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Tolkien once said that his typical response upon reading a medieval work
was not to want to embark on a critical or philological study of it, but instead
to write a modern work in the same tradition. And similarly, to an interviewer
in 1965, Tolkien said that he "hardly got through any fairy-stories without
wanting to write one [himself]."
These statements, in a broad sense, serve as a good entry point
in studying Tolkien and his works. For with an understanding of Tolkien's
background and his literary interests there follows a greater appreciation of
what he achieved in his best-known works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein,
South Africa, the son of Arthur Reuel Tolkien, a bank manager, and Mabel
Suffield. Both of his parents were from the Birmingham area in the Midlands
Arthur had proposed to Mabel while they both still lived in
England, but soon afterward he obtained a post with the Bank of Africa, and
their wedding took place in Cape Town. J.R.R. Tolkien, known as Ronald,
was their first child; a second son, Hilary Arthur Reuel, was born two years
In 1895, Mabel Tolkien returned to England with her two children,
ostensibly for a short visit, but also because of concerns over young Ron-
ald's health. Arthur Tolkien, who had remained in South Africa, became ill in
late 1895, and died soon afterward.
Mabel stayed in England, raising her children near her own family
in the Birmingham area. In 1900, Mabel converted to Roman Catholicism,
much tothe consternation of her Protestant relatives, who withdrew their
support. Mabel struggled on her own, instructing her children in the Catholic
religion. Her health faltered, and after she died in 1904, Father Francis
Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory became the guardian of the two Tolkien
The boys were educated at King Edward's School in Birmingham,
where Ronald won a scholarship in 1903. Around 1910, Ronald met another
orphan, a young woman named Edith Bratt who had rooms at the same
boarding house where the Tolkien boys lived. A secret relationship developed
between Ronald and Edith, but once it was discovered by their guardians,
Ronald was forbidden to see or to speak to Edith until he reached the age of
Tolkien went up to Exeter College, Oxford, in the autumn of 1911.
He first read classics but soon found his interests leading him to study
Comparative Philology as well as other languages, like Finnish, and to begin
creating a personal language that he would later call Quenya or Elvish.
In 1913, on his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien resumed his
relationship with Edith Bratt. He took a Second Class in Honour Moderations,
and owing to his bent for philology he achieved a First Class in English
Language and Literature in June 1915.
Immediately afterward he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers and
trained as a soldier. Ronald and Edith were married on March 22, 1916,
before Tolkien was sent to the front in France that summer. Tolkien spent
some months in the trenches of the Somme, experiencing firsthand the
horrors of World War I. Eventually he contracted trench fever, and he was
returned to England, where he spent most of the remainder of the war.
Ronald and Edith Tolkien's first child, John Francis Reuel, was born in 1917.
Near the end of the war Tolkien accepted a position on the staff of
the Oxford English Dictionary, then being compiled in Oxford. In 1920 he was
appointed Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and the
family moved north. A second son, Michael Hilary Reuel, was born in 1920.
Tolkien's first major professional publication, A Middle English
Vocabulary, appeared in 1922. It was designed for use with Kenneth Sisam's
anthology, Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose (1921). With this and other
such work and his experience on the Oxford English Dictionary, Tolkien was
becoming one of the most accomplished philologists of his time. In July
1924, he was promoted to professor of English language at Leeds, and a
third son, Christopher Reuel, was born later the same year.
A major edition of the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the
Green Knight, co-edited by Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, appeared in 1925.
Soon afterward, Tolkien was elected the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor
of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. His fourth child (the only daughter), Priscilla Mary
Reuel, was born in 1929. The Hobbit, written for his children, appeared in
Tolkien held the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship until 1945, when he
was elected the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at
Oxford. The long-awaited sequel to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, was
published in three volumes in 1954–55. He remained a fellow of Merton
College until his retirement in 1959. His wife Edith died in 1971, and Tolkien
himself died, following a brief illness, on September 2, 1973.
Tolkien's attraction to medieval languages and literature began
very early. While a student at King Edward's School, Tolkien read Beowulf,
first in a modern translation and then in the original Anglo-
Saxon. He went from there to the Icelandic sagas, some in translations by
William Morris, and to the prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, and the Elder
Edda, a collection of Old Norse mythological and heroic poems. He
encountered the Finnish Kalevala in 1911. At Exeter College his interest in
the works of William Morris deepened. That Morris had also been an
undergraduate at Exeter probably fueled Tolkien's interest, and he found
Morris's narrative verse and the late prose romances (some of which are
interspersed with poetry) especially to his liking.
Tolkien read and studied the entire corpus of early Germanic
languages and literatures, specializing in Old English, Old Norse, and Middle
English. From the Middle English period Tolkien's interests included the
works of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?–1400), as well as the anonymous
fourteenth-century author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl,
Cleanness, and Patience. One of Tolkien's special areas of scholarship was
the West Midlands dialect of Middle English, as found in the Ancrene Wisse,
a book of religious instruction for women who chose to live the religious life in
small cells built alongside churches.
Tolkien's interest in sharing such enthusiasms led him to form a
Viking Club at Leeds, which met to drink beer and read sagas; and back in
Oxford he founded an Icelandic club, the Kolbítar, which consisted of a group
of dons that met from 1926 through around 1930–31 in order to read aloud to
one another Icelandic sagas, translating impromptu. Tolkien's friend C. S.
Lewis was a member of the Kolbítar (or Coal-biters — the men who sat so
near to the fires as to seem to bite the coals), as was Nevill Coghill, both of
whom would also become members of the Inklings, the group of Oxford
writers who met regularly to read their own compositions to one another. In
fact, the Inklings (whose name originally came from an undergraduate group
that met from around 1931–33) seems to have developed as a group directly
from the earlier Kolbítar meetings.
Tolkien's own literary creativity found expression from very early on. His
interest in languages is seen in the invented language Animalic, which
Tolkien and two cousins devised as adolescents. It was one of the first of the
many languages Tolkien invented, which were often constructed with great
Perhaps as a result of his mother's tutoring, Tolkien was also very
interested in painting, drawing, and calligraphy. A full study of his artwork,
spanning many decades, can be found in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and
Illustrator, by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.
In 1910 Tolkien also began to write poetry, and around the time
World War I began, Tolkien encountered the following lines in Crist, an Anglo-
Saxon poem by Cynewulf:
Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast,
ofer middangeard monnum sended
(Crist, lines 104–5)
Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over middle-earth sent unto men
The word Earendel is usually glossed as meaning "a shining light,
or ray," and some scholars have thought it refers to a star. Tolkien felt that
Earendel might have been the name for Venus, the evening star. Years later,
in a letter of December 18, 1965, written to Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien referred to
this couplet from Cynewulf as "rapturous words from which ultimately sprang
the whole of my mythology."
Tolkien's mythology was also an outgrowth of his invented
languages, for he felt that in order for his invented languages to grow and
evolve as real languages do, they must have a people to speak them, and
with a people comes a history. Tolkien called his invented world Middle-earth,
which is simply a modern alteration of Old English middangeard, a word for
the world we inhabit. Tolkien peopled his world with elves, men, and other
creatures, while his two main Elvish languages, Gnomish (which later
became Sindarin) and Qenya (later spelled Quenya), became rooted in an
Tolkien wrote "The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star," the first
poem of what became his invented mythology, in September 1914. And for
the next few years his mythology primarily found expression in lexicons,
grammars, and poems. In early 1916, he offered a collection of his poetry,
entitled The Trumpets of Faerie, to the London publishers Sidgwick and
Jackson, but the book was turned down. Soon afterward he began writing
prose versions of the invented mythology, calling the assembled stories The
Book of Lost Tales. These prose versions are the originals of what became
Tolkien's "Silmarillion," the legendarium that he worked and reworked
throughout his entire life. The complex evolution of these tales and legends is
evidenced in the twelve volumes of Christopher Tolkien's series, The History
of Middle-earth (1983–96).
Tolkien began writing for children in 1920 with the first of what
became for many years a series of illustrated letters, addressed to his own
children, ostensibly written by Father Christmas and telling of events at the
North Pole. The earliest letters are fairly simple, but around 1925 they began
to grow in length and complexity, as Tolkien inevitably evolved a mythology
around Father Christmas and the various elves, gnomes, and polar bears of
that region. A selection of these letters appeared in 1976 as The Father
Christmas Letters, edited by Baillie Tolkien. A much-expanded edition
appeared in 1999 under the title Letters from Father Christmas.
Around 1924, Tolkien began telling tales to his children,
sometimes writing them down. One of these early efforts is "The Orgog," an
unfinished tale of a strange creature traveling through a fantastic landscape.
Another, a short novella called Roverandom that was published posthumously
in 1998, was first told extemporaneously to his children in September 1925
but apparently was not written down until around Christmas 1927. Mr. Bliss,
an illustrated booklet published in a facsimile edition in 1982, was written in
1928, according to a summer diary of Michael Tolkien's, though the only
surviving manuscript appears to date from the early 1930s.
Around 1928 Tolkien began a series of poems that he titled "Tales
and Songs of Bimble Bay," set around an imaginary seaside town called
Bimble Bay. Tolkien wrote six poems in this series, three of which appear in
this book. And the earliest version of Farmer Giles of Ham probably also
dates from the late 1920s, around the time just before The Hobbit was written.
In his essay "Whose Lord of the Rings Is It, Anyway?," Wayne G.
Hammond gives an excellent evaluation of Tolkien's children's stories:
The significance of Tolkien's children's stories has not been fully appreciated.
They gave him opportunities (or excuses) to experiment with other modes of
storytelling than the formal prose or poetry he used in writing his mythology.
In a children's story he could be unashamedly playful, even childlike, with
words and situations. Not for the serious legendarium was a red-haired boy
named Carrots who had strange adventures inside a cuckoo clock, or a
villain "Bill Stickers" and his nemesis "Major Road Ahead." Not for posterity,
either, since Tolkien seems never to have set these stories on paper, or not
to a great extent. . . . Mr. Bliss has layers of social satire, and (as far as we
know) is Tolkien's only experiment with the picture book, in which art and
words have equal weight. In the "Father Christmas Letters" he could indulge
his talents for painting and drawing, calligraphy, and languages. Roverandom
began as an invention to comfort young Michael Tolkien who had lost a toy,
and Michael and his brother John who were frightened during a storm. . . .
Farmer Giles of Ham likewise began simply, as a family game played in the
country around Oxford, but it appealed to Tolkien's love of word-play and of
place-names, and he subsequently enlarged it for publication. (Canadian C.
S. Lewis Journal, Spring 2000, p. 62)
The Hobbit represents the first coming together of these various
facets of Tolkien's writings — his poetry (there are sixteen poems in The
Hobbit, plus eight riddles); his artwork; the peoples and places from his
invented mythology (Elrond, Mirkwood, and the Necromancer, Sauron); and
the style and accessibility of his writing for children, together with a kind of
playfulness drawing on his professional knowledge of medieval languages and
literature. All of these come together and blossom in The Hobbit, while
similarly they would bloom in The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien himself claimed that The Hobbit was derived
from "previously digested" epic, mythology, and fairy story. We can name
some such sources: Beowulf, the fairy-tale collections of Andrew Lang and
the Brothers Grimm, works by E. H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Rudyard Kipling,
William Morris, and George Macdonald, especially the latter's Princess and
the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. The single influence that
Tolkien called a conscious one was his own "Silmarillion" legends. Another,
more obscure influence was The Marvellous Land of Snergs (1927), a
children's book by E. A. Wyke-Smith. This story concerns the adventures of
a Snerg named Gorbo. Snergs are "a race of people only slightly taller than
the average table but broad in the shoulders and of great strength."
The land of the Snergs is described as "a place set apart," where
a small colony has been established for children who have been taken away
from their abusive or neglectful parents. The story centers on two children,
Joe and Sylvia, who, along with Gorbo, proceed on a rambling adventure into
unknown lands. They encounter various troublesome and curious characters,
such as Golithos, a reformed ogre who has become vegetarian and no longer
eats children, and Mother Meldrum, a sinister witch who is also a wonderful
Tolkien admitted in a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden that The
Marvellous Land of Snergs was "probably an unconscious source-book! for
the Hobbits, not of anything else" (Letters, No. 163). But this statement fails
to convey the esteem in which Tolkien once held the book. In the drafts for
his famous lecture "On Fairy-Stories" he wrote, "I should like to record my
own love and my children's love of E. A. Wyke-Smith's Marvellous Land of
Snergs, at any rate of the snerg-element of that tale, and of Gorbo the gem of
dunderheads, jewel of a companion in an escapade."
The playfulness and humor of The Marvellous Land of Snergs are
strongly suggestive of The Hobbit, as the following excerpt demonstrates:
[The Snergs] are great on feasts, which they have in the open air at long
tables joined end on and following the turns of the street. This is necessary
because nearly everybody is invited — that is to say, commanded to come,
because the King gives the feasts, though each person has to bring his share
of food and drink and put it in the general stock. Of late years the procedure
has changed owing to the enormous number of invitations that had to be
sent; the commands are now understood and only invitations to stay away
are sent to the people who are not wanted on the particular occasion. They
are sometimes hard up for a reason for a feast, and then the Master of the
Household, whose job it is, has to hunt for a reason, such as its being
somebody's birthday. Once they had a feast because it was nobody's
birthday that day. (The Marvellous Land of Snergs, p. 10)
There are other similarities between the two books, in theme and in a few
specific incidents. The Marvellous Land of Snergs remains a delightful book,
and fans of The Hobbit will find much to enjoy in it beyond the Tolkien
The history of the actual writing of The Hobbit is best told by first
studying the surviving manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs now held in the
Memorial Library Archives at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
It is perhaps easiest to describe these papers in terms of stages of
composition, which I shall label from A to F.
Stage A: A six-page handwritten manuscript of Chapter 1 (the
opening pages are missing). This is the earliest surviving manuscript, in
which the dragon is named Pryftan, and the head dwarf Gandalf, and the
Stage B: A mixed typescript and handwritten manuscript. The first
twelve pages are typed (on Tolkien's Hammond typewriter), and the
remainder of the pages are handwritten and numbered consecutively from 13
to 167. This stage of composition constitutes Chapters 1 through 12 of the
published book, and Chapter 14. The name of the dragon was originally typed
(in Chapter 1) Pryftan, but this is hand-corrected to Smaug. The manuscript
continues with the head dwarf still named Gandalf, and the wizard Bladorthin.
Beorn is called Medwed throughout this version, and the wizard does not
produce the key to the back door of the Lonely Mountain — a key found in
the trolls' hoard is used to open Durin's Door. Some stoppages are
discernable at certain points, evidenced by a change of paper or ink, or a
slight change in the handwriting, perhaps because a different pen was used.
The breaks occur roughly at page 50 (near the beginning of chapter 5), page
77 (at the end of chapter 6), page 107 (the middle of chapter 8), and page
119 (the beginning of chapter 9). In the last thirty-five pages, the head dwarf
becomes Thorin, and the wizard Gandalf.
An outline of six pages summarizes the tale from the Elvenking's
Halls to the end of the story.
Stage C: A typescript done on the Hammond typewriter (with the
songs in italics), with the pages numbered from 1 to 132, covering the same
material as in stage B. (The final pages were re-numbered at Stage E, at the
time of the insertion of the matter that became Chapter 13; see below.) This
typescript uses Thorin and Gandalf throughout, and must have been prepared
toward the end of stage B. Also, the character first named Medwed is now
Stage D: A handwritten manuscript, with pages numbered from 1
to 45, covering Chapters 13 and 15–19.
Stage E: The typescript from Stage C was reworked, with the new
insert of Chapter 13 paginated 127–134, and the typescript of the former
Chapter 13, now Chapter 14, renumbered by hand 135–40. The new chapters
from stage D are now typed and hand-numbered from 141–68.
Stage F: A second full typescript, first intended as a printer's
typescript, was made at this point, but it seems not to have been used, as it
has a significant number of typographical mistakes.
After this came the first set of page proofs, followed by the revised
To combine the physical evidence of the manuscript with what is known of
the chronology of the composition of the book is a tentative process, and it is
not always possible to determine dates precisely.
Tolkien often recounted how he began the story. One hot summer
afternoon he was sitting at home at his desk, correcting School Certificate
examination papers on English literature. He told one interviewer, "One of the
candidates had mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it, which is
the best thing that can possibly happen to an examiner, and I wrote on it: 'In
a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' Names always generate a story in
my mind: eventually I thought I'd better find out what hobbits were like."
(Biography, p. 172) Elsewhere he added, "Later on, some months later, I
thought this was just too good to leave just on the back of an examination
[paper] . . .
I wrote the first chapter first — then I forgot about it, then I wrote another part.
I myself can still see the gaps. There is a very big gap after they reach the
eyrie of the Eagles. After that I really didn't know how to go on." And further
to this he said, "I just spun a yarn out of any elements in my head: I don't
remember organizing the thing at all."
Just when he wrote that first sentence is not precisely clear.
Enough of the book was in existence by January 1933 to be shown to C. S.
Lewis, who wrote of it to Arthur Greeves on February 4, 1933: "Since term
began [on January 15] I have had a delightful time reading a children's story
which Tolkien has just written . . . Whether it is really good (I think it is until
the end) is of course another question: still more, whether it will succeed with
modern children" (They Stand Together, ed. Walter Hooper, No. 183).
Tolkien's eldest sons, John and Michael, remembered having heard elements
of the story told to them in their father's study at 22 Northmoor Road, where
the Tolkien family lived from early 1926 to January 1930, when they moved
from this house into the larger one next door. But what these "elements" were
remains uncertain — they could have been from other impromptu tales that
Tolkien told his children and then were later reused in The Hobbit. Michael
Tolkien preserved some of his own childhood compositions that late in life he
believed dated from 1929, which were written in imitation of The Hobbit.
However, certain elements in these stories, as described by Michael Tolkien,
make it clear that they compare not with the earliest phases of composition
but with later stages.
There are a few other important pieces of contemporary evidence
to discuss. First there is a letter by Christopher Tolkien written to Father
Christmas in December 1937, proposing The Hobbit as an idea for Christmas
presents. This letter gives the history of the book as follows: "Daddy wrote it
ages ago, and read it to John, Michael, and me in our Winter 'Reads' after
tea in the evening; but the ending chapters were rather roughly done, and not
typed out at all; he finished it about a year ago" (Biography, p. 177). And in a
memorandum Stanley Unwin wrote after meeting with Tolkien in late October
1937, he recorded the fact that Tolkien "mentioned that The Hobbit took him
2 or 3 years to write because he works very slowly" (George Allen & Unwin—
A Rembrancer, p. 81).
If we take the publication of The Marvellous Land of Snergs as
necessarily antecedent to Tolkien's idea of hobbits, then the earliest he could
have written that first sentence would have been the summer of 1928. Tolkien
clearly had the inspiration for the first sentence while grading examinations
one summer, and that seems likely to have been in one of the three years
from 1928 to 1930. Tolkien returned to the idea of hobbits some indefinite
time period later, writing the first version of Chapter 1 (stage A). Some
unknown amount of time elapsed, and he returned to the story, typing up
chapter one and continuing on by hand (with an additional gap in composition
after the eagle episode), making stage B. He clearly must have reached
stage C, a typescript, by January 1933, in time for C. S. Lewis to read the
book and feel uncertain about the ending, which was apparently not written
out beyond an outline. Stages D, E, and F probably belong to the summer of
1936, when Tolkien returned to the book in order to finish it for consideration
by Allen & Unwin.
Tolkien himself dated the beginning of the writing of The Hobbit to
1930. In one account, he said that he wrote the first chapter "certainly after
1930 when I moved to 20 Northmoor Road" (Biography, p. 177). In the 1968
BBC television program "Tolkien in Oxford," Tolkien gave the following
account of his writing of the first sentence, and again he specifically
associates it with the house at number 20 Northmoor Road:
The actual flashpoint was = I can remember very clearly = I can still see the
corner of my house in 20 Northmoor Road where it happened. I'd got an
enormous pile of examinations papers there [pointing to his right], and
marking school examinations in the summertime is an enormous [task], very
laborious and unfortunately also very boring. I remember picking up a paper
and actually finding = I nearly gave it an extra mark on it, an extra five marks
= one page of the particular paper was left blank. Glorious. Nothing to read,
so I scribbled on it, I can't think why, "In a hole in the ground there lived a
hobbit." (Tolkien in Oxford, 1968)
Tolkien also wrote in a letter to Allen & Unwin of August 31, 1937,
that "my eldest boy was thirteen when he heard the serial," and since John
was born in November 1917, he would have turned thirteen in November 1930,
which suggests that Tolkien might have read the first chapters to his sons
during their "Winter Reads" in the winter of 1930–31.
The sequence of events that brought the manuscript of The Hobbit to the
attention of George Allen & Unwin is no longer clear. Tolkien's "home
manuscript" had been lent to some people outside of the family, including C.
S. Lewis, Elaine Griffiths, the Reverend Mother St. Teresa Gale (the Mother
Superior at Cherwell Edge, a convent of the Order of the Holy Child Jesus),
and one child, a girl of twelve or thirteen, presumably Aileen Jennings, the
older sister of the poet Elizabeth Jennings, whose family was friends with the
Elaine Griffiths (1909–1996) was a pupil of Tolkien's who was for
many years afterward a Fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. In the early
1930s she was tutoring undergraduates at Cherwell Edge, to which was
attached a hostel (where Griffiths lived) for Catholic women in the Society of
Home-Students, as St. Anne's was then called. Since 1934 Griffiths was
working on a B.Litt. with Tolkien on the language of the Ancrene Wisse. She
When I was a young graduate, Professor Tolkien lent me his = not
manuscript, but beautifully typed copy of The Hobbit. He had a fascinating
typewriter with an italic script, and I thought it was wonderful and read it with
enormous pleasure. And quite a time afterwards, somebody I had known
when she was an undergraduate who was working for Allen & Unwin, came to
me and wanted something, I've forgotten what, and I said, "Oh Susan, I don't
know it or can't get it, but I'll tell you something, go along to Professor
Tolkien and see if you can get out of him a work called The Hobbit, as I think
it's frightfully good.
The person from Allen & Unwin was Susan Dagnall (1910–1952),
who was at Oxford at the same time as Griffiths and who went to work at
Allen & Unwin in 1933. Sometime in the late spring or early summer of 1936,
Dagnall visited Oxford to discuss with Griffiths the revision of a translation of
Beowulf that was a popular undergraduate crib. Tolkien had in fact
recommended Griffiths for the job, though in the end she was
unable to do it. The task was completed by Tol-kien's colleague C. L. Wrenn,
and Allen & Unwin published it in 1940 as Beowulf and the Finnesburgh
Fragment, with prefatory remarks by Tolkien.
Dagnall did borrow the manuscript of The Hobbit, and after reading
it she encouraged Tolkien to finish it so that it could be considered for
publication by Allen & Unwin. Tolkien set to work. In August he wrote that
The Hobbit was nearly finished, but it was not until October 3, 1936, that he
sent the typescript to Allen & Unwin.
Stanley Unwin, the firm's chairman, read the book and approved
it. A second opinion was solicited from the children's writer Rose Fyleman
(1877–1957), who was then working as an outside reader and translator for
Allen & Unwin. But Stanley Unwin believed that children were the best judges
of children's books, and intermittently he employed his own children,
including his youngest son Rayner, to review the children's book
submissions for the standard fee of one shilling per written report. The Hobbit
was given to Rayner Unwin, then aged ten, who thought the book was good
and judged, with the superiority of a ten-year-old, that it should appeal to all
children between the ages of five and nine. The Hobbit was officially accepted
for publication. Contracts were signed in early December.
On December 4, 1936, Susan Dagnall asked Tolkien for a short
paragraph describing the book for Allen & Unwin's catalog. Tolkien evidently
supplied this before December 10. It not only appeared in the Allen & Unwin
1937 Summer Announcements but it was also used on the front flap of the
dust jacket of the published book, where additional remarks were added by
the publisher. Tolkien's paragraphs read as follows:
If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world,
over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a
humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and
considerable good luck), here is the record of such a journey and such a
traveller. The period is the ancient time between the age of Faerie and the
dominion of men, when the famous forest of Mirkwood was still standing, and
the mountains were full of danger. In following the path of this humble
adventurer, you will learn by the way (as he did) = if you do not already know
all about these things = much about trolls, goblins, dwarves, and elves, and
get some glimpses into the history and politics of a neglected but important
For Mr. Bilbo Baggins visited various notable persons; conversed
with the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent; and was present, rather unwillingly,
at the Battle of Five Armies. This is all the more remarkable, since he was a
hobbit. Hobbits have hitherto been passed over in history and legend,
perhaps because they as a rule preferred comfort to excitement. But this
account, based on his personal memoirs, of the one exciting year in the
otherwise quiet life of Mr. Baggins will give you a fair idea of this estimable
people, now (it is said) becoming rather rare. They do not like noise.
There were evidently some of Tolkien's own illustrations with
the "home manuscript" of The Hobbit, but just what these might have been
remains uncertain. There were also some maps, five of which were apparently
with the book when it was submitted to Allen & Unwin in October 1936.
Over the years since The Hobbit was first published, a number of
Tolkien's illustrations, eight in black and white and five in color (plus the two
maps), have become what might be called the "standard" illustrations that
usually appear in the book.18 But this standard took some time to evolve,
and the surviving artwork associated with The Hobbit numbers around seventy
The first British edition had no color illustrations, but included ten
black-and-white ones, and two maps. All of Tolkien's black-and-white Hobbit
drawings seem to have been made after the holidays of December 1936 and
before the middle of January 1937. On January 4, Tolkien sent Allen & Unwin
four finished drawings, including The Elvenking's Gate, Lake Town, The Front
Gate, and Mirkwood (which Tolkien envisioned as the front endpaper). At the
same time he sent on the redrawn versions of Thror's Map and the map of
Wilderland, having decided that the other three were not necessary (though
Tolkien would have to redraw Thror's Map yet again, in a horizontal framework
suitable for an endpaper). Two weeks later he sent six more pictures, which
he had designed so as to more evenly distribute the illustrations throughout
the book. These six illustrations included The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water
(a black-and-white version), The Trolls, The Mountain-path, The Misty
Mountains Looking West, Beorn's Hall, and The Hall at Bag-End.
As of the end of March, Allen & Unwin were hopeful that Tolkien
might find time to provide a dust jacket design for the book. He submitted a
preliminary design in early April, and by April 25 he had turned in the final art
(with elaborate instructions to the printers written in the margins).
Four of Tolkien's five color paintings for The Hobbit were done
during a couple of weeks of university vacation in mid-July 1937. These
include Rivendell, Bilbo Woke Up with the Early Sun in His Eyes, Bilbo
Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves, and Conversation with Smaug. The fifth,
a colored painting to replace the ink version of The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the
Water, was completed by August 13.
The complexities with the various maps, illustrations, and the dust jacket
occupied Tolkien and Allen & Unwin for much of the first half of 1937. In his
publishing memoir, Rayner Unwin described the situation as follows:
In 1937 alone Tolkien wrote 26 letters to George Allen & Unwin and received
31 letters in return. On Tolkien's part these were all in handwriting, often up
to five pages long, detailed, fluent, often pungent, but infinitely polite and
exasperatingly pre-cise. The time and patience that his publishers devoted to
what should have been a straightforward typeset-ting job is astonishing. I
doubt whether any author today, however famous, would get such scrupulous
attention. (George Allen & Unwin--A Remembrancer, p. 75)
Introduction and annotations © copyright 2002 by Douglas A. Anderson.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.