I finished reading the Hobbit to my daughter a few weeks ago. It started out badly:
Me: I loved this book when I was a little boy, and I think you’re going to love it too. Now, (clears throat). In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit . . .
Sadie: Is there a girl in this book?
Me: Not . . . Maybe in Laketown? I don’t think so though. His subsequent works have girls. I mean, women. Eowyn kills a Nazgul!
Sadie: I want a book with a girl in it.
After some negotiation (I promised to read Pippi Longstocking afterwards: it was dreadful) we persevered and the book was mostly enjoyed. It is a very uneven work. It starts out as an episodic children’s book with various playful narrative asides, like the C S Lewis books, and ends with the extended sequence on the Lonely Mountain with a far more adult tone. My daughter’s favourite thing about it was the map, and every few pages we would stop and check where Bilbo was on it. I remember also being delighted with the map when I read this book as a child. But which book had the first ever fictional map in it? I’ve looked on the internet and I can’t find out. People seem to think it was a Victorian thing. Stephenson, maybe?
Now we’re on to Five on a Treasure Island. It is fashionable to sneer at Enid Blyton, and okay yes it has dated badly in some respects, and there is a character called ‘Dick’ which leads to many amusing sentences. But in narrative terms it is possibly the best children’s novel I have ever read. You could teach a course on novel-writing using this book. Also, George’s refusal to conform to gender norms reads as very progressive today; Blyton anticipates Judith Butler.