A Reputation for Oddity – Tolkien Once More Rewrites the First Chapter

Strider and our Hobbits are still trudging through the relatively wordless montage that is the fourth day out from Weathertop. While they’re trudging, let’s take a look at Tolkien’s final draft of A Long-Expected Party – that is, until he changed it again in the Second Phase of his writing.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Yesterday and the day before, we looked at the first three drafts of the first chapter of Lord of the Rings. He made several key changes, but still couldn’t continue on to the next chapter.

And so he started a fourth draft, but not before making an important change – Bilbo was once again a bachelor and Bingo (proto-Frodo) was no longer his son, but his younger first cousin once removed with the last name of Bolger. Apart from this, the beginning was unchanged from the third version.

Bilbo adopted Bingo Bolger, changing his name to Bolger-Baggins, when Bingo was thirty-nine “and had hardly cut his wisdom-teeth.” Almost immediately, Bingo began to take on Bilbo’s “reputation for oddity.” For nearly three decades, they lived together, but shortly before Bilbo turned 111 years old, he “disappeared finally and was never seen in Hobbiton again.” When the local hobbits asked him what happened to Bilbo, Bingo would just wink.

Here, as it was hinted in the third draft, Bingo and Bilbo have the same birthday. Only a week after Bilbo left, he refused to mourn and threw a birthday celebration for himself and his uncle. Though shocking at first, this became a Hobbiton tradition.

With Bilbo out of the picture, the story focused on Bingo, explaining that he hung out mostly with “the least well-behaved members of the Took family.” Tolkien was already thinking of Bingo’s lineage, and explained that the Took’s were his grandmother’s people. Bingo also spend time with his mother’s relatives, the Brandybucks.

And from this point on through the party and until Bingo’s disappearance, there were only small changes here and there. For example, the Gaffer gets a few more lines during the interview section. A few other hobbits were introduced and a few names were changed.

Once again, Tolkien gives us the name Marmaduke Brandybuck, who would later become Merry. Bingo is still broke and his reasons for leaving Hobbiton were the same. In the end, he again gave away all his worldly possessions.

But it’s never explained why, if he was broke, he gave everything away. There was clearly an auction house in this part of the Shire, so why not do that? No idea.

After finishing this draft, Tolkien did quite a bit of thinking. He was stuck, and had no idea what to write next. It was clear now that the story was not about Bilbo, but Bingo, who was also leaving the Shire to go on some sort of adventure. But what kind? Who would be involved?

Would Tom Bombadil play a roll? What about Old Man Willow? Tolkien had removed Gandalf from the story, but wouldn’t he naturally come into play soon enough? Would there be Dwarves? Elves? Could he somehow tie this into England? All of these questions, and many more, would be asked. Many of them would even be answered.

Tune in tomorrow we’ll suss it all out.

A Few Notes:

  • I went to high school with a girl named Brandy Buck. I had no idea how awesome her name was. I don’t think she knew either. We were both sort of metalheads.
  • Gandalf appeared in only the second draft of the first chapter. He would be reinserted later.
  • I’m expecting The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide by Hammond and Scull to arrive shortly. This will help me in placing when exactly Tolkien wrote what.
  • Looking ahead, we’ll be getting back to the actual story in a few days. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten it. Right now, there are literally no words given for these days of travel.
Camera: Kodak Duaflex II Film: FujiChrome Velvia 100 cross-processed as C-41.

Camera: Kodak Duaflex II
Film: FujiChrome Velvia 100 cross-processed as C-41.

About the Photo
That’s a good question. I’m not really sure what it is about this house/Chinese doctor’s office in John Day, Oregon that makes me think of hobbits (especially since there’s a second story), but there you go. More than anything, this could be something in Bree.


  • Day 65
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 316
  • 144 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,463 miles to Mt. Doom

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

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4 thoughts on “A Reputation for Oddity – Tolkien Once More Rewrites the First Chapter

    • I really am, too. It’s the only chapter that he had this much trouble with, it seems. Sure, there was the Weathertop mess, but that was spread out over years, not a couple of weeks.

      There’s one more post in this series, and then, we’ll, not quite sure. Something fun, I assume.

  1. This is cool. I’ve never really studied the drafts in this kind of detail, and I’m glad to have this lucid account to explain this stuff to me.

    I don’t know how I managed to not be following you on Twitter all this time, but I just remedied that.

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