Tuesday, September 16, 2008

30 years - there and back again

What a posting to make on a Tuesday! Thirty years ago was 1978. Wow. At work we had gotten our new system running - it had ONE 50 megabyte hard drive! It was as big as an end-table. In 2008 the typical home computer has 1 gigabyte (20 times larger) "central" or working memory, and you can buy hard drives 20,000 times larger (a terabyte) right in the stores. Amazing. Of course that machine did stuff no typical PC can do, but that's progress. I had written the program to translate the programs and files from the "old" machines into the new one, it was lots of fun. And you can't get that sort of software off the internet, either! But that's also "progress". (Or, as we would read from WATCHER, Conspici Quam Prodesse. More on that another time.)

And it was in August 1978 that I had been to the annual fraternity meeting, and stayed up late with some new friends, talking about all kinds of things - one of the topics was a certain book, or set of books, by a man named J. R. R. Tolkien. I had heard of those books some years before, and had felt a certain hesitancy to read them.... Now, however, after the conversations, I decided I would check into them.

So I got the first one, The Hobbit. I didn't know the word "hobbit" and thought it was probably going to be very strange, with odd little pixie creatures, but started reading anyway. But there were no pixies. A hole in the ground... Bilbo Baggins, what a stupid name... lots of food, that's great. Ah, Gandalf! a wizard! Cool. smoke rings, bla bla. And then, about three pages in, I got caught.

Oh, really, Doctor? (you ask, quite doubtful of my sanity) What was it? The suspense? The thrill of the adventure? The misspelled "dwarves" and their musical instruments? The wizard? The dragon? The food? The silly song?

Oh, no, nothing like that. It was just a simple line, explaining how Bilbo would forget his appointments unless he made a note:
Gandalf. Tea. Wednesday.
Yes, that was it. I read that line and laughed! And then I knew I would like it. And I did.

And I liked the sequel, the vast scary and inspiring (but non-Hobbit-like) sequel in six "books" called The Lord of the Rings... but I will talk about that another day. For now, suffice it to say that I read The Hobbit for the first time, back in September 1978 - and I have just finished reading it again. This time I noticed that Tolkien did not here take the same meticulous detail with the moon as he does in LotR, but that is easy enough to overlook - so many people don't seem to pay attention to the moon these days! Hee hee. And it would have been easy enough to fix. I do know how hard it is to get all the details right when one is building one's "toy theatre". Ahem.

But I must I thank "CJ" and the others whose enthusiasm led me to enjoy this great book, and JRRT for writing it. It is a great debt, and if you have not read it, I hope you will - soon. I do think you will enjoy it.

I must also add just two token (hee hee) Chestertonian comments, starting with GKC's deep and very curious view of adventures:
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
[GKC ILN July 21 1906 CW27:242]
(Do you hear Bilbo and Gandalf there?)
Or the amazing Hobbit favourites "gold and green" which show up in this quote which strangely presages JRRT's Two Trees of Valinor:
"I was waiting for you," said Gregory. "Might I have a moment's conversation?"
"Certainly. About what?" asked Syme in a sort of weak wonder.
Gregory struck out with his stick at the lamp-post, and then at the tree.
"About this and this," he cried; "about order and anarchy. There is your precious order, that lean, iron lamp, ugly and barren; and there is anarchy, rich, living, reproducing itself - there is anarchy, splendid in green and gold."
"All the same," replied Syme patiently, "just at present you only see the tree by the light of the lamp. I wonder when you would ever see the lamp by the light of the tree."
[GKC The Man Who Was Thursday CW6:483]
Then there is this "Tuesday" thing. I almost forgot I had one more thing to mention. The word "Tuesday" does not appear on the first few pages, but it is to be understood from what Bilbo ought ot have written - yes, it was a Tuesday when it all started. So was the first scene of Harry Potter.

And so also was the first public scene of Jesus... the miracle of Cana was reported by St. John as happening on a Tuesday. [John 2:1] So I guess it may be a good thing to re-read GKC's "A Picture of Tuesday" [in CW14] if I want to get further into this matter.

But I must stop here. Shortly I shall proceed into a re-reading of the sequel, and then I will comment on that too.


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