John D. Rateliff, author of The History of the Hobbit, explores the links between The Silmarillion and The Hobbit in this interesting paper that he delivered for the International Congress on Medieval Studies of Kalamazoo (USA) in May 2012.
IN January 1938, just months after the initial publication of The Hobbit, Tolkien was asked a series of questions about his sources for the book. Specifically, he was queried on three separate points:
(1) Did his hobbits owe anything to legends of African “furry pygmies” mentioned in lectures by Julian Huxley?
(2) Had he been influenced by a late nineteenth/early twentieth century fairy-story about boogeymen called Hobbits? &
(3) Was the scene of Bilbo stealing the cup from the dragon’s lair inspired by the similar scene in Beowulf?
Tolkien replied no to the furry pygmies, and no to the sinister fairy-tale hobgoblins. Expanding upon the larger question of fairy-tale influence, he explained that his tale is “derived from (previously digested) epic, mythology, and fairy-story—not, however, Victorian in authorship, as a rule to which George Macdonald is the chief exception.” Beowulf he ranked “among my most valued sources,” although he added, rather disingenuously, “it was not consciously present to the mind in the process of writing, in which the episode of the theft arose naturally (and almost inevitably) from the circumstances. It is difficult to think of any other way of conducting the story at that point. I fancy the author of Beowulf would say much the same.”