The stories of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth are familiar to just about everyone on the planet by now, thanks to the Lord of the Rings films directed by Peter Jackson. There was a time though when his books were more of an underground phenomenon, associated more with hippies than Hasbro. How did this change come about?
The Hobbit (as it is best known) was originally published in Britain in 1937. It was very well reviewed and quite popular so an American edition soon followed. There was a second printing and it seemed that the book was on course to becoming a modern classic. However, the advent of World War II saw the rationing of paper and no further editions were published until 1951. The title had lost its momentum, but sales were good enough that a third edition was released in 1966. This time, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and his call for peace and brotherhood against the common enemies of hate and greed hit a nerve. The Hobbit and its sequels, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, became part of the 1960s counter-culture.
No film, no matter how good, will ever live up to my teenage imagination as I read those books in the 1970s. I was too young to really understand the significance of the anti-establishment movement but I was certainly old enough to know a good book when I read it. Not even playing Dungeons & Dragons could satisfy my inner Legolas (though being a teen, I felt more like Gollum). Reading them again is always a joy and I hope generations to come will appreciate the words of J.R.R. Tolkien as much as they appreciate the films of Peter Jackson.
Are you planning to read or reread the book in honor of the anniversary? Are you planning to watch the movie?