Since 1937, few books have provided more pleasure than J.R.R. tolkien's The Hobbit. Originally published in England with a first printing of 1,500 copies, The Hobbit today celebrates its 69th anniversary!
In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden (Letters), Tolkien recollects in the late 1920s, when he was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, he began The Hobbit when he was marking School Certificate papers. On the back of one of the papers, he wrote the words "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit". He did not go any further than that at the time, although in the following years he drew up Thror's map, outlining the geography of the tale. The tale itself he wrote in the early 1930s, and it was eventually published because he lent it to 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 Tolkiens, who ecouraged him to finish the book. Finally it was seen by the 10-year old son of Sir Stanley Unwin, Rayner Unwin, who wrote such an enthusiastic review of the book that it was published by Allen & Unwin.
First published on 21st September 1937, The Hobbit is now recognized as an international bestseller: it has been translated in over 40 languages and has sold over 90 million copies worldwide. When it appeared in 1937, tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis unashamedly published rave reviews in the Times and Times Literary Supplement. The book was immediately successful, in a modest way; the first impression of The Hobbit was completely sold out by December 15, and the first published review in the Times Literary Supplement put it in a class with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows, but not all critics were as kind. Nevertheless, demands from readers for a sequel would lead Tolkien to begin work on the "new Hobbit", a work which would finally appear almost twenty years later as The Lord of the Rings.
The First Impression of the first UK edition was published September 21, 1937 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. It was limited to only 1500 copies. The first UK editions prominently included the dust jacket designed by Tolkien. It was done in a wrap-a-round style in black, green and blue. It is certainly one of tolkien's best illustrations and demonstrates his innate sense of visual design. It has become one of the most recognized book covers of all time. Originally Tolkien intended the flying dragon and the sun to be painted red, but budget restraints forced the red color to be substituted with black. The now very rare First Issue dust jacket can be recognized by the hand correction in ink, of the 'e' in the misspelled 'Dodgeson', on the rear flap.
Here is a list of errors cited by Wayne G. Hammond that the first impression was published with. It is unclear when all of these were corrected:
1. p14, ll. 17-18, 'find morning', for 'fine morning'.
2. p17, ll. 29-30, 'So you have got here at last! what (for That) was what he was going to say'.
3. p25, l. 11, 'more fierce then fire' for 'more fierce than fire'.
4. p62, ll. 2-3, 'uncomfortable palpitating' for 'uncomfortable, palpitating'
5. p62, l. 31, 'their bruises their tempers and their hopes' for 'their bruises, their tempers and their hopes'.
6. p64, l. 21, 'where the thrush knocks' for 'when the thrush knocks'.
7. p85, l. 10, 'far under under the mountains' for 'far under the mountains'.
8. p104, l. 17, 'back tops' for 'black tops'.
9. p147, l. 16, 'nor what you call' for 'not what you call'.
10. p183, l. 26, reversed double quotation marks for the word 'Very'.
11. p205, l. 32, 'dwarves good feeling' for 'dwarves' godd feeling'.
12. p210, l. 29, 'above stream' for 'above the stream'.
13. p215, l. 13, 'door step' for 'doorstep'.
14. p216, l. 4, 'leas' for 'least'
15. p229, ll. 16-17, 'you imagination' for 'your imagination'.
16. p248, l. 32, 'nay breakfast' for 'any breakfast'.
Here is the list of the black-and-white illustrations:
P4: The Hill: Hobbiton Across the Water
P49: The Trolls
P68: The Mountain-path
P117: The Misty Mountains Looking West from the Eyrie Towards Goblin Gate
P126: Beorn's Hall
P146: Mirkwood (halftone plate facing page 146)
P177: The Elvenking's Gate
P196: Lake Town
P209: The Front Gate
P307: The Hall at Bag End
front endsheet: Thror's Map. printed in black and red
back endsheet: Wilderland, printed in black and red
Here are some reviews about the book:
The Hobbit is “the outstanding British work of fantasy for children to appear between the two World Wars, and the first of a series of books which eventually brought Tolkien world-wide fame... All historians of children’s literature... agree in placing “The Hobbit” among the very highest achievements of children’s authors during the 20th century”
- Carpenter and Prichard, 254, 530)
“Professor Tolkien’s epic of Middle Earth was begun before the war, in The Hobbit . During and after the war he continued the story... [and] published it as a trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” from 1954 to 1955...
It is considered one of this century’s lasting contributions to that borderland of literature between youth and age. There are few such books— Gulliver’s Travels , The Pilgrim’s Progress , Robinson Crusoe , Don Quixote , Alice in Wonderland , The Wind in the Willows— what else?...
The Hobbit and its sequel, The Lord of the Rings , are destined to become this century’s contribution to that select list of books which continue through the ages to be read by children and adults with almost equal pleasure” (Eyre, 67, 134-5).
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