Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Hobbit

It was on this day in 1954 that the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was published—The Fellowship of the Ring. Seventeen years had passed since the publication of The Hobbit (1937), to which The Fellowship of the Ring was a sequel. The Hobbit had gotten a great review in The Times Literary Supplement, and it went on to become a best-seller. So J.R.R. Tolkien (books by this author) began working on a sequel, about the nephew of the hobbit Bilbo, the nephew being named Frodo. He decided that the story would center on the magical ring, which hadn't been an important part of The Hobbit.

Tolkien spent the next seventeen years working on The Lord of the Rings. He was well into his first draft by the time World War II broke out in 1939. The book became more complicated as Tolkien went along, and it was taking much longer to finish than he had planned. He went through long stretches where he didn't write anything and considered giving the project up altogether. He wanted to make sure all of the details about the geography, language, and mythology of Middle Earth were consistent. He made elaborate charts to keep track of the events of his story, showing dates, days of the week, the direction of the wind, and the phases of the moon.

Finally, in the fall of 1949, Tolkien finished writing The Lord of the Rings. He typed the final copy out himself, sitting on a bed in his attic, balancing the typewriter on his lap, and tapping it out with two fingers.

The Lord of the Rings turned out to be more than half a million words long. Tolkien wanted to publish it in one volume, his publisher wanted to divide it into three volumes and so the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, came out on this day in 1954.

Only about three and a half thousand copies were printed, but it turned out to be incredibly popular, and it went through a second printing in just six weeks.

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