In order to improve my writing, I copied out first The Return of the King, then the first two books of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  That task completed last month, I went back again to the beginning and started copying out The Hobbit.

No sooner had I turned to the second page of that enchanting book’s first chapter than I wondered if Tolkien had influenced J.K. Rowling, finding a thematical parallel to the opening of the first Harry Potter Book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Indeed, in a May 2000 chat on AOL Live, Rowling acknowledged her love for The Hobbit

In the very first paragraph of the very first chapter of the very first book of the Potter books, Rowling begins:

<<Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.  They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.>>

The Dursleys sound mighty similar to a certain family of hobbits:

<<The Bagginses have lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or never did anything unexpected; you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.>>

One is “perfectly normal,” the other “quite respectable”.  And each had something neither normal nor quite respectful about them.  There was Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Dursley’s “sister and her good-for-nothing husband [who] were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be.”  And Bilbo’s mother “was the famous Belladonna Took,” one of whose ancestors was alleged to “have taken a fairy wife”; “there was something not entirely hobbitlike about them”.

Now, to be sure the stories take off in entirely different directions, but what Tolkien wrote about Bilbo could also be said about Mrs. Potter’s son Harry:  “This is the story of a how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.”

Both the hobbit and the boy went off and had an adventure.  Each found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.

Both authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling built worlds and told stories that have since they were first published enchanted countless individuals, not just boys and girls, but also men and women.  We read them today.  And re-read them.

And each started in an ordinary world with normal respectable people.

But it’s in the unexpected realm where the story lies.