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The Annotated Hobbit

One thing I appreciate in the last few years is that books, rather than being returned, actually go on discount. I hope the author gets something from this, because books I couldn’t previously afford become something I can get.

A good example of this is The Annotated Hobbit, which I picked up a few months ago on the discount table. It is, in fact, worth every penny of the full price. I wish I could have paid it, because the annotators certainly earned their keep with this.

I’m really just in the introduction right now, but the fascenating thing about it is the history of the manuscript, and how it evolved. There was a handwritten manuscript of the first few chapters first. A second stage included the first part, typed out with revisions and more handwritten work. Then another stage with the work to that date typed and more handwritten in. And another, then finally a stage where it was all typed out.

They can identify stopping places, where different inks or paper or a slight change in the handwriting occured. They don’t know exactly when these manuscripts were written. They have clues from Tolkien’s recounted history, from the writings of CS Lewis who read a late version of the manuscript, and other sources.

One interesting aspect of it was the names. The head dwarf was originally called Gandalf. It was in the second stage that at one point, Gandalf abruptly became the name of the wizard. In our age of modern word processing such an artifact might have been lost with our easy find/replace capabilities. In my last story, I couldn’t think of a good name, so I called the villain Rufus. When I decided on a name, it was a simple thing to change it throughout the story.

I do, actually, save older drafts. Maybe for this reason. Maybe because in my heart of hearts, I really can’t bear to kill my darlings. There is good writing in paragraphs that will forever be buried to all but scholars of the obscure, if even such as they.

I can hardly imagine not being able to write without a word processor. Not only can we save trees, but editing is much easier. I’ve done quick edits several times while writing this post. I’d probably be a more accurate typer if I didn’t have the option to correct myself on the fly.

But then again, some of my best editing (the weeks after writing kind) occurs on my tummy with a physical manuscript in front of me.

The process of Tolkien’s development of the Hobbit interests me in part because I’m constructing a novel right now. It’s been in my head for years. Somewhere I have have early chapters that may one day be one of those artifacts (if they can find the CD my backup is on). I’m a better writer now though, so why go find old stuff?

I like learning about his influences, conscious and not, and how he liked to play with words to make names. I have Shakespeare listed as my favorite dead author, but the more I learn about him, the more Tolkien shares that place with Shakespeare now.

On another, odd but still reading related note: I’m surprised at how my likes changed from science fiction to fantasy as I’ve grown up. I know there is lots of speculation about this shift, which has occured in the entire market, but I wonder why I changed that way? Am I, like they said, disappointed in the future?

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  1. wow, that sounds really interesting – and aaron would love it.

  2. You and I are a lot alike methinks. If you are interested (email me) I will send you an audio (mp3) copy of the Hobbit (abridged) done in the 1970’s by Nichol Williams (the guy that played Merlin the wizard in the old movie Excalibur); he did all the voices, and it is an absolute classic.

    I think one of the disappointments of Sci-fi is that the more we know of our universe, the more profoundly isolated we realize we are (and how very unlikely any of us therefore will ever get to see any of a future like ‘Trek realized).

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