My Smaug was always a creature of beauty, burnished and magnicent, outshining even his hoard of loot. For me, memories of bedtime stories are dominated by Tolkien.
The Hobbit was, I think, the first ‘grown up’ book that my father read to me when I was, perhaps, about six years old. There were a great many books before, and many after, of course, but this is one that sticks. Bedtime stories were part of the childhood routine for my sister and me, and we were surrounded by books. Our parents are both bookworms, and our bookshelves groaned with everything from the Mr Men and Roald Dahl to much-loved and well-thumbed hardbacks of older classics: Beatrix Potter, E. Nesbit, Arthur Ransome, Frances Hodgson Burnett… along with many less-known but equally memorable books, and collections of annuals from Rupert Bear to the Eagle. Boys and girls (and bears) embarked on adventures – exploring, outwitting darstadly villains, sailing, righting terrible wrongs, and even inadvertently going to the moon (I must look that one up!)
Some of the older story books contained sumptuous illustrations; pirates buried legendary treasure; Pre-Raphaelite ladies wafted across pages, draped in silks and jewels; mythical beasts lurked in the shadows… My Smaug is also an attempt to capture the fascination I developed, not just with the stories themselves, but with the colours, textures and fabrics to be found within their pages.
When it comes to bedtime stories, Tolkien also gets the last mention. When I was a little older, Dad began reading The Lord of the Rings to me. Somewhere in the middle of the first book, I said “I think I can read it myself now, Daddy”. And that was that.
By Loris Clements