I'm reading The Hobbit to my son before bedtime now, having gone to the library and bookstore and been completely bewildered at what a good book for my six year old would be. It seems like it'd be easy to find appropriately long and interesting books, but it's really not - at least not to me. So I went with an old standby to see how it would go over. It ended up working out pretty well - the story itself is interesting, filled with dwarves and wizards and elves, and the like, but Tolkien uses such long winded prose that my son usually ends up drifting off while I'm reading. It's a good balance... too boring, and he won't want me to read it again the next night, but too exciting and I'll get the constant requests for one more chapter and end up reading for over an hour before he goes to sleep.
Anyways, we're about to read the 5th chapter tonight (we've been able to make it about 1/2 a chapter a night for a few days now) and upon arriving at it, I realized it might just be one of the most incredible chapters ever written in any book, ever. "Riddles in the Dark" is the chapter where Bilbo has been separated from the Dwarves and is lost in the Goblin caves, finds The Ring, meets Gollum, has a riddle contest and escapes.
When Bilbo opened his eyes, he wondered if he had; for it was just as dark as with them shut. No one was anywhere near him. Just imagine his fright! He could hear nothing, see nothing, and he could feel nothing except the stone of the floor.
Very slowly he got up and groped about on all fours, till he touched the wall of the tunnel; but neither up nor down it could he find anything: nothing at all, no sign of goblins, no sign of dwarves. His head was swimming, and he was far from certain even of the direction they had been going in when he had his fall. He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.
Just look at those beginning paragraphs! So much more is to come, yet this chapter alone is a short story that could be read by itself and be considered one of the best ever written. I'm about to read this to my son for the first time. That's so cool.
Well, he'll still probably fall asleep before we get half way through it, but still it's the idea that makes me happy. And I get to use the Gollum voice too. My preciousssssss....