8 fun and fascinating facts about “The Hobbit”

By Antoinette Rahn

Welcome to a celebration of hobbits!

The Hobbit Book_First edition inscription

First edition presentation copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, with personal inscription – including a message in Elvish – sold for $210,500 during a 2015 auction at Sotheby’s London. (Photo courtesy Sotheby’s)

Between Sept 21 and 22 there is quite a bit of ‘hobbit’ history to recognize. On September 21, 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece novel, The Hobbit, was published. It introduced readers to Bilbo Baggins, Gollum and more hobbits, elves, and other characters of Middle-earth. Keeping with hobbit happenings, Sept. 22 (also known as Hobbit Day) is recognized as the birthday of Bilbo Baggins as well as his nephew, Frodo. The excursions of Frodo and his pals are told by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings three-part novel. It was the sequel to The Hobbit.

Of course, for some fans of Tolkien and Middle-earth these moments in hobbit history make for a perfect week-long celebration. In honor of the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, which started it all, we give you seven fun and fascinating facts related to The Hobbit.

From 1,500 Copies to More Than 100 Million

1 The original print run of The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again sold out within four months. Publisher George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. original order was for 1,500 copies. It’s estimated more than 100 million copies of The Hobbit have sold since the first print run. According to the Tolkien Library, more than 50 different English-language editions of the book have been published, along with it being translated into more than 60 languages (as of the early 2010s). http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/

2 Each September hundreds of people gather in Oxford, England to recognize and celebrate Tolkien’s life, literary and academic gifts and lasting influence. The event is called Oxonmoot, formed from the Old English word for a meeting (moot), and the Latin word for Oxford (Oxonium), according to The Tolkien Society website. The Society hosts the event, which dates to 1974, and will be held Sept. 21 – 24 this year.

Early Challenges and Love of Learning Share Space

3 J.R.R. Tolkien’s given name was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. He was born in Bloemenfontein, South Africa on Jan. 3, 1892 and died Sept. 2, 1973. By the time he was 12 years old, he and his younger brother Hilary became orphans, following the death of their mother in 1904. Their father had died when J.R.R. was four and his brother two years of age, at which time the two boys and their mother moved to Birmingham, England. It’s reported that J.R.R.’s mother, Mabel, made a comment that her infant son had the appearance of a fairy when in formal attire and looked like an elf when undressed, according to www.planet-tolkien.com.

4 What’s better than enjoying the fantastical writings of J.R.R. Tolkien? How about listening to an archived recording of Tolkien reading a section from The Hobbit? BrainPickings.com has provided this opportunity for all to enjoy. What a wonderful way to enjoy this tale, which includes what may be the original impression of Gollum…

The Hobbit Commands Top Dollar At Auction

The Art of the Hobbit

The “Art of the Hobbit,” published in 2011 in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Tolkien’s revered book, features an astonishing 110 never-before-seen illustrations created by Tolkien’s own hand and mind. The sketches, including the example pictured, were discovered among the iconic author’s personal papers.

5 In record-setting fashion, a first edition presentation copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien realized $210,500 during a 2015 auction presented by Sotheby’s London. Among the elements that set this example apart from others was the inscription by Tolkien to the recipient, K.M. Kilbride, accompanied by a four-line message written in Elvish. According to the auction catalog note, the recipient Miss Katherine “Kitty” Kilbride was among the first class of students taught by Tolkien during his time at Leeds University in the 1920s. During her lifetime she would receive sets of Tolkien’s books after publication, each personally inscribed. Other mementos in the late Miss Kilbride’s collection have sold at auction.

6 Creating the revolutionary stories like those centered on the happenings of Middle-earth is a feat in and of itself, but Tolkien didn’t begin or end there. Having received instruction by his mother in languages including Latin, French and German, his interest in language only grew as time went on A revered scholar and English language expert, especially that of Old and Middle English, he taught at the University of Leeds as well as Oxford University. In time he began developing his own languages, including his High Elvish language, Quenya, as explained in an article posted by National Geographic. Tolkien’s literary and language creations within the fantasy genre are seemingly incomparable. He reportedly once said, “Your language construction will breed a mythology.” How very right he was.

An enchanting illustration of what appears to be J.R.R. Tolkien chatting with his iconic hobbit Bilbo Baggins drawn by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt sold for $8,962.50 during a 2009 auction presented by Heritage Auctions. The illustration, which was acrylic on board, appeared on the cover of the 1977 book J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth, written by Daniel Grotta-Kurska. The illustration measures 22 3/4 by 14 1/4 inches.

Carrying On The Legend and Lore

8 With the production of The Lord of the Rings films in 2001-2003, Tolkien’s beloved character of

Architect of Middle-earth illustration

Illustration from the cover of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Architect of Middle Earth, which sold for more than $8,000 at auction through Heritage Auctions. (Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Bilbo Baggins is introduced to several more generations of moviegoers that would become fans. Props and memorabilia from this historic series of films captured the rapt attention of fans and collectors alike when The Trilogy Collection: Props and Costumes From Middle-earth auction took place in 2013. Presented by Julien’s Auctions, the sale featured 92 unique items of memorabilia, and an item with a direct connection to The Hobbit heroine Bilbo fetched the second greatest amount during the auction.

One of eight prop swords used by actor Elijah Wood in his portrayal of Frodo throughout the Rings films represented an ancient Elven blade discovered by Bilbo on the journey to slay the dragon, Smaug, as told in The Hobbit. The sword bears an inscription in the Elven language of Sindarin that reads, “Maegnas (Sting) is my name, I am the spider’s bane.” The sword would notify the wielder of the presence of enemies by glowing blue. Bilbo would later present the sword to his nephew Frodo to use in his own quest. The 27-inch sword prop sword sold for $162,500 during the auction.

Eighty years ago J.R.R. Tolkien introduced the world to a story about a group of characters brought together, some reluctantly, to embark on a harrowing quest to recover a treasure from a dangerous beast. What they encounter during their mission, discover about themselves and the world they know and lands they don’t, form a story that has inspired more tales from Middle-Earth told through books, film, television and the theater.

May the moments of being, as Tolkien writes in The Hobbit, “…altogether flummoxed and at the end of (our) ware and (our) wits,” be few and far between.

Sources: The Tolkien Society; The Tolkien Library; BrainPickings.com; Sotheby’s; Encyclopedia Britannica; Julien’s Auctions; and Planet-Tolkien.

The Lord of the Rings prop sword

One of eight prop swords wielded by Elijah Wood (as Frodo) during The Lord of The Rings films. In Tolkien’s stories of Middle-earth the sword named Sting, is an instrument of great power, gifted from Bilbo Baggins to his nephew, Frodo. This prop sword sold for $161,500 at auction in 2013. (Photo courtesy Julien’s Auction)

COMMENT