J R R Tolkien: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again Illustrated by David Wenzel Adapted by Charles Dixon with Sean Denning
I scarcely need to introduce the story of Bilbo Baggins, a halfling who is persuaded by a wizard and thirteen dwarfs to go on a long and dangerous journey to an isolated mountain, where treasure is guarded by a wicked dragon, and who finally returns home (as the subtitle proclaims).
First published in 1937, revised in 1951 and adapted for radio, animated and live action films, and for the stage, The Hobbit has been around in in its many guises for over 80 years now. As a graphic novel illustrated by David Wenzel it first began to be issued three decades ago, in 1989, and was reissued with revisions and thirty pages of new artwork in 2006.
Each medium has its advantages and drawbacks and so the question to ask when confronted by David Wenzel’s most famous work is, what does it add to the experience of Tolkien’s original saga?
In ‘Where was The Shire?’ I mentioned a tradition, local to the Vale of Usk, claiming that Tolkien had not only written part of The Lord of the Rings in Talybont-on-Usk, Powys, Wales but also based his notion of The Shire — the hobbit homeland — on aspects of the Black Mountains landscape. Huge questions and objections had loomed large in my mind however, and it soon became clear that I wasn’t not alone in doubting the likelihood of this recent ‘tradition’. I then promised a follow-up post, and here it is.
J R R Tolkien The HobbitGeorge Allen & Unwin (3rd edition 1972)
Wizard at the door?
Twelve dwarves too? You’ll be telling
me a dragon’s next!
I must have spent my childhood and adolescence skim-reading most of the literature I was introduced to, gaining impressionist pictures of those works but missing much of the subtlety of language, characterisation and narrative. Having taken it on myself in recent years to begin re-reading those books with more attentiveness The Hobbit seemed a natural choice. Rather than merely summarising what must be one of the most familiar tales in modern fantasy I’ve opted to discuss the personal insights that this re-reading suggested to me.
The first insight I got is that Tolkien’s prose changes from whimsical to saga-like over the course Bilbo’s journey there and back again. Despite the revisions he made to two subsequent editions (I read the most common 1966 third edition), the avuncular approach he takes at the opening, very reminiscent of the tone of the posthumously published The Father Christmas Letters, sits ill at ease with descriptions of casualities in battle and the more serious and earnest language at the end; revisions clearly haven’t reconciled the two approaches.
David Day Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopædia
Mitchell Beazley 1993 (1991)
This is a work that attempts to live up to its title: it includes an introduction to Tolkien’s published works (not just related to Middle Earth), then rushes straight into chapters on history, geography, peoples and nations (pretentiously called sociology here), natural history and a Who’s Who in Middle Earth, finally ending with indices and acknowledgements. Because David Day doesn’t just limit himself to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there are charts and maps that help to place the War of the Ring in context, and the whole is profusely illustrated by nearly a score of artists.
Elizabeth M Stephen Hobbit to Hero: the making of Tolkien’s King
ADC Publications 2012
Aragorn son of Arathorn, the returning king of the third part of The Lord of the Rings, is as a character very familiar to us now from the Peter Jackson films, but he made little impression on me during my first reading of the trilogy in the late sixties, and not much more on subsequent readings. This, I’d imagine, was a very common situation until the turn of this century. As is pointed out in Hobbit to Hero there has been, apart from a chapter in Paul Kocher’s 1972 study Master of Middle-earth, precious little extended discussion of Aragorn in any commentary, certainly not in Isaacs and Zimbardo’s Tolkien and the Critics (1968), Lobdell’s 1975 A Tolkien Compass (not, as twice in this text, The Tolkien Compass) nor even in Eaglestone’s Reading The Lord of the Rings collection of essays (2005).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Tolkien student — heaven knows I’ve tried and failed several times to read The Silmarillion, and I’m a stranger to most of Christopher Tolkien’s editings of his father’s incomplete drafts — so can’t vouch that this is so for all the scribblings of Tolkien scholars and fans. But Elizabeth Stephen is a lifelong student, so should know what exists on the subject of Tolkien’s king; and apparently “it is by no means unusual for the name of Aragorn to barely receive a mention”.
So, here we have Stephen’s study of the evolution of the character whose story in the author’s own lifetime was limited to what could be gleaned from the trilogy and one of its appendices. Now, however, we have access to shelf-loads of posthumous publications, from drafts to letters, from private musings to literary criticism, all of which throw light on a figure whose first appearance at the inn in Bree, as Tolkien wrote to Auden, was a complete shock to the author, who “had no more idea who he was then had Frodo”. Continue reading “The evolution of Aragorn”→
Barbara Strachey Journeys of Frodo: an Atlas of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Unwin Paperbacks 1981
Based on Tolkien’s descriptions in The Lord of the Rings and his original paintings and drawings of Middle Earth, Journeys of Frodo tracks the routes taken by the hobbit and his companions of the Fellowship all the way to Gondor and, in the case of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, back to the Shire. Barbara Strachey had long wanted more detailed maps to follow the action and, failing the provision of a definitive atlas, embarked on the task herself despite having no background in cartography. Continue reading “A charming guide to Middle Earth”→