1 March 2010
The Bodleian Library is taking part in World Book Day 2010 by exhibiting a selection of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original artwork which was used to illustrate The Hobbit, as well as a unique manuscript of Hobbit doodles and a rare first edition of the book. This 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 on 21 September 1937 with all fifteen-hundred copies of the first edition being 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, now translated into nearly forty languages.
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: ‘The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water’; ‘Rivendell’; ‘Bilbo Woke Up with the Early Sun in His Eyes’; ‘Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves’, and ‘Conversation with Smaug’. Four of the paintings (except the ‘Raft-elves’) were reproduced in the first American edition published on 1 March 1938 and another four (except the popular ‘Bilbo Woke’) in the second British edition published on 25 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.’
This year’s exhibition was made possible by the Tolkien Trustees who gifted Tolkien’s artwork to the Bodleian Library in 1979.