The 1960 Hobbit: The Narrative Frame

One of the most striking things about John D. Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit is its inclusion of the previously unpublished (and very little-known) ‘1960 Hobbit’.

It is well-known that Tolkien re-drafted portions of The Hobbit, particularly Chapter V, ‘Riddles in the Dark’, so as to bring the narrative more in-line with the story arc he had created for the One Ring when writing The Lord of the Rings. Hence, ‘the second edition’.

The upshot of this change being that both the first and second edtions are simultaneously considered valid; the first being a ‘lie’ told by Bilbo, the second being the ‘true version’ set down by Frodo & Sam, who were unwilling to change anything Bilbo actually wrote himself, thus two versions of the story exist in-print.

It is also fairly well-known that, in 1966, in order to secure/retain the copyright over the book after some dubious publications by Ace Books in the USA, Tolkien made a few minor alterations to the book and thus, ‘the third edition.

Hobbit-Explusion_publishing
The Hobbit: Expulsion, by Donato Giancola via http://www.donatoart.com

But in 1960, after The Lord of the Rings had been out for a few years, Tolkien embarked on an experimental re-draft of The Hobbit with the end-goal of achieving a tone/style more in keeping with that of The Lord of the Rings.

Gone are many of the whimsical elements (e.g., the ‘invention’ of golf at the Battle of Greenfields) and some of the ‘anachronistic’ elements (e.g., the reference to the ‘whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel’).

Tolkien never went beyond drafting the first three chapters, ending just as the company crest the ridge and look down upon the Valley of Rivendell.

Beyond what ‘may have been’ had Tolkien seen the version through to completion, something else makes me wonder: considering the careful attention to detail and a seeming unwillingness to simply abandon a version of the text already published, it is interesting to speculate just how he would have ‘explained’ the existence of this third version which is much ‘higher’ in tone.

Was the first (and second) edition created from an oral tradition that Bilbo told to young hobbit-children, and the newer, 1960 edition created from the Red Book as re-told by Frodo?

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