The missing original opening of The Hobbit


Had Bilbo Baggins not been so fond of cheese, none of the adventures celebrated in the great Sagas of the Shire would have happened, for Bilbo – but wait, let us approach this story as did Bilbo himself, step by step, not knowing the ending even as the beginning unfolded like the cover of Goldberry’s muffin basket which allowed the sweet smell of muffins to fill the afternoon air and dance lightly into the noses of those waiting so eagerly, among them our friend Bilbo who beyond all things wanted one of Goldberry’s Gorgonzola muffins and whose desire had led him to challenge Maalox the Orc, destroyer of villages, ravager of herds, lover of sheep, for the very last Gorgonzola muffin that the fair Goldberry would ever bake, for many were those who swore that should she bake another they would rise in their wrath and strike her down regardless of the sweetness of her blueberry muffins and the bowel-loosening properties of her bran muffins, and so the fair Goldberry had baked this last, this final, this ultimate Gorgonzola muffin over which the valiant Bilbo Baggins, gentleman hobbit of the Shire, and Maalox the foul Orc, reeking of the decaying flesh of his victims and smelling almost as emphatic as the Gorgonzola muffin itself, faced each other, weapons drawn, for Bilbo had brought along his famous sword Sting, the weapon with which he had struck down dragons and giant spiders and other denizens of Middle Earth, while Maalox the Orc clutched his hideous fourteen-foot battle spike, bristling with sharp blades and jagged metal teeth that were rumored to have been cured in the blood of Shelob the Spider and therefore carried wicked poisons in the flakes of rust that adorned the monstrous spike and rained off as Maalox braced his feet and swung the repugnant spike at the limber hobbit while Goldberry put her pretty white hands to her pretty pink cheeks and shrieked like a macaw and Bilbo, leaving Sting resting in its jeweled scabbard, ducked to evade the Orc’s swing and in ducking reached out his hand and stole the Gorgonzola muffin while his other hand slipped the Ring onto his finger, the Ring that made him invisible to all save the Eye of Sauron in his evil Lair of Doom under the volcano which was also called Doom but which had never before seen (we speak of the Eye of Sauron here, and not the volcano called Doom) had never before seen, I say, Gorgonzola muffins made by Goldberry, delicately browned along their domed tops and mottled with the odoriferous cheese which had bubbled and melted during the baking process, producing the smell which the Eye of Sauron could only imagine since it was, after all, the Eye of Sauron and not the Nose of Sauron, but the Nose of Maalox the Orc was drippingly present in the crowded little bakery and paraphernalia shop where Goldberry sold her wares, and so Maalox the Orc could track the whereabouts of the Gorgonzola muffin and hence of Bilbo himself, so that with a grunt he swung his butt-ugly battle spike a second time and once again missed the agile hobbit, who had bitten a large hunk from the Gorgonzola muffin and taunted Maalox the Orc with the sounds of chewing and swallowing and the smacking of lips until Maalox bellowed like one possessed and swung a third time and impaled the remaining part of the muffin, ripping it from Bilbo’s hand and into visibility again, and before any other mishap could occur, Maalox crammed the Gorgonzola muffin into his foetid, ragged, cavity-ridden mouth and swallowed it, not knowing that as he did so he also swallowed the One Ring which had been ripped from Bilbo’s finger by the force of Maalox’s swing and which gave Maalox such a tremendous tummy ache that he ran howling from Goldberry’s Bakery and Head Shop and Bilbo, bereft of muffin and Ring both, gave chase, leaving the Shire far behind and initiating the celebrated adventures heretofore referenced.


The agony of ending a book

Back in 2010 I was sweating out a major revision of the book that became Mapping Winter. The conclusion fought me every step of the way, so I finally bought myself a week in a cabin in the mountains above Forestville and fought it out with the book, mano a mano. I posted this on August 19, 2010, in the late, lamented site

I hate ending books. I hate ending books. I hate it, I hate it, it’s horrible, I hate it, it sucks.

They don’t want to end. This one doesn’t want to end. They become jigsaw puzzles, with all the weird pieces shaped like New Hampshire sticking out and they won’t go in and all the people shut up and won’t say squat except when they say, “You want me to go over here. Okay. No problem. I’ll go over here. Great. What’s that? What do I think about it? Buzz off, sister, you think I’m going to tell you?” So I explain that that is why I am writing the book, to say what so‑and‑so thinks about it, what’s going on in her head, what his stomach feels like right about now, now that it is all coming together, now that the book is drawing to a close, now that our journey together is ending. Are they convinced? Hah!

Listen, I say to them, we have come a long, long way together, you and I. We started a long time ago, and we have had many adventures, only some of which have made it into the book. We have a history here. And see, I have the plot lines gathered together, they are coming together here, New Hampshire is morphing into a banana which just fits that banana‑shaped hole right over there, see? Isn’t that nifty? What do you think of that? And the book says, “First, your metaphors are a mess and, second, what about that sub‑plot you introduced in Chapter 5, eh? The one you made a big fuss about and now where is it? Ummmm? You think you can end this book without taking care of that?”

I’ve fixed the holes. I’ve gathered up the ends. I have shaped the jigsaw. I don’t give a damn about the metaphors. I can literary it up later, but right now I want the stupid thing to end. And it won’t do it.

I creep in, stake in hand, down the twisting stairs of the castle, it’s midnight, the moon is dark, the dungeon is dark, it is dark and damp and creepy and I will kill the goddamned thing, I will close this book if it’s the last thing I do upon the face of the earth, and I raise the lid of the coffin and I position the stake and I raise the hammer, I lift it up, I raise the hammer to strike the single fatal blow, I have it by the metaphorical or allegorical throat and I am prepared, I am poised, I am ready to finish the book! I raise it high, the hammer, and I balance it, and I bring it down, and ‑‑ the goddamned thing escapes me, and stands jeering on the far side of the room, screaming, “I want to live! I want to live!” But it has nowhere to go, the story is over, the plot is resolved, so why can’t I just end the book?

Deep breath. Deep breath. What are you, a writer or a mouse? Deep breath. Tap <Enter> twice, <Indent> once. Press down on the <Shift> key. Ready? Deep breath.

And then a bear ate them up and they lived happily ever after.

Crap. I’m going to watch Star Wars.