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The History of the Hobbit [Hardcover]

J.R. R. Tolkien , John Rateliff
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
RRP: £35.00
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Book Description

27 Oct 2011

In one volume for the first time, this revised and updated examination of how J.R.R.Tolkien came to write his original masterpiece ‘The Hobbit’ includes his complete unpublished draft version of the story, together with notes and illustrations by Tolkien himself.

For the first time in one volume, The History of the Hobbit presents the complete unpublished text of the original manuscript of J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit, accompanied by John Rateliff's lively and informative account of how the book came to be written and published. As well as recording the numerous changes made to the story both before and after publication, it examines – chapter-by-chapter – why those changes were made and how they reflect Tolkien's ever-growing concept of Middle-earth.

The Hobbit was first published on 21 September 1937. Like its successor, The Lord of the Rings, it is a story that "grew in the telling", and many characters and story threads in the published text are completely different from what Tolkien first wrote to read aloud to his young sons as part of their "fireside reads".

As well as reproducing the original version of one of literature's most famous stories, both on its own merits and as the foundation for The Lord of the Rings, this new book includes many little-known illustrations and previously unpublished maps for The Hobbit by Tolkien himself. Also featured are extensive annotations and commentaries on the date of composition, how Tolkien's professional and early mythological writings influenced the story, the imaginary geography he created, and how Tolkien came to revise the book years after publication to accommodate events in The Lord of the Rings.

Like Christopher Tolkien’s The History of The Lord of the Rings before it, this is a thoughtful yet exhaustive examination of one of the most treasured stories in English literature. Long overdue for a classic book now celebrating 75 years in print, this companion edition offers fascinating new insights for those who have grown up with this enchanting tale, and will delight those who are about to enter Bilbo's round door for the first time.


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The History of the Hobbit + The History of Middle-earth: Pt. 3 + The Complete History of Middle-Earth : Part 1
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 960 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Revised Updated edition edition (27 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007440820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007440825
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 6.3 x 14.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

John D. Rateliff moved to Wisconsin in 1981 in order to work with the Tolkien manuscripts at Marquette University. He has been active in Tolkien scholarship for many years, delivering papers on Tolkien and the Inklings. While at Marquette, he assisted in the collation of their holdings with those Christopher Tolkien was editing for his History of Middle-earth series. A professional editor, he lives in the Seattle area with his wife and three cats, only one of whom is named after a Tolkien character.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful set ! 10 Dec 2012
By Mes
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Perfect to discover or simply re-read The Hobbit. The books are beautiful, and the essay in 2 volumes is really interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the Tolien fanatics! 31 Aug 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book for the Tolkien fanatics - of which I am one. It is a piece of seriously academic work about the writing of The Hobbit - an insight into the mind of J R R Tolkien. If that is your thing, this is a great piece of work - but don't expect another exciting story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply fantastic! 9 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For any Tolkien fans out there who wants to know more about The Hobbit, this is an incomparable source of information! This is a truly beautiful edition!
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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
69 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Set 26 Oct 2007
By John D. Cofield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this very lovely boxed set the fortunate reader gets the 70th anniversary edition of The Hobbit, the first American edition that I know of to contain Christopher Tolkien's own introduction (written originally for the British 50th anniversary edition in 1987). This edition also contains all the latest text corrections and all of JRR Tolkien's own line and color illustrations, which are far superior to the work of any other artist who has depicted the worlds of Middle earth.

Besides The Hobbit itself, this set also contains the two volume History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff. This is a masterwork containing complete texts of the different versions of The Hobbit written by Tolkien over the years, from a first draft created originally from stories he told his children to a very late revision planned to bring the book more in line with The Lord of the Rings. Rateliff also provides some fascinating notes and many intriguing essays throughout the two volumes (Mr. Baggins and Return to Bag End).

All three volumes are beautifully printed and bound, with lovely jackets inspired by Tolkien's own drawings. This will be a gift bound to please Tolkien lovers and anyone who treasures finely crafted books.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A phenomenal read 30 Nov 2007
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Bilbo Baggins just wants to live his quiet, peaceful life in the Shire. And he's doing a mighty fine job of it until the great wizard, Bladorthin, shows up at his door with a gaggle of dwarves. Their leader, Gandalf, tells of the vicious dragon, Pryftan, who overtook their home. Bilbo joins up with them for a grand adventure. Ultimately he saves the day and along the way happens to discover a magical ring.

That is how the story originally took shape.

With THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, author John D. Rateliff pieces together fragments of history in order to present THE HOBBIT as it was originally drafted by J.R.R. Tolkien. With access to the documents at Marquette University, the project was originally undertaken by Taum Santoski, who passed away following a battle with cancer at an all-too-young age. The torch was then passed to Rateliff with the full blessing of Christopher Tolkien.

Some of Tolkien's original papers have been lost to time. Seventy years is quite a period to have anything stashed away. The opening page, featuring the handwritten line "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit," is one of those long-lost pages, but for the most part, a rather complete version of the initial draft of this book can be pieced together. In essence, THE HOBBIT is a phenomenal read for a number of reasons.

On one level, it gives readers the first look at the origins of legend. This is how Tolkien originally viewed his mythical Middle-earth before it grew into THE LORD OF THE RINGS. These characters bore different names, endured different hardships and took on other roles. Gollum, in the original vision, held to his end of the riddle game and, after losing, shows Bilbo the way out of the mountain. The guardsman Bard, who slays Smaug in the final version, is barely introduced before he is killed.

And this opens up to aspect number two.

As Tolkien begins to make his second pass through the draft, notating and correcting as he goes (in pen over the top of original pencil writings), names begin to change, the story arc and scenes start morphing and readers get to see and understand why those alterations were made. This is a wonderful view for writers to see the mindset of a second draft but also a way for any ordinary reader to understand why things evolved and changed. And in some instances, it gives a greater weight to the final version.

Thirdly, THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT is, as the title says, a history. Not just a mere presenting of the manuscript in its rough form, Rateliff has documented the timeframe of the work, giving us the most precise record as to when it was first conceived and when it was completed. His insights into the reasoning behind changes are culled from Tolkien's own notes and letters, and much of what was once believed is corrected. This historical perspective illuminates the book rather than bury it.

The story of THE HOBBIT evolved because the world around Tolkien evolved, not to mention that the author himself underwent changes over the years this work was in creation. Rateliff does an outstanding job of presenting the original draft and its subsequent transformation, including his own discoveries and commentaries along the way. At no point does this ever become a chore to read.

Equal parts fantasy fiction and biographical fact, THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT is a true gem of a set. For the first time, the timeline of the creation of this premiere novel is ironed out and separated from myth.

Finally, Tolkien's original vision is presented for the world to see, and the extent of the expansive growth of Middle-earth and its characters is opened up to inspection. Rateliff pulls together loose and seemingly disparate threads and weaves them into a profound tapestry and companion that THE HOBBIT, now in its 70th year, richly deserved.

--- Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nice Boxed Set 20 Dec 2007
By Scott Martin Gavin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This boxed set will be appreciated by any hard-core Tolkien fan. It contains a two-volume set about the History of The Hobbit, and the 2007 edition of the novel. All three books are beautifully designed and bound.

The Hobbit novel is the first American edition to feature Tolkien's color illustrations made for the book, the latest round of typographic corrections, and an introduction by Christopher Tolkien. The endpapers are color reproductions of Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain, another first for an American edition. And the dust jacket is produced with Tolkien's original design in mind with a red sun and dragon, and pink tint on the mountains, which were removed from the original design due to money concerns.

Fans of The Hobbit have heard for decades now how Tolkien rewrote the book after completion of the Lord of the Rings, in order to bring the two stories in line with each other. Until now, only people lucky enough to find a copy of the British first edition have been able to know how extensive the changes were. The History of the Hobbit not only recreates the original draft of the story, but points out how the story evolved and changed. For example, the ring was, originally, just a magic ring and not the One Ring. In fact, the ruling rings didn't even exist in Tolkien's history of the Middle Earth at the time The Hobbit was first written. The Hobbit wasn't even conceived as a part of the Tolkien universe, but was intended to stand apart and alone. J. R. R. Tolkien changed his mind about that when The Hobbit proved a best seller.

The author gives The Hobbit the same extensive treatment that Christopher Tolkien gave The Lord of the Rings in his History of Middle Earth series. Multiple versions of the novel are given, with extensive annotations, and footnotes to the footnotes. The only drawback to the History is that the author is frequently referring to obscure and out of print books and documents that the majority of readers will not have access to, without reprinting the illustrations or articles referred to. And the double layer of annotations and footnotes are hard to follow. But the History can be enjoyed without digging all the way through the notes.

The book presents a shocker, too. In the 1960's J. R. R. Tolkien set about rewriting The Hobbit in the style of The Lord of the Rings. What survives of this attempt is reprinted for the reader's enlightenment. I won't spoil the surprise by saying anything further.

This set is an excellent gift for any Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Mr. Baggins Got His Groove Back 25 Feb 2008
By P. G. Wickberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to admit that on my first glance at this, I was expecting disappointment - because, while it followed the format of Christopher Tolkien's ten-volume "History of Middle Earth," it was not BY that esteemed Professor of Anglo-Saxon, and therefore could not be as good. Believe me, I got over it quickly! Rateliff, who repeatedly mentions his debt to the younger Tolkiens, as well as to Tolkien scholars like Tom Shippey, has done a superb job of tracking down how Mr. Baggins started out at his doorstep in the 1930s with a wizard named Bladorthin and a dwarf-king named Gandalf (a dwarf by that name does appear in Sturlasson's "Voluspa," the source of most of Tolkien's dwarf names) and ended up back at Bag End somewhat wiser and richer in the 1960s with a wizard named Gandalf and the memory of a heroic dwarf-king named Thorin.

The history of "The Hobbit" itself is fascinating, the history of how it interwove with the developing mythology of "Lord of the Rings" and the "Silmarillion" even more so. But there are also detached analytical essays scattered throughout, on subjects like the goblins/orcs, Beorn, the Great Eagles and Tolkien's attitude towards spiders, which are unexpected bonuses, as well as the revelation that Gollum originally was not only more well-spoken but somewhat nicer than he later became.

One very minor niggle (unaccompanied by leaf): in his essay on Beorn, Rateliff mentions that the Middle Earth equivalent of Grizzly Adams was of indefinite but probably immense age, and in fact was a "leftover from an older world" -- but then died shortly after Bilbo's adventure, according to LOTR. Rateliff doesn't quite explain this, but the explanation may lie in his suggestion that Beorn's were-bear nature was inflicted on him by a curse, which not only made him turn into a bear under stress but made him effectively immortal, and that this curse was lifted by his heroic actions at the Battle of Five Armies. If the were-bear curse was lifted (presumably by the Valar or by Eru Himself), it seems likely he lost the immortality as a sidebar and then lived out a normal human lifetime, although that doesn't seem to jibe with Tolkien's throwaway line in "The Hobbit" that the men of Beorn's line for generations afterwards kept the ability to shapeshift into bears.

A reviewer noted that some of the early drafts have been unfortunately lost to history. Rateliff mentions that the thrifty Tolkien saved on paper by writing on unused portions of blue exam booklets. The paper used in such booklets is acidic and of fairly minimal quality -- Rateliff pointed out instances in which it has turned brown, making Tolkien's handwritten text even harder to deceipher. It seems likely that some of the earlier papers (including the famous blank page on which he wrote: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit") may no longer be with us because they literally crumbled away.

Anyway, I strongly recommend Rateliff's set, not only for would-be Tolkien scholars like myself, but for those who simply enjoyed their first exposure to Tolkien, be it via reading "The Hobbit" or by seeing Peter Jackson's movie versions, and would like to know more.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great resource - but use footnotes! 3 Nov 2012
By Enjolras - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For some reason, Christopher Tolkien did not extend his History of Middle-Earth scholarship to the Hobbit. Rateliff provides an invaluable contribution by chronicling J.R.R. Tolkien's writing of his first and arguable best novel.

In many respects, the early drafts of the Hobbit do not differ much from the published version. The first phase of the draft remains startlingly similar to the final book. The key plot elements - from the unexpected party to the trolls to Beorn - are all present. There are a few minor differences, particularly the names (I won't spoilt the surprise, but Gandalf and Thorin go by different aliases).

The end of the second phase of the draft and third, and fourth phases deal with the latter half of the Hobbit story, and boy were there some changes. Bard wasn't the original dragon-slayer - not by long shot! It's fascinating to see how Tolkien originally envisioned the story and how much it differs from the final version.

Finally, the book covers the fifth phase, Tolkien's attempt to rewrite the Hobbit in 1960 to make it better fit the style of Lord of the Rings. Ultimately, Tolkien only got to Rivendell and most of the changes only affect the tone, not the plot, of the story. Still, it's a fascinating "what if".

I took off one star for something that bugged me throughout Rateliff's book. Rateliff supplements Tolkien's drafts with hundreds of detailed endnotes at the end of each chapter commenting on the text. These are generally very insightful, but because they're endnotes it's difficult and quite frustrating to have to flip back and forth to see how the comment relates to the text. This is especially so because the endnotes refer to very specific language or details in the text. The book ought to have used footnotes, or sidenotes such as those found in the Annotated Hobbit, so that readers can read the note right after reading the relevant text.

Other than that quibble, this is a MUST for any Hobbit fan.
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