Some Very Brief Background on What Led to Bilbo The Hobbit

Tolkien biography

Carpenter's biography of Tolkien. I never think he looks comfortable when he's sitting in these pictures.

Okay, yesterday we talked about how we all get introduced to Tolkien’s work. Today I’m going to give you a few snippets of background on Tolkien and the book that would become The Hobbit. I’ve decided that to make this series as digestible as possible, I’m going to be writing more short posts, vs fewer long ones that try to be comprehensive.

I’m going to quoting frequently in this series from Humphrey Carpenters’s J.R.R. Tolkien, a Biography.

Starting now. Tolkien himself had this to say about hobbits:

I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plan food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats; I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); havea a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome; I go to bed late and get up late (when possible).  I do not travel much. (179-180)

Other than being really short and having hairy feet, that paragraph sums up Hobbits as well as anything else I’ve read. Tolkien also states on the same page that Hobbits are simply “Rustic English folk.” We’ll be getting into his ideas about creating a mythology specifically for England later on; the theme comes up over and over.

The word Hobbit

I’ve found a couple of different version of this story.

On a blank leaf I scrawled “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” I did not and do now know why. (Carter, 181)

In Carter’s account, it’s not told exactly what Tolkien was doing when this happened. Most other sources I’ve read refer to him correcting academic papers or creating school certificates when he suddenly found a blank page in the middle of the stack. And onto that page went the line. And out of that line came…well, you know. Lots.

When we really start talking about the mythology, we’re going to see that Tolkien viewed himself not as a creator, but as a sort of archaeologist or discoverer. In all the literature I’ve read about him, he is more likely to write something and then say “I have to figure out why it is this way,” rather than “I wonder if this is how it should go?”

But not always. But now I’m already starting to get ahead of myself.

The Hobbit was begun as another amusement for Tolkien. It wasn’t a completely smooth process, however. In the next post we’re going to take a look at when the book was officially started, some of the hiccups along the way to completion and publication, and how the public received it.