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  • An octagon of soft worn blue cushions. Simply by the nature of its use, the space looks more like a circle, and it promises a history and perhaps some magic. There will be a gathering. A warm twinkling of Christmas decorations accompanied by the calming clatter of a miniature electric train fills the opening to the room, and from somewhere in the old and vast library, if you listen, there is the sharp crackle of an oak fire.

    Briefly, there is a quiet solace that is soon interrupted by the clamor and bustle of sixteen red-cheeked students. They arrive in groups, chattering and full of life. From the outside looking in, they are diminutive, busy creatures, but inside the room, their vigor is the stuff of giants. In the center of the room there is a black-lacquered wooden chair and in that chair, the wispy white curls of an old woman appear just above a buttoned navy sweater that is wrapped around her tired body. In two worlds, the children bustle about her, acknowledging almost nothing more than furniture, and her storied smile greets them as they pile onto their seats.

    "Well look at all of you." The obvious distinction of a British accent take the words and spread warm margarine on them. The little ones - glued. If you look close, you are entrapped by the twinkle barely piercing the gray clouds of her rheumy eyes. She nods towards me and peels back the green leather bound cover of the book in her hands, the inlaid gold "Tolkien" catches my eye briefly before her hands smooth the crisp, white pages. And then, she begins to read.

    "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."
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