Some years back I’d been mucking around the annotated literature collection we have here in the Estate Library and found that we had a copy of The Annotated Hobbit when I reviewed it. It certainly wasn’t the best way to read it as the entertaining annotations distracted from Tolkien’s story but I did learn much that I didn’t know about the creation of The Hobbit.
The Annotated Hobbit is not for reading The Hobbit, but is, rather, the definitive exploration of the sources, characters, places, and origins of this charming tale. Anderson’s notes are placed alongside the fully restored and corrected text of the original story with more than one hundred and fifty illustrations showing visual interpretations of The Hobbit.
I’ve said before that I far prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of The Rings as it’s simply an adventure tale well-told, but what really clinches it for me is the hobbits themselves who, after all, are the the central characters of this work. Forget the elves, the ents, the trolls, and myriad other races Tolkien created and which certainly add to the richness of his story, especially in The Lord of The Rings. I hold that his greatest invented race is the hobbits, a curiously modest group who fit well within his lifelong quest to create a mythology for England.
Such a mythology needs a race, a culture, that embodies that mythology, which certainly the hobbits do quite well. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he describes hobbits thusly:
I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of ‘fairy’ rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and ‘elvish’; hair short and curling (brown). The feet from the ankles down, covered with brown hairy fur. Clothing: green velvet breeches; red or yellow waistcoat; brown or green jacket; gold (or brass) buttons; a dark green hood and cloak (belonging to a dwarf).
But the best look at what hobbits are like comes when he describes the abode of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit whose idea of adventure is what he’ll be eating for eleveneses. And this is what I’ll leave you with as I head down to the Kitchen for afternoon tea. I wonder if Mrs. Ware will have her lovely English muffins with salted butter and spiced apple jam?
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill – The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it – and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.