Landmark Books in All Fields
ItemID: #124663
Cost: $115,000.00


J.R.R. Tolkien


TOLKIEN, J.R.R. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. London: George Allen & Unwin, (1937). Octavo, original light green cloth with dark blue decorations, cartographic endpapers, original dust jacket. Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box. $115,000.

First edition, first printing, in original unrestored dust jacket, of the fantasy classic—"among the very highest achievements of children's authors during the 20th century" (Carpenter & Pritchard, 530)—one of only 1500 copies printed.

Not unlike its titular protagonist—the "little fellow" Bilbo Baggins, quiet and unremarkable, who nonetheless becomes the hero of an epic adventure—The Hobbit, now widely hailed as a landmark work not only of children's literature but also of world fantasy, had a humble origin. "All I can remember about the start of The Hobbit," Tolkien would later recall in a letter to his friend W.H. Auden, "is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On a blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' I did not and do not know why. I did nothing about it, for a long time… but it became The Hobbit in the early 1930s."

Much more than a "fine, robustly plotted adventure story" (Fantasy and Horror 5-288), The Hobbit endures as "the outstanding British work of fantasy for children to appear between the two World Wars… All historians of children's literature… agree in placing [The Hobbit] among the very highest achievements of children's authors during the 20th century" (Carpenter & Prichard, 254, 530). It served as readers' introduction to Middle-Earth, the elaborately textured and completely convincing imaginary world that Tolkien had been creating as a private exercise since as early as 1918. "Professor Tolkien's epic of Middle Earth… [is considered] one of [the 20th] century's lasting contributions to that borderland of literature between youth and age. There are few such books—Gulliver's Travels, The Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows—what else?… [Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth are] destined to become this century's contribution to that select list of books which continue through the ages to be read by children and adults with almost equal pleasure" (Eyre, 67, 134-5).

Published on September 21, 1937 in a first printing of only 1500 copies, The Hobbit had completely sold out by December 15. "It may have been a surprise to its publishers that a work as sui generis as The Hobbit should have been a popular success, but once it was a success there can have been no surprise in the clamor for a sequel. Tolkien had opened up a new imaginative continent, and the cry now was to see more of it" (Shippey, 49). Tolkien would, of course, go on to reveal much more in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). All of the book's illustrations and decorations are by Tolkien: ten black-and-white pen drawings; two maps printed in red and black (appearing as the front and back endpapers); decorations to the cloth binding (mountains, moon, sun and dragon); and the dramatic four-color dust jacket illustration. Publisher's correction by hand to rear flap of dust jacket. Hammond & Anderson A3a. Currey 385. Early owner signature and address on front flyleaf (blank).

Book with minor darkening to edges of original cloth. Original very bright dust jacket entirely unrestored, with some chipping to spine ends and dust jacket corners. A very good copy of this exceptionally rare first edition.

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