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In September, one of the most beloved fantasy tales celebrates 75 years. ‘The Hobbit,’ by J.R.R. Tolkien, was published in September 1937. This first publishing run sold out by the same December. The book was subject to wide critical acclaim and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction.
Tolkien studied English language and literature at Oxford University, and eventually accepted a teaching position there as well. It was while grading students’ essays that he was inspired with the idea for The Hobbit. There was a blank page at the end of one essay and on this blank page he wrote the first line: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.”
Tolkien worked on The Hobbit periodically, drawing inspiration from the stories he told his children. The first polished, finished draft of The Hobbit was reviewed by 10-year-old Rayner Unwin. Rayner was the son of Stanley Unwin of the publishing house Allen and Unwin. Rayner was asked to review The Hobbit since it was considered to be for his age group. He was even paid a standard reviewing fee.
The Hobbit follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is a hobbit who is perfectly content to stay home, smoke his pipe, and eat his quiet meals. The wizard Gandalf disrupts Bilbo’s peaceful life and manipulates him into setting out on an adventure after which he is never the same again. Popular with readers of all ages, The Hobbit helped launch the fantasy genre.
In October 2011, to kick off the 75th anniversary celebrations, artwork from The Hobbit was published in its own collection. When the publisher began preparations for the 75th anniversary edition of the book many illustrations were discovered. Over 100 in fact. These illustrations were buried in an archive at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Now all the illustrations are available to Tolkien fans everywhere in the collection The Art of the Hobbit. A pocket-sized hardcover of The Hobbit was also published in October 2011.
Also coming out in perfect timing for the 75th anniversary of the book is the much anticipated film by Peter Jackson. Jackson helmed the hugely successful film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and is now giving The Hobbit the same attention. Jackson is splitting The Hobbit into two films; the first of which will be released December 14, 2012. The second half will follow a year later on December 13, 2013.