“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
This simple line, about a hole in the ground, offers just a little hint of fantasy or adventure. The only clue to the great journey that lies ahead, a journey that includes encounters with dwarves, elves, orcs, trolls, and even a dragon, is the mention of the word hobbit, a term that before 1937 the world had never heard. One word, hitherto undefined, the only tip-off to readers that they were about read a fantasy novel that would define the genre for years to come. That novel of course, was “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R Tolkien, and it is turning 75 this week.
Wayne Hammond has, with his wife, Christina Scull, edited numerous Tolkien works, including the 50th anniversary edition of “Lord of the Rings,” and authored “The Art of the Hobbit.” He told ABC News, “It was ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ that really established the genre of fantasy. It used to be you could go into a book shop and there was a section on science fiction but nothing on fantasy. Now you go into a book shop and there’s a whole section just on Tolkien.”
“The Hobbit” tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who, as the first line of the book suggests, enjoys a comfortable and unadventurous life at his home in a part of the fictional world of Middle Earth known as the Shire. Bilbo is pulled from his life of leisure by the wizard Gandalf, who thrusts him, rather against his will, into the midst of an adventure with a company of dwarves as they attempt to reclaim their former kingdom in the heart of the lonely mountain known as Erebor, a kingdom which has been taken over by the powerful and greedy dragon Smaug.
J.R.R Tolkien, was a British World War I veteran who became a professor at Oxford’s Pembroke College. The book was published in 1937, receiving much praise and selling out in months. It would continue selling until the outbreak of World War II, when paper rationing limited printing until 1949.
However, when Tolkien wrote first wrote the Hobbit, it was never meant it for the public’s eyes. “The Hobbit was a children’s book. It was written in the first instance for his three sons,” Hammond told ABC News. “It was not written originally for publication.”
The book’s popularity, and that of its sequel, “The Lord of Rings,” has not faded over the last 75 years. “The Hobbit” has been translated into over 40 languages, gone through numerous re-printings, and spawned several film adaptations, most recently Peter Jackson’s. The Jackson film, a follow-up to his widely successful “Lord of the Rings” adaptations, is due to be released in three parts, the first of which is slated to come out in November.
The Hobbit had widespread appeal. According to Hammond, “It is something that is timeless and that can speak to a great variety of people around the world. It stands as a landmark of children’s fiction and as fantasy fiction.”
All thanks to a little Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who found the courage to step out of his hobbit-hole and go on an adventure with a few dwarves and a wizard. Thank you Mr. Baggins, and have happy 75th.