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Old 10-14-2016, 06:51 AM   #1
Faramir Jones
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Tolkien Facsimile of first edition of 'The Hobbit'

People may have seen that HarperCollins recently published a facsimile of the first edition of The Hobbit, the one published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. in 1937. I recently bought a copy, and have been looking at it with interest.

The first thing to catch my eye was the dust jacket, and what was written on the first and second flaps:


If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is the record of such a journey and such a traveller. The period is the ancient time between the age of Faerie and the dominion of men, when the famous forest of Mirkwood was still standing, and the mountains were full of danger. In following the path of this humble adventurer, you will learn by the way (as he did)—if you do not already know all about these things—much about trolls, goblins, dwarves and elves, and get some glimpses into the history and politics of a neglected but important period.

For Mr. Bilbo Baggins visited various notable persons; conversed with the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent; and was present, rather unwillingly, at the Battle of Five Armies. This is all the more remarkable, since he was a hobbit. Hobbits have hitherto been passed over in history and legend, perhaps because they as a rule preferred comfort to excitement. But this account, based on his personal memoirs, of the one exciting year in the otherwise quiet life of Mr. Baggins will gave you a fair idea of this estimable people now (it is said) becoming rather rare. They do not like noise.

J. R. R. Tolkien is Rawlinson and Bosworth professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, and fellow of Pembroke College. He has four children and The Hobbit was written for them, and read aloud to them in nursery days, which is of course the way in which practically all the immortal children's stories have come into being. But the fame of the story spread beyond his immediate family and the


manuscript of The Hobbit was lent to friends in Oxford and read to their children. Though they are utterly dissimilar in character, the birth of The Hobbit recalls very strongly that of Alice in Wonderland. Here again a professor of an abtruse subject is at play; while Alice in Wonderland is full of crazy conundrums, The Hobbit has constant echoes of magic and mythology culled from a wide and exact knowledge. Dodgson at first did not think it worth publishing his tale of Wonderland and Professor Tolkien—but not his publishers—still remains to be convinced that anybody will want to read his most delightful history of a Hobbit's journey.

I think this text is worth reading; because it gives us an idea of the background against which the book was first launched, a work calculated to appeal to an intelligent child, who then had no idea of anything else by this J. R. R. Tolkien... Knowing what came later, we can now smile at the reference to The Hobbit having 'constant echoes of magic and mythology culled from a wide and exact knowledge'. In later years, people would begin to find out the extent of that 'wide and exact knowledge'.

I also particularly like the fact that the text isn't afraid to use 'difficult words', avoiding talking down to its potential readers. What do people think?
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Old 10-15-2016, 10:01 AM   #2
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I have never seen the content of a first edition dustjacket. Very interesting.

I like the discussion about JRRT reading drafts to his children. I do wonder if he would have appreciated the comparison to Alice in Wonderland.
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Old 10-16-2016, 10:20 AM   #3
William Cloud Hicklin
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From Letter No. 13 (31 August 1937):

By the way. I meant some time ago to comment on the additional matter that appears on the jacket. I don't suppose it is a very important item in launching The Hobbit (while that book is only one minor incident in your concerns); so I hope you will take the ensuing essay in good part, and allow me the pleasure of explaining things (the professor will out), even if it does not appear useful. I am in your hands, if you think that is the right note. Strict truth is, I suppose, not necessary (or even desirable). But I have a certain anxiety lest the H.M.Co seize upon the words and exaggerate the inaccuracy to falsehood. And reviewers are apt to lean on hints. At least I am when performing that function.

Nursery: I have never had one, and the study has always been the place for such amusements. In any case is the age-implication right? I should have said 'the nursery' ended about 8 when children go forth to school. That is too young. My eldest boy was thirteen when he heard the serial. It did not appeal to the younger ones who had to grow up to it successively.

Lent: we must pass that (though strictly it was forced on the friends by me). The MS. certainly wandered about, but it was not, as far as I know, ever read to children, and only read by one child (a girl of 12-13), before Mr Unwin tried it out.

Abstruse: I do not profess an 'abstruse' subject – not qua 'Anglo-Saxon'. Some folk may think so, but I do not like encouraging them. Old English and Icelandic literature are no more remote from human concerns, or difficult to acquire cheaply, than commercial Spanish (say). I have tried both. In any case – except for the runes (Anglo-Saxon) and the dwarf-names (Icelandic), neither used with antiquarian accuracy, and both regretfully substituted to avoid abstruseness for the genuine alphabets and names of the mythology into which Mr Baggins intrudes – I am afraid my professional knowledge is not directly used. The magic and mythology and assumed 'history' and most of the names (e.g. the epic of the Fall of Gondolin) are, alas!, drawn from unpublished inventions, known only to my family, Miss Griffiths and Mr Lewis. I believe they give the narrative an air of 'reality' and have a northern atmosphere. But I wonder whether one should lead the unsuspecting to imagine it all comes out of the 'old books', or tempt the knowing to point out that it does not?

'Philology' – my real professional bag of tricks – may be abstruse, and perhaps more comparable to Dodgson's maths. So the real parallel (if one exists: I feel very much that it breaks down if examined)* lies in the fact that both these technical subjects in any overt form are absent. The only philological remark (I think) in The Hobbit is on p. 221 (lines 6-7 from end): an odd mythological way of referring to linguistic philosophy, and a point that will (happily) be missed by any who have not read Barfield (few have), and probably by those who have. I am afraid this stuff of mine is really more comparable to Dodgson's amateur photography, and his song of Hiawatha's failure than to Alice.

Professor: a professor at play rather suggests an elephant in its bath – as Sir Walter Raleigh said of Professor Jo Wright in a sportive mood at a viva. Strictly (I believe) Dodgson was not a 'professor', but a college lecturer — though he was kind to my kind in making the 'professor' the best character (unless you prefer the mad gardener) in Sylvie & Bruno. Why not 'student'? The word has the added advantage that Dodgson's official status was Student of Christ Church. If you think it
good, and fair (the compliment to The Hobbit is rather high) to maintain the comparison – Lookingglass ought to be mentioned. It is much closer in every way. ....
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Old 10-18-2016, 08:46 AM   #4
Faramir Jones
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Thumbs up Thanks

Thanks William, for putting up that passage, from Letter 15 of the published Letters, of Tolkien's remarks on the second part of The Hobbit's dust jacket's text.

To help people, I'm just going to add explanations for some of the references in the passage, most of which are endnotes by Humphrey Carpenter, editor of the Letters (referred to as HC), and one footnote by Tolkien:

Line 4: H.M.Co: Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston, Massachusetts, who published The Hobbit in the USA.
Line 15: Miss Griffiths: Elaine Griffiths of St. Anne's College, Oxford, who worked with Tolkien as a research student during the 1930s. (HC)
Line 15: Mr Lewis: C. S. Lewis.
Line 19: *: '*Is the presence of 'conundrums' in Alice a parallel to echoes of Northern myth in The Hobbit?'. (Tolkien's footnote)
Lines 19-20: p. 221 (lines 6-7 from end): 'To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful'. (The Hobbit, Chapter 12)(HC)
Line 20: Barfield: Owen Barfield, friend of C. S. Lewis and author of Poetic Diction (1928), an account of the development of language from its early roots in mythology. (HC)
Line 24: Sir Walter Raleigh: Professor of English Literature at Oxford, 1904-22. (HC)
Line 24: viva: A viva voce is the oral part of Oxford University examinations. (HC)
Line 26: Sylvie and Bruno: Published in 2 volumes in 1889-1893, it was the last work by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) to be published in his lifetime.

Last edited by Faramir Jones; 10-20-2016 at 04:44 AM.
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