As you might be aware, if you’ve been online or watched any television over the last month, the long-awaited Hobbit movie is finally in theaters and while plenty of people are talking about the movie, we’re here to talk about its inspiration, the classic Tolkien novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. So grab your second breakfast and sit back and relax because there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to this classic children’s book.
Tolkien Started to Create Middle Earth Long Before He Thought Up The Story
While plenty of fantasy authors create mythologies to work with their characters and their plot lines, Tolkien, who had an academic background in Germanic and Norse language and religions, instead started creating a mythology and elven languages in 1917 -long before he ever thought about the characters that would later star in his stories.
He didn’t even start to think about hobbits until the early 1930’s, when a sentence popped into his head as he was grading some tests. He immediately scribbled down the words, “In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit” and within a few years, he finished the story.
He Didn’t Even Send the Manuscript to a Publisher
After finishing The Hobbit, Tolkien sent it to few friends and colleagues to review, including a student named Elaine Griffiths. In 1936, Elaine was talking to Susan Dagnall, who worked for a publishing company, when she recommended that Susan take a look at the manuscript. Susan was impressed with the work and gave it to Stanley Unwin, the head of publishing house George Allen and Unwin. Stanley gave the book to his 10 year-old to review, as he was the target age for the title, and the boy’s positive review led to the publishers deciding to print the book.
The Book Was an Immediate Success
Released on September 21, 1937 with a print run of 1,500 copies, the book was already sold out by December. While the first printing was in black and white, the popularity of the title made the publisher feel comfortable releasing future copies with color illustrations.
At its release, the book was nominated for a Carnegie Medal and awarded a New York Herald Tribune prize for best juvenile fiction. Since then, the book has been translated in over forty languages and Books for Keeps recognized it as the "Most Important 20th-Century Novel (for Older Readers)" in their “Children’s Books of the Century” poll. Since Nielsen started tracking books with their BookScan service in 1995, The Hobbit has not once fallen off of their list of the top 5,000 books –not bad for something that was already over 60 years old. In fact, the book has earned 3rd place on their “Evergreen” book list.
Lord of the Rings Changed The Hobbit
Image Via Han Shot First [Flickr]
Because the book did so well, publishers requested a sequel in December of 1937. Originally, Tolkien presented them with drafts for The Silmarillion, but they were rejected on the grounds that the public wanted “more about hobbits.” Soon enough, the author completed The Lord of the Rings, which greatly impacted Gollum and the ring, which were both included in The Hobbit.
In the first version of the story, Gollum bets his ring on the outcome of the riddle game he plays with Bilbo, but after Lord of the Rings shows how corrupting the ring is and how it took over Gollum’s mind, this made no sense. That’s why after the second edition, released in 1951, Tolkien had Bilbo discover the ring in the dark tunnels before he encounters Gollum. He then has Bilbo use the ring to escape Gollum, who planned to use the ring to kill the hobbit. Gollum’s personality is also drastically different as he is more aggressive towards Bilbo and at the end of the scene, he becomes furious when he learns the hobbit has his ring, cursing him, "Thief! Thief, Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!"
In 1960, Tolkien started rewriting the story to better match the tone of Lord of the Rings, which was written for an adult audience that grew up after reading the original version of The Hobbit. Fortunately, publishers told him to can the revisions because the new version lost the original quick pace and light-hearted tone that everyone loved about the original.
When publishers requested a revised version in 1965, in order to renew the US copyright, Tolkien took the opportunity to further revise the story so that it better aligned with both Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion, which he hoped to release as an additional part of the tale. While these changes weren’t as major as the previous ones, they did change the name of the elves from the West from “Gnomes” to “High Elves.” While he originally thought that gnome, originating from the Greek word for knowledge, was a fitting term for these creatures, the popular use of garden gnomes changed his opinion about the word.
He May, Or May Not Have, Created Hobbits
Image Via Cyber Bird [Flickr]
While most people credit Tolkien with creating the word “hobbit,” researchers did discover the word in 1895’s Denham Tracts by Michael Aislabie Denham, which lists the creature along with a number of sprites and bogies based on a 1584 text titled, Discovery of Witchcraft. Oddly, Denham’s title is the only known source of the word before Tolkien’s usage. Because Tolkien was well-read in ancient folklore, it is possible that he ran across the text and later brought up the word in his own mind, forgetting that it came from a specific source. On the other hand, he very well may have invented the word and it could just be coincidence that they are so similar. Either way, there’s no denying that the author gave definition to the word and is responsible for its popularity in modern times.
He Undoubtedly Invented Dwarves
Yes, the mythological concept of dwarves has been around since at least the thirteenth century and Tolkien’s dwarves are pretty similar to many traditional dwarves. What he did invent was the word “dwarves.” Before that, the creatures were pluralized as “dwarfs” (this is the version used with Snow White) or, in olden times, “dwarrows” or “dwerrows.” Tolkien thought that the word “dwarves” paired better with “elves” though and referred to his pluralization as “a piece of private bad grammar.” In fact, his early editors actually changed his uses of “dwarves” back to “dwarfs,” but in time, they relented.
While most people use Tolkiens pluralized form these days when discussing more than one dwarf, the author later wrote that he wished he actually used the proper historical “dwarrows” in his books instead.
So now, when you go see The Hobbit films, you can go in with a little more knowledge about the source material –and you can even start to imagine the characters saying “dwarrows” every time they say “dwarves.” Happy Hobbitdays everyone.