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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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The Hobbit was published in 1937 as a children's book. It was
met with great enthusiasm and received several awards,
including the prestigious New York Herald Tribune prize as
the year's best children's book. At the request of his publishers,
Tolkien set out to write a sequel to The Hobbit. The publishers
had wanted another children's book, but it soon became
apparent that the new book was taking on a more profound
meaning and would far surpass The Hobbit in depth as well as
length. When Tolkien at last submitted his new novel, The
Lord of the Rings, his publisher thought that it was a work of
genius but that it would probably be a commercial flop.
However, when the first book of the trilogy, The Fellowship of
the Ring, was published in 1954, it had respectable sales that
quickly increased to a phenomenal rate. The other books of the
trilogy, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, were
published sooner than planned because of the popular demand.



The critics offered a range of comment on Tolkien. Some gave
him great reviews, and he was awarded a prize for the best
fantasy novel of 1956. Others sharpened their pencils and
attacked the trilogy mercilessly. They said it was badly written,
and dismissed it as escapist fantasy. According to these critics,
Tolkien's popularity would quickly fade. But such negative
prophecies proved wrong. Tolkien's books soon developed a
wide following, especially on college campuses in the United
States. In the 1960s, Tolkien's message of love and peace and
respect for nature appealed to students looking for new
meaning in their lives. Clubs were formed and fan magazines
were published for the sole purpose of discussing his books.

Tolkien, meanwhile, had retired from teaching in 1958. He
published several more small works of fiction. But most of his
effort went into his mythology, which he still had hopes of
publishing. The task was a huge one. Tolkien had an
assortment of manuscripts to work with, some dating back to
his college days. Through the years, he had written conflicting
versions of some stories from his mythology and had left others
unfinished. The inconsistencies had to be ironed out and the
gaps filled in. Facts also had to be corrected where they
disagreed with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This
work remained unfinished at his death in 1973.

The job of finishing the book was taken on by his son
Christopher, who edited the manuscripts and compiled a
coherent history of Middle-earth, from its creation through to
the events recounted in The Lord of the Rings. In 1977 this
history was published as The Silmarillion. If you read it, you
will find the book very different from Tolkien's novels. It
contains a great deal of legends and tales, some more fully
outlined than others, but none with the plot and character
development typical of a story. (In this way, The Silmarillion is
even more like the ancient epics than Tolkien's other books.) If
you want to know more about Middle-earth, however, the book
contains a wealth of information about the land and races
created by Tolkien's fertile imagination.

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