Some new (Fall 1999) publications in the US, all related in some way to
The Hobbit, deserve some attention here.
First, there is a new version of The Hobbit itself. Houghton
Mifflin has just published a handsome new trade paperback edition, with an Alan
Lee cover (the illustration is from the Chapter 19 of Lees 1997 illustrated
edition of The Hobbit). I have been told, by those who understand such
things better than I do, that the text in this edition is the first publication
in the U.S. of the 1995 British edition. The Houghton Mifflin edition is
photographically reproduced from the HarperCollins (London) edition. And there
is a very short "Note on the Text" about the publishing history of
The Hobbit on page xi.
This trade paperback edition of
($12.00, ISBN 0-618-002219)
is also available in an attractive
of The Hobbit and The Lord of
the Rings ($45.00, ISBN 0-618-00225-1).
Also from Houghton Mifflin is the tiny book (about 3 inches by 3 1/2 inches
in size) entitled Poems from The Hobbit.
This is a small Christmas
stocking-stuffer like last years
Father Christmas Letters. It
is $5.95 (ISBN 0-618-00934-5), about fifty-eight pages, and it includes, like the
title says, all of the poems from The Hobbit, with lots of Tolkiens
own drawings. The illustrations come from various sources, most notably
by J. R. R. Tolkien (1979), which includes lots of doodles, borders, symbolic
devices, and drawings of trees, some of which are included in the present book. Also
there are several of Tolkiens own illustrations to The Hobbit, and in
this presentation the ink drawings have been colored (as they in fact appeared in
Pictures by J. R. R. Tolkien) by someone named H. E. Riddett. This little
book first appeared in England in 1993, where it was published by Tolkiens British
publisher, HarperCollins. Its nice to see it finally available in the U.S.,
and it will make a delightful little gift this holiday season.
Our third item of new Hobbitiana is rather more unusual. It is
Hobbit: A 3-D Pop-Up Adventure, illustrated by John Howe ($19.95, ISBN 0-694-01436-2).
It is published in the U.S. not by Houghton Mifflin, Tolkiens usual publisher in
America, but by HarperFestival, a division of the American branch of HarperColllins,
Tolkiens usual publisher in England (who also published this pop-up book
The back of the book describes this item as follows: "Each page
features elaborate pop-up scenes, interactive pull-tabs, and secret pull-out scrolls
that retell hero Bilbo Baggins incredible adventure." What this
doesnt tell you, and what you cant see until you buy the book since
it is shrink-wrapped, is that there are only five pages, and thus only five scenes.
The first scene has only one pull-tab of text, whereas the other four scenes have
two pull-tabs. (And if there indeed are "secret pull-out scrolls," they
were made secret enough that I havent found any.)
The first scene is of Bilbo in his hobbit-hole serving the dwarves. A door can
be opened which lets Gandalf in (and through which a dwarf stumbles). The second page
is of Bilbo and Gollum and their riddle-game, while the third is of Bilbo and the
spiders in Mirkwood. The fourth page is of Bilbos conversation with the dragon,
Smaug, and the last scene is a battle-scene of the Battle of Five Armies.
Howes artwork is adequate (though he has done much better work), and the
dragon scene is probably the best of the five depicted. But as a pop-up book it really
seems an odd production. The artifice of a pop-up book seems to me to be ill-matched
with a long narrative work like The Hobbit. Those who have already read the
book will find that illustrating a mere five scenes does not do the story justice.
The younger child who might first experience The Hobbit for the first time in
this vastly truncated form can only be bewildered (and Ill leave it for other
arbiters of public taste to decide whether a scene with Goblins swinging axes at dwarves
is appropriate fare for children).
As a specimen of the art of the pop-up book, this is really only a fair
production. Anyone who has viewed the remarkable feats of paper-engineering by the
likes of Robert Sabuda (see in particular his The 12 Days of Christmas from
1996) will find this production of The Hobbit merely unexceptional.
Still, it might find an audience, though I myself find it an ill-conceived
and unnecessary thingsimply another product cranked out by the book merchandizing
machine of something that remains such a true delight in its original novelistic form
that no debasements of it are necessary.