‘Like an Invisible Rustle in the Grasses’ – Tolkien Continues Drafting

As Strider leads our hobbits through their fourth day from Weathertop, we can take a closer look at the second and third drafts of the first chapter – A Long-Expected Party.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Tolkien wrote the first draft of “A Long-Expected Party,” the first chapter of the sequel to The Hobbit just before Christmas in 1937. You can read all about that in yesterday’s post. Rather than continue to the second chapter, he rewrote the first three more times. The dates seem a bit fuzzy, but it was probably after Christmas when he penned the second, which was followed quickly by the third. The fourth was completed by the middle of February.

Rather than give yet another run down of the events in the drafts, I’d like to focus upon how they evolved. Remember, thus far, Gandalf had not been reintroduced and Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin’s characters were only hinted at (and it was incredibly vague). The first draft was sparse, and Tolkien now could flesh it out a bit.

In the second draft, he brought in Bilbo’s old friend, Gandalf, who had come to celebrate Bilbo’s seventy-first birthday. Tolkien was already fiddling with dates, as in the first draft, Bilbo was turning seventy.

And it was here where Tolkien brought to the story one of my favorite Middle-earth customs – one that I wish we would all observe: “Hobbits give presents to other people on their birthdays.”

The party was much unchanged, except for Gandalf’s fireworks. His antics were retained through to the published version, including the red flying dragon. Here we also see the first writings about two parties. The first was for everyone and the second for a select dozen dozen, though there was no mention of the hobbits’ disdain for the word “gross.”

As before (and after), Bilbo announced that he had called them together for three purposes. These were the same as before, except now Tolkien dropped the idea of Bilbo lying about getting married. Also, Mrs. Proudfood choked on a large chocolate rather than her drink.

Nobody believed him when he said that he would leave after dinner. He was, as the saying went, “trying to pull the fur off our toes.” In the confusion, as before, he vanished. That was, more or less, the end of the draft. It seems that Tolkien ended it quickly so that he could rewrite it a third time, which he must have done almost immediately.

But before starting, he made at least one correction to the text. It was no longer simply his birthday, but “our birthdays: mine and my honourable and gallant father’s.” The speaker then tells how “I am 72, he is 144.” This is curious, but once reading over the third draft it becomes clear that this was the first appearance of proto-Frodo, here Bilbo’s son.

As he began the third draft, he selected the name Bingo Baggins. And it was he who was the focus of this draft. Bingo planned the party (for his seventy-third birthday), and the narrator reminds us of the journey undertaken by his father, Bilbo.

Our old friend Bilbo apparently got married at seventy-one and then disappeared with his wife, Primula Brandybuck, on his 111th birthday, never to be heard from again. Here, Bingo takes on much of the same personality that Frodo the bachelor did in the published version.

As in the final version, the narrator begins to “interview” hobbits about Bingo, including old Gaffer Gamgee, who here makes his first appearance. This was also the first mention of Buckland, the Brandywine River, and the Old Forest.

The party itself is nearly identical to that of the second draft, though he swapped out the names. Except, there is no Gandalf (though there are at least rumors of fireworks). The invitees were worried that Bingo would go on and on about the antics of his father, Bilbo. And instead of “leaving after dinner,” Bingo announced that he was “leaving now.”

The party ends with the narrator telling us that Bingo was never seen in Hobbiton again: “The ring was his father’s parting gift.” This was a cute way to reintroduce the ring, which was still not yet the One Ring.

As did the first draft, the third continues on after the disappearance, tying up loose ends here and there. This is nearly identical, but for the names. Here, Bingo was tired of Hobbiton and was broke.

The first draft ended in a cryptic sort of way, telling that Bilbo’s leaving “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.”

This third draft retains that sentiment, but goes on to show Bingo closing the door behind him, locking it, and leaving the key.

“‘It’s going to be a fine night,’ he said. ‘What a lark! Well, I must not keep them waiting. Now we’re off. Goodbye!’ He trotted down the garden, jumped the fence, and took to the fields, and passed like an invisible rustle in the grasses.”

It seems likely that when Tolkien finished the third draft, he took a short break. When he returned to it, he made two changes prior to starting the fourth draft. First, “Bingo Baggins” was changed to “Bingo Bolger-Baggins.” Second, “Bingo’s father” was changed to “Bingo’s uncle (and guardian), Bilbo Baggins.”

A Few Notes:

  • These drafts can be read in The Return of the Shadow edited by Christopher Tolkien. As you can probably tell, I’m absolutely loving them.
  • Tomorrow we’ll close out the fourth draft and look on to what Tolkien wrote next.
Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 x-pro as C-41

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 x-pro as C-41

About the Photo
If not for this broken down hotel, wouldn’t this make a great Bag-end?


  • Day 64
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 311
  • 149 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,468 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop. (map)

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5 thoughts on “‘Like an Invisible Rustle in the Grasses’ – Tolkien Continues Drafting

  1. Yes indeed! Love the photo! It’s a perfect Bag-end… and perhaps the run-down hotel is where the Sacksvill-Baggins live?

  2. So, do you give others gifts on _your_ birthday? I always liked the idea of the custom, too, ever since I first read it. But, I was wondering just how I’d go about introducing into the real world. No one would understand, I’m thinking. Not in my circle of giftees, anyway. Too bad, that.

    • I tried on a small scale for a few years, but it doesn’t work unless everyone does it.

      Oddly, I’ve heard that it was also a Vedic custom, though I’m not sure if that’s true. Great idea either way.

    • Just looked it up, and it seems like it comes from Yasoda and Nanda’s Janmastami celebration (the original one). But now I’m getting my peanut butter in my chocolate.

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