1 march 2010

'There and Back Again:' The Hobbit at The Bodleian Library

Art

Tolkien There and Back poster
A small display of Tolkein's original artwork and manuscripts will be on display Thursday, 4 March

The Bodleian Library is taking part in World Book Day 2010 by exhibiting a selection of JRR Tolkien’s original artwork which was used to illustrate The Hobbit.

A unique manuscript of Hobbit doodles and a rare first edition of the book will also be on display. The free-of-charge one-day display will take place in the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library on Thursday, 4 March 2010.

The Hobbit was published in September 1937, and all 1,500 copies of the first edition were sold out within three months. It received generally enthusiastic reviews, and after the success of the American edition in 1938 the book became one of the world’s best-selling single works of fiction, and has been translated into nearly forty languages.

All I can remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers …On a blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.'

Excerpt from a letter written by JRR Tolkien to WH Auden (7 July 1955)

Tolkien’s own manuscript of The Hobbit was illustrated throughout with monochrome drawings and maps also printed in the first British edition. At the suggestion of his American publishers, who wanted to include colour plates in their edition, Tolkien painted five watercolours between mid-July and mid-August 1937, four of which were reproduced in the first American edition published in March 1938. Another four appeared in the second British edition published in January 1938. 

Dr Chris Fletcher, Head of Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library said: ‘Tolkien’s abilities as an artist are perhaps less well known than his great talent as a writer.  However, as our display shows, his splendid watercolours and drawings - generously given to the Bodleian by the Tolkien trustees in 1979 - formed an essential part of his creative conception of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  We are delighted to celebrate this artist and writer in the library he regularly used as a scholar.’

The display coincides with World Book Day, the biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland. The origins of the day now celebrated in the UK come from Catalonia, where roses and books were given as gifts to loved ones on St George’s Day – a tradition started over 80 years ago.