And read it she did … on the bus, in the bathtub, at the kitchen table during dinner. The very same night she brought it home from the book fair, I caught her reading it under her blanket with a flashlight well after midnight. I pretended to be upset with her for so blatantly disregarding her bedtime, especially on a school night, but hidden inside my standard “dad lecture” about getting enough sleep was a chewy center of excitement, pride, even envy. How could an 11-year-old girl possibly be expected to go to sleep when a wizard and his company of dwarves were trying to steal treasure guarded by a fearsome dragon? As if this weren’t enough, there was something about a magic ring, and a creature known as Gollum.
Like most people, I saw the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy several years ago, but I have often felt deprived that I did not read Tolkien as a youngster. I did not have any friends who had read his books, and no hip teachers to recommend him. Instead, we read tripe like The Cross And The Switchblade and other books intended to instill very specific values in us. I tended more toward Mad magazine books such as Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, as well as paperbacks about natural disasters, serial killers, or sports figures. Who needed wizards and hobbits when the real world offered up such unfathomable characters as Wilt Chamberlain and Charles Manson?
I had no idea what I had missed until much later, when college roommates would reminisce affectionately about the Tolkien books that had provided so much adventure and meaning in their childhoods. They were absolutely appalled that I could not connect with their experience because I had no frame of reference, having never read a word of Tolkien. I was like a child who had never seen the ocean, or tasted chocolate ice cream. They were incredulous.
My daughter finished reading The Hobbit in three days, dropping in every so often to offer an updated plot summary as well as a fragrant bouquet of adjectives to describe her bliss at having discovered this life-changing book.
“Dad, this is the most EPIC book ever!” she said.
“So I’ve heard,” I said, smiling.
“I mean, it is completely awesome and totally fantastic!” she said.
“I am glad you are enjoying it, babe,” I said.
“What I am trying to say is that it is rocking my freaking world!” she said.
“I can see that,” I said.
And I could. She could not, would not, must not stop talking about the book for the next several days. I had to find the right balance between encouraging her in her excitement and gently reminding her that other things and other people continued to exist right here in our own world. For example, her brother might like to participate in conversations in the car or at breakfast, and he was not quite old enough to read the book yet, so we would have to find time to talk about other things, at least occasionally.
While we turned to other, more mundane, matters, Kayden scoured the Internet looking for showtimes for the movie version of The Hobbit. I promised her we would see the movie the day after Christmas, but on Christmas morning when she woke up with a fever of 102 and we had to cancel our travel plans to see the family, I knew it would most likely be a few days before we could go.
As it turned out, the flu played dominos in our house, knocking us all down one at a time, further delaying the time when we would finally see the movie. It was sheer agony for Kayden, who had been imagining what the movie would be like day after interminable day.
Finally, she was able to go with her mother while I stayed home with her sick brother playing a baseball video game on the PlayStation, the two of us eating crackers and drinking soda. After several hours, they made it back home from their adventure, having slayed the flu dragon at last.
“Well?” I said. “Was it freaking awesome or what?”
“Dad, it melted my face off,” she said. “We have got to buy that movie when it comes out on DVD. What I mean is that we have GOT to buy it immediately. Mom and I already have a date for Christmas of 2013 when the next movie comes out. Did you know there was going to be another one?”
“I thought it was a possibility,” I said.
“How am I supposed to wait that long to see it?” she said. “Isn’t that just completely ridiculous? Well, isn’t it?”
I agreed that it was indeed ridiculous. I am no wizard, but I do foresee between now and then a lot of sleepless nights spent under the covers with a flashlight and a paperback, perhaps a tall stack of paperbacks, each one taking her on breathtaking new adventures, each one melting her face off, each one preparing her for those long, impassioned dorm room conversations just over the horizon.
I guess I had better get to work on some new fake lectures.