On the 21st September 1937, J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel The Hobbit was first published in the United Kingdom. Although it has remained in print ever since, Tolkien made a number of revisions to the text over the course of the next thirty years to bring plot elements into line with the storyline of the subsequent Lord of the Rings, and also to retain copyright in the USA.
Tolkien was an academic linguist who was the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford. However, alongside his academic pursuits he had an active creative side that saw him produce a series playful poems and stories for his children. Tolkien combined both these areas in The Hobbit. While it is primarily a children’s book, part of its appeal is the rich fantasy world that Tolkien created by drawing upon his knowledge of Old English literature and early Germanic mythology.
Tolkien is said to have taken up to two years to write the original manuscript for the book, copies of which he lent to various friends. Through contact with one of his students at Oxford, the publisher George Allen & Unwin Ltd. obtained a copy, which was given a positive review by the 10-year old son of the owner and encouraged Unwin to publish it.
The initial run of 1,500 copies sold out within three months, and further runs proved similarly popular. However, arguably The Hobbit’s greatest legacy is that it spawned the creation of The Lord of the Rings – the sequel that Tolkien was encouraged to write after The Hobbit’s runaway success.