As our hobbits and Strider continue through their walking montage toward the Last Bridge, we’ll take a look back at the first thing Tolkien wrote for the Hobbit sequel.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
“I have written the first chapter of a new story about Hobbits – ‘A long expected party’.”
It had been just three days since Tolkien told his publisher, Stanley Unwin, that he had no idea what would become of the proposed new story about hobbits. All of his ideas, he claimed, were exhausted. And yet, on December 19, 1937, he wrote to Unwin that the first chapter was written.
We should notice that he did not say “finished” or “complete.” It was neither, at least as far as we know it now. But what is most surprising is how much of the published first chapter was derived from this very first draft.
The manuscript itself is five pages long. Tolkien titled it “A Long-Expected Party,” and it began:
“When M” Actually, the “M” isn’t even fully formed, its last stroke missing. Sliding down a space, Tolkien began again.
“When Bilbo, son of Bungo of the family of Baggins, had celebrated…” He crossed out “had celebrated,” and wrote over it “prepared to celebrate”. He continued: “his seventieth birthday there was for a day or two some talk in the neighbourhood.”
This paragraph, apart from Bilbo’s age and ancestry, echoed through four drafts and at least three major phases of writing. As in the published version, the narrator quickly gives the backstory from Hobbiton’s point of view. In this early version, however, Tolkien makes the hobbits seem even more distrustful and wilfully ignorant.
It’s explained that Bilbo had once had “a little fleeting fame” some twenty years prior. Tolkien had not yet figured out when this new tale was to happen. Bilbo “had disappeared after breakfast one April 30th and not reappeared until lunchtime on June 22nd in the following year. A very odd proceeding for which he had never given any good reason, and of which he wrote a nonsensical account.” In this first draft, it appears as if Bilbo had somehow released his writings of There and Back Again to a very uncaring population.
In the published version, the narrator in a way interviews random hobbits about Bilbo, but in the original draft, he dove right into the invitations to the birthday party.
These invites were beautiful, so well done, in fact, that even the Sackville-Bagginses “were induced to accept.” Curiously, there is no mention of Gandalf. This was, then, a party only for hobbits. And while everyone invited “expected a pleasant feast” they “rather dreaded the after-dinner speech of their host.” Tolkien included these lines in the final version.
“He was liable to drag in bits of what he called poetry, and even to allude, after a glass or two, to the absurd adventures he said he had had long ago during his ridiculous vanishment.” In the published version, it’s changed to “mysterious journey.” The hobbits became less and less dickish with each draft.
Bilbo reveals that he had called them all together for several reasons. First was to tell them how “immensely fond” of them he was. Then follows Bilbo’s dreaded speech, which was retained almost exactly to the final version. Even the “Proudfeets!” exclamation was there! Bilbo’s dig at their intelligence was also in the original: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
Second, was to celebrate his birthday and the twentieth year since returning from his journey. Lastly, he wanted to make an announcement.
“Goodbye! I am going away after dinner. Also I am going to get married.” And rather than disappear, as he would in the published version, he simply sat down. Mr. Proudfoot kicked over a table, and Mrs. Proudfoot “choked in the middle of her drink.”
The chapter then continues on, telling how after he sat down, he put on the ring and disappeared. He was never seen in Hobbiton again. And here is the ring. It’s still far from being the One Ring – a concept that Tolkien wouldn’t even consider for a few more weeks, perhaps a month.
The narrator explains “that Bilbo Baggins got married and had many children,” but it didn’t really matter, “because I am going to tell you a story about one of his descendants….”
The rest of the chapter concerns how Bilbo left his possessions at Bag-end to the hobbits, each item tagged with someone’s name. This was later echoed in the final draft when Frodo oversaw the giving away of Bilbo’s things.
And speaking of Frodo, there is in this first draft a very curious line about the toys labelled “Made in Dale.” It’s meaning, that they were made by Dwarves, was lost on all but “Bilbo and a few of his Took-nephews.” Just who these Took nephews were, the narrator doesn’t yet divulge, but it seems clear that Bilbo had a posse of younger hobbits who were perhaps following in his furry footsteps.
Frodo, of course, was not mentioned – or even invented, unless he was at this time one of the nephews. Sam, Merry and Pippin were, too, held only a dim existence.
Toward the end of the draft, the narrator entered Bilbo’s mind. He had “grown suddenly tired of them all.” His Tookishness “had quite suddenly and uncomfortably come to life again.” But there was one thing more. Bilbo was broke. All of the horde brought back from the Lonely Mountain was gone: “He had blowed his last fifty ducats on the party he had not got any money or jewellery left, except the ring, and the gold buttons on his waistcoat.”
Returning to the marriage, the narrator first tells us the Bilbo wasn’t actually planning to getting married, but “it came suddenly into his head. Also he thought it was an event that might occur in the future – if he travelled again amongst other folk, or found a more rare and more beautiful race of hobbits somewhere.”
We are then told a few sentences about hobbit weddings, and about how all of Hobbiton tried to figure out who Bilbo’s wife might be. They were endlessly confused since no other hobbit had left Hobbiton around the time of Bilbo’s departure. “For a long while some folk thought he was keeping one in hiding, and quite a legend about the poor Mrs. Bilbo who was too ugly to be seen grew up for a while.”
It seems as if Bilbo devised the give away of his possessions, as well as the marriage story, to keep the hobbits busy until he could leave, figuring that no one would bother to look for him. The hobbits, we are told, “decided he had gone mad, and run off till he met a pool or a river or a steep fall, and there was one Baggins the less.”
Tolkien ended the draft in a cliffhangery and cryptic way: “He was deeply regretted by a few of his younger friends of course…. But he had not said good-bye to all of them – O no. That is easily explained.”
Whether Tolkien actually had any idea of how he was going to easily explain this was doubtful. He did not continue onto the next chapter until February 1938, writing three more drafts between mid-December 1937 and then.
A Few Notes:
- I’m not really sure if anyone even cares about this stuff. “Get to Rivendell, dammit!” But I can’t! This project is taking me about five miles a day. I’m currently 306 miles away from Hobbiton and nearing the Lost Bridge. If I could skip ahead, I certainly would. But since I can’t, I thought I’d dig around the early manuscripts for some fun. Like Bilbo getting married or something.
- I’d like to go over the three subsequent drafts, as well as the two main phases of writing that took us to Weathertop, including a chapter about Gollum that was completely rearranged for the published Lord of the Rings.
- Tolkien would not settle upon the title Lord of the Rings until August of 1938.
About the Photo
I don’t have many photos of what might be considered Hobbiton. So here’s my vision of what the Hobbiton train station would be like, if someone like Ted Sandyman got the railroad to come through. Stretching it a bit much?
- Day 63
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 306
- 154 miles to Rivendell
- 1,473 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop. (map)