Today marks the 74th anniversary of the publication of the Hobbit by George Allen & Unwin. It was on 21 September, 1937 that the first copies of this now-famous fantasy tale rolled off the presses and into the shops.
Allen & Unwin printed “only” 1,500 copies in the first impression of the first edition. It proved an immediate hit. By December, that first run had entirely sold out.
Since then, it’s estimated that the tale of Bilbo’s heroic quest defeat the dragon Smaug and reclaim the birthright of Thorin has sold somewhere between 35 million and 100 million copies. It’s also been translated into more than 40 different languages.
Numbers alone can’t tell its importance and influence on the fantasy genre. In 1937, heroic fantasy tales involving dwarves and elves barely existed. Taking inspiration from his love of fairy tales and sagas, and the work of proto-fantasists such as William Morris, Tolkien inadvertently developed and legitimised an entire genre of writing.
For, without the famous line “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit”, there would almost certainly be no Lord of the Rings.
And where would epic fantasy be without Lord of the Rings?
So raise a glass and toast The Hobbit. A most excellent and audacious book. To twist a phrase written by the professor himself: may the binding of its pages never fall out!