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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
History of the Hobbit Discussion: Intro (Spoilers?)


Jun 16 2013, 9:10pm

Post #1 of 9 (256 views)
History of the Hobbit Discussion: Intro (Spoilers?) Can't Post

For anyone who wants to join! Welcome aboard!

My intent is to prompt discussion once a week. Sundays (CA time) work for me. If anyone wants to share facilitating, I'm all for it--just speak up or drop me a PM. I also labelled this "Spoilers?" as there could be any part of this that ends up spoilery. Someone tell me if that's overkill.

Book: History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff. I'm using the one-volume edition, but any ed. will do.

This week: The Introduction, pp. xii-xli (in my edition.)

Next week: Chapter 1a: The Pryftan Fragment.

This week's questions to prompt discussion (though feel free to add other comments!)

1. Briefly introduce yourself, if you'd like.

2. What interests you most about looking at the early drafts of Tolkien's TH?

3. Rateliff says, "It may come as something of a shock to see how differently Tolkien first conceived of some elements, and how differently they were sometimes expressed." Any revelations in the intro that shocked you?

4. Lots of interesting stuff in the footnotes. Anything that particularly caught your eye?

5. General surprises...what made you raise an eyebrow?

And just to kick us off--my answers to #1 and #4:

#1: My username is Bruinen--selected because I'm a Bruin (UCLA) who is very hobbity (home, books, garden) and therefore a bit taken with all things Rivendell...so Bruinen it is. I'm a geek by nature disguised as a librarian by trade. First read Tolkien at about age 12. Also read lots of other things, across genres. Did lots of Shakespeare scholarship as an undergrad.

#4: I *loved* footnote #3 (p. xxxvii) about the desk that Edith bought JRR, upon which he says he wrote the entirety of the Hobbit (though only some parts of LOTR.) It helps date the earliest possible year that he could have started his notes for TH, and I found a photo via Google Images (the desk is on display now at Wheaton College)...and there it is as my avatar. Geeky librarians call this "realia." Heart

Looking forward to meeting you! Hoping we have fun with this!

My Avatar: the desk Tolkien used when he wrote The Hobbit...now on display at Wheaton College.

(This post was edited by bruinen on Jun 16 2013, 9:12pm)


Jun 17 2013, 10:29am

Post #2 of 9 (126 views)
Hi bruinen, malickfan here. [In reply to] Can't Post

Named because I'm a big fan of Terrence Malick, the (famously reclusive, and very divisive) American Screenwriter and Film Director (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder), and as I've stated many times my personal choice for A Silmarillion film.

Anyway regarding the early drafts of the Hobbit, there were several things about the book that caught my attention:

1) I had already begun reading the H.O.M.E books which I found very interesting, and I was intrigued to see if The Hobbit had the same treatment, once I found it had...that bargain price on Amazon swung things.

2) I had read several user reviews, and interviews with Ratelife stating the book's commentary went into great detail exploring The Hobbit's links to Tolkien's early drafts of The Silmarillion and wider mythology, aside from the obvious (The Elvenking=Thingol) this was a link I had never really considered ( I was one of many guilty of viewing The Hobbit as a simple children's book-I have changed my views quite a bit, but I still enjoy the book's simplicity), with The Hobbit films coming out I wanted to get Tolkien's full perspective on the story before I saw the film.

3) Since the book was 900+ pages long I figured there was bound to be lot of 'new' (in the sense of being unpublished) writing by Tolkien included, the fact that such a massive project wasn't undertaken by Christopher Tolkien, but by Rateliffe, an American I was completely unfamiliar with was a little worrying, but I was also intrigued to see a new point of view of the book.

Now, for the introduction.

Firstly I will agree with your feelings on footnote 3-I found it fascinating that we still don't know precisely when The Hobbit was begun-the introduction shed plenty of new light for me-I was unaware the book was largely in existence long before '37 ( I had always assumed it was written that year), and much of the infomation revealed about its genesis was totally new to me, I had not read The Father Christams Letters, or the much of the early volumes of The H.O.M.E at that point so much of the comparisons he would be making in the book were new and (I feared) a little bewildering to me-though his detailed commentray in the book ended up not only shedding light on the hobbit, it also made the complex materil in H.O.M.E volumes 1-4 seem much more acessible.

I liked Rateliffe's comment on page xii: 'Think of this original draft as the unaired pilot episode of a classic tv series', and the comment on xiii '...The hobbit, which in recent years has come to be seen more and more as a mere 'prelude' to The Lord of The Rings...Such a view does not do jutice to either book, and ignores the fact that the story of Bilbo's adventure was meant to read as a stand alone work...'-I knew then we wre in safe hands as readers.

I was somewhat surprised that: Rateliffe was going to be using The Annontated Hobbit as a reference point, though I hadn't read it at that point I gathered it was a pretty similar work (Just started reading that as well-great book) and was a little concerned that the book might be mere second hand research (how wrong I was!), also the fact that such a short book as The Hobbit could be composed in Three stages was pretty interesting.

In short a long, but fascinating introduction that set the scene of the book well, and proved for me Rateliffe knew where he was going.

This is not a very interesting signature is it?

Tol Eressea

Jun 17 2013, 8:32pm

Post #3 of 9 (120 views)
Oooh, this looks fun! [In reply to] Can't Post

Seems like I have to check the library if the History of the Hobbit books are available atm.

#1 Faenoriel here! 1st Age fan, Silmarillion fan, HoME fan. Movie firster, a Ringer since 2002 and a Tolkienist since 2003.

#2 The depth of the "simple" text of this book for children. There's layers and layers of ancient mythology. And Tolkien's creative progress is always such a joy to follow.

#3 No, only felt the joy of revelation. Maybe the reference to China had a certain wow effect to it?

#4 Ah, I don't have the book at my hands right now...

#5 Bladorthin? Seriously Tolkien, what were you thinking?

But every word you say today
Gets twisted 'round some other way
And they'll hurt you if they think you've lied


Jun 18 2013, 7:10am

Post #4 of 9 (101 views)
I think the assumption in the RR [In reply to] Can't Post

is that people are familiar with the books. On the Hobbit Movie-board you might get people who either haven't read, or don't quite remember, the book; but here there is no need to mark as post as spoilery.
I am quite overburdened at the moment, so I don't think I'll be able to re-read the book while we are discussing it, at least not for some time. Therefore, I'll skip questions 3-5.
On the other hand, perhaps a brief summary of each section could help?

As to your first two questions:

1. Briefly introduce yourself, if you'd like.
sador, age 42, member of TORn since october 2007, mostly in the RR. In real life I live in Israel and work as an editor.

2. What interests you most about looking at the early drafts of Tolkien's TH?
As I've said before, I'm an editor! I am fascinated by the evoluution of concepts, and in timelines of different ideas and versions. Since The Hobbit was not discussed in HoME (and most letters in the relevant years were apparently lost, so they do not appear in the published collection)

An extra bonus is Rateliff's essays; he appears to be just another fan, who simply knows more - which makes them a treat!

'But my father loves them,' said Túrin, 'and he is not happy without them. He says that we have learned all that we know from them, and have been made a nobler people; and he says that the Men that have lately come over the Mountains are little better than Orcs.'
'That is true,' answered Sador; 'true at least of some of us. But the up-climbing is painful, and from high places it is easy to fall low.'

Who was right?
Join us in the Reading Room, for the discussion of Of the Coming of Men into the West, beginning on June 9!


Jun 19 2013, 3:04pm

Post #5 of 9 (68 views)
Father Christmas as early incarnation of Bladorthin/Gandalf [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi malickfan! Thanks for the post! I, too, liked the Father Christmas aspect (p. xviii to anyone who wants the page reference.) I wonder if the annual Father Christmas letters that Tolkien wrote every year for each of his children (detailing Father Christmas' adventures of the year) were the inception of Bladorthin/Gandalf and Beorn, or whether they were the result--had he been making notes for The Hobbit and then adapted the story to the Christmas letters?

I sort of feel they were the latter, but don't see any proof. I do like the concept of Father Christmas and the North Polar Bear, and can't help thinking Howe, Lee, or other talented artist could make quite a nice illustrated children's picture book for the holidays, based on the stories of the Father Christmas letters, provided anyone could negotiate the rights. In any case, quite interesting to see that the characters who eventually became Gandalf, Beorn, the Goblins, Smaug and even Gollum likely had their first outings playing roles in Tolkien's holiday letters to his children!

My Avatar: the desk Tolkien used when he wrote The Hobbit...now on display at Wheaton College.


Jun 19 2013, 3:13pm

Post #6 of 9 (66 views)
Blad... [In reply to] Can't Post

Bladorthin...really. I agree...WHAT is that. Can't decide if it's pronounced BLADorthin or BladORthin. I also noticed in the text of his draft that Tolkien often abbreviates the name by just penning "Blad." Sound so vampire-y! Glad he eventually transferred the Gandalf name from originally being the dwarf leader to the being the wizard we know today...and I can't help seeing the phonetic Thorin as a scramble of the -orthin part of Bladorthin. Gandalf and Thorin just click so much better, don't they?

I also appreciated the dwarf names that Tolkien's kids came up with as alternatives to Thorin & Co: Roary, Borey, Gorey, Biffer, Trasher, Gasher, Beater, Bomber, Lammer, Throw-in, Blow-in, and Go-in...and Scandalf the Beanpiper and Philpot Buggins. Pretty cute!

My Avatar: the desk Tolkien used when he wrote The Hobbit...now on display at Wheaton College.


Jun 19 2013, 3:20pm

Post #7 of 9 (69 views)
Oooo...an editor's eye... [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for posting! Your point of view will be interesting, I think. Please add what you can/have time for. Will be a relief not to worry about the spoiler warning...thanks for the tip. I don't have time to summarize, but if someone else does, I certainly invite that person to contribute. Rateliff *is* another fan, but he also worked for some time as a research assistant to Christopher Tolkien and is an accomplished/published scholar in his own right, so I think he's got one up on most of us.

My Avatar: the desk Tolkien used when he wrote The Hobbit...now on display at Wheaton College.


Jun 19 2013, 4:32pm

Post #8 of 9 (71 views)
always thought "BLADorthin" myself [In reply to] Can't Post

but it doesn't really flow off the tongue well either way, does it?

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams

Forum Admin / Moderator

Jun 26 2013, 8:03pm

Post #9 of 9 (51 views)
*reaches over to shelf, pulls out "Mr. Baggins"* [In reply to] Can't Post

With the summertime here, I hope to have more of a chance to join in on the RR discussions - you young'uns have made quite a "transformation" in here! Smile (Meaning: I've been lurking!)

1. Briefly introduce yourself, if you'd like.
Dernwyn, Forum Admin, but don't let that scare you. Wink Found TORn in 2002, been around these Boards since 2004...

2. What interests you most about looking at the early drafts of Tolkien's TH?
I love this stuff! But it's been a couple of years since I read this, and I've forgotten too much, so it's time for another foray into the field.

3. Rateliff says, "It may come as something of a shock to see how differently Tolkien first conceived of some elements, and how differently they were sometimes expressed." Any revelations in the intro that shocked you?
It's hard to recall what emotions all this provoked, when I first read it - apart from geeky laughter! I do like encouraging people to "keep their peckers up"...Angelic

4. Lots of interesting stuff in the footnotes. Anything that particularly caught your eye?
Love Unwin's memo.

5. General surprises...what made you raise an eyebrow?
Having read the LotR sections of HoME, no eyebrow-raising, but a lot of grinning. The name-changes are especially fun.

Thank you for leading us in this!


"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


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