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The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Since its publication in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit has enchanted audiences both young and old. Its initial print run was a modest 1,500 copies—but it has since sold more than 100 million, making it one of the best-selling novels of all time.

A scholar of Old and Middle English, Tolkien was inspired by early Germanic literature, mythology, and poetry. In The Hobbit, he combined traits of ancient heroic epics with the rural England setting that he knew so well. Initial reviews of The Hobbit were overwhelmingly positive, with poet W.H. Auden praising it as "one of the best children's stories of this century."

Its allure has not worn off. The Hobbit has never gone out of print, and it has been adapted countless times for stage, screen, radio, comic books, and video games.

1. Tolkien began detailing Middle-earth 20 years before writing The Hobbit.

A scholar of Germanic and Norse languages and religions, Tolkien started creating the larger mythology that would influence The Hobbit decades before its publication. The history of Middle-earth began in a collection of short stories called The Book of Lost Tales (1916–20). The dwarves made their first appearance in this early volume.

2. Tolkien was inspired to write The Hobbit while he was grading exams.

Tolkien was a professor at Oxford when inspiration to write The Hobbit hit. He was grading exams when he noticed that one student had left a page blank. For reasons unknown, he was suddenly moved to write the line, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Tolkien had to find out what a hobbit was and why it lived in a hole—and The Hobbit soon followed.

3. A 10-year-old's review helped The Hobbit get published.

Believing that children were the best judges of children's books, publisher Stanley Unwin paid his 10-year-old son, Rayner, one shilling to write a review of the book. His review was very positive: "It is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9." Rayner followed in his father's footsteps and was the publisher of many of Tolkien's later works.

4. Tolkien popularized spelling the plural dwarves spelling.

Before The Hobbit, the standard plural of dwarf was dwarfs. Tolkien deliberately misspelled it for "special purpose and effect," believing that "dwarves goes well with elves." Nowadays, many fantasy authors still use dwarves, but dwarfs is preferred for all other uses.

5. Tolkien drew more than 100 illustrations for the manuscript.

He was as prolific an artist as he was a writer, although most of his illustrations did not make it into the book. At last, in 2012 his complete collection of artwork for The Hobbit was published for the first time in The Art of the Hobbit.

6. The Hobbit was heavily influenced by Beowulf.

Tolkien named the epic poem of Old English literature as "among [his] most valued sources." Readers have noticed many similarities between The Hobbit and Beowulf, including their depictions of dragons and the description of a lair that can be accessed through a secret passage.

7. Tolkien was outraged with certain translations of The Hobbit.

The Swedish translator, for instance, changed the name of the Hobbits to "Hompen," which Tolkien detested. He wrote:

I will not tolerate any similar tinkering with the personal nomenclature. Nor with the name/word Hobbit. I will not have any more Hompen (in which I was not consulted), nor any Hobbel or what not.

8. The dwarves may have been influenced by the history of the Jewish people.

According to John Rateliff, the author of a two-volume history of The Hobbit, Tolkien's development of the dwarves was influenced by Jewish history and ancient Hebrew texts. Both the dwarves and the Jewish people were exiled from their ancient homelands. Additionally, the dwarves speak among themselves a Hebrew-influenced language.

9. Tolkien revised The Hobbit after publication of The Lord of the Rings.

Pleased with The Hobbit's success, Tolkien's publisher asked for a sequel. Tolkien began work on The New Hobbit, which would eventually become The Lord of the Rings. To bring it more in line with the plot of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien made several changes to The Hobbit in later editions, including substantial changes to the character Gollum and the concept of the ring.

10. Tolkien was close friends with fellow fantasy author C.S. Lewis.

Lewis, the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, agreed with Tolkien in the value of myth and legend in storytelling. Both authors used the fantasy genre, with its appeal to a broad audience—including children and adults—as a way to present a Christian message of good and evil to people who might otherwise reject it.

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