This small book has followed a long and lively trail since its publication seventy-four years ago today. Tolkien himself recollected that the book began with a mere doodle –“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit”–in the late 1920s, yet the tale itself didn’t actually get written until about 10 years later. But Tolkien was a master scribbler, so those doodles included maps and genealogies that essentially outline the geography of the adventure. He used his keen knowledge as a professor of Anglo-Saxon to populate “Middle Earth” with creatures and languages, making an alphabet of “runes” and painting cover and plate art for the book’s first edition.
“Good morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out farther than the brim of his shady hat.
“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
“All of them at once,” said Bilbo…then Bilbo sat down on a seat by his door, crossed his legs, and blew out a beautiful grey ring of smoke that sailed up into the air without breaking and floated away over The Hill.
“Very pretty!” said Gandalf. “But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
“I should think so–in these parts!”
And even before the adventure truly began my then small sons would sit enthralled as we read chapter after chapter.
Before The Hobbit there was Homer, before Homer there was Doyle and Swift and Aesop… Our peripatetic lifestyle always included books, no matter what continent we lived on.
The Hobbit has played an important role in the lives of generations, mine and my sons’ counted among them. Before there were computers and video games there were books, and before books there were stories. I can only pray that the latter two will outlive the former.