, I asked her how she'd liked The Hobbit, now that we were all done. She said "It was so fun", and then once again demanded that we should read The Lord of the Rings next. After she once again brushed away my protests that Tolkien had intentionally written The Hobbit for kids but had written The Lord of the Rings for grownups, I tried another tactic: "You know those last couple of chapters of The Hobbit where they were just walking home and talking to people and not really having adventures anymore? There are a bunch of long chapters in The Lord of the Rings that are just like that."

She responded that she had *liked* those chapters, and when I observed that she had seemed distracted while I was reading them, she said, "No! I was listening. And in those chapters, I was making videos in my head. Like, when they were sitting and talking in Beorn's house on the way home, I had a video of them, and Beorn's mouth was moving <makes talking-hand gesture>."

I thought that was kinda cool. :) Even so, I explained to her that even I hadn't read The Lord of the Rings when I was as young as she is. And just to change the conversation a little (and maybe redirect her expectations), I pointed out that when I did read it at an age a year or two older than she is now, I read it *by myself*. So perhaps I'll even make that the rule for a while, or in general: she's probably not ready to enjoy The Lord of the Rings until she's ready to read it (whether or not she winds up doing all of the reading herself). The more I think about it, the more that seems about right.
Mar. 3:
[A final relevant followup from the start of a vacation]:While flying over the Rocky Mountains today, Ms5 noticed one mountain off by itself to the east of the rest. She exclaimed, "It's the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug lives! And over there are the mountains where the goblins caught them! It's just like the map!"

This essay copyright © 2017 by Steuard Jensen.
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