In the News: New York Times – The Hobbit… Space Opera?

by Nov 29, 1999Lord of the Rings (Movies)

Thanks to Dan for alerting us to this little bit of news from the New York Times about a book entitled There and Back Again by Max Merriwell, published this month. The book sounds intriguing, if a bit disconcerting–has anybody else out there been able to read this book yet? Email us.

Click here to get more info on the book from

Science Fiction

by Gerald Jonas

New York Times – November 28, 1999

I cannot imagine a less likely premise for a science fiction novel than turning J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy ”The Hobbit” into a space opera. Yet that is what Pat Murphy has set out to do in THERE AND
BACK AGAIN: By Max Merriwell (Tor/Tom Doherty, $24.95), and
the result, to my great surprise, is a delight. Bilbo, the hobbit whose story
Tolkien told, here becomes Bailey, a ”norbit” who makes his home in a
hollowed-out asteroid in a ”quiet little backwater” of the solar system,
where he scavenges metals and other minerals for a living. When he
stumbles on a disabled ”message pod,” he finds himself up to his ears in
adventure. Instead of the rambunctious dwarfs that accompanied Bilbo,
Bailey hooks up with a group of Farrs, representatives of ”the galaxy’s
largest, richest and most famous clone.” Bilbo’s tutelary wizard, Gandalf,
becomes Bailey’s Gitana, a one-eyed pirate with equally elusive habits.

I have no idea what anyone unacquainted with ”The Hobbit” would make
of this; I suspect it might work as an entertaining romp on its own. But
the fun for the rest of us is to see what Murphy has taken from Tolkien’s
original (which bears the subtitle ”There and Back Again”), what she has
ignored, and how she has transformed her borrowings. I wouldn’t dream
of revealing the secret treasure that Bailey discovers in place of Bilbo’s
ring or the galactic equivalent of Tolkien’s dragon. Suffice it to say that
Murphy knows when to pay homage to her inspiration and when to leave
it alone. She also leavens the mix with sly references to Lewis Carroll and
to Alfred Jarry, a precursor of the Theater of the Absurd.

As a longtime writer for the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s interactive
science museum, Murphy can make even far-out scientific concepts —
like the cosmic ”wormholes” that provide faster-than-light shortcuts
through interstellar space — sound comprehensible. Best of all, her
deceptively casual Tolkienesque prose is a pleasure to read: ”But Bailey
wasn’t listening anymore. It seemed to him that he had just passed an
important turning point. He had decided, for better or worse, not to go
home just yet.”

A point of information: Pat Murphy recently decided to create an
authorial alter ego named Max Merriwell, and this fictional personage is
also listed on the title page as the putative author of ”There and Back
Again.” If this stratagem helped her get into the mood to write this book,
we can only be grateful while we anticipate what she will do with ”The
Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien’s three-volume heroic romance for which
”The Hobbit” turned out to be prologue.


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