Clare and Hannah dive down the rabbit/hobbit hole to discuss their favorite childhood books, and marvel at how trippy old cartoons are.
Our favorite childhood books are:
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Gnomes by Will Huygen and Rien Poortvliet
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Interesting: Hobbits, rabbits, and gnomes all live in holes in the ground. Why do all of our childhood favorites revolve around subterranean creatures? We’ll have to mention this to our therapist.
Time Stamp Guide
01:20 Clare explains that the word “splanchnic” refers to the nerves and blood vessels that supply blood to the abdominal cavity. These are the splanchnic nerves and the splanchnic artery and the splanchnic vein. We chose this as the name for our podcast because back in Clare’s college days, there was an informal group on campus that played the dictionary game and came up with the anagram. Apparently, they thought it was funny for a cultured, sophisticated society to be named after a part of the digestive tract. Apparently, we think it’s funny, too.
06:36 Hannah starts us off with her favorite childhood book: The Hobbit. She enjoyed the idea that even a really small person can make a big difference. We recommend the Rankin-Bass animated movie, The Hobbit, and the audiobooks of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read by Rob Inglis.
16:38 Clare shares her favorite childhood book, Watership Down, a story about rabbits fleeing their doomed warren in search of a new home. While this book looks like an idyllic Beatrix Potter story at first, it contains shrewd political and cultural commentary about the dangers of totalitarianism.
24:27 Clare brings an honorable mention to the table. Gnomes is a beautifully-illustrated book written in the style of a natural history of gnomes. The text is written by Wil Huygen, with illustrations by Rien Poortvliet.
27:08 Hannah’s honorable mention is The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, a book she literally read the cover off of as a kid.
Clare’s curated list of Tolkien books
Clare’s review of Watership Down on her website
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Rankin-Bass 1977 film adaptation of The Hobbit. (“Chip the glasses, crack the plates! That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!”)
Rob Inglis’s narration of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is universally beloved by Tolkien fans. To hear a sample, Chapter One of The Hobbit (as well as samples from the other installments of LOTR) is available FREE on Soundcloud. The complete Hobbit is available on audio CD or other audiobook platforms.
Note: If you would prefer to purchase from Amazon, be forewarned: as with many products on Amazon, the listing is a total mess. According to the product image and description, the narration is by Andy Serkis. But when you click to listen to the audio sample, you hear Rob Inglis. So, we’re sorry to say that if you purchase the CD from this Amazon listing, we have no idea what you’d actually get–Rob Inglis’s narration or Andy Serkis’s narration. Andy Serkis is an amazing voice talent and his narration is undoubtedly excellent, but if you want to hear Rob Inglis, consider using the other link, above, or perhaps just borrowing the CDs from the library. If you decide to take your chances and purchase through our Amazon affiliate link, we doubly appreciate it!
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Watership Down 1978 movie (dir. by Martin Rosen)
Watership Down 2018 miniseries (dir. by Noam Murro)
Gnomes, by Wil Huygen
The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter
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Clare: Hello everybody, and welcome to the next episode of Splanchnics! Today, Hannah and I are going to be talking about our favorite childhood books, so stay tuned.
Clare: My name is Clare Walker. I am an independent author, and I’m your host for Splanchnics. My cohost is my daughter Hannah, who is a theater professional and an artist. I thought of what we would do at the beginning of this first episode. People may be curious about the title of our podcast: Splanchnics. Not a word you hear every day. Splanchnics is indeed the Society for the Preservation of Literature, the Arts, Numinosity, Culture, Humor, Nerdiness, Inspiration, Creativity, and Storytelling. But where in the world did that come from? And I’ll tell you, there’s actually a history to this word. First of all, “splanchnic” is a real word. Notice that is pronounced splank-nick and not splanch-nick.
Hannah: Somebody I was talking to the other day about the podcast thought it was pronounced splanch-nicks.
Clare: That is incorrect. It’s pronounced splank-nicks. The word splanchnic is a real word. It is a medical word. It is a word having to do with anatomy. The word splanchnic refers to the blood supply and the innervation of the intestines, the viscera, inside the abdominal cavity. So those are the intestines, the stomach, various parts of your internal organs are the digestive system. They receive nerves and blood vessels that are called the splanchnic nerves and the splanchnic artery and the splanchnic vein. Splanchnic. It’s an anagram for the Society, for the Preservation of Literature, the Arts, Numinosity, Culture, Humor, Nerdiness, Inspiration, Creativity, and Storytelling. I hope everyone’s really impressed that I have done that twice in a row.
Hannah: Whenever I hear the words now, I always hear it the way that Nanny says it.
Clare: But where did Splanchnics come from? This is something that goes back to my college days. I was a freshman in college. I was studying animal science because I was a pre-vet major. I was going to be taking all the courses to get into veterinary school. I was also very interested in English and I had to take some English classes as part of my general degree. And one of the classes that I took was a science fiction class, a survey of science fiction. It’s one of my favorite classes ever. And it was taught by professor U. Milo Kaufman. Now, he went by Milo or professor Kaufman, if you were one of his students. He had this little group and it was called Splanchnics. It was a little informal, not even an official campus organization, just a little group of people. And the reason they called themselves Splanchnics was that one day they were playing the dictionary game, the game on which Balderdash is based.
Hannah: Balderdash is one of my favorite games.
Clare: What you do when you play the dictionary game is you get a big dictionary, a very thick dictionary, and you look through it and the person who’s got the dictionary, their job is to find a word that he or she thinks no one else in the room is going to know the definition to. And he says that word, spells it if necessary. And then everyone is supposed to write down what they guess the word means. So they were playing this game one day. And the people in this group were English nerds, literature nerds, science fiction nerds, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien fans, that kind of person, right? This professor was teaching science fiction, and he also had a class in fantasy literature. And I took both of those classes and they were excellent. So they’re playing this game and lo and behold, somebody came up with “splanchnic,” and they thought that was an odd word. It refers to the innervation and the blood supply of internal organs in the body. They were really surprised because splanchnic sounds like this crazy sort of group, like a beatnik.
Hannah: Oh, right. Yeah.
Clare: Or nudnick, or some sort of word like that. And so they thought it’d be a funny name for their group. So that phrase is just something that I found out about in college, and I thought it was funny, and I’ve held onto it all these years. So what’s our topic for today, Hannah?
Hannah: Favorite childhood books.
Clare: Favorite childhood books. All right, excellent. Do you want to go first?
Hannah: Well, this is the first book that I remember reading that wasn’t a picture book. My favorite childhood book was very stereotypically nerdy. I really enjoyed The Hobbit. I just loved it. This here is a copy of it. It informed my love of the outdoors and singing songs, and I was kind of a small kid. I was like the shortest kid in my class besides my one classmate who had a bone marrow transplant when he was a baby. I just like a story about how small people can do awesome stuff. Even the smallest person can change the course of the future. So I loved it. My favorite chapter actually was the spiders, the spiders in the forest. I would sometimes read the spiders in the forest, even though I wasn’t reading the book.
Clare: So you grew up with The Hobbit as a story. How old were you when you first read it? Do you remember?
Hannah: I remember when we were in San Jose knowing what The Hobbit was, so I’m pretty sure I read it maybe when I was six or seven. Or did I have it read to me? Did we read it aloud? Because I know we read aloud as a family. The entire Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
Clare: Was it then that we read it for the first time?
Hannah: I think so. I don’t remember reading it. I remember knowing about it. So it must have been through our first family read-through. We read it as a family, and I remember seeing the movie, the animated one.
Clare: The old Rankin-Bass one. I remember that. This awesome actor plays Smaug. I can’t remember the name of the actor, but he was amazing. When did you read (The Hobbit) again on your own? Do you remember?
Hannah: Many times throughout the years. I think the most recent time I read it was not even a year ago. I listened to the audiobook read by our favorite Lord of the Rings audiobook reader, Rob Inglis.
Clare: He’s just awesome. He sings the songs and he does little voices and everything.
Hannah: I did The Hobbit and all of the books from the trilogy of Lord of the Rings done by Rob Inglis.
Clare: I read The Hobbit also when I was a kid. Fifth or sixth grade, maybe seventh grade. I remember reading that, loving it, reading the Fellowship of the Ring, enjoying that, and getting hung up on The Two Towers and not being able to finish for years and years and years. I couldn’t get past that second book. I couldn’t get through the trilogy. It was worth the wait though because I did finally get through the trilogy as a young adult and it’s one of my favorite books ever.
Hannah: Richard Boone (did the voice of Smaug).
Clare: Very famous American actor. And he does it in such an interesting way. You know how most of the voices in Lord of the Rings are all English? Englishmen or Scottish. He’s full-on American. He sounds like he’s like in a Western or something. Have a watch of the Rankin-Bass edition of the Hobbit. It’s very dated. It’s actually really, really good. It’s definitely worth watching.
Hannah: It explains a lot about why I am the way I am today.
Hannah: Well, for example, when I meet a creepy person with glowing eyes in a cave, I do not stick around.
Clare: You don’t stay there waiting for them to practically throttle you? Well, I’m glad that you learned that lesson from Bilbo Baggins.
Hannah: I don’t know how to manage my finances correctly, but I know a creepy cave dweller when I see one.
Clare: Well, you know what else? I’m a big believer in second breakfast, elevensies, afternoon tea, all of the multi-meal ways of the hobbits. It’s so English. You’ve heard my mother do the introduction to the podcast. English as can be. Although, trivia, she’s actually 100% Irish, but grew up in London, grew up English basically. Tea, snacks, cookies, everything. Just the English little things to nibble all the time. The English drink, eat and smoke constantly. And that is what the hobbits are doing. They’re always stopping to have a smoke and have some tea and have something to drink.
Hannah: When I went to visit my great aunt and my great uncle in England when I was studying abroad, we stopped at their house and they said, “Oh, hello, let’s have some tea and biscuits.” And we had tea and biscuits. And then they said, “Okay, let’s go down to the pub and have some lunch.” So we walked down to the pub. We had some lunch. They ordered a bottle of wine. We drank the whole bottle of wine. And they’re like, “Let’s walk around a little bit. It’s about time for dinner now.” We went to this other restaurant and got another bottle of wine, some more food, and then they were like, “Well, there’s this lovely place where we can get some dessert. It’s got nice tarts.” And by this point, myself and my American friends just can’t eat anymore. Just feeling so full. And also just so tipsy as well because we were underage in Europe. So we went to this desert place and they said “Usually with these we have sherry.” I recall drinking at several places when I didn’t want to drink anymore, and then we went to a pub after that.
Clare: That’s a typical day in the life of my English relatives and Englishmen in general. I have a similar story. When I went to the UK in 2010 for the interment of my grandparents’ ashes. I went there with my dad and we stayed with his sister, my aunt. Our typical day with my aunt and uncle and my dad: we would go into the town, walk in the town, and of course we would start in the morning having some tea and some breakfast. It was exactly how you described it. You walk into the town and they would say, “Let’s go shopping at the Woolworths.” So we go in there, we go shopping. And we’re walking around shopping. Not 45 minutes elapsed before they said, “Well, let’s stop in the little cafe and have some tea.” We’re drinking tea. We’re having tea cakes. Of course, they’re also smoking. And then we went outside and shopped a little bit more and someone said, “Hey, let’s stop, have a cigarette.” You wouldn’t have time to do that in America. They take so many breaks. So that is what the hobbits do. I mean, the hobbits are English people.
Hannah: They’ve been walking for what, an hour and they stop and say, “Well, what about breakfast?
Clare: My favorite childhood book, shall we segue into that? My favorite childhood book is one that I read in fifth grade for the first time. It is also on our shelf here. That is not my original edition. Uh, my original edition fell apart. This is so funny. We have multiple copies of all these books. How about if I say the title of the book? It’s Watership Down by Richard Adams. This cover illustration puzzled me. There is a rabbit on it. Big painting of a rabbit and the title Watership Down and so fifth grade me is thinking to myself, “What kind of book is this? Is it a book about rabbits or is it a book about the sad fate of some type of ocean-going vessel?” Watership Down is my favorite childhood book. I have had multiple copies of this book because they keep falling apart from re-reading. It is a delightful adventure of a group of rabbits who leave their rabbit warren and go on an adventure. There is a lot of anthropomorphism in it. These rabbits have names and they talk and they have agency.
Hannah: Spiritual awareness.
Clare: They have a whole mythology. Their culture has a mythology, a creation story, and numerous folktales, but they also really are rabbits. They do rabbit things, think rabbit thoughts, and they have rabbit instincts and everything. So they are rabbits if rabbits were sentient, thinking, aware beings with agency and a moral system. Richard Adams is a genius and this book is an adventure. The story is so absorbing and so fun. I just dug it. I’m so glad I picked it up and read it. Even though I was completely confused by the title and the picture. I remember I was reading it going, “Okay, when are we going to see the water ship? In the English countryside, a down is a hill. It’s not a very tall hill. The name of this hill is Watership Down, and that is where these rabbits ultimately found their home. And the book is astounding because as a children’s adventure, you can hardly get any better. It’s funny, it’s interesting, it’s heartwarming. It’s really, really cool. But then when you read it when you get older as an adult, and you see that Richard Adams has woven very deftly into it, interesting social and political commentary. They went to infiltrate this other warren that had this fascist regime lead by this big mean rabbit called General Woundwort. And they’re also, they end up in another warren during their travels that’s this hippie-dippie Nirvana utopian society. Rabbits would disappear sometimes and no one would question it. If you mentioned the disappeared rabbit, everyone just changes the subject. They don’t talk about it. It’s fascinating to read that book as an adult and see what Richard Adams did to make it interesting for adults and very absorbing. There are so many layers and levels of the story. Highly recommended.
Hannah: They’ve made a couple of different video adaptations of it, right?
Clare: The first one came out in the 1970s. A motion picture. It was scary.
Hannah: I remember one of the parents who came to look after us during lunch in sixth grade brought that. She would always bring movies for us to watch during lunch. It was the trippiest thing. The whole thing was the pink elephant sequence from Dumbo.
Clare: That’s what it reminded me of too! There was this giant circle of rabbits swirling in the dark like the dream in Vertigo or something. It was okay. They recently came out with another one. There are CG computer-generated rabbits, and it’s modern, and I think it’s six episodes. Oh, and guess who plays one of the rabbits? You don’t have to guess. Nicholas Hoult. We know who Nicholas Hoult is, right?
Hannah: He played Tolkien in the recent Tolkien movie. Let’s mention Tolkien in every podcast.
Clare: We have to. Another rabbit, Bigwig, is played by John Boyega. He’s in the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies.
Hannah: He’s British, but he does a very good American accent.
Clare: I had no idea.
Hannah: Neither did I, that John Boyega was English. And, what’s his name? Jamie Bamber. He does an amazing American accent too.
Clare: Jamie Bamber. I first saw him in Battlestar Galactica, and I was floored when I found out he was British.
Hannah: I think he’s like, he has like a step-parent who was from America or something. That’s why he is able to do a good American accent.
Clare: One of the reasons, I think, that you and I can do a British accent is because I grew up with my mom and dad with full-on British accents. I went to England back in 2010 and I would do my English accent, but my cousins said, “That’s a terrible English accent, Clare.”
Hannah: When I was in Scotland and I’d do my Scottish accent, they’d tell me I sounded it like I was in a movie.
Clare: You’re trying to do your Scottish accent and they didn’t believe it. I don’t know if I’m very good at Scottish. Probably not. But I guess I could do it if I were thinking about it more.
Hannah: Or if you are thinking about it less. You’ve really got to put the glottal stop in there.
Clare: The glottal stop. I forgot about that.
Hannah: (in a Scottish accent) You kind of forget about the glottal stop.
Clare: That was really good. So these are our favorite childhood books. I do have an honorable mention favorite childhood book. We have a little mascot from this favorite childhood book on our little shelf here. This is Gnomes. The authors of this book: text by Will Huygen, illustrated by Rien Poortvliet. I love, love, love this book. It is a massive book and it is illustrated and written in the style of a natural history of gnomes. The map above shows a number of sites in North America where gnomes are reported to exist. I love this book, and I remember I got this at Woolworth’s or perhaps a Waterstone’s in England when I was a child visiting my grandparents. It would have been 1978 or 79, and my grandmother bought me this book, and I have the paperback version of it. It’s still upstairs. I didn’t bring it down because it’s almost falling apart. This is a book that I picked up at a book sale. I snapped it up like a precious treasure because I just love this book so much. Look at the little gnomes, in their blue jackets and red pointy hats. I just pored over it. It’s hand-lettered in many places, beautifully illustrated. I highly recommend this book.
Hannah: I like the descriptions of their behaviors. This is something that the gnome father must teach his son when he’s 13, like knowledge of mushrooms and herbs, how to increase his running speed to that of a hare, methods of escape in open terrain, the so-called heels slapping or zig-zag method, and in wooded areas, the use of old tunnels, rabbit warrens, underground, watercourses, et cetera.
Clare: It’s a book that you just sit there and just pore over for hours and then sort of imagine the life of gnomes, that maybe you have some gnomes living in under a tree in your backyard. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful book. How about you? Do you have an honorable mention or another book that you want to mention?
Hannah: I mean, when I was really little, I liked the Beatrix Potter stories.
Clare: Can you still recite the beginning of The Tale of Peter Rabbit? You could when you were two.
Hannah: “Once upon a time, there lived three little rabbits—four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sandbank underneath the roots of a very big fir tree.” Now you do it like I would do it.
Clare: (like a two-year-old) “This is the story of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, and they live with their mother in a sandbank, under the root of a very big fir tree.”
Hannah: And now one year later, I talk like this.
Clare: We read the cover off of that book. It’s right there. It’s all taped together. I love that. I love dog-eared books. So it’s funny how these childhood books just stay with us. Obviously, I read a lot of books when I was a kid, but those two definitely stayed with me. Shall we sign out? Very good. Well, thanks so much for listening everybody. We’re pleased that you’re enjoying the podcast and we hope that you are able to think about what your favorite childhood books were. Maybe find your own tattered dog-eared copy, take a picture of it, send it to us, or go to the store and buy yourself a new one. Take care, everybody. Thank you so much. Bye, now.