How Bilbo Baggins Got His Start: An interview with Rayner Unwin (02.07.08 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

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:

"Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exciting time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!
This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9."

Unwin Review of the Hobbit

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.

Listen to the Words at Large podcast here:

[runs 23:42]

To make this even more interesting let us watch a video interview with Rayner Unwin a few weeks before he passed away in 2000.

New York Times Video interview: A Conversation with Rayner Unwin

J. R. R. tolkien's publisher talks about his discovery of "The Hobbit" and his contribution to "The Lord of the Rings."

Rayner Unwin

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