I discovered the other day that it’s 81 years this month since The Hobbit was published. I’d missed the anniversary.
The Hobbit is just about my favourite book of all time. The other, naturally, is its sequel. I first read it around 1973, inspired by the Pauline Baynes map of Middle Earth – a wondrous place, it seemed, which set my imagination roaming. The Hobbit didn’t disappoint. I still have the copy I was given that year by my aunt – the Allen & Unwin edition with Tolkien’s own sketch of the death of Smaug on the cover. It’s, shall we say, very well worn.
The book has never lost its charm; Tolkien wrote it as a story for his children, but it speaks to adults and children alike. Looking back on it now, I can see it has a certain ‘period’ feel to it, but that doesn’t reduce the appeal any more than similar ‘period’ feel does for J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The Hobbit is, in short, an absolute and timeless classic.
How did Tolkien do it? In my collection of Tolkienaria I’ve also got the two-volume edition of The Hobbit‘s first drafts, assembled by John Rateliff. It’s intriguing that the analysis and drafts are far longer than the final book itself; but they shed light on Tolkien’s creative processes. These were iterative. Curiously, he also tried re-writing it, much later, to better fit it to The Lord Of The Rings, a tale that had ‘grown in the telling’ and which had some fundamental inconsistencies with the original 1937 Hobbit. Some – but not all – were fixed in the second edition. But then Tolkien sat back and tried to re-cast the whole more in the mould of The Lord of The Rings, including some of the geography on the way to Elrond’s house. He abandoned the effort, and I can see why; the chapters don’t quite gel.
I haven’t mentioned the movies – and won’t. They are, I think, best forgotten.
Have you read The Hobbit. What did you think of it?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018