25 February 2019

from J.R.R. Tolkien: the authorised biography, part five, chapter 1, Enter Mr Baggins (Humphrey Carpenter)

Although Tolkien had some idea of the processes involved in the production of books, he was surprised by the number of difficulties and disappointments during the following months; indeed the machinations and occasionally the downright incompetence of publishers and printers continued to amaze him until the end of his life.  The Hobbit maps had to be redrawn by him because his originals had incorporated too many colours, and even then his scheme of having the general map as an endpaper and Thror's map placed within the text of Chapter One was not followed.  The publishers had decided that both maps should be used as endpapers, and in consequence his plan for 'invisible lettering', which would appear when Thror's map was held up to the light, had to be abandoned.  He also had to spend a good deal of time on the proofs - though this was entirely his fault.  When the page-proofs arrived at Northmoor Road in February 1937 he decided that he ought to make substantial revisions to several parts of the book, for he had let the manuscript go without checking it with his usual thoroughness, and he was now unhappy about a number of passages in the story; in particular he did not like many of the patronising 'asides' to juvenile readers, and he also saw that there were many inconsistencies in the description of the topography, details which only the most acute and painstaking reader would notice, but which he himself with his passion for perfection could not allow to pass.  In a few days he had covered the proofs with a host of alterations.  With typical consideration for the printers he ensured that his revisions occupied an idential area of type to the original wording - though here he was wasting his time, for the printers decided to reset the entire sections that he had revised.

The Hobbit was published on 21 September 1937.  Tolkien was a little nervous of Oxford reaction, especially as he was currently holding a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, and he remarked: 'I shall now find it very hard to make people believe that this is not the major fruits of "research" 1936-7.'  He need not have worried: at first Oxford paid almost no attention.

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