One of the stranger recent cultural shifts is that teenage fiction has become a branch of oncology. Cancer is rampant. You're barely a chapter in before a tumour erupts or a lymphatic system turns nasty. Young heroes and heroines are terminal from page one, or a friend is, or a parent. The shadow of premature death has fallen upon the genre: one half-expects Waterstones to be staffed by Macmillan nurses.

It is axiomatic (though wrong) that teenagers will read only books that reflect teenage experience.

As a lifelong Tolkien fan and an ardent Latinist, translating The Hobbit into Latin has been a long-cherished ambition of mine. But I am aware that others might think of it as, at best, a rather whimsical endeavor ("You're doing what?", "The Hobbit -- in Latin!", "Who's going to read that?!"). So perhaps I should begin by explaining why I think there are such good reasons for doing it that the only wonder is it had not been done sooner.

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