There and back again: Delving into the world that Tolkien created

The run-up to the release of the first film in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy has seen a spate of tie-in publications and new editions of the works of JRR Tolkien.

The level of anticipation of the films speaks for itself and indicates that the public are still hungry to see and read more about Middle-earth.

The Hobbit: the Classic Children’s Novel in Two Parts separates the story into books presented in a boxset. The division seems slightly odd, especially in the wake of the announcement that Jackson’s films are to number three as opposed to two, as was originally thought. The cover of the boxset does not feature images from the film but rather opts for a classic illustration of the view from the titular hobbit’s front door.

The tale, first published 75 years ago, takes place in Middle-earth and follows the fate of Bilbo Baggins, a peace-loving hobbit who initially seems archetypal of his conservative and diminutive race. Bilbo is contented with his life of comfort and cake consumption; that is until the wizard Gandalf the Grey decides to take the hobbit’s fate into his own hands. Before Mr Baggins can so much as grab his pocket handkerchief he is on the road in the company of 13 dwarves pursuing the mistress he never knew he desired — adventure.

Bilbo takes on the unlikely role of burglar in the dwarves’ quest to regain the Misty Mountains and the treasure therein from the dragon Smaug.

Throughout the book Bilbo travels far and sees a great many things but his most major alteration is internal. He discovers himself to be courageous and resourceful and is the catalyst for most of the action.

Throughout the book there are previews of the darker world of the Lord of the Rings, most notably in Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum, his subsequent finding of the One Ring, and in the allusions to the threat of the Necromancer, which comes to fruition in the Lord of the Rings. This edition is definitely aimed more at the children’s market but its presentation in a boxset and overall aesthetic will mean it also appeals to collectors.

The Lord of the Rings also comes in a new edition in the shape of a seven-book boxset. The Lord of the Rings, though one story, was originally published between 1954 and 1955 as three volumes for economic reasons. Internally the book is divided structurally into three volumes with two books in each. This edition is divided as per that internal structure with six books in all. The pièce de résistance for fans will be the seventh book given over to appendices and index. They also essentially create a guidebook for the first-time venturer into Middle-earth.

Tolkien creates a much wider Middle-earth with a huge cast of characters. With them comes an awe-inspiring set of invented languages, geography, and mythology.

After the success of The Hobbit Tolkien’s publishers urged him to write ‘the next Hobbit’. The end result was far more than a sequel but rather the author’s opus and the focus of his life for 18 years. The story reintroduces us to Bilbo on his eleventy-first (111th) birthday when he decides to depart his home once more, leaving all his possessions to his adopted heir Frodo, including the ring that he found on his adventures in The Hobbit.

It emerges that the ring is the One Ring forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, it possesses its owner, and has power to do only evil and eventually would destroy Middle-earth. Frodo must go on a quest, along with a company of others including his loyal hobbit companions and the vagabond known as Strider — Aragorn, rightful heir to the thrones of Arnor and Gondor — to destroy the ring in Mount Doom in Mordor.

All the while the company are pursued by the terrifying Ringwraiths, slaves of Sauron and of the One Ring. It is a book on a whole other scale to The Hobbit. The story encompasses the passing of a new age in Middle-earth and all of humanity is at stake.

The Lord of the Rings splits into several narratives and subplots as the company separates but they all tie in together in this awe-inspiring work. A practical advantage of this new edition is that it is more travel-friendly than the weighty tome that is the one-volume edition.

Last August saw the release of Hobbitus Ille, a Latin translation of The Hobbit to coincide with the 75th anniversary. The novel has already been translated into over 60 languages. The weighty task of this particular translation was taken on by well-known translator, classicist, and long-time Tolkienite Mark Walker.

Walker’s level of fandom is evident in his attention to detail which includes adapting all the songs and verses into classic Latin metre. This hardback edition will surely be a treat to those learning Latin at school and to more erstwhile studiers of the language.

The Hobbit Annual 2013 is the publication that most ties in with the film. Its imagery is comprised primarily of stills from the film and its release gave fans their first look at the characters of Tharanduil and the Hobbit-era Saruman. The annual serves as an ideal introduction to the story for young readers and moviegoers. It gives a background to the story as far as the escape from Mirkwood and offers a lengthy description of each character without containing spoilers. For children it provides fun to go with the story in the form of word-searches, moon-rune translators, puzzles, and more.

Meanwhile for the hardcore fan its hard cover, original maps, and glossy stills will make it a worthy keepsake of another chapter in Tolkien history.


Lifestyle

Tinfoil hats were the headwear of choice at Keith Barry's enjoyable show, writes Esther N McCarthyREVIEW: Keith Barry at the Everyman in Cork

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman whose husband’s controlling behaviour is making her feel trapped.Ask a counsellor: Why has my husband become so jealous and possessive?

More From The Irish Examiner