The Greatest Thing Ever Written (by someone other than me…)

“What manner of creature is a hobbit? What is the nature of the hole in which he dwells?”

Bear with me here for a second, because the context for this is a bit circuitous.

Now, popular England actor Bernard Cribbins recently died. I have to admit that, growing up in Canada, I don’t have much knowledge of popular English actors, I hadn’t heard of Bernard Cribbins before.

However, there is a not-insubstantial overlap between “Tolkien readers” and “British people”, so the news of Bernard Cribbins dying was a fairly big deal in the Tolkien-related circles on the Internet, thanks in part to the fact that he was part of a group of actors who did a multi-episode dramatic reading of The Hobbit on a BBC show called Jackanory (which, again, I had not heard about before now).

Which, of course, brings me to The Hobbit, which has, I contend, one of the best opening lines every written, demonstrated here by the incomparable Andy Serkis:

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” is basically the perfect hook, because the reader is thinking “What manner of creature is a hobbit?” and “What is the nature of the hole in which he dwells?”

It’s also a brilliant misdirect, though it’s hard to appreciate at this point in Pop Culture history, because everyone knows what a hobbit is at this point.

But, like, imagine yourself back in 1937, reading the sentence “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”

You’d probably think the book is about to describe some sort of rodent or woodland animal — perhaps something like a marmot, or a badger, or a fox.

But, no.

A hobbit is, in fact, an English country gentleman. And his hole in the ground is basically your grandmother’s house.

It is an absolutely brilliant amount of information to unpack in the span of a few sentences and tells us basically everything we’ll ever need to know about hobbits.

So, clearly, Professor Tolkien did words good.


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