(this post originally appeared on our old blog, in a slightly different form)
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
In my continuing efforts to be a good parent, I read to my kids. Study after study points out that reading to children stimulates their cognitive abilities and aids the development of language, literacy and cements a better bond with their parents. These studies suggest starting early – while they’re still in the womb even – and continuing on until the late teenage years. So many studies. They could probably stop studying it now I think. I mean, how much more can they hope to learn? Anyway…
Of course, I started out with stuff I wanted to read, but over time kids form their own opinions and want to read “Goodnight, Gorilla” over and over again. And then it gets worse, when they discover terrible, kid-oriented fare. Then I end up reading “Pretty Kitten Princess Diaries”* over and over again. And then I die inside.
But, when my daughter was about nine years-old, I decided she was ready for some more sophisticated literature. Now, this kid is wicked smart and reads far above her grade, but I had yet to really get her hooked on anything I wanted to read to her. So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I broke out J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I was worried it wouldn’t resonate with her, that it would scare her, that she was too young to really get into it, that it would put her off fantasy novels – and I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up to my memory of it.
I shouldn’t have been concerned. Although I’d read it several times when I was younger, I had never read it out loud. Tolkien’s words read aloud with such character and tone that I found myself falling in love with the sound of the words. My daughter listened, attentive, but not fully immersed in the book, until I got to the first song. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Should I just read it as a poem, or dive into a hearty rendition? And what kind of rhythm should it have? I shrugged and dove into a slow, sung version of “Chip the Glasses and Crack the Plates!”. She stared and smiled. At the next song (“Far Over the Misty Mountains” I think), she really got into it. I was surprised and pleased.
To be honest, the songs never captivated me when I read them as a kid. As written works, they are integral to the flavor of the Tolkien stories, but didn’t draw me in. My daughter, however, was swept up by the songs, as much as the tale of wee Bilbo’s adventure. In fact, without the songs, she might have only half-listened as the story unfolded. They came at just the right moments for her temperament and they broke the story up in just the right way. Upon reflection, they pulled a ‘merely great’ book up to another level.
My daughter is lucky to have such a love for reading, for stories large and small. And I’m lucky to have such a good selection of stories to introduce to her, to share with her. It’s no surprise that good stories resonate with kids, that they deepen the bond between parent and child. What is a surprise is why certain stories strike a chord, while others just distract. As a writer, an editor and a parent I never would have guessed that it would be the verse that sparked in my child’s mind. What’s more surprising is how much more I enjoy The Hobbit now, than before I sang the songs out loud. Even now I can’t look at the words without the urge to sing them. Try it yourself, sometime. With or without a kid around.
I suppose it serves as an example of some kind. Probably not that I should sing in public! No. But it shows that you never know what element of story is missing, until you find it. You never really know where you’re going, until you get there.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
Patrick Jennings-Mapp is an editor and co-founder of Escape Collective Publishing, which is all fine and good. But you should really hear him sing; he missed his calling. If you leave a comment, or email him at patrick AT escapecollective DOT com, he will sing it out loud to himself. Perhaps someday he’ll release a CD of such recordings and finally realize his true destiny. But probably not.
*: I just Googled “ Pretty Kitten Princess Diaries” and am happy to report that it doesn’t exist. Yet!