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The Hobbit 1st edition

"I shan't call it the end, till we've cleared up the mess." — Sam
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This article contains information specifically on the The Hobbit 1st edition published by George Allen & Unwin, for general information on the book see The Hobbit.


[edit] First edition

The Hobbit has been published in two editions. The second intended to be more in tune with The Lord of the Rings. For example, the first edition makes a reference to "tomatoes", which was altered to "pickles" by Tolkien in the second.

In the first edition, Gollum willingly bets his magic ring on the outcome of the riddle game. During the writing of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien saw the need to revise this passage, in order to reflect the concept of the One Ring and its powerful hold on Gollum. Tolkien tried many different passages in the chapter that would become chapter 2 of the Lord of the Rings, "The Shadow of the Past". Eventually Tolkien decided a rewrite of The Hobbit was in order, and he sent a sample chapter of this rewrite ("Riddles in the Dark") to his publishers. Initially he heard nothing further, but when he was sent galley proofs of a new edition he learned to his surprise the new chapter had been incorporated as the result of a misunderstanding.

Tolkien explained the two different versions in the introduction of The Lord of the Rings, as well as inside "The Shadow of the Past", as a "lie" that Bilbo made up, probably because of the One Ring's influence on him, and which he originally wrote down in his book. Inside The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo finally confesses the real story at the Council of Elrond, although Gandalf had deduced the truth earlier. As Tolkien presented himself as the translator of the supposedly historic Red Book of Westmarch, where Bilbo and Frodo's stories were recorded, he further explained the two differing stories in The Hobbit by stating he had originally used Bilbo's original story, but later retranslated the work with the "true story" recorded by Frodo.

This first edition also mentions "gnomes", an earlier word Tolkien used to refer to the second kindred of the High Elves — the Noldor (or "Deep Elves"). Tolkien thought that "gnome", being derived from the Greek gnosis (knowledge), was a good name for the Noldor he created to be the wisest of the other Elves. But with its English connotations of a small, secretive, and unattractive creature, Tolkien removed it from later editions. He made other minor changes in order to conform the narrative to events in The Lord of the Rings and in the ideas he was developing for the Quenta Silmarillion.

However this still does not fit perfectly: even revised, The Hobbit is so much different in tone that it sometimes seems to belong in another universe from other Middle-earth works. Examples include the following:

  • Anachronisms: Bilbo has a clock. Many artists like John Howe prefer to omit it from their paintings. Bilbo also is mentioned to have matches for his pipe. In the world of Lord of the Rings matches had not yet been invented and all use flints.
  • The Trolls have English first and last names, like fairy-tale characters.
  • Lighthearted use of "magic": when Bilbo tries to steal a purse from the Trolls, the purse shouts.
  • Elves appear either as silly and mischievous (Rivendell) or even hostile (Mirkwood).
  • Orcs are still called Goblins, and are more like bogeymen than man-eating humanoid warriors.
  • Gandalf mentions Radagast as his cousin. (Then again, both Gandalf and Radagast are angelic Maiar spirits, and thus in a sense are "related", both being children of the thought of Eru Ilúvatar.)
  • The extensive mentioning (and brief appearance) of Giants. Giants were never developed in Tolkien's other works, but although they should exist and possibly take a grand part in the past and upcoming Wars, they are never mentioned again. Even if Giants are seen as a kind of large Trolls, they are hard to justify, as trolls are described as either incredibly stupid or incredibly evil: quite unlike the Stone Giants of The Hobbit.

Some of the tone differences can be explained by accepting Bilbo as the author of the work: Bilbo wrote the story of his journeys to recount them to the children of Hobbiton and therefore changed the story somewhat. Apparent major differences such as the different perception of the Ring can also be explained by Bilbo's lacking knowledge of these matters.

[edit] 1st impression

The first impressions was printed in 1937 included black and white illustrations only.

[edit] 2nd impression

The second impression was printed in 1937 and included four color illustrations.

[edit] 3rd impression

The third impression was printed in 1942 and included only 1 color illustration for the War Economy Standard.

[edit] 4th impression

The fourth impression was printed in 1946 and was similar to the third impression. 4,000 copies were printed.