On this date in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published. Tolkien began the book in a rather unexpected way. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, Tolkien would augment his salary in the summers by marking School Certificate exams, a test taken by 16 year-olds in the United Kingdom. In a 1955 letter to the poet W.H. Auden, Tolkien recounted the moment that launched what was to become a classic in fantasy and children’s literature:
All I remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On the blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.
The opening line that Tolkien scribbled on a blank page that fateful day remained intact in the published final draft, followed by a sentence that elaborated a bit on the hobbit habitat:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
While the book was still in manuscript form, publisher Stanley Unwin gave it to his 10-year-old son Rayner, who wrote the following review:
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.
Rayner’s favorable comments were the final confirmation that Urwin needed to publish the book (2).
Today’s Challenge: From Blank Page to Page Turner
What character and setting would you introduce in the first two sentences of a story? Grab your own blank piece of paper and draft at least two sentences that introduce a character and a setting for a story. Hold a contest to see whose novel first lines resonate the most with readers. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. -Louis L’Amour