Stan McDaniel

Tolkien and Language Research

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My Obsession with Tolkien

Some biographical reminiscences

Reading Hobbit I suppose everyone who loves Tolkien has his or her own story to tell about how, when, why and where the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were first encountered. In my case it was about 1940 when, at the age of nine, I discovered The Hobbit, original 1938 edition, in the Santa Barbara Public Library. I didn't know quite why then (later on I would say it was the overpowering numinosity of the tale), but after the first reading I read the book nonstop 20 more times. I translated the runes, copied the maps, and daringly I drew several of my own illustrations and pasted them in the library copy at the appropriate places -- I never found out what happened to them, but I was pretty good with pencil sketches and perhaps they stayed in the book for a time. (I remember one of them was of the barrels being pushed down into the river by the wood-elves.)

A couple of years later I was at a live-in summer camp and health spa (my parents sent me there because I was underweight), where I encountered a sympatico and intellectually acute young friend, named Barbara Soule. I did not have a copy of The Hobbit with me, but I told her the story in detail, omitting nothing, and was chagrined to hear her accuse me of having made up the story on the spot because "nobody could write anything as fantastic as that." It didn't occur to me to be flattered at the implication that I might have made up a story no one could possibly think of, but I set out instead to convince her that there really was such a book. Eventually, after the summer camp, I showed her the book and she became a true believer, while we became good friends and often did homework together (see graphic). (In a similar fashion we might have been reading The Hobbit together.)

What I didn't know consciously at the time, but perhaps sensed it in some unconscious way, was that The Hobbit had its roots deep in the soil of myth, archetypal imagery, and the true magic of language. As the years passed (and of course with the advent of The Lord of the Rings) I moved more and more into the realms of discourse where The Hobbit has its proper and exalted place. The essays in this section represent some of my results, as does The Letterseeker elsewhere on this site. And as a result of my labors of love, I was gratified when a few years ago the American Tolkien Society published "The Philosophical Etymology of Hobbit" and awarded me their Honorary Degree of "Doctor of Hobbit Letters," my most cherished diploma.

Stan McDaniel