The Lord of the Rings Trilogy had its time in the spotlight, with three epic movies, several computer and board games and a handful of albums. By comparison, its predecessor, The Hobbit, has hidden largely in the shadows. Today marks the 75 anniversary of that humble, hobbity beginning.
Published on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit was born into critical acclaim. It was nominated for a Carnegie Medal, and won a prize for best juvenile fiction from the New York Herald Tribune. Here’s the dustcover for that first edition, apparently based on a design by Tolkein himself.
In fact, Tolkien was reported to be extremely involved in the design and illustration of the books, so much so that his editors joked about it. One of his publishers, Rayner Unwin, said: “In 1937 alone Tolkien wrote 26 letters to George Allen & Unwin… detailed, fluent, often pungent, but infinitely polite and exasperatingly precise… I doubt any author today, however famous, would get such scrupulous attention.”
But Tolkein had a very specific idea for how the story should look and went so far as to include a set of illustrations he had drawn. Those illustrations have never been published before, but The Guardian has a sneak peek at them.
Because The Hobbit was so successful, his publishers asked Tolkein for more. Tolkein, apparently, wrote a draft for a book called The Silmarillion. The Silmarillion moves away from hobbits and travels to the universe of Era—a universe that contains Middle-earth but also other lands like Valinor, Beleriand and Numenor. The publishers rejected The Silmarillion, figuring the people wanted more about hobbits, not a story about some land distant to them. So Tolkein began writing what he called “The New Hobbit” which would eventually turn into the beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Fans might be surprised to find that the version of The Hobbit that they know and love doesn’t exactly match the text of the book’s first edition. Remember the riddle game that Bilbo and Gollum play deep in the goblin caves? You probably remember how it ended—Bilbo beats Gollum by stumping him, and when Gollum realizes what he’s lost, he panics and chases Bilbo through the caves. His final words in The Hobbit are “Thief! Thief, Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!” Well in the very first edition of the book, that’s not what happens at all. In fact, Bilbo and Gollum part peacefully. Gollum admits that he’s been beat, and lets Bilbo go on his way. Tolkein had to change that chapter to fit with the later trilogies, in which Gollum returns and seeks the ring.
Tolkien also tried to change the entire tone of The Hobbit to fit the more serious trilogy. But he gave up after the third chapter, saying it “just wasn’t The Hobbit” any longer without its playful tone and quick pace.
And it’s probably just as well, for fans of The Hobbit wouldn’t have the book any other way. They founded the Tolkien Society and have declared tomorrow Hobbit Day, the day when both Bilbo and Frodo were born.
In large part, Hobbit Day is usually taken up with the fun activities – the feasts, games, costume events, fireworks and the like. Hobbit Day is a virtually ideal holiday, incorporating attractive elements of several others: the masquerade fun of Halloween, the feast of Thanksgiving, the exchange of greeting cards and gifts associated with Christmas and birthdays, the picnic atmosphere of Labor Day and Memorial Day, the fireworks of Independence Day (or Guy Fawkes Day)… and the study and reflection associated with many commemorative days throughout the year.
In just a few months, part one of the live action Hobbit will hit a movie screen near you. The movie will actually be three movies, expanding The Hobbit out into its own epic journey. Peter Jackson, the director, had this to say about the way the movies are coming together:
We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.
So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.
Here’s the official trailer:
From Hollywood to the Shire, let’s all wish Bilbo and The Hobbit a happy 75th birthday.
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