This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog, a series called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.
Below is the third post in the series, by Jay Kristoff, author of the upcoming YA Japanese steampunk fantasy Stormdancer, the first in The Lotus War trilogy. Read on as Jay talks about one of his favorite childhood middle grade books, The Hobbit. Then check out our giveaway!
I was about nine years old when I figured out I was weird.
Not weird like the kids in Village of the Damned are weird, all perfect blonde hair and spooky telepathy and whatnot. I don’t think I ever popped anyone’s head open with miiiind bullets or spoke with a crisp British accent. I just didn’t fit where I was supposed to. It seems almost pseudo-cool to be a geek nowadays, but back in those days, bullies were all over geeks like white on rice and I used to walk five miles every day to school in the snow with no shoes and there was no such things as electricity and I used to get up at the crack of dawn to milk the sheep and butter the pigs and OH GOD I’M TALKING LIKE AN OLD PERSON.
Point is, I didn’t really know where I fit, or what I liked. What it was that was supposed to drive me. So let me tell a story about the day I found out and the book that helped me do it.
One day in English class, little Jay (yes, I’m speaking of myself in the third person, but relax, it’ll pass) got given a book. It was a compilation of great works of fiction. Kinda like a ‘best of’ album, but instead of it being a batch of radio-friendly hits from some balding former rock stars who need to put their kids through college, it was a book with chapters from all these other great books inside. An uberbook, if you will. And flipping through all these wonderful words, little Jay found a chapter called ‘Riddles in the Dark’.
Little Jay read it all the way through. And when he hit the end, he went back and read it again. As anyone with any geek-cred knows, Riddles in the Dark is chapter 5 of J.R.R Tolkein’s The Hobbit. It told the story of a fellow named Bilbo Baggins, who lost his friends in the Misty Mountains and came across a wretched lonely little creature called Gollum. Gollum wanted to eat Bilbo – not just kill him, but literally EAT HIM RAW, which is a pretty awesome/scary concept for a nine year old to wrap his tiny brainmeats around.
Bilbo, understandably, rather enjoyed his current status of ‘not-eaten’, raw or otherwise. And so the pair got into a riddle contest, which Bilbo essentially cheated at, but hey, he escaped without any teeth marks in his butt, so fair’s fair. And at lunchtime, little Jay literally ran to the library and asked “OMG HAVE YOU HEARD OF THIS HOBBIT BOOK THING?” and his lovely school librarian lady smiled sweetly and said “Yes. Yes I have.”
And that moment pretty much changed his life.
Alright, enough of this third person stuff. Point is, finally I had something I felt a kinship with. Finally I found a place I belonged – not just Middle Earth – but a place inside my head where anything and everything was possible. Everything made more sense after that – I realized I wasn’t alone in my weirdness, that there were other people out there like me – enough of them that whole BOOKS were written for them. The Hobbit lit a fire that has never gone out. From Middle Earth I moved onto lands like Narnia, Terabithia, Pern, or Krynn, and now, decades later, I’m building my own. But it all started in that little cave in the Misty Mountains.
It almost seems the done thing amongst ‘hardcore’ fantasy readers these days to disparage Tolkein – to call his works patriarchal or dry, to say he romanticised rural culture and demonized industry out of some misguided desire to cling to an age that never really existed. But when you’re a nine year old kid, you don’t care about any of that. You care about the clever burglar who, despite being small and afraid, became a hero and changed the course of the world. Because that’s what every nine-year-old in the world wants to be. At least every nine-year-old like me.
I used to re-read The Hobbit every now and then, but I don’t do it anymore. Our perceptions of the books we read are shaped by the people we are when we read them. And now that I’m a ‘grown-up’, and a ‘writer’, everything I read gets analysed and dissected like some rat on a slab. I want to leave the Hobbit where it is – on some dusty shelf in my mind, with all its imagined perfection. Because I can honestly say you wouldn’t be reading these words if I hadn’t read Professor Tolkien’s words when I was nine years old, if Bilbo’s story hadn’t awakened me to the magic that lives inside books. And for that alone, it deserves a little romanticized perfection in my head.
But thanks J.R.R. And thanks lovely school librarian lady, too.
Jay Kristoff grew up in the most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. He spent most of his formative years locked in his bedroom with piles of books, or gathered around dimly-lit tables rolling polyhedral dice. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.
Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 13870 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.
He does not believe in happy endings
Jay is awesomely and generously giving away a copy of a Stormdancer-related picture book — made by Jay himself! How awesome is that?! And check out the adorable cover:
To win a copy of The Little Stormdancer, as well as a copy of The Hobbit, simply comment below and tell us about your experience with The Hobbit! Have you read and loved it? How did it influence you? Are you excited about the movie? What are your middle grade memories?
For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.
This giveaway begins now and ends next Tuesday, May 29 at 5:00 p.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is international.
EDITED 5/29: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner . . .
Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!
You can view previous Middle Grade Memories posts below: