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Foreword to The Hobbit

February 18, 2012

Today on the Tolkien Collector’s Guide forum, reader Adrian asked if Christopher Tolkien’s foreword to The Hobbit as printed in the new ‘pocket’ edition is the complete text, and if it includes the facsimiles of two pages from the Hobbit manuscript that were in the foreword at its original appearance. This led us to survey, from our Tolkien collection, the several printings of the foreword from 1987 (the 50th anniversary edition of The Hobbit) through the ‘pocket edition’ of 2011 (issued for the 75th anniversary in 2012).

1987 Unwin Hyman Hobbit dust-jacketChristopher’s foreword first appeared in the Unwin Hyman edition of The Hobbit published in 1987 (Hammond Bibliography A3y), pp. i–xvi with an inserted reproduction of Mirkwood between pp. viii and ix. On pp. ii and iii are black and white facsimiles of two pages from the manuscript of The Hobbit, one of them incorporating an early sketch of Thror’s Map. Christopher refers to these on p. i as ‘the sole page that survives today of the original draft of the first chapter, An Unexpected Party’, and also on the same page as a ‘now very battered manuscript sheet’. At the end of the foreword is a late note that ‘two more pages of the original draft of the first chapter do in fact survive’ and are at Marquette University. Six black and white drawings by Tolkien for The Hobbit are also included in the foreword: Gate of the Elvenking’s Halls (The Art of The Hobbit [ArtH] fig. 53), Mirkwood (ArtH fig. 47), The Lonely Mountain (ArtH fig. 77), ‘a schematic drawing of the Lonely Mountain seen from the West’ (ArtH fig. 84), The Back Door (ArtH fig. 69), and Bag End Underhill (ArtH fig. 2). The same text of the foreword, reset and with the pictures resized, was also printed in the American 50th anniversary edition, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1987 and bound in gold leatherette (Hammond A3aa), and in the ‘super de luxe’ Unwin Hyman edition that same year (Hammond A3bb).

Christopher revised his foreword for the HarperCollins de luxe edition of 2004, where it appears as pp. [ix]–xxviii. At the beginning of the text, he amended his statement about the ‘sole page’, instead referring to the fragment as ‘one of three manuscript sheets (each written on both sides, making six pages in all)’. This is more precise – a leaf or sheet by definition contains two pages, the front and back (or recto and verso) – and the statement encompasses all of the surviving leaves at Marquette; but there is still a mention, on p. xv, of ‘one page’ of the manuscript having survived. Christopher also revised and expanded his comments on his father’s illustrations, now reproducing additionally, and in colour, the drawing of Nargothrond (ArtH fig. 55) which has marked similarities to Gate of the Elvenking’s Halls, and the water colour Smaug Flies Round the Mountain (ArtH fig. 75). The same two manuscript pages are reproduced again, now in colour. Our J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator having been published in 1995, Christopher now cites it in preference to Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, to which he referred in the 1987 foreword; but there is still a reference to Pictures on p. xxii, and The Lonely Mountain (here reproduced with a tint background) is still said to be ‘in the possession of Mr Baird Searles’ though by 2004 it was held with other Tolkien art in the Bodleian Library. Also, a 1987-specific reference to ‘half a century ago’ remains on p. xx.

For the edition of The Hobbit published in 2007 by HarperCollins (and in the United States by Houghton Mifflin), Christopher again revised, and shortened, his foreword, now called a ‘preface’ and printed on pp. v–xiii. No illustrations are included, and in consequence, text referring to the facsimiles and the other art is omitted or rewritten: for example, after the first nine words (identical to those of the 1987 text), the 2004 preface jumps ahead some three pages relative to the 1987 version. It may be that the pictures were omitted because John Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit was published at the same time (the 2007 edition was issued in a boxed set with the History as well as separately), and it was felt that Christopher’s transcriptions from the early manuscript, as well as reproductions of Tolkien’s art, were no longer necessary. Rateliff includes only half of the pictures from the 1987 and 2004 forewords, however, and only the first of the two early manuscript pages. (Most, not quite all, of the illustrations in question are in Artist and Illustrator (1995). All of the art proper, but only the first of the two manuscript pages (because of the sketch of Thror’s Map), is in The Art of The Hobbit. Mirkwood was added to the 2007 Hobbit as a plate, following on from the 2004 edition.)

Finally, the ‘pocket edition’ of The Hobbit published by HarperCollins in 2011 reprints the 2007 preface, in reduced size, as pp. v–xiv, the only difference being that Mirkwood is reproduced on p. [ix] and thus pp. ix–xiii of the 2007 edition here become pp. x–xiv.

Image: Dust-jacket of the 50th anniversary edition of The Hobbit published by Unwin Hyman, London, in 1987.

One Comment
  1. Adrian permalink
    February 20, 2012 4:37 am

    Thank you very much for the additional information. It had somehow slipped my mind that the 2004 edition also included Christopher’s foreword. This gives me an excuse to order it…

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