Fiction Reviews

The History of the Hobbit - Parts 1 & 2

(2007) John D. Rateliff, HarperCollins, 9.99 for each part,
pbk, xxxix + 467 + 438 = 905 pp, ISBNs 978-0-007-26646-3 and 978-0-007-26647-0

These two paperback volumes (the paperback editions being released 2008) represent a unique insight into J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. This is for two reasons. First these volumes are more than just companions to The Hobbit with extensive footnotes and essays, they also include the original manuscript. This brings me on to the second reason: this is the original telling of the tale. Most books on The Hobbit relate to the published work. What John Rateliff has done is to reproduce, and comment on, the original first manuscript so as to capture the story as it flowed from Tolkien's mind. And so, for example, we are treated to the original account of where Bilbo meets Gollum and steals the ring. Indeed I understand that this is the first time (last year's 2007 hardback notwithstanding) that this original account has been published.

Aside from the notes and commentary there are also a few of Tolkien's original little sketches that he used for his own reference when drafting the manuscript. In addition there are a number of appendices such as one of the correspondence exchange between Tolkien and Arthur (Swallows and Amazons) Ransome.

These twin paperback volumes represent a scholarly work that will be hugely appreciated by both avid Tolkien fans as well as those studying fantasy writing. One word of warning: you really do need to buy both volumes as the second volume contains the subject index to the first.

Jonathan Cowie

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