Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Hobbit -- Happy Anniversary!

September 21st was the 73rd anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

You'd think I would have remembered such an important date. For had The Hobbit not been a financial success, The Lord of the Rings might never have been written. And if it hadn't, the Mythopoeic Society would never have existed. My husband I would never have met; our children would never have existed. (This is beginning to sound like a Twilight Zone episode.) Needless to say, I would never have become acquainted with most of my oldest and closest friends, and the great flowering of fantasy fiction in the late 20th century might not have taken place.

So in belated honor of the day, here is a link to a site with a side by side comparison of the two versions of "Riddles in the Dark," the crucial chapter in The Hobbit in which Biblbo Baggins acquires Gollum's magic ring. (The differences between the two are helpfully marked in blue.)

The Riddle chapter was my first encounter with Tolkien's work. I read it in the early '60s when I was just a kid reading my way through the Azusa public library. It appeared in Just For Fun: Humorous Stories and Poems, edited by Elva Sophronia Smith and Alice Isabel Hazeltine Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Company, 1948. Although it was very odd coming into the story in media res (I had no idea what a hobbit was or how Mr. Baggins had gotten into such a tight place), I enjoyed the chapter so much that I tracked down the original book and devoured the whole thing. Of course, I was a bit puzzled by the differences between the version in the anthology and the one in The Hobbit. At the time, I didn't know that Tolkien had made revisions between the first and second editions of The Hobbit in order to make it more consistent with The Lord of the Rings.

By the way, I'm not usually keen on audio recordings of my favorite books because they never match the cadence of my mind's internal voice which I hear when I read. But Nicol Williamson did a skillfully abridged recording of The Hobbit in the '70s which is brilliant. He gives each character a distinct voice with accents from different parts of the British Isles. A friend gave us a copy when our children were young and they never tired of listening to it. Unfortunately, it has never been released on CD, and our cassette copies of the LP degenerated long ago. So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover a recording posted on the Nicol Williamson website.

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