The 1938 Hobbit: An Exhibit and Public Reading Sponsored by the Brooke and Carol Peirce Center for Undergraduate Research in Special Collections and Archives, September 26, 2009

Alayna Giovannitti,  Goucher Class of 2010,  and Arnie Sanders, Associate Professor of English

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The 1938 Hobbit: An Exhibit and Public Reading Sponsored by the Brooke and Carol Peirce Center for Undergraduate Research in Special Collections and Archives, September 26, 2009

1)  The “1938 Hobbit”: Provenance, Rarity, and Significance

                The Goucher College Library’s Rare Book Collection contains many first editions, but one of the most valuable and of most interest to Tolkien scholars, is the American first edition of The Hobbit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938), a near pristine copy with dust jacket.  Donated in 1978 by Margaret Dixcy Morriss (Class of 1919), until recently the “1938 Hobbit” was not known to be rare.  Because this edition was marketed as a children’s book, copies typically were “read to death.”  Fragile dust jackets almost never survive.

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The Dust Jacket of Goucher’s “1938 Hobbit”

                The “1938 Hobbit” is valuable to readers because it contains many line drawings and full-color illustrations by Tolkien, himself, giving us his visual interpretation of what hobbits, hobbit-holes, and dragons look like.  The Goucher copy of the “1938 Hobbit” is rarer still because it is “the first state of the first edition,” a bibliographic distinction resulting from a printer’s error, like the famous upside-down Curtis biplane on the “Inverted Jenny” stamp that can fetch a million dollars at auction.  Houghton Mifflin’s book designers decorated their book by adding the image of a bowing hobbit to the center of the title page in black and white, and embossed in red upon the buckram cover.  Tolkien was incensed when he saw the first copy because both “bowing hobbits” were wearing shoes.  The illustrators had based the bowing hobbits upon the dimly visible one Tolkien had painted to illustrate Bilbo’s first conversation with Smaug.  The hobbit is partially concealed by a cloud to indicate his Ring-induced invisibility.  When Tolkien pointed out this obvious contradiction with his frequent reference to hobbits’ furry bare feet, Houghton Mifflin stopped production and removed the offending images, replacing the one on the title page with their own logo.  Very few of the five thousand American first editions were printed before this change, and only these are the first state of the first edition.

                The text of the 1938 Hobbit also differs in important ways from the one known to most readers today.  By 1955, when The Lord of the Rings’ first edition had been published, Tolkien’s conception of The Hobbit’s moral universe had evolved.  The Hobbit locates evil in the power of greed, the “dragon sickness” seen in Smaug’s hoard and in the Arkenstone’s effect upon Thorin Oakenshield’s personality.  Gandalf intimated that the Ring was more than a mere plot device to aid Bilbo’s burglaries, but its powers and history were left unknown.  Bilbo began lying about the Ring from the moment he first possessed it, and his increasing willingness to use it to escape unpleasantness and secrecy about it already suggested the direction Tolkien’s later thought would take. 

By the 1966 publication of The Hobbit‘s third revision, Bilbo’s ring had become “the One Ring,” source of Sauron’s power and Isildur’s Bane.  Mere “dragon sickness” was replaced as the narrative’s titanic danger by the temptation to omniscience and omnipotence: pure god-like Power.  The edition’s introductory note explained Bilbo’s earlier version of the Riddle Game with Gollum as the first effect of the Ring’s power over its new possessor, and the “true” version was now offered to readers to show how Bilbo had tricked Gollum with the Ring’s aid.  The 1938 edition’s version of “Riddles in the Dark” reveals Tolkien’s creative process and its relationship to his study of medieval manuscripts and modern editions.  The 1938 Hobbit is like an early nineteenth-century “modernized” version of a medieval text, which Bilbo invents as he smoothes over troubling details about the Ring.  The 1966 revised edition, like an “original spelling edition” of a medieval work, returns to a corrected “original” to reveal Bilbo’s acquisition of the Ring “as it really happened.” 

2)  Children’s Literature vs. Epic: The Hobbit’s Narrative Style and the “legendarium” of The Lord of the Rings

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are often only linked by their shared world and characters, but the descriptions and often inadvertent definitions in The Hobbit are helpful and interesting for readers of Tolkien’s trilogy. The creatures of Middle Earth are defined in the most elementary style, providing only a small fraction of background that is supplied in The Lord of the Rings. Substantial narrative differences between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are due to changes in Tolkien’s style. In The Hobbit, readers are often addressed as “you” as if they are being told a story, and the narrator sometimes coyly asks them questions, which makes sense given that Tolkien initially started to write the tale for his children. He later denounced this as “a bad style” and claimed that his children “loathe[d] it; it’s awful.” This juvenile audience style is what caused critics initially to treat the novel as a work of children’s literature that adults also could enjoy. Anne T. Eaton’s review in The New York Times (March 13, 1938) asserted that “for the reader from 8 to 12 The Hobbit is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure…seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible.” She quotes a passage in which hobbits are defined for the readers as small, hairy, good natured beings which like to eat as many dinners as possible. However, in the October 1937 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis anonymously reviewed The Hobbit and assessed its meaning for adults: “The Hobbit…will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic” (Annotated Hobbit 4).

Houghton-Mifflin reinforced The Hobbit’s “children’s literature” status by reprinting book reviewers’ blurbs from The London Times that associated the book with the works of Lewis Carroll and Kenneth Grahame.  Although Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows have been reclaimed for adult readers by modern criticism, in the 1930s they were still regarded as children’s reading.  The American dust jacket further associated the book with juvenile readers by using the rear flap to market another Houghton Mifflin children’s imprint, John Buchan’s The Magic Walking Stick (Boston: 1932).  Buchan’s book recounts in serial chapters the tale of a boy who acquires his “magic walking stick” from a leprechaun-like creature and uses it to travel the world in search of melodramatic adventures.  Overtly Christian, with simplified moral lessons taught to a child of an aristocratic English country squire, Buchan’s book bears only rough similarities to Tolkien’s Hobbit—a magical agent, dramatic dangers and hairs-breadth escapes, and resolution by return to the comforts of home.  The rest of Tolkien’s depths could hardly be guessed by Buchan’s readers, who would have found more difficult moral and psychological territory in both book’s common ancestor, Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.  Fortunately, Tolkien’s work has outlasted both Buchan’s and Kipling’s because its author began to draw upon his linguistic and literary studies when he became blocked while writing. 

Tolkien stopped writing The Hobbit several times when his composing process became stalled. He says he “wrote the first chapter first – then forgot about it, then…wrote another part” (AH). At first, he may not have planned for the book to become so complex and important. In the context of The Lord of the Rings, the events in The Hobbit become part of a historical epic. (See “Swords,” below.) Even he was aware of “the tone and style change with the Hobbit’s development, passing from fairy-tale to the noble and high and relapsing with the return” [AH]. The tone changes as Bilbo’s character does.  At the beginning and end, Tolkien’s language is significantly simpler than it is in the middle when it deals with relations among nations and the causes of wars.

Another characteristic that distinguishes The Hobbit from children’s literature is Tolkien’s use of dialects and characteristic speech for the plot’s differing species, hobbits, men, dwarves, elves, dragons, trolls, goblins, wolves, eagles, and were-bears. In a 1931 paper, he had discussed the Northumbrian dialect Chaucer uses in the Reeve’s Tale to contrast the heroes’ unfashionable accents with the East Midlands speech of the pilgrims, and Anderson notes that the Trolls’ Cockney dialect in The Hobbit creates a similar comic difference from the narrator’s standard London English. Not only does this add humor, but it also is Tolkien’s way of creating a voice for each character, which makes reading it aloud very effective. From his own tape-recorded readings, we can hear that the voices add considerably to characters’ individuality. Even after reading only half of the novel, readers are accustomed to Gandalf’s gentle and knowledgeable speech and the anxious, often rushed dialogue of the unlikely hero, Bilbo. The unique “idiolect” or private dialect that Tolkien gives to Gollum is certainly the strangest and most memorable in The Hobbit.  (Also see “Anglo-Saxon Hobbit,” below)

Tolkien himself completed illustrations for The Hobbit which included maps as well as certain scenes, lands, and creatures. He was often extremely unhappy with the illustrations that replaced his in some editions, and spoke openly about his distaste for them. His perfectionist attitude toward the imagery in his novels was important to him despite Tolkien’s assertion that “a name comes first and the story follows.” He was famously inspired by a postcard that contained an image of the painting Der Berggeist, or The Mountain Spirit, by Josef Madlener, a German artist. Over many years it was kept intact with a cover over it, on which Tolkien wrote, “Origin of Gandalf.”

Though his inspirations came from many sources, Tolkien frequently rejected the idea that each aspect of his story had an analogue, and believed that it wasn’t in the best interest of the reader to hunt for them.  In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” he purports that readers of fairy stories should focus less on where it came from, and that “it is precisely the colouring, the atmosphere, the unclassifiable individual details of a story, and above all the general purport that informs with life the undissected bones of the plot, that really count.” On many occasions he denied having used any particular tale as a conscious source of inspiration, even when the connection is very clear to the perceptive reader. (See Beowulf.) When asked, he said that his stories were “derived from (previously digested) epic, mythology, and fairy-story.” Most often, Tolkien maintained that the tale from which he borrowed most was his own yet-unfinished and unpublished history of the elves, The Silmarillion. Certain specific descriptions were also borrowed from that text, mostly on the basis of the landscape or particular buildings.

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Der Berggeist, Josef Madlener


3)  From “a hobbit” to The Hobbit: R. W. Chambers’ Beowulf Scholarship and Tolkien’s Secondary Inspiration

R.W. Chambers, Tolkien’s old friend and the Quain Professor of English at University College London, published Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem in August of 1921, and Tolkien came upon it shortly thereafter. He also read “Beowulf and the Heroic Age in England,” a foreword written by Chambers that appeared in Archibald Strong’s translation of Beowulf in 1925.  Tolkien praised it highly, calling Chambers “the ­Beowulf­-poet’s best friend” [AH].  Knowing that Tolkien was reading and praising Chambers’ scholarship on Beowulf is important when, as Douglas A. Anderson notes, one takes into consideration these works’ publication date and years when Tolkien was writing the first draft of The Hobbit, especially his long pause after the Eagles’ rescue of the travelers in Chapter VI.

In 1957, Tolkien said “There’s a very big gap after they reach the eyrie of the Eagles. After that I didn’t really know how to go on.” Anderson tentatively dates this to the end of 1931 or 1932. Chambers’ second edition of Beowulf: An Introduction was published in May 1932, and contained significant additions to the original from 1921. Anderson argues that this new edition of his friend’s work gave Tolkien the inspiration he needed to continue writing The Hobbit. The slightly awkward break in narrative that was visible to Tolkien is visible to the astute reader, as well.  Perhaps, until that point, whatever Tolkien had penned came from the same inspiration as the first sentence of the novel. While grading papers, the “hobbit” seemed to have simply walked into Tolkien’s head, but after Bilbo’s escape from the goblins, that well of creativity had at last run dry. In Chambers’ more recent edition of his introduction to the poem, Chambers wrote that the name “Beowulf” was derived from “Bee-wolf.” He noted that the most common interpretation of Beowulf was that it meant “wolf, or foe, of the bee.” Chambers continued to say that though the word technically made sense, the phrase “bee-wolf” was senseless and therefore useless. However, Chambers continued his argument by pointing out that “Bee-foe” means “bear.” He continues: “The O.E. beorn, ‘warrior, hero, prince’ seems originally to have meant simply ‘bear’.”  (Also see “Beorn, Beowulf, and the berserkers” below.)

This definition correlates nicely with the description of Beorn in The Hobbit, but, the handwritten manuscript shows that the character was originally called “Medwed” (Rateliff). This anglicized version of the Russian “honey-eater” was often a point of debate for Tolkien scholars who weren’t able to find a direct source in Russian literature because, as Anderson points out, Tolkien was not necessarily adept in Russian. The word, it seems, is lifted directly from Chambers, who mentions a Russian folktale called “Ivashko Medvedko, ‘John Honey-eater’ or ‘Bear’.”  By January of 1933, Tolkien had made the change from Medved to Beorn, which Anderson notes fits in more seamlessly with the Germanic world he had created. Chambers’ book seems to have given Tolkien the inspiration to create the Beorn character and showed him how to develop other literary-mythic motifs to complete the sort of story he wanted to tell.

4)  “Swords in The Hobbit:  Glamdring and Orcrist and Sting:

                All three named swords in The Hobbit are found in the Trolls’ lair, and their significance is apparent soon after the company acquires them. They are: Glamdring, Gandalf’s sword, also known as Foehammer and Beater, which glows when goblins or Trolls are near; Orcrist, Thorin’s blade, also known as Goblin-cleaver and Biter; and Sting, Bilbo’s small sword that glows when goblins or Trolls are nearby, and had no name before Bilbo used it to slay the spiders. The importance and meaning of swords in The Hobbit carries over to its sequel, The Lord of the Rings, where the lineage of Anduril, “the sword-which-was-broken,” plays a substantial role in the plot.  Whetter and McDonald note that the nicknames of the swords are similar to some of those in early Scandinavian sources, which in English are equivalent to Slicer, Leg-biter, and Fierce.  Another source of possible inspiration regarding sword lore is in Beowulf; the blade that melts when Merry strikes the Ring Wraith in The Return of the King is similar to the sword that melts when Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother.

                Swords are so distinct and memorable to the goblins that they are often as intimidating as living creatures, almost as if they take on personalities of their own. Goblins can recognize certain blades as soon as they are unsheathed. When they saw Orcrist, they “gnashed their teeth, clashed their shields, and stamped….They hated it and hated worse any one that carried it.” Tolkien’s decision to give the swords a separate name that only goblins use enhances their “personality” rather than allowing them to remain merely objects.

                The Hobbit developed Tolkien’s thinking about how carrying a sword grants power and respect to hobbits and others who are normally deemed unfit for battle or excluded from higher society. In The Lord of the Rings, he further extends this principle to Éowyn, a woman, who wields a sword worthily to slay the Chief Nazgûl in a battle that takes place during The Return of the King. By disguising herself as a man to fight on the battlefield, she was able to overcome a barrier that would have otherwise kept her from making such a triumphant move in battle: her gender. This sword’s proof of her identity, like Anduril’s, corresponds to Anglo-Saxon “title swords,” whose possession grants their owners specific aristocratic titles and political powers (Davidson).

                The Hobbit’s swords become true extensions of characters and parts of their personality as well as their family’s history. In a world where lineage is extremely important, so are artifacts and tokens. For generally unassuming hobbits such as Bilbo, the mere notion of carrying a weapon is foreign, and he feels he is not worthy. However, throughout The Hobbit there is a distinct change in his attitude as he lets the “Tookish” side take over and allows himself to step into the role he never thought he could become. Eventually he hands down this sword to his heir, Frodo, who uses it throughout his trek to destroy his uncle’s ring, yet another family heirloom, albeit a much less helpful one.

5)  Tolkien’s “Japanese Connection”?: What the “1938 Hobbit”’s Illustrations Tell Us About Smaug:

Smaug’s name, of course, is a pun on “smog,” the then-recently invented term for the photochemical mixture of coal smoke and fog which bedeviled Londoners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The O.E.D. records its first use in the Daily Graphic’s 26 July 1905 coverage of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, whose treasurer, Dr. H. A. des V {oe}ux, introduced “smog” in his paper, “Fog and Smoke.” Tolkien’s immediate sources for the gold-hoarding dragon appears to have been a fusion of Fafnir, the Niebelungenlied’s dragon who guards the Rhine-gold, and Beowulf’s final opponent, aroused from sleep by an anonymous thief who steals a precious cup from its treasure.  Fafnir is mighty, but does not breathe fire or fly, and is dispatched without much trouble by the hero, Siegfried.  Beowulf’s nameless dragon, which Tolkien admired in print as possessing draconitas (“dragon-ness”), breathes fire but does not fly (“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”).  It also destroys the hero with flames, succumbing only to his younger ally who strikes the dragon from beneath the hero’s shield. Fafnir has a voice, and in one of the sagas, he tests Siegfried, seeking to discover the hero’s name so that he can curse him.  Beowulf’s dragon, of course, has no voice, and one of The Hobbit’s great achievements is the dragon’s mesmerizing dialogue with Bilbo.  Neither of these medieval dragons were illustrated in manuscripts, and their narratives tell us almost nothing about their appearance, but the Anglo-Saxon term for dragon, wurm, suggests a snake-like being.  Tolkien’s illustration of the dragon for the 1938 Hobbit (“Oh Smaug, Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities”) reveals his use of an Asian source for Smaug’s physical characteristics.

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Close-up of a Japanese hanging scroll (“Dragon and Mount Fuji,” ca. 1850-1900)

                Japanese dragons have for centuries been depicted on paper and silk scrolls as figures of cosmic power flying up from the earth to the heavens in smoke or cloudy lightening.  In this iconography, they are not evil, but are powers which revitalize Nature.  All have three-toed feet with long claws, and all have heads with prominent eyebrow ridges and ears, large avidly staring eyes, spiked ridges on their backs, and long tails ending. 

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Close-up of Tolkien’s Smaug from the “1938 Hobbit

                Smaug’s description in the text describes him as flying, protected by armored scales on his upper body, and seeing Bilbo with glaring eyes, but otherwise his physique is left to the imagination.  Tolkien’s illustration for the “1938 Hobbit,” however, expands considerably upon his mental image of the dragon in ways that suggest he was well aware of the beasts on Japanese scrolls.  It depicts the dragon curled upon his hoard, with prominent eyes, ears, back ridges, and a long spiked tail.  He has four claws on each foot, but the three fore-claws closely resemble those of Japanese dragons.  Tolkien appears to have added the leathery, bat-like wings, with their clawed “fingers,” based on his own aerodynamic and naturalistic inspiration.


6)  The Anglo-Saxon Hobbit: Old English and Runes

                As one might expect of the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, J. R. R. Tolkien’s linguistic studies might have begun in his earliest youth in polyglot South Africa, where he was born, and the West Midlands near the marches of Wales, where his family moved when he was four.  At Exeter College (Oxon.), he began studying Classical Greek and Latin, but changed to the study of English language and literature, where he recalled vividly his first encounter with the elegant musicality of a couplet from Cynewulf’s Crist.

“Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast      [Hail Earendel brightest of angels,]

Ofer middangeard monnum sended” [over Middle Earth sent to men]

By the time Tolkien took his degree in 1915, he had invented the first of many languages based on tongues he had studied, and after his service in World War I, while employed by the New English Dictionary (ancestor of the O.E.D.), he invented the rest of the literature and languages of the Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, the Black Speech of Mordor, and the Westron speech from Númenor. The Hobbit originated in this linguistic experiment.  Some passages originally were composed in the Northumbrian and Mercian dialects of Anglo-Saxon to help Tolkien imagine events in non-modern languages, and he famously exclaimed that he “would rather have written in Elvish” (Kirk).  Tolkien also adapted Anglo-Saxon runes to create the alphabets used by each language.  Examples of dwarvish runes occur in “Thror’s Map,” printed on the paste-down inside the binding of the American edition. 

For his dwarf runes, Tolkien almost certainly drew upon the work of John Mitchell Kemble (1807-1857), “the first great runologist of modern times,” who published the first accurate and comprehensive guide to translating this curious alphabet in Archaeolgia (28: 1840), later reprinted as Anglo-Saxon Runes in 1840 (Page 6).  Goucher’s copy of the 1938 Hobbit has the good fortune to reside with several of Kemble’s published and manuscript works, which were acquired in the collection of James Wilson Bright (1852-1926), a pioneering Johns Hopkins Anglo-Saxonist from the previous generation.

Kemble’s essay first announced the decoding of runes with which the poet Cynewulf signed his poems, including the Crist which first inspired Tolkien’s linguistic experiments.  Tolkien also used variants on Anglo-Saxon runes to form the “moon-letters” which Elrond helped the travelers read by moonlight in Rivendell.  Originally, Tolkien and Houghton Mifflin planned to form the 1938 edition’s moon letters as a watermark in the map’s paper, so that they only could be read by holding the page up to the light, but the cost was prohibitively expensive.

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(Illustration from John Mitchell Kemble, The Runes of the Anglo-Saxons)

7)  Beorn, Beowulf, and the berserkers

                Beorn, the bear-man whose appearance in the narrative we owe to Tolkien’s encounter with R.W. Chambers’ essay on the mythological and philological background of Beowulf, embodies two aspects of Beowulf’s name.  Based on an Anglo-Saxon kenning or compound metaphor, Beowulf is, linguistically, the “Bee-Wolf” or bear, a hero of immense strength and seemingly impervious to pain.  Kennings work by analogy: a bear is to bees as wolves are to men.  Beorn’s association with hives of huge bees makes this connection literal, but so too does his reputation for shape-changing and savage ferocity, which Bilbo and the dwarves are first warned about by Gandalf when they spend the night at Beorn’s home.  In the Battle of the Five Armies, Tolkien literalizes the implicit bear-man significance by having Beorn appear as a huge bear that fearlessly attacks and destroys the bodyguard of Bolg, chief of the goblins: “his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him” (274).  This invulnerability to weapons in battle-fury Tolkien also may have drawn from the Icelandic berserker tradition.  Probably derived from “bear-sark” or “bear-coat,” the term is used to describe warriors like Otrygg in Njallssaga (“The Saga of Burnt-Njal”), who “feared neither fire nor sword.”  Berserkers may have worn bearskin shirts in rituals to fortify themselves before battle by entering into a frenzy, in which state they were fearless and largely insensible to pain.  Even The Hobbit’s first edition shows us how Tolkien’s linguistic and narrative technique blends the literal and figurative elements of the Germanic tradition with his own inventions and myths from other cultural traditions.

8)   “’The Arkenstone!  The Arkenstone!”: “Dragon-Sickness” and the Discovery of the Jonker Diamond

                In 1938, the American first edition of The Hobbit retained, with its English forbear a perception of evil as greed for possessions, symbolized by Smaug’s love of his hoard, the “dragon-sickness.”  Tolkien’s later thinking evolved greed for wealth and Smaug’s hoard into the One Ring’s obsessive effect upon its owners.  A now-forgotten gem discovery in 1934 may have played an interim role in that development by suggesting a way to focus the power of greed upon a single glorious object, the Arkenstone of Thrain. 

                Late in pre-publication revisions of The Hobbit, pasted into the “First Typescript” sometime between 1933 and 1936, Tolkien introduces Thorin Oakenshield’s ecstatic exclamation: “But fairest of all was the great white gem, which the dwarves had found beneath the roots of the Mountain, the Heart of the Mountain, the Arkenstone of Thrain.  ‘The Arkenstone!  The Arkenstone!’ murmured Thorin in the dark, half dreaming with his chin upon his knees.  ‘It was like a globe with a thousand facets; it shone like silver in the firelight, like water in the sun, like snow under the stars, like rain upon the Moon!” (Chapter 12).  This may have been suggested to Tolkien by the recent discovery, in his native South Africa, of the Jonker Diamond.  This 726 caret white stone, “larger than a hen’s egg,” was the fourth largest diamond ever discovered at that time.

<Jonker Diamond Photo Goes Here>

The Jonker Diamond [uncut]

First mentioned in a gemological publication in 1934, the uncut diamond was purchased by Harry Winston, who brought it to England for the Jubilee Year of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935, as Tolkien’s made his final revisions.  By then, the riches from the stone’s discovery already had begun to destroy its first owner, Johannes Jacobus Jonker.  Like the Arkenstone, the Jonker Diamond fascinated the public with its beauty and promise of great wealth, but unlike the object of Thorin’s mad desire, the Jonker was cut up into thirteen finished stones, the largest of which (Jonker I) weighed 142 carets and was last heard of at its 1977 Hong Kong sale to an anonymous buyer.

9)  Co-Authors' Notes

Alayna Giovannitti—When I first started working on The Hobbit Project, I kept thinking the same thing: the fifteen year old version of myself would think I was so cool. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy one summer in high school, and between the books and the films, I quickly became a huge fan of Tolkien’s work. After learning of this opportunity at the beginning of this year, the prospect of handling a first edition of The Hobbit excited me not only academically, but also personally. When we first started, however, I felt overwhelmed by the decades of research that had already been published. All of it seemed too well established to touch. Beginning any task with such an attitude is not ideal, but Arnie’s optimism was incredibly helpful and gave me the confidence to draw my own conclusions and to argue against previously published scholarship, and sometimes even with Tolkien. Once I was able to look at criticism differently and we started to uncover things in the first edition that hadn’t been tapped into, I started to realize that what we were doing felt less like work and more like satisfying a curiosity.

                I’m grateful for this experience because for the first time it allowed me to write and research something that had nothing to do with a final grade. I truly learned so much: about rare books, collaborative research, Tolkien’s mind, Troll cuisine, and elf lineage. J.R.R. Tolkien was hardworking and self critical, yet remained humorous. While working on this project, I feel we struck a balance between all three of those qualities, and I found every day enriching.

Arnie Sanders—I have led other students’ independent studies in literary interpretation, but this was my first extended experience of how self-directed research in a rare book could energize a student’s thinking.  I knew Brooke Peirce as an emeritus professor and my predecessor in the early English literature position in Goucher’s English Department.  We often talked about our love for classical and medieval works for their mysteries which require us to cast away our ordinary expectations about literature to allow new discoveries.  Brooke would have been immensely pleased by the way Alayna was able to pursue her own curiosity about the 1938 Hobbit with the full support of the library’s Special Collections and Archives.  Carol Peirce also would have been delighted to see an undergraduate taking so seriously the study of an author that she, herself, had loved and taught many times.  Whether Alayna was responding to another librarian’s question about whether the book was just “children’s literature” or figuring out the stages of its composition using Anderson’s and Rateliff’s complex scholarship, she saw how the answers to each question led naturally to others, all of them enriching her understanding of Tolkien’s achievement.  I hope her experience will lead more students to follow her example.


Anderson, Douglas A. "R. W. Chambers and The Hobbit." Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review 3 (2006): 137-147. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD. 4 Mar. 2009 <>.

Buchan, John.  The Magic Walking Stick.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932.

Chamber, E.K.  Beowulf: An Introduction.  Second Edition.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1932

Davidson, Hilda Ellis.  The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Literature and Archaeology.  1962.  Rpt. London: Boydell, 1998.

Joly, Henri L.  Legend in Japanese Art: A Description of Historical Episodes, Legendary Characters, Folk-Lore, Myths, Religious Symbolism, Illustrated in the Arts of Old Japan.   London: Bodley Head, 1908.  Rpt. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1967.

“The Jonker Diamond.”  Famous Diamonds.

Kemble, John Mitchell.  MS Notebook.  James Wilson Bright Collection.  Goucher Special Collections.

--------.  The Runes of the Anglo-Saxons.  London: J. B. Nichols, 1840. 

Kipling, Rudyard.  Puck of Pook’s Hill.  1908.  Rpt. London: Macmillan, 1927.

Kirk, Elizabeth.  "I Would Rather Have Written in Elvish": Language, Fiction and "The Lord of the Rings"  NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 5, No. 1  (Autumn, 1971), pp. 5-18.  JSTOR.  Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD.  Stable URL:

Page, Raymond Ian.  An Introduction to English Runes (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2006).

Rateliff, John D.  The History of the Hobbit.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Annotated Hobbit : The hobbit, or, There and back again.  Introduction and notes by Douglas Anderson.  Boston: Houghton A. Mifflin, 1988.  [AH]

--------.  Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.  Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library: 1932.  Rpt. 1972.

--------.  “Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve’s Tale.”  Rpt. Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review 5 (2008) 109-71.  Stable URL:

--------.  The Hobbit. Or, There and Back Again.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938.  [Goucher Special Collections, Juv PR6039 .O32 H6 1938]

--------.  The letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : a selection.  Ed. Humphrey Carpenter & Christopher Tolkien.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

--------.  “On Fairy-Stories.”

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