For the first time since junior high I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien: Houghton Mifflin, 1978, 2nd ed).  In preparation for this momentous undertaking I purchased a cheap boxed set at the local Half-Price Books, suitable for making copious notes in the margins without troubling my conscious over the unspoilt whiteness of page borders.  This was well, for I have made notes as copiously as I feared.

 

When I was in junior high, of course, I was not struck by the oddity of Tolkien’s Prologue at the beginning of the Fellowship.  It is a great joke now to go back and re-read this benignly straight-faced, scholarly summary of the customs and history of Hobbits.  From the first reference to the Red Book to the last hypothesis regarding the chronology and provenance of the last Red Book copy, Tolkien spares no pains to make his academic prologue as respectable as possible.

 

I do not find the account to be quite dull, although I already know most of the information about Hobbits… I think the narrator’s charming, naïve, persistent assumption that his reader is interested in Hobbits as a piece of obscure but creditable history, is humorous enough to hold the attention of anyone with a stomach for a bit of academic spoofery.  But I wonder whether Tolkien might have a very dry side of academic scholarship in mind when he writes of the Hobbits’ passion for genealogies, and the fact that “all but Hobbits would find them exceedingly dull.  Hobbits delighted in such things, if they were accurate:  they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions” (17).

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