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Letters About Literature National Winners 2013

National Honor Winner, Level 2: Elizabeth Chambers

Dear Mr. Tolkien,

Your extraordinary and literally out-of-this-world novel, The Hobbit, has changed my perspective on the importance and power of change, the importance of being open to new and difficult challenges, and has shown me my inborn courage and confidence to be adventurous. The first time I read your book, I smiled at the last sentence on the 287th page, and I knew this was a book that I would read again and again. Years after I first read it-my mother's own childhood copy that was the seventieth edition published in 1978, which has now lovingly been passed on to me-I still imagine my bedroom as a Hobbit-hole, my backyard as Mirkwood, and my dog as the scaly, cunning dragon Smaug.

During the summer, while at my family's cabin in the woods, I often curl up on the couch with a blanket and a book, immersing myself in a new stack from the library, but always going back to the The Hobbit. My younger brother Oliver would call to me, "C'mon, E! Let's go down to the lake!" I would shake my head and nestle deeper in the paperback world. Your book taught me the simple choice of unexpectedly stepping out your door and running down the path, just like Bilbo Baggins, instigates an adventure. After reading your book, when my brother called to me to go to outside, I smiled and ran out after him, letting the screen door slam, not bothering with socks or shoes. Flying over the moist soil and dry, scratchy pine needles, and then later trailing our feet in the fresh waters of the lake, I would laugh and say to Oliver "We're like Hobbits, running around barefoot in the mushrooms with our big, hairy feet!"

The summer I turned thirteen, I climbed Fremont Peak with my family.  (Fremont Peak is the third tallest mountain in Wyoming, thrusting itself up on the backbone of North America, with an elevation of 13,745 feet.) For eight years my uncle had taken my cousins, brother, and me on various backpacking adventures to prepare us for the final climb. In all my musings of climbing the mountain, I imagined, like in The Hobbit, a flame spewing, gold-lusting dragon living within the caverns of the mountain. I could see in my mind the endless halls and grand, spiraling staircases carved in the granite by stout, bearded dwarves. Most vividly of all, your book helped me visualize myself summiting the mountain, defying my internal urge to stay safely at home with my second breakfasts and soft, comfortable bed, and instead going on a life-changing adventure.

At 5:00 a.m., the star-studded sky stretching above Fremont Peak was on the verge of sunrise. As my cousins and I lay curled up in our down-sleeping bags, as snug as if we were in our own warm Hobbit-holes, our uncle zipped open the tent door and stuck his head in. "Did you hear that?" he had said, "That great big noise? That was the crack of dawn!" Reluctantly, I peeled myself off the floor of the tent and crawled out in to the dark, cold morning. After four hours of strenuous scrambling up boulder fields and clinging to the cracks and crevices of immense slabs of gray-streaked granite, panting in the thin, high-altitude air, we found ourselves within reach of the top. The diluted blue sky was almost tangible above us as I grunted-muscles burning and protesting, my pack dragging me earthwards-and clambered onto the summit. The tiny, orange fleck of our tent was the only sign of our camp 3,000 dizzying feet below. After a deep, emotionally satisfying breath, I grasped a small, grey-blue chunk of mixed quartz and granite between my gloved fingers, and smiling in the face of victory, shouted, "Behold! The Arkenstone!" I packed my treasure seventeen miles out of the mountains, homeward bound, in the top of my thirty pound pack. To this day the stone rests in a place of honor on my book shelf, not far from my yellowed, creased copy of The Hobbit.

A mere six days after my summit of Fremont Peak, my family moved to Jackson, Wyoming, and I found myself staring wide-eyed at the first day of eighth grade in a new school. Always very shy and acutely aware of myself around others, the prospect of being the new kid was almost overwhelming. But I recalled Bilbo's struggle when a company of dwarves stormed his home and counted on him to join their adventure, and Bilbo's replying yes. I was already signed up for the adventure, and all I had to do was keep dodging the trolls and goblins to find my gold. With clammy, sweating palms I found a seat in my first class. I turned to introduce myself to the girl sitting in the chair in front of me, took a deep breath, nodding at the book under her chair, and said "What are you reading?"

Every day-during important moments and trivial ones-the world of Middle Earth that you created seems to be so alive and real to me that I feel like I can step in and out of it at will. It is a living, breathing part of me. It is alive my thoughts, my morals, my pleasures, and my aspirations. As I sit at my desk before a stack of homework, I say to myself in my best imitation of Gollum, "Nasty little homeworkses. We hates them! Gollum." When I snatch a pinecone from the forest floor to hurl at a distant outcropping of rock, I imagine it bursts into flame from Gandalfs staff.

Your words and ideas gave me the confidence to climb a mountain, to survive middle school, and to be confident in my success; you words opened my mind to the wonderful effects of adventures. I thank you for what The Hobbit has given me; an expanded scope of imagination, and the ability to find enjoyment in changes and challenges instead of shying away from them.

With utmost sincerity,

Elizabeth Chambers