The Sort of Book an Eleven-Year-Old Could Fall in Love With
The Children’s Book Review | August 17, 2016
When a Wizard Comes Knocking
An essay by Tone Almhjell, author of THORNGHOST
Obviously, I had to disregard the hairy feet, which were gross. Apart from that little detail, I was completely and utterly smitten with hobbits.
At the age of eleven, I had for the first time fallen in love with a book. The Lord of the Rings was wonderful in every way – the elves, the forests, the languages and history, the desperate quest – but the hobbits were by far the best part.
I had read plenty of stories with heroes before, like The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood. But the hobbits were different. They were short, like me. They liked cake and animals, like me. They got into trouble (especially Pippin, my favorite), very much like me. And they were ignored or ridiculed by all the important big people – which was what being eleven felt like most of the time.
Yet the fate of Middle-Earth depended on a hobbit. A wizard came knocking on his door, and suddenly he had been chosen for adventure. “I think that this task was appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.” Short and insignificant though he might seem, Frodo did something that no one else, however big and important, could do. He saved the world from Evil.
For someone equally short and insignificant, this proved rather inspiring.
Since there wasn’t much Evil to be found in my windswept little town in the middle of Norway, I went ahead and invented some. Undead monks under the flagstones in the churchyard. Viking ghosts in the hills by the road. Enemy submarines in the harbour. All to be defeated with the right sort of magic and/or strength of will.
Sometimes I terrified my friends with my stories, but still the games didn’t feel real enough. I thought I was ready for some real heroic action. Come on, I thought as I gazed up at the stars, waiting for some sign. Pick me! I’d make a really super chosen one!
In this I suspect I resembled all the eleven-year-olds who later waited for their acceptance letter from Hogwarts. I wanted the story to be true, and I wanted to be part of it.
No letters ever came, of course. Around the time I stopped being quite so short, I gave up on my aspirations to be chosen. But I didn’t stop wondering what I would do if a wizard came knocking on my door. Or in real life terms, what I would do if I ever needed to be brave.
Neither did I give up on fantasy literature, which I kept reading with the most serious joy. I began writing my own books, hoping to make them the sort an eleven-year-old could fall in love with. The themes of courage and doing what needed to be done became the bones of all my stories.
The more I learned about stories, both real and invented, the more it became clear to me that most heroes don’t fit into the chosen-one category. Some are determined, others reluctant. Some do it to save their loved ones, others to save themselves. Quite a few of them fail. It dawned on me that Frodo didn’t actually complete his task, not without the “help” of Gollum. I also realized that it didn’t matter. The most important heroic act isn’t dropping the ring into the fire of Mount Doom. It’s saying “I will do it.”
You see, a wizard comes knocking all the time. He may not have a pointy hat, and he can be hard to recognize. Because the wizard is all the times when we could make a difference. The kid in class who needs help with bullies, the neighbor who always looks so lonely, the man who has fallen over on the street.
Standing up to Evil can be equally hard, since Evil doesn’t come with snake-like features or fiery eyes. It may not even look like Evil at all at first glance. Things that seem Evil may not be, seen from a different point of view. The most common form of Evil isn’t a great enemy, it’s indifference. It takes a good deal of empathy, compassion, and training to use a moral compass.
I believe that stories are a crucial part of this training. I know a five-year-old who once intervened when his friends were picking on a boy in day care. He was scared they would pick on him instead, which they did, but he spoke up anyway. I asked what made him so brave. He shrugged. “They were mean, so I did what Spider-Man does.”
No one pointed at him and said “It’s up to you to stop this.” He did it because he had seen it done. By reading a story, he had learned the most important lesson for any hero: You don’t need to be chosen. You can choose yourself.
So, my dear fellow hobbits, hairy feet or no. Have some cake, hug your cats. And when the wizard shows up, be sure to let him in.
Written by Tone Almhjell
Publisher’s Synopsis: Fans of Gregor the Overlander and Five Kingdoms will love this alternate-realm fantasy full of heart-racing action.
Strange things are happening around Niklas Summerhill’s home. A green-eyed beast is killing animals in the woods, and the nightmares that have haunted Niklas since his mother died grow more terrifying with every night. When the beast turns out to be a troll brought to life from his own games, Niklas knows he has to stop it. With the help of his lynx companion, Secret, he finds the source of the magic: a portal to another world. But this realm, once the home of peaceful animals, is also in danger. The evil Sparrow King is hunting down the few survivors from a devastating war, and a dark, blood-thirsty plant is infecting the valley. Niklas must try to save both worlds. But first he has to uncover the truth about his mother’s last words: “I’m a Thornghost.”
From the author of The Twistrose Key comes a fantasy brimming with intriguing mystery, fast-paced action, and a cast of unforgettable human and animal characters.
Ages 10-12 | Publisher: Dial Books | 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-0803738973
About Tone Almhjell
Tone Almhjell received a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Oslo and worked as a journalist before deciding to write fiction full time. The Twistrose Key was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year and is an international bestseller. She lives in Oslo, Norway, with her two wonderfully stubborn kids. Follow her on Twitter at @tonealmhjell.