Friday, October 6, 2017

Writing Exercise #16: Starting where Tolkien started

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

There comes a time in every project when I grow genuinely concerned that if I don't tell my story fast enough, someone else will tell it first. It doesn't matter how bizarre my story is, how far-fetched, how uniquely me it is, I know that at some point I will encounter this insecurity.

The truth of the matter is, it's not possible. And today, I'm going to prove it to you.

JRR Tolkien was grading exam papers when he was inspired by a blank sheet of paper. He grabbed it and scratched out the words running through his head:

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

Professor Tolkien had no idea what a hobbit was, but he was determined to find out. As a result of Tolkien's curiosity and dedication to his fictional creature, we have one of the greatest literary works of all time: The Lord of the Rings.

But, what if that sentence ran through your head?

No, seriously. Stick with me for a sec. What if you were helping a neighbor carry groceries into the house, and there, upon the ground, you spotted a stick of chalk? What if you scooped it up--after gently setting aside the neighbor's eggs, of course--and scribbled those same words furiously on the pavement?

Would this mysterious word hobbit capture you? Would it demand you puzzle out its story?

For today's exercise, let's say it does. Let's say that simple, silly sentence flies like a nazgul through your brain and you simply must work out what it means.



Your job

In the comments section:

1. Create a hobbit. Your hobbit shouldn't be anything like Frodo or Sam. In fact, put the entire Lord of the Rings epic out of your mind. Your hobbit is yours and yours alone. Describe it to us. Maybe give it a name.

2. Answer the question: Why does it live in the ground? Does the hobbit like its living arrangements? Do all hobbits live in a hole in the ground?

Today, we're just breathing life into a fantastical creature and its living place. Over the next few Fridays we're going to revisit these hobbits. They're going to help us prove that even stolen sentences lead to unknown adventures. Adventures that are as different as the writers who pen them.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!


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59 comments:

  1. I've never read The Lord of the Rings or watched the movies, so I should be able to create a whole new character pretty easily. :D

    ***

    My hobbit is short, only one foot tall. He has a pointed nose and oily skin. His red hair is in tufts upon his head and he eats bugs and grass. His home underground is pretty much like a little house for a hobbit. The walls are dried mud and door inside is wooden. A single light bulb lights up the whole place. His name is Copernicus.

    Copernicus loves living underground. Not all hobbits are underground hobbits, though. Some live in trees. Some live in the open. Others live in logs. Copernicus lives underground because he likes the cool, damp mud and the smell of dirt.

    ***

    Hopefully I did this right. Thanks for this awesome exercise. :D

    ~Ivie
    iviebrooks.blogspot.com

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    1. Oops, I mean, iviewrites.blogspot.com
      I put the wrong website. XD

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    2. This is really good! Thanks for sharing, Ivie 😁

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    3. Thanks, y'all. I was hoping I did okay. :D

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    4. That actually sounds warm and cozy! :)

      -Ann

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    5. I like this, Ivie! Very nice :)

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  2. Hi all! This is very strange (not what I usually write AT ALL) and quite long but...here goes!

    *****

    In a hole in the ground, there lives a hobbit.

    He is a small, pathetic creature, one that appears to be half cat and half fox. His fur is matted, his eyes dulled by the overall discouragement of his short life of only three months. After being presented to Guinevere Wilkes, the banker's daughter, for her fifth birthday, the poor little hobbit's unusually large ears became its undoing.

    These oversized ears, carefully bread to give the creature a playful, inquisitive appearance, also provide the hobbit with incredibly sensitive hearing. This, coupled with the hobbit's timid nature and shrill, shrieking cries, quickly lead to its eviction from the house of the Wilkeses.

    After scouring the small hamlet of Walnutdale, searching desperately for a new home, a new life but receiving nothing but the scorn of the townspeople, the hobbit gave up. He slunk out of town, bushy red tail between his trembling legs, and found a hole in which he could make a home. It wasn't a particularly nice hole, barely enough for a hobbit to fit into comfortably, and filled with half an inch of muddied rainwater, but it was all that he could find.

    If you were to stop just outside of Walnutdale today, you might happen upon this small hobbit. Maybe, if it was late enough in the afternoon that you had nothing else to do, you would stop and stare at this animal oddity, this breeding experiment gone wrong. Maybe, if you were of the generous sort, you would offer him a piece of licorice candy--his favorite.

    But, if you truly wanted to make this hobbit happy, you would take courage, run to the pet store for the necessities, return to the hole, and take the poor hobbit home. You would give him what we all deserve.

    A second chance.

    *****

    Thanks for the exercise, Shannon. I had fun!

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    1. Super fun, Taylor! Good job. Poor little guy.

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    2. Thank you! I had a great time writing this.

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    3. Wow, I love the little details and your fun voice!

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    4. Thank you, Olivia! Yours was really good, too 😁

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    5. I feel so awful for this guy! *goes into a corner and cries a bit*

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    6. I know! So did I! I want to adopt him.

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    7. Take him home! Take him HOME! Poor little bean!!!!! <3 :'(

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    8. I WANT TO...but I can't find him ;)

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    9. Oh dear. I hope you've come up with a happy ending and licorice candy for him! I just want to hug him. :(

      -Ann

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    10. Oh, yes. I adopted him (in my imagination) and gave him a whole bowl of licorice!

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    11. @Taylor Bennett - Oh no!!!! We must find him at once!

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  3. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. The last of a dying legend, she slept. Every breath huffed smoldering hot from a deep chest through flaring nostrils on a long tapered nose. Her scales were a shimmering silver and ridged at the edges. They scraped against the stone and sparked against her armor.
    In legends barely recalled, she was named by some unicorn, others dragon. The name hobbit did not inspire fear; no one would call her by her real name.
    Her double eyelids slit open at a dream that troubled her. She shifted her scaly legs in the water and gushed steam. The pressure popped and released, and the water that trickled down to drown her now fled to the surface. Most called it a geyser, but those that remembered called it a hobbit’s nightmare.
    To the questions: The hobbit lives in the ground because she has given up on being appreciated by humanity and instead hides from it. She is not happy with her living arrangements. She doesn’t know what has become of the other hobbits. They might live in the ground, too, but she isn’t sure.

    Strange... and kind of depressing. I'm finishing reading the Lord of the Rings now, and I wanted to aim as far away from Tolkien's hobbit as I could.
    One of my most anticipated future stories stemmed from a bizarre daydream, so I'm glad I let it linger in my head. Thanks for the exercise, Mrs. Dittemore!

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    1. This is amazing, Olivia! I was really able to picture your hobbit. I've never read Lord of the Rings, so this wasn't too hard for me. But This was brilliant. Much better than mine. :D

      ~Ivie
      iviewrites.blogspot.com

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    2. Thank you so much, Ivie! Looking back on it, I think it turned out well, considering how boring the idea felt in the writing.
      I've been meaning to ask you if you would be interested in a critique exchange. I need to do some more plot revisions on my alternate history novel before I'll be ready for a preliminary critique, but I figured I might as well explore some possibilities. You've mentioned on here that you are working on finding readers. You write a speculative fiction subgenre, correct?

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    3. Nice word pictures here. Great job! But so sad. :(

      -Ann

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    4. Beautiful, bittersweet writing!

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    5. Thank you, everyone!

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  4. In a hole under the ground there lived a hobbit. A hobbit, if you’re wondering, is nothing more than a rare rabbit. It must have gotten its name from a rather uncreative child who tried to say “hop it” but had his mouth full of food and it came out wrong. But in any case, the name stuck and the breed became known as hobbits. This particular hobbit, by the name of Mudsplat (an unfortunate name, I know), is the last of his kind.

    Now, he hated the hole, but when one is the last of its kind, one learns to live with discomfort for the sake of survival. He often came out at night to creep about and find food, but for the most part he remained a recluse. His only friend was a small squirrel, named Wufflenose, who often came by for a cup of tea and a berry mash. They would spend their time going over the latest forest news, about which Mudsplat would give his unmatched opinion (because one who knows nothing of the real world is obviously the best at giving advice on pressing matters).

    When Wufflenose went onto the next beast to gossip, Mudsplat would curl up and sing miserable songs to himself until he fell asleep.

    And thus he would spend his days. A tiresome, boring life for many, but his grouchiness found it excellent. He never did dream of glorious adventures or bothering to leave his wretched hole.

    **

    This was fun! It was a bit tough to wander from Tolkien's realm, but it was cool once I did.

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    1. Very cool! Liking Mudsplat already. Why is he the last of his kind? Side note: Strangly enough, my story/description thing also includes squirrels and tea.

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    2. Ha, love this! Great humor and I'd definitely want to hear more.

      -Ann

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  5. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. It's whiskers were copper, and so was its fur. but its eyes were grey; grey like ashes, iron, and steel. It was unusually and outgoing for its race, which is a naturally wary and independent people.
    The hobbit was in a humanlike shape and had a human level of intelligance, but was covered with thin, short fur all over its body. It was thicker and more bristly on the soles of its feet, and finer on its face. Its hole in the ground was not unlike a large, nicely furnished, one-room cabin- except that it was underground, and everything was made from stone.

    That was fun! It took a bit to find the right hobbit, but once I did, it was easy.
    ~Mila

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  6. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. "Hobbit" was a word that had sprung up as Jordan and everyone around them went through a blended-words phrase. It was a mix of "hermit" and "hobo" that Jordan had originally found offensive, but now they just figured, why not? It fit their lifestyle well enough-- moving from town to town, never sure where they would be sleeping the next night.

    And tonight, it was a hole in the ground. A generous person might have called it a cave, but hobbits cannot be generous. They never have enough for themselves, let alone others. This tiny not-cave was all Jordan had. At least it would keep the rain away.

    **
    I thought, why not try something other than fantasy, and I like it! What do you all think?
    -novelistinthedark

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    1. Very interesting! I like how you applied this to a real-world scenario. Good job!

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    2. Really cool idea. Love the voice!

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  7. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Some people called him a "jackalope" instead, but some people were mistaken. This hobbit in particular was named Mr Fuzzles. This was a perfectly ordinary name for a hobbit, but so many people (and even other hobbits) laughed at it that eventually he started just going by Fuzz.
    Fuzz hated his hole. It was cramped and confined, with barely room to move his horns. He only ventured out for a few minutes a day, to get food. If he stayed outside the hole for much longer, he'd soon be spotted by some of those ignorant fools who called him a jackalope--but they weren't ignorant enough to not realize the magical properties his horns possessed. Or that the only way to remove a hobbit's horns was to kill them.
    It was far better to just stay in his hole.

    ((To me, "Hobbit" sounds like a magical kind of rabbit, so that's what I went for.))

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  8. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. At least that’s what my mother told me to prevent me from ever letting even the bushy tip of my tail touch the soggy earth below the trees.
    Now there are no trees, only holes. I pray to the leafmaker that hobbits are only a bogtale.
    Ona rubs her paw against a charred log, leaving a black mark on the grey fur. “Where do we go now?”
    I pull my bandana higher over my mouth and nose to keep out the ash. “Away from here.”
    She reaches up for my hand. She is so young, so small. How is she handling this better than me? “I’ve heard of squirrels that live in holes.” She rubs her face with her sooty hand with comical effect. “Twik, could we live in a hole?”
    An image from the bogtale scampers through my mind. A squirrel fell in the hobbit’s hole. The two glowing eyes shone brighter than the moon in the sky. They illuminated the great, dripping fangs.
    I shiver. “No holes, Ona.”
    The light fades, leaving a smudgy orange glow. Ona sleeps on my back, her little legs not used to walking on the ground. A howl shattered the eerie silence. My ears twitch but I don’t bother to pick up the pace this time. I mentally beat myself up. I have gone so callous about the danger signals that would have sent me scrambling Before. My nose is so caked with ash I cannot smell well anymore and I am so very, completely, undeniably tired.
    I sit down by the nearest tree and ease Ona to the ground, totally beat. Surely it won’t hurt to take a small rest.
    “Hello.”
    The voice is deep and throaty, with a strange accent. I jump up, frantically searching for a tree to climb, when I remember. I crouch over Ona, peering into the sooty greyness from which the voice came.
    A rich chuckle shattered the silence. An old man of the badgerkind hobbled into view, the feathers from his headdress shining green. How long has it been since I have seen green?
    “Do thee need assistance?” The old creature’s motioned toward Ona. “The little, she could sleep sounder with food.”
    I smile, relaxing my guard slightly. “The ‘little’ seems to be sleeping well enough without the help.”
    The creature wrinkles it’s face up into a toothless grin. “Nevertheless, I wish to help. It is not safe above in the afterflame.” Another howl rang out to prove his point. “Thou must follow me to my hole. It is not fl- fl-…” he seemed lost for words for a moment, “…fluzzy much like tree, but the little would be safe and warm.”
    Of course it had to be a hole. I look down at Ona. We do need food. I am feeling reckless. “Alright.” I pick up the sleeping girl in my arms. “Show me the hole.”

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    1. The hole is warm and slightly damp. The air is clearer than above, and the smell of scorched vegetation is replaced by the sharp unmistakable scent of the boglands. Ona is still curled up beside me, her tail moving as she dreams. I sip the tea the old badger gave me. Holes aren’t as bad as I thought. I watch the old creature shuffle around, seemingly reorganizing the foodstuff on his many shelves. He pricks his pointed ears at a hound’s bay in the distance.
      Something is wrong. But why can’t I put my paw on what? I slip into a doze. At least Ona is safe.
      I sit up straight.
      Badgers don’t have pointed ears.
      “What are you?”
      The creature sighs. “That will be a hard thing for you to understand. I am what thee kindred name hobbit.” He quickly raises a paw before I can speak. “Do not be fretting, little. I am not what the bogtales make.”
      Confusion and shock muddle my thinking, the thing seemed, seems so harmless.
      He goes calmly back to arranging his shelves. “My great greater greatest grandfather was a teacher for the thy kind. He accidently ended one of his students, I do not be knowing details. He was cast out of trees to live in holes. And everyone, so many everyone was so afraid of him. His family…” The hobbit wiped a paw across his eyes. “That is how bogtales start. Maybe holes are better, holes are for surviving. This is my third fire. How many have thy kind seen?”
      His grief was evident. I did not entirely understand its source. I pulled Ona into my arms again, I did not know whether to run or stay.
      “Thee can leave, if thy wishes.” The hobbit motioned towards the entrance of the tunnel. “I understand. I can help thee I am believing, but I understand.”
      I pause at the entrance, doubting my instincts for perhaps the first time in my life. Ona stirs, finally waking up.
      I turn back.

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    2. Sorry about the length, I intended to write a short description of the creature, but I got carried away :)

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    3. That's a very neat take! I didn't mind the length.

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  9. In a hole in the ground, there lives a hobbit.
    My hobbit's name is Miyo. Miyo is tiny - barely one foot tall - and has a long, bushy tail. He lives in a hole under my house. He has magical powers that cause magical plants to grow on the ground above his home, and he makes a living by selling them to me.
    Miyo prefers to stay in his cozy hole as much as possible, but he has to go out at night once a month and sit under the moon until the sun rises. That's how he keeps his powers.
    Miyo's hole isn't stuffy or full of worms and menacing bugs - it's homely, with wooden floors and pictures of close relatives hanging up at ever turn. He even has a little chimney, and on cold nights, you can see smoke billowing out of the tiny hole in the ground.
    Sometimes, when my curiosity gets the better of me, I'll peek into the hole, hoping to catch a glimpse of my tiny friend's bushy tail or one of his dear, little relatives come for a visit.
    Miyo never invites me inside.

    ∆∆∆

    This may or may not be turned into a short story... I love my new bean Miyo!!!!!!!

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    1. Ugh, not "under my house." "near my house." Sorry.

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  10. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

    She was dying, and she knew it. The dust from the soil was slowly poisoning her: It coated her lungs with more residue every day. Hobbits were creatures of the sky, not the earth. This one had a deer’s body and antlers, with aquiline wings jutting from her shoulder blades.

    She saw a human once, and the humans saw her. So the humans found the other hobbits, and the hobbits decided to punish her. So now this hobbit lives in a hole in the ground, suffocating with bent wings, hiding from them. And she will die in the hole in the ground, unless she finds any other place to hide.

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  11. In a small hole in the ground there lives a hobbit.

    Willa detests the traditional abode of stone and wood, for convention has always equaled boredom to her. And boredom to a young, one-hundred-year-old hobbit is greater punishment than death. Yes, to be sure all hobbits had a love for adventure, but Willa is odd about what constitutes adventure.

    While others designed elaborate plans for their homes, Willa dug a hole. A hole adorned with not so much as a sprig to make it somewhat interesting.

    While others made friends with the impish wood sprites, who looked much like hobbits besides their wings, Willa gadded about with trolls.

    Yes, trolls. To most hobbits—nay, to all hobbits but Willa—trolls were the most boring race of Everlands, so to say the others disapproved was a laughable understatement. Swiftly and completely she was cut off from her race, and though being shunned wasn’t the adventure she was looking for, it was the catalyst of one greater than she could imagine.

    -Ann

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    1. I love this!! WIlla is an awesome name. :D

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  12. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. It was not a literal hole - but the blackness of her own mind. It was not the real ground... for is she had lived in the ground she would have still lived on earth. No, this hobbit lived in her mind. And it was very lonely there.

    Sometimes other hobbits would come and try to pull her out of her hole. They would say, "Come. Have a fun time with us!"

    Sometimes she would go... but once there she would find that it was too much work to be like the others. So once more she would be in her hole.

    Until one day she was forced to come out. And for a very long time.

    That is when life for this hobbit changed forever, and she had to learn to embrace the darkness of the real world in order to discover something else.

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  13. In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.
    While this may prompt thoughts of a very small creature, in truth it was a large creature, almost hippopotamus-like in size. The hole in the ground it had burrowed out with its tusks, and was large enough for this Hobbit to live comfortably with its clan of pet birds.

    The Hobbit only had to eat every once in a while, every two weeks to be exact, but once it did eat it ate a lot. Hundreds of pounds of hay down the hatch every two weeks, and that wasn't even counting the grass and berries the birds ate.

    Hobbits tended to set up far from the inhabited world, where they could eat in peace, but every now and then their ingestion of hay got to be too much and they had to move. And sometimes, those moves brought them close to people... who were not at all happy about having those Hobbits living near them.

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  14. I wasn't going to do this, but I've had this persistent idea nagging at me ever since I read the prompt. So here's my response. Thanks for the idea, Shannon!

    In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

    The hole perched in the banks of a low, murky, muddied, spoilt river. The hobbit who lived in it looked much the same as the river in which it lived. It was small, about half the size of an average man, with long hair that was so tangled and wet it looked more like soggy seaweed, and skin so blackened by mud and by the sun that features were almost impossible to make out. It wore no shoes on its feet, which were tough and calloused from so many years running about barefooted.

    It had an occupation too. Every morning, before the sun had risen, it clambered out of its muddy little hole and down the muddy bank and into the muddy river. Its day starts from there. The hobbit wades about in the river, it’s tough little toes groping about in the mire beneath the water. What is it looking for? It is looking for coal, for stones, for tools, for pieces of drift wood and cans of meat, all spoils which have fallen from the diesel ships which plough up and down this stretch of river.

    After collecting what it could, the hobbit crawled from the river and fled into town, where it haunted the backstreets and alleys until it managed to sell all of its treasures to the people who were just as desperate as it was.

    Then it scrambled back to its little hole, where it curled up and cried it’s small eyes out. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a creature, a vermin, like most people treated it as. It was just a small girl, a little girl, who was trying to survive.

    It's kind of depressing I suppose, but I'm fairly pleased with the way it turned out. :D

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  15. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Or so that was what the people of the town called the man who had been trapped there for as long as they could remember. Bars made of a substance that looked like black metal but was in truth neither metal nor stone formed a metal grill over the top of the hole. The bars end were sunk deep into the hillside. Some whispered that they went into the roots of the hills themselves.
    On sunny days, one could look down and see the hole-dweller. Aside from his small size, the hobbit seemed fairly normal. None had seen his face before for he was wrapped in some kind of dark cloak with a hood covering his face. A short round nose poked out from the hood, but no other facial feature was visible.
    Some said he was man. No one knew for sure, however. No one tried to speak to him and he ignored all visitors. Almost as if he was trapped in his own world down in the hole.
    Others suggested something more sinister. For the walls of the hole around and behind the man, scarred, burned and pitted with scars from escape attempts, did not have a shadow cast on them. And what kind of living creature did not cast a shadow?

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  16. I know I'm a little late to the party, but I'd like to give this a shot.

    ---

    In a hole in a hill there lived a hobbit. The rain trickled through cracks in the ceiling, the wind howled deafeningly, and the hobbit had to share his living space with the bats and the bugs and the scavengers. But decent shelter was hard to find within the conquered land of Hob.

    The hobbit was a person, contrary to the invader's jokes. Hiding in caves had been hard on him. His ribs could be seen through rips in his raged shirt, his cheeks had sunken, his blonde hair stuck to his forehead from wet and filth. He hadn't spoken to another person in so long that he had forgotten what to call himself, so he just called himself the Hobbit. The native of Hob.

    The hobbit sat with his back to the back of the hole, facing the outside. Watching for the invaders, he lied to himself. If he would admit it, though, he didn't care anymore. If the invaders wanted every Hobbit dead, one day they would succeed.

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    1. Wow. I really like this. It has a pleasant rhythm.

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