The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien (first published by George Allen & Unwin, 1937)
Introduced by Emma Balch
The Hobbit was born when J R R Tolkien (1892-1973) was bored of marking students’ coursework in his study one evening and took a blank sheet of paper and idly jotted down a sentence that would become the book’s famous opening line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
From this simple starting point, Tolkien spun the epic tale of Bilbo Baggins’ journey of self-discovery to the Lonely Mountain in pursuit of treasure, completing the work in 1932, presenting a draft to ‘The Inklings‘ a literary discussion group made up of fellow Oxford University academics including C S Lewis.
Tolkien also showed a copy of his manuscript to one of his students, Elaine Griffiths, who in turn showed it to Susan Dagnall, a friend then working for publishers George Allen & Unwin. Dagnall tipped off her boss, Stanley Unwin, who published the novel on 21 September 1937 after rave reviews from his 10 year old son, Rayner, who he had paid a shilling to write a report on the manuscript. The Hobbit has never been out of print since. Once the book was a success. Unwin asked Tolkien for a sequel, which was eventually published as The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien stayed in the appealing village of Talybont-on-Usk – half an hour’s drive from Hay-on-Wye – while working on parts of The Lord of The Rings. Writing in the 1940s when industrialisation was transforming the British countryside, his nostalgic depiction of The Shire was inspired by rural Wales. He named the hobbit settlement of Crickhollow after Crickhowell, nine miles from Talybont. The Welsh language was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Middle-earth Elvish language, Sindarin.