Tomorrow, the second part of the epic films series based on The Hobbit will be released in theaters. Here are nine things you should know about the original book and its author, J.R.R. Tolkien.
1. Tolkien started to create Middle Earth long before he thought up the story that would be set in that locale. Tolkien, who had an academic background in Germanic and Norse language and religions, started creating a mythology and elven languages in 1917 — over a decade before he ever thought about the characters that would appear in his stories.
2. Tolkien claims the idea for The Hobbit came to him suddenly while he was grading student essay exams. He took out a blank piece of paper and wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” When he began writing the story, Tolkien believed he had invented the word “hobbit.” (It was revealed years after his death that the word predated Tolkien’s usage, though with a different meaning). Tolkien’s concept of hobbits were inspired by Edward Wyke Smith’s 1927 children’s book The Marvellous Land of Snergs, and by Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel Babbitt (like hobbits, George Babbitt enjoys the comforts of his home).
3. Released on September 21, 1937 with a print run of 1,500 copies, the book was already sold out by December. Since Nielsen started tracking books with their BookScan service in 1995, The Hobbit has not once fallen off of their list of the top 5,000 books. Because the book did so well, publishers requested a sequel in December of 1937. Originally, Tolkien presented them with drafts for The Silmarillion, but they were rejected on the grounds that the public wanted “more about hobbits.” Tolkein’s answer was the three-book series, The Lord of the Rings.
4. In 1960, Tolkien started rewriting the story to better match the tone of Lord of the Rings, which was written for an adult audience that grew up after reading the original version of The Hobbit. However, the publishers told him to forget about the revisions since the new version lost the original quick pace and light-hearted tone that everyone loved about the original.
5. There isn’t a single female character in The Hobbit, and the only woman mentioned by name is Bilbo’s mother, Belladonna Took.
6. Although “dwarfs” had appeared in pop culture before (e.g., Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Tolkien was the one who invented the word “dwarves.” Tolkien thought that the word “dwarves” paired better with “elves.” He later told a friend, “I use throughout the ‘incorrect’ plural dwarves. I am afraid it is just a piece of private bad grammar, rather shocking in a philologist; but I shall have to go on with it.”
7. “Possession” is a unifying theme in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Melkor wanted to have God’s power of creation, Gollum was twisted by his possessive love of his “Precious,” and Smaug was a dragon obsessed with material goods. In The Hobbit, Thorin explains his contempt for the possession-loving creatures: “Dragons . . . guard their plunder . . . and never enjoy a brass ring of it. Indeed they hardly know a good bit of work from a bad, though they usually have a good notion of the current market value; and they can’t make a thing for themselves. . . . “
8. In Tolkien’s posthumously published story “The Quest of Erebor,” Gandalf explains the reason he chose Bilbo to join Thorin’s expedition to the Lonely Mountain: Smaug the dragon would not be able to identify the aroma of one of the Shire-folk. Smaug was a great connoisseur of Dwarves, however. After eating six of their pack animals the dragon instantly recognizes the taste of a Dwarf-ridden-pony.
9. Tolkien denied that his stories were written for children:
That’s all sob stuff. No, of course, I didn’t… The Hobbit was written in what I should now regard as bad style, as if one were talking to children. There’s nothing my children loathed more. They taught me a lesson. Anything that in any way marked out The Hobbit as for children instead of just for people, they disliked-instinctively. I did too, now that I think about it. All this ‘I won’t tell you any more, you think about it’ stuff. Oh no, they loathe it; it’s awful. Children aren’t a class. They are merely human beings at different stages of maturity. All of them have a human intelligence which even at its lowest is a pretty wonderful thing, and the entire world in front of them. It remains to be seen if they rise above that.
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