This month on J.W. Braun’s Bookshelf, J.W. takes a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion by Jude Fisher and also gives away a couple of prizes. Meanwhile, in his mailbag feature below, he shares a riddle and answers your questions about Tolkien rewriting The Hobbit and the scriptwriters messing up a quote in The Lord of the Rings movies.

J.W. Braun’s Mailbag:

Ready for this month’s riddle? I made it up myself.

They sometimes go up, sometimes go down
yet always stay still and never make sound
The less there are, the more they’re used
The more there are, the more they’re refused
What are they?

You’re probably a step ahead of me on this one, but the answer appears at the end of the mailbag section. Now to your questions:

Can you share still shots of the books you review so we can see them without you flipping the pages all the time? – Alex

Ha! I’m getting in the way, aren’t I? I think you have a good idea, and I’m going to start posting the still shots of the books I review (including some not used in the videos) on my Lord of the Films facebook page.

What did you think of The Hobbit? – Jenna

I really enjoyed it! I saw it in 2D and 3D at both the conventional and high frame rate, and I’m not sure what the big fuss was over the new frame rate being a bad idea. I especially liked the acting and the little moments in it, and I look forward to the next two films. – JW

Is it true Tolkien rewrote The Hobbit in the style of The Lord of the Rings but his publisher wouldn’t publish it? Is this where the updated version of the Gollum chapter comes from? – Noah

It is true that late in his life (in 1960) Tolkien (Happy Birthday!) attempted to rewrite The Hobbit, adjusting its tone and fixing some mistakes. However, he wasn’t happy with how it was turning out and abandoned the effort after only three chapters. The updated version of Chapter 5 that you reference dates back to 1947; he rewrote it as he was writing The Lord of the Rings and sent it off to his publisher as an example of how he’d like to rewrite the book. He heard nothing back and was quite surprised when the revised chapter was incorporated into the second edition of the book, published in 1951!

In the early part of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam says his promise was not to “lose” Frodo, but later he says his promise was not to “leave” Frodo. Why the change? – Gerry

It’s a mistake by the writers, but a welcome one. The truth is Peter, Fran, and Philippa didn’t double-check the script when they were writing and editing to make sure they were consistent in this regard. But you know what? I like this method of writing. Too often films give their characters unrealistic memories due to the scriptwriter always trying to be consistent and having the luxury of looking back at what’s already been written. (How many times have we seen a character told a long sequence of numbers or instructions only to have them remember each one of them an hour later in the film?) Sam doesn’t have a script in his pack, and it makes perfect sense that he’s not going to remember exactly what he said months earlier. Better yet, Sam’s mistake gives us insight into his character. By giving us the promise in his own words (as opposed to Gandalf’s), we better understand what the promise means to him. – JW

What drew you to Middle Earth? Was it the story, the land, the language, the characters? Also, in your experience what is its main appeal to readers? – Andrea

The irony is that Tolkien created most of his stories due to his love of languages, and yet that’s probably the least appealing part of the books for me. (I’ve always had difficulty with foreign languages, and so I’ve never had too much of an interest in them.) I’m also going to guess that the popularity of the books as a whole is not due to the languages he invented. I don’t think that attracts the masses. What draws me to his work, and what draws most people, is the story. There are certainly great characters, but the characters themselves state quite a few times in the book that they’re unimportant compared to the bigger picture, and that other characters could take their place if need be. And as for Middle-earth, it’s shrewdly created, but like the characters, it’s there to serve the story (or stories).

Digging a little deeper, I think The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings appeal to many people because they’re fictional stories that are actually written more like nonfiction. Most fiction writers follow certain principles, such as the conservation of characters and languages, and a simplified geography (as The Hobbit does) For his more complex works, Tolkien breaks all these rules, and has tangents in his stories which play out more like something would in reality than if a writer were pulling the strings. It’s quite fulfilling to read a good fantasy story that seems so real.

The answer to the riddle: Stairs

J.W. Braun is a Tolkien scholar and author of The Lord of the Films, published by ECW Press in 2009. If you have a question for him, simply drop him a line at

You can find out more about J.W. at