"No man is a failure who has friends."
- Clarence Oddbody, AS2, It's a Wonderful Life
Friday, August 9, 2013
I didn't even know this existed. Evidently Tolkien attempted to revise the Hobbit in 1960, to bring its tone more in line with the Lord of the Rings.
Bruce Charlton of the Notions Club Papers doesn't mince words:
I have been reading the begun but (thankfully) nowhere near finished 1960 revision of The Hobbit which was done by JRR Tolkien, and is published in Part Two of The History of the Hobbit edited by John D Ratliff.I'd love to get a look at that and am thinking of checking out The History of the Hobbit.
The draft consists of replacement passages amounting to some 30 pages and taking Bilbo and the Dwarves as far as arriving in Rivendell.
The idea of the revision was to bring the Hobbit into line with Lord of the Rings in both a factual and tonal sense. This was a deeply flawed motivation, especially when applied to a first rank classic of children's literature, and could hardly fail to damage the book.
What resulted is rather horrible to read, at least it is horrible for anyone who loves Tolkien and who recognizes The Hobbit's special quality.
The very life has been drained from the Hobbit - its spark, verve, spontaneity are extinguished, smothered - its humour (in the old sense of humour - when a 'humorous' man was one of vivid and distinctive character).
The much derided avuncular asides are gone, but so is the vitality.
The failure of the 1960 Hobbit betrays its misguided purpose, just as the vampiric bureaucratic prose of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (the one recommended by the modern Church of England) betrays Christianity - the hobbit, for all its flaws, is essentially a perfect book ^ (just as the Authorized Version is a perfect translation of the Bible) - and if you revise perfection there can be only one outcome.
As a bonus, later in the post Charlton derides the new ordering of the Chronicles of Narnia in this way: "The re-ordering of the Narnia books was an act of literary vandalism of major proportions. The only consolation is that most kids seem to be ignoring it, in practice." (Emphasis his)