A to Z of the Hobbit

As J R R Tolkien fans prepare for their latest big-screen blockbuster from Middle-earth, Mike Higgins reads the runes to bring you some halfling truths

A is for Aryan

In 1938, a year after The Hobbit's first British edition, the German publishers enquired about Tolkien's "Aryan" heritage. Outraged, he gave his publisher two responses: in one he regretted the lack of Jewish heritage; the other was said to have stated his German-English origins. The latter was sent.

B is for Beowulf

Tolkien championed the Old English epic poem, which was a source for much of his fiction. He would often begin lectures with a cry of "Hwaet!", the first word of Beowulf, according to one of his students, Humphrey Carpenter.

C is for Care

Tolkien took enormous care with the production of The Hobbit. In the run-up to its publication in 1937, Tolkien wrote 26 letters to his publisher. They were, recalled his publisher's son, "exasperatingly precise".

D is for Don

No one enjoyed a lecture more than John the Don. He was said to turn up occasionally in chain mail, for added effect, and regularly held more than 70 lectures annually, double the amount in his contract with Oxford University.

E is for Elves

Tolkien was obsessed with elves. His publisher deplored their "eye-splitting" names. His fans worried about whether elves' ears were pointy or not – they were pointy, said Tolkien, but "only slightly".

F is for Fans, and Females

That's fan as in fanatic. Many celebrate Hobbit Day, 22 September, Bilbo's birthday. The Hobbit is blokey, to put it mildly – only one female is named, Belladonna Took, Bilbo's mother.

G is for Gollum

Gollum is a hobbit warped in every way by his possession of the magical Ring – which he happily loses to Bilbo in The Hobbit. Only when Tolkien was conceiving The Lord of the Rings did he revise that scene to grump Gollum up a bit.

H is for Hobbits

The "halflings" first appear in Tolkien's writings in The Hobbit as "relatives" of men, averaging 3ft 6in in height and who live to an average of 100 years. (Bilbo is 50 at the start of The Hobbit.) But those horrible big hairy feet! Hairy, you can blame Tolkien for, but big is, apparently, a tweak by later illustrators.

I is for Inspiration

Marking an exam paper in the early 1930s, Tolkien found himself writing the following words on a blank page: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

J is for Jackson

As in Peter Jackson the 51-year-old Kiwi director responsible for bringing first The Lord of the Rings trilogy and now The Hobbit to the big screen. Disappointingly, he looks less like a member of the Baggins family than was once the case.

K is for Knight

As in Gawain and the Green Knight. In the early 1920s, Tolkien produced an edition that became standard. If you can't face The Hobbit and haven't read this 14th-century Middle English romance, do so. 'Tis a must-read, a gruesome tale for Christmas.

L is for Languages

Tolkien spoke a dozen well, and was expert in old European languages, which he taught. For him, language and myth were inseparable, which is why he created language systems for elves, men and other populations of Middle-earth. His Finnish was a bit iffy, by all accounts, though.

M is for Middle-earth

Tolkien's imaginary setting for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, thought to be located on an imaginary Earth about 6,000 years ago. Mapped by the author himself and every fan who wondered how to get from Rivendell to Rohan while avoiding that nasty black spot by the Mines of Moria.

N is for Nausea

Some early viewers are reporting that the techno-wizardry in Part One of the film adaptation of The Hobbit is making them feel sick. Warner Bros refutes the criticisms, but the thought of Martin Freeman's hairy toes at 48 frames per second in 3D is not exactly stomach-settling.

O is for Oxford

Tolkien taught at the university for much of his career, retiring in 1959. It was there that he met his great literary chum C S Lewis, though the two later fell out over religion. (Tolkien was a Catholic.) Oxford was even said to be on the same latitude as Bilbo Baggins's home village, Hobbiton.

P is for Plot-Spoiler Alert!

Bilbo sets off for Lonely Mountain and tricks Gollum out of a magic ring. He then nicks some treasure. Some elves and men turn up and there's argy-bargy over who keeps Lonely Mountain. Goblins arrive and are defeated. Bilbo is minted, end of .... (You'll get only one third of that in the first film, though.)

Q is for Quenta Silmarillion

The Tale of the Silmarils was the mythic background to The Hobbit, and Tolkien worked on it for more than 50 years. After the success of The Hobbit he proposed it for publication: it was rejected in the belief that the public wanted "more about hobbits". Tolkien's son published it in 1977 as The Silmarillion. For purists only.

R is for Rayner

Rayner Unwin, that is. In 1936, the 10-year-old was given a manuscript of The Hobbit by his publisher-father for his assessment as a member of the target market. "Exiting [sic] … and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9." A great day/dark moment in the history of publishing – delete as appropriate.

S is for Sales, and Sarehole

The Hobbit is thought to have sold 100 million copies and been translated into 50 languages. No, Sarehole is not a puerile anagram; it is the Midlands hamlet where Tolkien grew up and is thought to have inspired Hobbiton. It's now part of Birmingham.

T is for Trilogy

There has been much beard-scratching at the decision to eke a trilogy out of The Hobbit, a quarter of the length of The Lord of the Rings. But after the latter's success, Warner Bros can probably think of a few reasons.

U is for Unfinished Tales

What? The Silmarillion wasn't niche enough? Crikey – then try Unfinished Tales, a series of even more fragmentary and incomplete Middle-earth scribblings by Tolkien, and published by his son in 1980.

V is for Voluspa

That's the Old Norse epic poem about the creation of the world, as you well know. It's also the source for 12 of the 13 names of the dwarfs – Fili, Kili, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Thorin, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori, and Ori – in The Hobbit. No, I don't know which one he made up.

W is for War

Tolkien was invalided out of the First World War, having fought on the Somme. He later wrote: "By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead." It was to colour his portrayal of war, not least in The Hobbit. In the aftermath of the Battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo concludes: "Victory after all, I suppose! Well, it seems a very gloomy business."

X is for X-Rated

I'm sorry to break this to you, but there are scenes of elf-sex fan fiction on the web. Before you snigger, don't forget how Fifty Shades of Grey started.

Y is for Yazneg

Who he? Well, quite, my hobbity chums – for he is a creation of the Dark Lord Peter Jackson and existeth not in The Hobbit of Tolkien! Jackson has also bunged in some stuff Tolkien did actually create, but was not in the original book.

Z is for Zaentz

Film producer Saul Zaentz acquired the film rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1976. Last year, his company turned its guns on media giants the Hungry Hobbit café in Birmingham and the Hobbit pub in Southampton for copyright infringement.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice