Students: The Hobbit Habit

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Boo the Villain. Tolkien himself denies that there is any "inner meaning or message" in the Ring cycle, and many students take on a muzzy, Middle-earth look when they try to explain its appeal. To some, it is a poetic portrayal of the times, with Sauron and his destructive threat seen as an analogy to atomic war. For others, the Frodo saga represents a way to escape the mundane realities of life. "I'd like to live in the hobbit world because this world is so foul," says Marilyn Nulman, who works at the Harvard bookstore. Another enthusiast likes the Rings' old-fashioned moral simplicity: "You cheer the hero and boo the villain." Whatever the reasons, Frodo seems here to stay. As one mother put it when she bought the trilogy for her freshman daughter, "Going to college without Tolkien is like going without sneakers."

* Out of loyalty to the author, true-blue Rings fanciers ignore the edition published by Ace Books, Inc., which was not authorized by Tolkien, and favor instead the version brought out by Ballantine Books and personally approved by him.

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