“The Hobby” and “The Tower”

“After all, what is happiness? Love, they tell me. But love doesn’t bring and never has brought happiness. On the contrary, it’s a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; it’s sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony.” – Paulo Coelho, The Witch Of Portobello

Compare what each author(Marghanita Laski and Eric McCormack) have to say about love?


How do we find the courage to be true to ourselves – even if we are unsure of who we are?

“The Tower” and “The Hobby” Essay

Argue in an essay any(one) of these critical questions:

  • Compare ideas the author’s suggest to you about the gender role of the protagonist?
  • How do various literary elements of each work – plot, character, point of view, setting, tone, diction, images, symbol, archetypes etc. – reinforce its meaning?
  • Compare how psychological matters such as repression, dreams, and desire are presented consciously or unconsciously by each author.
  • Compare what each author suggests about the relationships between men and women? Are these relationships sources of conflict? Do they provide resolutions to conflicts?
  • Compare how you felt when reading the last paragraph of each story. Explain what each story suggests to you about the nature of reality. Was Caroline’s descent beyond the 470th step “real”? Is the Old Man’s train “real”? How are the Tower and the Kitchener house similar/different? What function do our memories serve in defining who we are? At the end, are Caroline and the Old Man still alive? Are they dead?

“The Hobby” by Eric McCormack (Canada)

Eric McCormack’s “The Hobby” is a story about age and retrospection; it is also about artistic creation and, more broadly, about love. What does a person do when she/he looks back at the largest, most consuming, work of his/her life and knows it to be over? One response, of course, is to take up a hobby. Another is to withdraw; yet another, to deny one’s work is over: to “rage against the dying of the light”-to use Dylan Thomas’s phrase-or, as McCormack puts it, “[to defy] the darkness.”  The retired engineer in this short fiction can be said to adopt all three responses at once.

What is it to care about something as deeply as this man does? To wish it carefully and passionately into being? Surely there is some creative power in such a love, in such a hope. Is this not the hope that inspires legends of sub-creation from the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea to the story of The Velveteen Rabbit? But there is a flip side to this kind of creativity: if the world of one’s creation were to come to life (see Brian Moore’s The Great Victorian Collection) might it not draw people out of their own world-perhaps onlookers, perhaps the artist himself? And what would happen then?

In “The Hobby,”  this possibility is given a double spin, since the author as well as the old man and his hosts are sucked into the world of the old man’s creation. And it is a world not without its terrors, for though it is possible that the tunnel is just a tunnel, it seems more likely that it is a metaphor for the final darkness into which first the old man-but eventually his hosts and the author-must eventually travel.

Look for a definition of the word hobby, and then compare it with the following definitions:

In the 1400s the word hobby referred to a shaggy, medium-to small horse or pony. In the 1500s the similar word hobbin or dobbin was often used by workers as a name for a plough horse. By the 1700s it could also refer to a small wooden horse on which a child might ride. Children often spent many hours rocking on these horses.

By 1760 Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy used the word metaphorically to describe a person who had, in the perceiver’s eyes, an excessive interest in something. Certainly the concept of an all-consuming passion for some project is given memorable attention in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1817).

By 1840, having a hobby was seen as a respectable and desirable way of passing one’s time. It was said of a certain nobleman of the period that “the library was one of his hobbies.”

Eric McCormack, 1939-

In 1966 Eric McCormack left his homeland of Scotland to attend the University of Manitoba. He decided to teach English, and in 1970 he joined the staff of St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ontario, where he still teaches, specializing in seventeenth century and contemporary literature. He has contributed stories to various literary magazines; among them Malahat Review, New quarterly, Prism International, and West Coast Review. His first collection of stories, Inspecting the Vaults, was published 1987 by Penguin Books. His first novel, The Paradise Motel, was published two years later.

Exploring the Text

  1. Some people who read this story react strongly to the final paragraph: What’s going on? What can it mean? What happens next? We are so used to reading stories that close neatly with the last word, we are surprised, and sometimes a little frustrated, when they do not. Explain how you reacted to the last paragraph of this story. Describe your feelings in one concise paragraph.
  2. Argue for or against the following statement: McCormack’s “The Hobby” is a story about one man’s “defiance of the darkness.” Begin by deciding what the word darkness suggests. Share your findings with one other student. Make certain you locate this phrase in the story and that you consider its meaning in context.
  3. Reread the paragraph beginning, “That boy wore me out”(76). Explain the function of this paragraph in relation to the rest of this story.
  4. In the final paragraph of the story there is a sudden shift in point of view that suggests we might want to rethink what the whole story is about. Who might the “me” be in the final paragraph? (Hint: The old man created the train and the train station, but who created the old man?) What might the author be suggesting about the relationship between a person and the thing that person builds or creates?

Personal Response

Write on the following topic:

If you have a hobby, focus on your own hobby. If not, imagine you have one. Now write a letter to your best friend describing a dream you had about your hobby in which you somehow entered the world of the thing you loved, collected, or created. Consider how you felt, whether or not you wanted to leave, and whether or not you could leave.


Field_of_DreamsView the film Field of Dreams.

In both the film and McCormack’s story, the world the protagonist longs for becomes the world that is. In both works, the protagonist is drawn into the world he wished for and/or created.

In the film, we see events primarily from the point of view of the protagonist, but in the story we see them from the point of view of a third-person narrator.

Events in the story, therefore, are distanced from the reader in order to make them more credible.

If you were going to turn “The Hobby” into a film, what point of view would you use? How would you make the events of “The next Sunday morning. Two a.m.” believable?

Storyboard the final scene.

“The Hobby” and “The Sea Devil” Essay

In The Hobby , the old man’s hobby is recreating a world similar to the one he knew for sixty years.  In The Sea Devil,   the man’s hobby is fishing—a world that contrasts with the man’s regular occupation.  What do the two hobbies have in common?  In what way do they differ?  Referring to at  least three details from each story, compare the two works.

“The Hobby” and “A Report For An Academy” Essay

Both the old man in The Hobby  and former ape in A Report For An Academy  have dedicated their lives to a learned behaviour.  McCormack calls the old man’s obsession with railroads a hobby—though it is obviously far more than that.  Could the former ape’s obsession with living the life of a human also be called a hobby?  Compare both obsessions, focusing on the following ideas (and any others you may think of):  what the “hobbyist” in each case was before he knew anything of the world he came to be absorbed in; how he learned to be what he now is; what personal price he paid for his success; and what effect his hobby has on others.

“The Hobby” and “Another Part of the Sky” Essay

Both the old man in The Hobby and Collins in Another Part of the Sky have become dangerously absorbed in their work.  The old man has clearly passed the point of being able to extract himself from the world of the railways; Collins may have been saved from a similar fate by the experience Gordimer describes in this short story.  Write a couple of paragraphs describing how the old man might, upon learning of the boy’s death, have been as shaken as Collins is at the end of Another Part of the Sky,  or describing how Collins might, as a widower enduring forced retirement, look back on his work and on his marriage if he had not had this experience of shattering self-recognition.