"These books have spawned thousands of fantasy novels and inspired hundreds of writers in the years since, but it's important to note that it all began 75 years ago with the opening line of a book, 'In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit,' " notes Gary Gentel, president of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt trade division, in an e-mail.
Houghton Mifflin, which first published Tolkien in the USAin 1938, is releasing a horde of new editions of The Hobbit, both to mark the 75th anniversary and in anticipation of Jackson's film. They include a leather-bound $19.95 "pocket Hobbit"; a $35 deluxe edition illustrated by Alan Lee, who won an Academy Award for art direction for The Return of the King; and the $13.95 movie-tie in paperback edition for An Unexpected Journey. It is the first of three films Jackson is makingfrom The Hobbit. (Journey stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. Returning from Jackson's Lord of the Ringstrilogy are Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum.)
And there's more:
-- The Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (HMH, $40) by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull. A self-taught artist, Tolkien didn't just write The Hobbit, he illustrated it with maps and artwork. For the first time, the full range of Tolkien's sketches, drawings and paintings for The Hobbit are being published.
-- The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series/ Wiley, $17.95, in stores Oct. 2) by Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson. Explores the philosophical underpinning of questions such as "was the ring Bilbo's to give?"
-- The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life (Thomas Dunne Books; $22.99, in stores Oct. 30) by Noble Smith. Includes chapters such as "Bearing The Burden Of Your Ring," "Eat Like A Brandybuck, Drink Like A Took" and "Your Own Personal Gollum,"
-- Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (HMH, $25) by Corey Olsen. A chapter-by-chapter analysis.
Olsen has read and re-read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings every year since he was 8 years old. Now 38, he is an English professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. In 2009, Olsen founded a popular website and podcast, www.tolkienprofessor.com, part of The Mythgard Institute.
The Hobbit has enchanted readers for 75 years for several reasons, says Olsen. Besides the novel's great characters and plot, Tolkien created "this entire world you care about, that you want to explore." Olsen also points out that even fans who love the book don't take it seriously enough. "I invite people to reread it and see all the brilliant things," he says. While Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children's book, Olsen notes it can be read on an adult level as an exploration of evil and the conflict between fate and free will.
He also begs readers. "Don't skip the songs! They will tell you so much about the characters." As for Jackson turning one book into a trilogy, Olsen says, "I think there is enough material to support three movies. Oh goodness, there's so much."
Asked about the Jackson film, Shaun Gunner, a trustee of the U.K.'s The Tolkien Society, says in an e-mail, "I am quite curious about it! The Hobbit is a much shorter book than The Lord of the Rings, so some people are suspicious about the motives behind turning The Hobbit into a trilogy like The Lord of the Rings. But it looks like Jackson will draw on some of the unused material in The Lord of the Rings and, I hope, will take the opportunity to indulge the audience and flesh out this beautiful story."
And while Friday is the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit's publication, Sept. 22 is also a very important date in the Shire -- it's our hero Bilbo Baggins' birthday (and nephew Frodo's, as well).