The Hobbit first came to Oxford University professor J.R.R. Tolkien when he was grading papers in the early 1930s. Coming upon a blank page in an exam book, he suddenly wrote “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Tolkien worked on The Hobbit for the next several years before submitting it for publication in 1936 as a children’s book to George Allen & Unwin, then known mainly as an academic publishing house. The publisher Stanley Unwin paid his ten-year-old son Rayner a shilling to review the manuscript, which he reported on as follows:
“Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!
This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”
Young Rayner Unwin’s recommendation convinced his father to publish The Hobbit in hardcover in 1937, to strong sales and critical acclaim. Stanley Unwin asked Tolkien for a sequel to The Hobbit as early as December 1937, a request that would take over 15 years to come to fruition as The Lord of the Rings. During that long process, Tolkien would revise The Hobbit for the first time to bring it into closer agreement with developments in The Lord of the Rings, especially in the depiction of Gollum and the One Ring.
Although The Hobbit had been available in the U.S. from 1938 in hardcover, it had not been published in U.S. paperback by the mid 1960s, partly because of Tolkien’s distaste for the “degenerate” paperback format. This all changed when Ace Books put out an unauthorized U.S. paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings in 1965 after finding what they perceived to be a copyright loophole. Ballantine Books rushed to put out authorized U.S. paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in 1965. Tolkien made additional revisions to both works both for his own satisfaction and to cement their U.S. copyright status, with The Hobbit’s third edition appearing in 1966.
The most common version of The Hobbit available during the Appendix N era would have been the 45th printing and onwards of the Ballantine Books revised paperback, featuring a lovely watercolor cover illustration by Tolkien himself of Bilbo’s escape from Mirkwood astride a barrel:
Gary Gygax denied that Tolkien’s works were a particular influence on the development of Dungeons & Dragons, but he certainly would have been conscious of the desire of prospective players to experience the trappings of Middle-earth. Many denizens of Middle-earth including Hobbits, Ents, Orcs, and Balrogs were present in the “Fantasy Supplement” of Chainmail (1971), Gary Gygax’s medieval miniatures wargame that was the immediate predecessor to Dungeons & Dragons.
The Tolkienian references continued in Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s original Dungeons & Dragons (1974) box set until the Tolkien estate caught wind of this. To avoid copyright and trademark violations, TSR modified or removed Tolkienian references from Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons in 1977, with Hobbits becoming Halflings, Ents becoming Treants, and Balrogs becoming Type VI Demons, etc.
In time, Dungeons & Dragons in its various versions and editions became successful enough in its own terms that any Tolkien-derived aspects drifted further and further from their inspirations and started to become largely self-referential. Gamers desiring to adventure in Middle-earth would have to turn to the Iron Crown Enterprises’ Tolkien estate-approved Middle-earth Role Playing (1984), derived from ICE’s Rolemaster system and commonly referred to as MERP. The MERP line was one of the most popular fantasy roleplaying games throughout the 1980s and 1990s, until the license was revoked by the Tolkien estate in 1999 in rather convoluted circumstances. Decipher, Inc. briefly published The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game at the time of the Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, but Cubicle 7 has held the Middle-earth RPG license since 2011, producing The One Ring Roleplaying Game. Cubicle 7 also brought Middle-earth full circle back to D&D in 2016 by producing Adventures in Middle-earth, a D&D Fifth edition compatible version of The One Ring.
The Hobbit TPB (trade paperback)
The Hobbit (Kindle ebook)
The Adventures in Middle-earth RPG line is available here. (RPGNow affiliate link)
The One Ring Roleplaying Game line is available here. (RPGNow affiliate link)
Attercop is a Middle English (via Old English) term for spider or peevish or ill-natured person, from the roots atter (“poison/venom”) and cop (“head”). The D&D Ettercap was originally submitted for “The Fiend Factory” column in White Dwarf magazine before being collected in the Fiend Folio (1981). Although they’ve always been evil creatures with an affinity for spiders, they were initially depicted as humanoid and became progressively more arachnid-like throughout later editions of D&D.
If you are in Brooklyn and want to join the IRL book club, then come over here.
The list of books we will discuss are outlined within this link.
And finally, the in-print omnibus, anthology, and online resources are living over here.