For today’s challenge I’ve selected J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: or There and Back Again as the book that I’d most want to live in, but not for the reasons that may immediately come to mind. I really have no desire to live in a world of wizards and dragons, and hobbits with a dangerous wanderlust. In fact, I would have to say that I would only like to live in this book if I could somehow eliminate all of those things. What draws me to this book can be summed up in one word, one Danish word, hyggelig, a word for which we have no direct translation but should evoke images of warm fires, cozy blankets, comfortable chairs, and the familiarity of friends.
Maybe not the first time I read this book, since I was quite young when I did, but with every subsequent reading this book it has always seemed to be a book about home; the comfort, coziness, warmth, and familiarity of home. In fact, the book opens up with a line about that very thing,
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Even from my earliest readings of this book, the description of the hobbit-hole always drew me in, enticing me with images of a warm fire and a cozy nook near a big round window to curl up in to read.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats–the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill–The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it–and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the lefthand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.
That description always seemed to me to be the epitome of what home should be, a place of comfort and warmth, a welcoming place where friends gather, and conversations are had. I could easily imagine myself living there, the only difference that instead of a room for clothes, I would have a room for my books.
I know that for many this is first and foremost a fantasy and adventure book, but for me, the wild peregrinations of Bilbo Baggins merely serve to underscore the idea of home. The coziness and comfort of Bilbo’s hobbit-hole makes it a place that he longs to return to throughout the story, and the images of home balance, throughout the narrative, the other areas he travels to such as Thorin’s dwelling under the Lonely Mountain. In short, this is a book about home and how much we long for its comforts when we are away from it.
“Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that he wished that!
For me, my home holds a very important place. After spending much of my adult life satisfying my own wanderlust, I find that my home now truly represents the epicenter of my little family. It is a comfortable place filled with the things that make me smile; with photos that bring me warm memories, comfortable places to sit and read, and the walls lined with the books that are so much a part of me. I look forward to coming home whenever I am away from it, and there is nothing at all like the feeling of sitting in a comfortable chair, under a warm blanket, with a cup of tea and my book in the quiet of the late evening. There is also nothing quite like the feeling of a home filled with friends, and the comfort and ease that comes with familiarity. That feeling of hyggelig is one of the few things that keep me feeling sane and balanced in this crazy world.
In all the books I’ve ever read, there are certainly hundreds of places that I would love to visit, but to live in, I’ll take a peaceful hobbit-hole, my own cozy and comfortable little space carved into the hillside, to call home.
An Aside: When my nephew was about five years old, I read The Hobbit to him, and in order to really make it an experience, I pitched a tent in the back yard, and filled it with all kinds of “homey” and cozy items. We sat in there for several afternoons reading the book together, in our own little hobbit-hole. As soon as my daughter gets just a little older, I will definitely do the same with her.