I just got a package in the mail today from Houghton Mifflin — and inside were volumes 1 and 2 of John Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit, which I will be reviewing for the Spring issue of Mythlore. These have been out for a few months in the U.K. (from HarperCollins), but they don’t hit American bookstores for a little over a month yet — so the rest of you will sadly have to wait. (I will try to suppress a very trollish grin as I begin reading. ;)
I can’t wait to dive into these! I’ve flipped through them a little already, enough to form a few first impressions. First, they’re very handsomely made books. Second, there’s a lot of material here. The pair add up to about 900 pages, no doubt full of all sorts of surprises. And third, there’s a good deal of accompanying art. Both volumes have a frontispiece as well as an insert of full-color reproductions of Tolkien’s sketches, watercolors, and rough drafts — even Thorin’s letter to Bilbo, in runes! Some of these are previously unpublished. Those of you who were at Marquette in 2004 saw many of the illustrations up close, but there were still one or two even I didn’t recognize. For those familiar with The History of Middle-earth, Rateliff’s two volumes are constructed on that model and will look familiar to anyone already immersed in textual studies of Tolkien.
How exciting to have these at last! After years and years (quite literally), the wait is finally over! I have a feeling Mr. Rateliff may have the best shot going for next year’s Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.