Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Annotated Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

The Annotated Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien and annotated by Douglas A. Anderson.  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988.  335 pp.  0-395-47690-9.

... in which Bilbo and company's adventures are annotated with notes about Tolkien's inspirations and the various changes between different editions of The Hobbit.

The Annotated Hobbit is a unique copy of The Hobbit because in its margins, writer Douglas Anderson has added in a plethora of notes and images to supplement the main text.  Most of the notes are about Tolkien's various inspirations, both in terms of plot and linguistics.  There are also various footnotes noting the different changes between various editions over the years, and illustrations are included throughout the book showing different artists' interpretations of the events from different international editions.  I'm not going to bother to summarize the plot, because if you don't know the plot of The Hobbit by now, then you probably don't care.

The best thing about this kind of book is that it really is a book for book-lovers.  The story itself is, of course, iconic in its own right, and the annotations just add to its massive appeal to geeky bibliophiles the world over.  The added illustrations from different international editions really bring an extra dimension to the story, and it was especially interesting to see how different artists depicted the scenes and characters.

I'm not going to review the story itself because... well, it doesn't really need to be reviewed at this point.  However, the value of the annotations and notes and added illustrations were the best part of rereading this book this time around, because I really learned a lot about Tolkien's process, and a lot about the things that inspired him.  It was really interesting to read the notes about how tiny (or large) details changed between different editions of the book.  Of course, there's the big difference of Bilbo finding no magic ring in the first edition of the book, and then there's the minor differences, where Tolkien changed a word or two to make a small difference in the book but a big difference in the flow of the sentence or the philology.

I probably would not recommend this version to anyone who has never read The Hobbit because the notes in the margins can be a little distracting, and I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone with only a casual interest in Tolkien's work, but for anyone who loves learning about Tolkien and Middle Earth and all of the things related to it, this is the book for you! 

5/5 stars

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