I would like to talk specifically about one author who almost single-handed brought me wide eyed and fascinated into the world of fantastic fiction.
That author was J. R. R. Tolkien, though I didn't know it at the time. My introduction to the world of fantasy (We can argue that books like Star Wars are actually fantasy and not sci-fi later) was the 1977 Rankin and Bass production of "The Hobbit"
When I first watched this movie I was captivated. I had never seen anything like it before (Don't bother mentioning that swords and magic sound a lot like light sabers and the force, I know, I know..) Still, this was new to me at the time.
The story was a perfect introduction to fantasy, it eased you into it slowly and purposefully taking you along with Bilbo from your couch to the Lonely Mountain. I didn't understand this while watching it then or for that matter many years afterwards but that's exactly what J. R. R. Tolkien set out to do with this story and having read it now at least 25 times I would have to say he succeeded.
There have been many different editions of The Hobbit over the years, Tolkien himself made changes to the book many times as new printings came out. One such revision changed the character Gollum and the chapter "A Riddle in the Dark" to better align it with The Lord Of The Rings which he was writing at the time. Along with the changes in text (mostly to fix printing errors) The Hobbit has been illustrated by many different artists, including Tolkien himself. My personal favorite is Tolkien's original art but the Alan Lee art and the Jemima Catlin art are both great. They are all very different from each other and completely different from the Rankin and Bass movie art. Which as I said, was my introduction to the Hobbit and is still what comes to my mind when I read or think about The Hobbit. That being said I love Tolkien's original art a lot, there is something fitting about it's look it just seems right somehow. Alan Lee's work was my next favorite, very different from either the Rankin and Bass movie or Tolkien's artwork.
The newest illustrated edition of The Hobbit is from Jemima Catlin and her illustrations bring a fresh new look to the book. To my very untrained eye they remind me more of Tolkien's original illustrations and are brighter and more wondrous than Alan Lee's which were very realistic and much darker.
I think that with this edition The Hobbit can again be enjoyed by both younger and more mature readers in a way that both Alan Lee's and the un-illustrated editions were unable to. This fully illustrated edition is simply a joy to read and if you want to get a copy of The Hobbit, I can fully recommend this edition.
I don't think I can properly explain just how important The Hobbit was to me. The TV special first, then the realization that movies were actually made from books, which led to the search for a copy of the book. (not a hard one granted, but at 9 and 10 years of age, even Tolkien is hard to find..) This in turn started a life long (so far anyway) love for Tolkien in general and The Hobbit specifically. I always have read and re-read books that I enjoy, but The Hobbit is way beyond any other book. It's more like re-watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every holiday season than simply re-reading a good book. You want to read it again and again. Every time you do you find something new you never noticed before.
I currently own 8 copies of The Hobbit in paper book, 3 copies in eBook and 2 in audio book. Each one is a little different, some are illustrated, some are not, some have annotations, others are as close to J. R. R. Tolkien's final vision for The Hobbit as possible (Thanks to his son Christopher). They all hold a special place in my library and my heart.