The Hobbit celebrated its 75th anniversary this weekend with a Second Breakfast in the gardens of Fulham Palace. Yesterday's event marked the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, while the anniversary of the first publication was on Friday. The menu included madeira seeded cake, home-made Leicester Old Spot pork pies, rustic flowerpot bread loaves and cherry plum jam.
Professor JRR Tolkien finally started work on The Hobbit in the early 1930s, when he turned over an exam paper that he was marking and wrote the words: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." He had already written down many of the fictional myths that became The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and had been working on an elaborate system of elvish languages since 1917.
The Hobbit begins with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen in the films) asking the unlikely hero Bilbo Baggins to lead an expedition to reclaim treasure from the dragon Smaug.
The riddle that Bilbo uses to defeat Gollum is not really a riddle. "What have I got in my pocket?" he says. It is, of course, the ring. Previously, he had "crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it …"
The film of The Hobbit, by the team behind the Lord of the Rings films, will be released in the UK in December. It stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, opposite his Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Smaug and (controversially) the voice of The Necromancer/Sauron, who does not appear in the book but may apparently turn up in Peter Jackson's film.
Gollum only appears in one scene in the book. Fortunately, Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum in the film, earned his keep by staying on after the scene was shot (in the first week of production) by sticking around as Second Unit Director.
Eight of the nine actors who play The Fellowship of the Ring have the Elvish (Tengwar) symbol for "9" tattooed on their bodies. Elijah Wood's is on his stomach; Orlando Bloom's is on his arm, and Ian McKellen's, Viggo Mortensen's and Sean Bean's are on their shoulders. The ninth member, John Rhys-Davies, sent his stunt double instead, but if the Fellowship is looking for a new member they could contact the footballer Fernando Torres: he has his name tattooed on his arm in Tengwar because he is such a fan of the films.
The first ever film of The Hobbit comprised 12 minutes of cartoon stills. It was released in 1966.
In 2008, a signed first edition of The Hobbit was sold for £60,000, along with the first foreign language edition (£1,560, Swedish) and a photograph of Tolkien leaning against a tree in the Oxford Botanical Gardens (£864, a black pine which he had named Laocoon).
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are available in a handsome boxed set from HarperCollins (£30). There's also a graphic novel, a film tie-in edition, a gorgeous anniversary hardback, with drawings and maps by JRR Tolkien, and now a version entirely in Latin, Hobbitus Ille: "In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus." ("In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.")