on 20 May 2013
Similarly to `The History of Middle Earth' series (13 books in total) this book examines in detail `The Hobbit' in regards to how this children's story came into being and how it grew. First published on 21st September 1937, the Hobbit has become more than simply a `fireside story' but something containing great meaning and value to many readers, both young and old. With the recent release of Peter Jackson's film adaptation (part 1: the Hobbit ~ an unexpected journey), now more than ever people are interested in the details behind Bilbo's journey to the lonely mountain and of Dwarves and Dragons. This is the first installment within a 2 volume collection, which presents the original manuscript of The Hobbit accompanied by John D. Rateliff's lively commentary.
This book looks behind Tolkien's tale to explore those themes hidden within, as well as noting those changes that have occurred over the years to the original publication. Ratecliff looks at each chapter in turn and looks at why changes were made and how they reflect Tolkien's ever-growing concept of Middle-Earth. `Riddles in the dark' with Bilbo and Gollum has to be one of the most significant parts of the Hobbit, and so I enjoyed reading into this part very much and finding out more about the finding of the One Ring. The enchanting tale of Hobbits is brought vividly to life in this enlightening guide to Tolkien's spellbinding story, which delves into such detail and depth. Complete with full-color illustrations done by JRR Tolkien and photographs, this really is a beautiful book and something to treasure!
I value and rate this book very highly, due to its captivating content and exquisite cover and images inside. If you are looking for an assured, accurate read relating to J.R.R. Tolkien's `The Hobbit' then the history behind it makes for great reading.
"...The road goes ever on and on...
Down from the door where it began"
on 19 February 2015
This is a fascinating book. It pretty much goes without saying that you really should have read The Hobbit before reading this. I would add that you will probably get more out of it if you've also read The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but these are not essential as the author usually contextualises any references to those books.
The History of the Hobbit presents the earliest-surviving versions of manuscripts and typescripts of the story as originally written by JRR Tolkien. Each chapter of the story is accompanied by notes, and followed by essays on subjects arising from that chapter. The discussions draw on a wide range of sources to illuminate concepts and influences, with Ratecliff referencing correspondence, ancient Scandinavian mythology, philology, archaeology, European folklore, Radio interviews, and Tolkien's other writings of Middle Earth. This thorough analysis helps you understand the broad foundation that quietly and invisibly supports The Hobbit, and makes you reappraise the story, and certainly deepened my love for the tale and helped me really appreciate the achievement it represents.
Amongst the pleasures to be discovered in the first draft itself are the alternative names for some of the characters, different (and quite surprising) plot threads, and in particular, the original version of the Riddles in the Dark chapter which was changed by Tolkien for the second edition following the start of his work on the sequel.
At 900+ pages it's not for the casual reader, but if you have a passion for Tolkien's work, if you have an interest in the craft of writing, or if you want to be inspired, I highly recommend this.
on 10 March 2008
Rateliff has done a thorough job in researching the sources of the original mauscripts of The Hobbit. His revelations provide much pause for thought when looking at the alleged originality of Tolkien's earliest published novel. There are discussions relating to the sources of each name that Tolkien uses, each location, each people, each myth. Rateliff's analysis of the relationship between Tolkien's myths and those of Greece, Rome, Celtic and Norse origin is enlightening and very much adds to the enjoyment of the original work.
An adult response to a childhood story. Much welcomed. Now I am off to read the second half of Rateliff's academic work: Return To Bag End
on 18 February 2010
You don't - in theory - have to be a Tolkien fan to find value in this book (and its continuation in part 2). Its main thrust is a step by step, academically rigorous examination of the process of composition, starting from the first manuscript and including the notes and memoranda Tolkien made for himself. As such, it provides an insight into the development of storyline and characters which should interest any writer. It shows that, in the case of The Hobbit, while much of the published narrative was as originally conceived, significant changes took place as the novel grew: the names of three major characters were changed, many inconsistencies were ironed out, some elements were abandoned and others introduced, often taking the story in a new direction.
The format is to reproduce Tolkien's original manuscript chapter by chapter, including the abbreviations, crossings out, insertions and so on that he made at the time; this is supplemented by 'Text Notes' which identify his sources, point out the process of change as the story moved from manuscript to typescript to printer's proofs to publication, and shed sidelights based on Tolkien's correspondence and other writings. Following each chunk of text and notes is a commentary (also supplemented by its own notes) on selected themes introduced in that chapter.
Again there's a lot here that's of interest on a general level: Tolkien, for example, didn't - as most readers might suppose - make up all The Hobbit's character and place names; many of them come from sources in Nordic mythology; various others are carefully constructed from obscure or archaic English, Celtic, etc. Nor - despite Tolkien's lifelong attempt to construct a fantasy world with its own 'legendarium' - is the back story entirely drawn from his own imagination; there are echoes throughout of existing mythologies, of real incidents which happened in Tolkien's childhood, etc.
Where John Rateliff is likely to lose all but the most committed Tolkien junkie is when he debates the possible roots of those names which definitely are made up, arguing which of the invented languages Tolkien proposed for his imaginary peoples provides the derivation. That's not analysis, just anal.
One final quibble. If Mr Rateliff (an American, who to judge by some of his explanatory glosses of everyday UK English words writes very much with the American reader in mind) is so meticulous as to transcribe obvious literals that Tolkien committed in the heat of first-draft composition, why the careless or wilful inclusion of Americanisms such as 'labor' and 'plow' ?
on 5 May 2010
Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth, in twelve volumes, glaringly omits any reference to The Hobbit; apparently because it is 'not part of the legendarium'. John Ratliffe's two books make good the lack. The presentation is tremendously scholarly: there are text footnotes and commentary footnotes, sometimes with footnotes of their own! You need at least two bookmarks if you are to keep track, and a good memory. As to the content, if you are familiar with Tolkien's modus operandi, it will come as no surprise that there were substantial, overlapping, often-incomplete waves of revision; that his cavalier approach to deadlines left his publisher's nerves frazzled; and that he was still reworking it at the end of his life. The Hobbit started off as a free-standing children's story, but it was gradually infected with the matter of Aman & Beleriand, still his private property at that time. Tolkien was an early victim of the internal-coherence obsession that bedevilled Isaac Asimov in his later days, and is a perennial nuisance in Larry Niven's Known Space. The moral is, if you want internal consistence within your oevre, apply it ab initio!