World at Large came up with a brilliant idea. To honour the move of the book The Hobbit to the big screen, their weekly podcast now features an interview with Rayner Unwin. Without Rayner Unwin there might never have been The Hobbit at all, and no Lord of the Rings either.
Because Rayner Unwins' father believed that children were the best judges of what made good children's books he passed on the manuscripts to his son to decide whether the books were fit for publication. He was paid one shilling for each written report, and in Rayner Unwin's own words, it was "good money in those days". In 1936, he was asked to review The Hobbit, a book by J.R.R. Tolkien:
When 10-year-old Rayner Unwin produced this report for his father, publisher Stanley Unwin, he had no idea that the manuscript would go on to be a remarkable success. Neither did its author, J.R.R.Tolkien, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, when, inexplicably, he jotted the famous opening sentence – ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’ – on a blank sheet while examining papers! Yet, within a year of its publication, The Hobbit had won the New York Herald Tribune prize for children’s literature and was set to become a classic.
Rayner Unwin was interviewed by Erika Ritter for CBC’s Dayshift in 1987. The podcast also visits a hobbit camp in Nova Scotia run by the Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre, with a recording from 2006.
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