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December 12, 2011

Ken Denmead on THE HOBBIT

Posted by Katherine


Ken is a husband and father from the San Francisco Bay Area,where he works as a civil engineer. He’s the publisher and editor of GeekDad,the parenting blog for Wired magazine’s online presence,and publisher of the companion blog,GeekMom,where along with a group of other dedicated,geeky parents he posts projects,book and movie reviews,weekly podcasts,and more about being a parent and being a geek. Here he talks about his first forays into geekdom with THE HOBBIT.

 It was, I like to think, the gift of a book that led me to becoming a published author.

The book was THE HOBBIT, and was given to me by one of my uncles who, at the time, was something of an interesting character; involved in one of those 70's benign eastern-influenced cults and wandering around the country. But he gave me THE HOBBIT, and read large parts of it to me, in voices, opening up a strange and wonderful world of magic and monsters.

It's no surprise I became a geek. After THE HOBBIT, I was enticed by Dungeons & Dragons (a game all about imagining wonderful stories), and became a voracious reader of all things fantasy and science-fiction. The Chronicles of Narnia fed my appetite, as did the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert. In college, all I wanted at Christmas or my birthday was the latest Star Trek novel, or the next volume of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Tad Williams and Melanie Rawn created the universes I imagined wandering in then.

Somewhere in there, I started writing for fun, creating my own realities on paper. I tried National Novel-Writing Month a few times. I also got married, and we had a couple kids. That’s where it gets really interesting.

Being a geek parent (not unlike being a “normal” parent, I suppose, save for the subject matter), I wanted to give my kids the chance to experience the same joy of reading great fantasy/SF that I’d had. I tried reading them THE HOBBIT, in voices. It didn’t work out so well. They were kind of bored by the story. I feared that all would be lost.

But I needn’t have worried. Where I’d had Tolkien and Lewis, they had Rowling and Riordan, and soon their holiday wish-lists included whatever the latest tome in the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson series was out. The gift of reading and book-giving was still strong.

Eventually, through some quirk of fate and hard work, I was offered the chance to have my own writing published. The irony is that my books are non-fiction. No grand, magical worlds; just science and geeky projects for parents and kids to share. But there is still a clear connection, a bright path, between that first gift of a book I received, to what I get to do today, and hopefully the books I give my kids will set them on a similar path. That’s magic enough for me.