There and Back Again, or, How I Got Scared Into Science Fiction

Science Fiction is one of the great loves of my life. I have spent some thirty odd years reading, critiquing, discussing, collecting, watching and dreaming it (I won’t talk about writing it, at least not yet). I cannot now clearly remember my life before SF and most certainly cannot imagine my life without it. If you are on this site, reading this blog, you are probably as obsessed with SF as I am. As my inaugural post for Amazing Stories I thought I might share how Science Fiction came to colonize such a large part of my life (and house).

By the time this is posted, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again will have been showing in theatres for a month or more. There will be thousands of posts about the movie, the book, reactions to same, how much either and both mean to the author, etc and I thought I would add to the pile. The Hobbit is, in retrospect, the book that has had the greatest impact on my life. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for Bilbo & Co. You see, The Hobbit scared me into Science Fiction.

Yes. Scared me into Science Fiction.

When I was young, my parents would send my sister and I to live with my father’s brother and his wife for a few weeks during the summer. My uncle and aunt were (are) pretty cool and they had all kinds of stuff that fascinated my young mind. One summer when I was 10 or 12, my sister and I were staying there, sleeping in the spare room. For whatever reason, they had propped a rather large, oddly shaped book against the closet door.

The cover of that book scared the crap out of me.

Cover for the deluxe illustrated hardcover edition of The Hobbit
Cover for the deluxe illustrated hardcover edition of The Hobbit

Night after night I could not help but stare at it in the darkening gloom. Who were these windswept men trapped on a bare mountain side? What was that scary looking dragon going to do to them? Were they going to fall off the cliff? Were they going to be eaten by the dragon? That poor pony! What, or who, was The Hobbit? The word sounded strange, mysterious and considering the scary looking cover, not a little bit frightening.

It took me almost a whole week before I got up enough courage to ask my aunt what that scary book was. Those were the words I used. Scary book. It was, she said “The Hobbit” (which did nothing to dispel the sense of mortal terror I had managed to conjure up around it) and she agreed to read it to my sister and I as a bed time story.

After the first night, I realized that it wasn’t some adult horror book, but a pretty cool children’s book which wasn’t scary at all (except when it was; I still get freaked out by the idea of giant arboreal spiders). I was hooked. I devoured the whole book in two days. I still made my aunt read to us before bed though.

I was so engrossed by The Hobbit I demanded more. My uncle had a set of The Lord of the Rings and, precocious me, I delved into those as well. Granted, most of it went over my 12 year old head, but it was enough to open the vistas of Middle Earth wide in my mind. I read it again when I was 14, again when I was 16 and then about every two years until I was through university.

After The Hobbit I devoured Narnia, Pern, Amber, Xanth and so on, never looking back. Pern was what moved me over to Science Fiction proper. Somewhere along the way, I lost my taste for Fantasy; it was probably all the Tolkien rip-offs that did it. I spent a solid twenty years reading SF exclusively (non-scholastic fiction reading that is). I never did lose my love of Tolkien, though. I have studied the 12 volume History of Middle Earth as if it were gospel (it is), and to this day The Silmarillion remains my absolute most favourite book. I read it once a year. It is also one of the reasons why I have a double major BA in English Literature and Religious Studies. I will maintain unto death that The Silmarillion is a holy book.

Science Fiction may take up a whole wall of my library, and Fantasy a scant few shelves (mostly Tolkien), but it was that weird looking book who’s cover scared the crap out of me for night after night that started it all.

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