by Carrie Biermann
Author’s Notes: This is very bare-bones; not the fleshed-out piece I wanted it to be. It pleases me to remember my first days in Middle Earth, and so in their most rudimentary form, I share my impressions here. (I wrote this in 2004 or so.) This piece is rated G.
When I say I grew up in Middle Earth, I mean it sincerely.
It took me a while to find my way to the Golden Wood, journeying by way of Rivendell and, before it, the Shire. I have vacationed in Gondor and adventured in Rohan, and I have stumbled through the dangers of Mirkwood, the wilds of Ilithien, and across the jagged and dusty plains of Mordor.
But when I was a child, I began my time in Middle Earth in the Shire.
I cooled my toes and paddled about in the Brandywine while most hobbits were at afternoon tea, and loath to be near the Water. I skipped up and down Bagshot Row, getting chased out of the Gaffer’s garden for filching flowers to braid into crowns, or vegetables to crunch, only to be invited in for afternoon tea, dinner and supper and to be told story after story by the glowing fireside until I was drowsy over a cup of hot chocolate, and Bilbo and the Gaffer would carry me back up the hill to my guest bed in Bag End.
In fact, it was Bilbo who first found me, sitting under the Party Tree as I sketched Bag End in my doodle pad. I must have been a bit of a surprise, a skinny young child with wispy golden curls already taller than many hobbits, even at the age of eight. He didn’t surprise me, though – I had wanted, even expected him to come. He brought me to Bag End and offered me tea.
The day of Gandalf’s fated arrival, I was asleep in a camp bed, once more under the Party Tree, having wished, as I told Bilbo, “to see the stars from this side of the world.” When Bilbo left Bag End the next morning, chasing after the dwarves without so much as a pocket handkerchief, I giggled and ran along behind. That evening, I had at the ready three fresh, clean handkerchiefs from my father’s drawer, just in case our esteemed burglar should have need.
Gandalf knew I was there, although he never addressed me when the others were nearby. On occasion, he would simply smile down at me, pull my cloak a bit tighter about my shoulders, and pass me a sausage-and-tomato-filled pasty or a choice apple from Bombur’s pack. Thorin seemed to catch sight of me every now and then, but just as quickly would doubt his eyes and look away. (Later, Beorn would give me honey-cakes wrapped in thick brown paper, just for me to eat on my own.)
Rivendell was a warm, thick blanket at times, cozy and comforting, and at other times was grand and awe-inspiring. Elrond held a fascination for me with his deep wisdom and long acquaintance with Gandalf. Anyone the Grey Wanderer listened to, I listened to. It was as simple as that. I was sad to leave the Last Homely House, but knew more lay ahead that must be done. It was not for me to do, but for me to witness, and by watching, share what I had seen and heard and learned as we went.
Gollum’s cold lair frightened me, but I also felt pity for him – the same pity that Bilbo knew as he looked into Gollum’s hopeless, limpid eyes. Bilbo’s energy was almost a beacon in the dark, and it countered well the chill gleam of the golden ring. Gollum couldn’t see Bilbo when he wore the ring, but neither could he see little girls with golden curls. I left him to his cold fish and pillaging goblins.
The elves fascinated me as much as the spiders repulsed me. I was terribly proud of Bilbo for his heroics, then more so for his ingenuity in rescuing the dwarves from Thranduil’s dungeons. His name of Barrel-rider was well and truly won! I wished Bilbo a happy birthday, and gifted him my last honey-cake from Beorn, saved specially for him.
Meeting Smaug, I was very glad he couldn’t see, hear, or smell me as I perched on a fallen bit of stone above Bilbo as they conversed. Bilbo had most certainly come a long way, as had I, from the day we first left Bag End for the wider world. The mere sight of Smaug would have quickly frightened the earlier Bilbo away, crying for want of a much-needed handkerchief. But look at him now! His insight (and luck) and the help of a thrush brought him to an ominous place with an ominous foe – but Bilbo did well!
Bard I liked. He was a good man, brave and honest and strong, despite his grim exterior. I was glad he was able to overcome Smaug, whose calculating immensity was brought to nothing by the cleverness of Bilbo and the faithful service of the thrush. He deserved any reward that Thorin could give him, as did the people of Laketown, where I often ran about on the wooden decks above the lake’s surface, dropping bits of bread down between the slats to the fish below.
But Thorin was proud! His greed upset me, and the needless Battle of the Five Armies broke my heart. As an eagle bore me away from the fighting to safety, I cried into his feathers for the sadness below. He stood watch over me, high on the crags of the mountain, as I watched those I loved, dwarves, elves, men, and one small hobbit, fight over possessions which could enrich them all and more. When the dark army arrived and the eagles reinforced the defenders, I was glad they were finally fighting as one. But the cost! Gwynhir said that many would learn a horrible lesson that day. I looked down, and buried my head under his wing. He was right.
The journey home was almost a dream, leisurely in a way, and conducted more openly and with good company and cheer. For an eight year old curly-haired child, it was the adventure of a lifetime – one that would be repeated often, as Middle Earth was revisited many, many times in the future.
As I grew, so would my experience in Arda, and my knowledge of those I met. With maturity would come both learning and depth, and newly found friendships and opportunities.
I may write of these in the future, but I can never, ever forget my first journey into Middle Earth.
Don’t tell anyone, but Bilbo is still my favorite.