THERE AND BACK AGAIN,
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Over the years, numerous authors have taken their inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Almost invariably, this results in yet another massive fantasy sequence, rarely up to the standards of world-building, characterization and quality of Tolkien’s work. Pat Murphy’s There and Back Again, by Max Merriwell, is one of the more interesting novels inspired by Tolkien’s writing. Rather than another fantastic reworking of Tolkien’s themes, Murphy has rewritten The Hobbit as a space opera.
Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from the Shire, becomes Benton Bailey, a norbit from the asteroid belt. Gandalf the Wizard becomes Gitana the ‘paraphysician and the dwarves are turned into a family of clones. Murphy sends the party on an adventure that mirrors The Hobbit on a nearly chapter-by-chapter basis (There and Back Again is one chapter shorter than The Hobbit). However, this is not a case of plagiarism. Murphy carefully has set her adventure in a space operatic setting with science fictional rationales behind all the foes Bailey and company meet. In addition, she introduces scientific and pseudo-scientific theories into the novel.
Although not marketed as a juvenile, as The Hobbit was, there are parts of There and Back Again which have a tendency to read as if they were a juvenile. While this occurs rarely, it is so out of character with the general tone of the novel that it causes the reader to temporarily suspend their suspension of disbelief. However, Murphy’s prose is generally smooth enough that the reader is quickly returned to the novel.
Not content to pay tribute only to Tolkien, Murphy also acknowledges Lewis Carroll, whose poem “The Hunting of the Snark” provides not only the epigrams for the chapters, but also the background for the Boojum, Murphy’s version of the dragon Smaug.
There and Back Again is not, of course, the classic that The Hobbit is, nor, given its derivative nature, should it be. Furthermore, Murphy has demonstrated her skill with original material several times in the past with novels such as The Falling Woman and stories like “Rachel in Love.” What There and Back Again is, however, is a fun and different take on Tolkien’s classic which will appeal to fans of The Hobbit, and doesn’t that include just about all SF fans?There and Back Again is only the first novel of a series of tribute novels Murphy is writing. It will be interesting to see if the future volumes pick up themes introduced in There and Back Again or stand on their own. The next novel in the sequence will be Wild Angels, by Mary Maxwell, by Max Merriwell, a retelling of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes.
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