There and Back Again: The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary

5fe47-hobbit_cover“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” With this one sentence, J.R.R. Tolkien impacted my life (and many other lives) in a huge way. When I was a child, my dad would usually make up stories at bed time to get me to fall asleep. It was our routine. When he was running low on creativity, he would read to me. The Hobbit was the first book I ever remember him reading to me, and I loved it. It’s is my absolute favorite book in the world, and it is celebrating its 80th anniversary!

The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937 and has been in print ever since. It was originally published by George Allen & Unwin in London to glowing reviews and has remained a beloved book through the decades. The book appeals to adults and children alike, as it combines wry humor and wit with an adventure story like no other. The Hobbit is the forerunner for The Lord of the Rings, the epic saga that is widely acknowledged as a classic. Though related to that epic story, The Hobbit is in a class of its own. For Hobbit lovers, this day is all about the quest of a homebody hobbit-turned-burglar and his companions. Although Bilbo begins the adventure a grumpy, immature hobbit, he gains a new level of maturity and wisdom as he completes different tasks in the adventure. This beloved classic has been adapted in the following ways:

The Hobbit, an animated version of the story produced by Rankin/Bass, debuted as a television movie in the United States in 1977. Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for the teleplay. I had this movie on VHS and I was obsessed with watching it! The music is wonderful (the lyrics are adapted from the book), and the storyteller’s voice is so soothing. The Goblins, however, still give me nightmares.

The BBC children’s television series Jackanory presented an adaptation of The Hobbit in 1979. Unusual for the program, the adaptation was narrated by several people. According to one of the narrators, David Wood, the release of the production on video has been repeatedly stopped by the Tolkien Estate.

Of course, the recent live action high fantasy adventure films directed by Peter Jackson are probably the most well-known adaptation of the book. The adaptations include a new character who did not appear in the original book, as well as new materials and characters written especially for the films. The movies expand upon certain elements from the novel and other source material from Tolkien. The films are subtitled An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies.

The BBC Radio 4 series The Hobbit radio drama was an adaptation by Michael Kilgarriff, broadcast in eight parts (four total hours) from September to November 1968. It starred Anthony Jackson as narrator, Paul Daneman as Bilbo and Heron Carvic as Gandalf. The series was released on audio cassette in 1988 and on CD in 1997.

Der Hobbit, a German language radio drama was produced in 1980 by Westdeutscher Rundfunk. Voice actors included Martin Benrath as narrator, Horst Bollmann as Bilbo, Bernhard Minetti as Gandalf and Jürgen von Manger as Gollum.

Video games
Several computer and video games, both licensed and unlicensed, have been based on the story.

One of the most successful was The Hobbit, an award-winning computer game developed in 1982 by Beam Software and published by Melbourne House with compatibility for most computers available at the time. A copy of the novel was included in each game package to encourage players to engage the text, since ideas for gameplay could be found therein. Likewise, the game does not attempt to re-tell the story, but rather sits alongside it, using the narrative to both structure and motivate gameplay. The game won the Golden Joystick Award for Strategy Game of the Year in 1983.

In 2003, Sierra Entertainment published a platform game with action-RPG elements titled The Hobbit Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Windows PCs and Xbox. A version, based on the same character design and story, but using a 2D isometric platform and using 3D characters which were pre-rendered using models from the console version, was also published for the Game Boy Advance. You can get the official strategy guide here.

Leonard Nimoy sang a lovely little ditty about The Hobbit titled “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. The recording originally appeared on the album The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, released in 1968. A music video accompanied it, featuring sand dunes and dancing girls. Don’t worry, you can find it here.

I’d love to hear all about why you love The Hobbit, or what we missed on this list! Comment below and tell me your favorite Tolkien-related memory.

Katy is the Promotions Coordinator at Half Price Books Corporate.

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