• Will Sherwood

LOTR 2: From Fairy-tales to Myth

Updated: Apr 10

Before beginning on the chapter itself, I need to briefly comment on my methodology. When preparing for a post, I read the chapter in its final form (HarperCollins, 2007 edition) before moving back to the various versions that Christopher Tolkien methodically arranged in The History of Middle-earth into what he calls the 'Four Phases' of composition. Each Phase is identified by a return to the start of the book (A Long-Expected Party) and I will be referencing each Phase as is needed.

Additionally, Christopher remarked that there is so much material that makes up 'A Long-Expected Party' that 'a complete presentation of all the material for this one chapter would almost constitute a book in itself' (Return, p. 4). The same can be said for some of the other chapters and with this in mind, I will by no means be trying to share everything I come across. What I aim to identify are a few changes or ideas that I wish to expand on. Of course, there is the comments section below where you can ask me more!

The first three Phases form The Return of the Shadow and Phase Four is presented in The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Rings and Sauron Defeated. Phase One involved the first mapping of the plot from Hobbiton to Rivendell; Phase Two: a return to the beginning that only reached as far as the Withywindle; Phase Three: another return to the beginning that reached Rivendell and passed on to Moria; Phase Four: a final return to the start that was 'heavily reworked in certain passages, bringing the story at almost all points virtually to the form in FR' and continued through the other books (Treason, p. 19). These do not refer to the temporal breaks that Tolkien took in the 1940s but rather to the initial stop-starts in the narrative that occurred in the final years of the 1930s and very early 1940s. They are interposed with 'Queries and Alterations' and 'New Unertainties and New Projections' that gave Tolkien room to jot down various ideas.

What I liked about the 'Queries and Alterations' was Tolkien's use of questions to trigger creativity: 'Who is Trotter? He must have had some bitter acquaintance with Ring-wraiths . . . 'Should the Elves have Necromancer rings?' (Return, pp. 223 - 225). You can see him trying to 'find out' the answers.

1. One or two changes and particulars

Chapter 1: 'A Long-Expected Party' started its life as a five-page manuscript that Tolkien wrote between 16th and 19th December 1937. At this time it was a simple sequel to The Hobbit and within the space of three days had eclipsed his offer of basing the sequel around Tom Bombadil ('The Adventures of Tom Bombadil' had been published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934). Of the text there exists seven versions that spread across Phases One to Four and I will label these accordingly.

Inevitably much of the chapter transformed and changed as Tolkien's vision shifted from the fairy-tale atmosphere of The Hobbit to the mythical-archaic aesthetic of The Lord of the Rings. One detail that struggled to stay still was Bilbo's age at his birthday party. In the first version Bilbo celebrates his seventieth birthday. This moved to his seventy-first in the second and seventy-second in the third; in the fourth version he disappeared before his hundred-and-eleventh birthday.

The changes of Bilbo's age is partly down to the introduction of Bingo (precursor to Frodo) who, depending on the version you are consulting, holds the position of Bilbo's son (version two-point-five and three) or nephew (version four onwards). The character first starts to take form in some changes near the end of the second version:

Secondly, to celebrate OUR birthdays: mine and my honourable and gallant

father's. . . . I am 72, he is 144. Your numbers are chosen to do honour to each of

his honourable years. (Return, p. 27).

There are three points to make about this quotation. First, Bilbo's age changes again; Second, Tolkien has an incredible way of 'using one manuscript as the matrix of the next version, but not correcting it coherently throughout'; and Three, Bilbo gets married (a strange thought for anyone who is intimately familiar with the published version of Bilbo as a bachelor) (Return, p. 27).

Bilbo's marriage was conceived in the first version where he announces to his birthday guests that he is going away and will be getting married (Return, p. 14). Although an ambiguous idea (this was just Tolkien exploring) in the same version Bilbo later reflected that it 'came suddenly into his head' and noted that it may happen in the future if he finds 'a more rare and more beautiful race of hobbits somewhere' in his travels (Return, p. 16). There is a tie here between this post and my last: 'LOTR 1: One Prologue to Rule them All'. In it I mentioned Tolkien's interest in the racial differences between the three breeds of hobbit. As early as 1937, Tolkien envisaged a more exotic breed of hobbit that Bilbo may migrate to. This did not stick however as in the third version Bilbo married a 'bride from the other side of the Shire' (Return, p. 29).

The idea of Bilbo getting married did not stick either (as we know). Bingo changed from his son to his nephew in the fourth version which gave us the bachelor we are familiar with. Bingo continued to change as well. His age shifted at various points but it was not until Phase Three when the name finally changed. Tolkien shifted towards Frodo in the 'Queries and Alterations' that was written between the cut off of Phase One and the start of Phase Two. He noted:

So Frodo (= Bingo) is Bilbo's first cousin once removed both on Took side and on

Baggins. Also he has a proper name Baggins. [Frodo struck out] No - I am now too

used to Bingo. (Return, p. 221).

A key difference between the early versions and the published version is the importance and meaning of Bilbo and Frodo's ages. Bilbo reaches eleventy-one and effectively retires from his life in the Shire, feeling like 'butter that has been spread over too much bread' (Lord, p. 32). He packs up what he needs and leaves his life behind. Frodo on the other hand reaches 'an important number: the date of his "coming of age"' in 'A Long-Expected Party' (Lord, p. 22).

For the narrative to work, Bilbo had to make way for Frodo to come into his manhood and inheritance - including the Ring. This is important because much, much later in Smith of Wootton Major the titular character will be allowed to pass into Faërie because he holds the star. Similarly, Frodo passes into the wider world of Middle-earth that is 'perilous' and teeming with 'pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold' precisely because he inherits the Ring from Bilbo (Fairy-Stories, p. 27). It is because of the Ring that he must leave the (to adopt William Blake) 'innocence' of the Shire (his childhood) and move into the wider world of 'experience' (Middle-earth).

Tolkien also embeds the transition of protagonist from Bilbo to Frodo in the chapter's structure as we do not encounter Frodo or any dialogue from him until Bilbo has left Bag End after the party. His first words are also concerned with the shift occurring between them: '"Has he gone?"' With this moment, the narrative shifts from the retired Bilbo to Frodo who has just become a man. It is at this point that I wish my copy of Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief had arrived as he has a lot to say on this topic (more widely, not on Bilbo and Frodo) by employing the work of Carl Jung.

2. Stylistics (Alliteration)

Tolkien is well-known for his fascination with the sounds of words. A Secret Vice sets out his thoughts not just language invention but sound as well. Andrew Higgins and Dimitra Fimi summarise that 'Tolkien's use of sound aesthetic to suggest the nature of creatures and things would become a hallmark of his name invention in his Middle-earth mythology' (Vice, p. xxiii). I would extend this further by saying that it would also become a hallmark of his writing style. We can see his sound aesthetic in his early poetry and in the poetry of The Hobbit and it is exemplified in The Lord of the Rings.

A delightful section of the second version of 'A Long-Expected Party' is when Gandalf and in The Lord of the Rings and the Shire:

The art of Gandalf naturally got the older the better. There were rockets like a

light of scintillating birds singing with sweet voices; there were green trees with

trunks of twisted smoke. (Return, p. 21).

The presence of alliteration is not simply Tolkien playing with sounds, it represents the arrival of Faërie and the experience that Gandalf brings with him. Alliteration in The Hobbit notably appears in the songs sung by foreigners to the Shire. The dwarves bring it with them and by the time Bilbo is taunting the spiders in Mirkwood, he has started to include alliteration in his own verse.

The prose in The Lord of the Rings gains weight and mood the further away from the normality and comfort of the Shire the hobbits move. It is clear just from the changes between first and second version that Tolkien was starting to think bigger and deeper. His use of 'sound is acutely responsive to sense' and 'paints pictures of its content in . . . extending alliteration' as is evident above (Prose, pp. 131 - 132). The densely packed sibilance and 't' makes the text shimmer with activity and movement that captures the anticipation of the hobbits and the reader.

3. Names, Links and Ideas that never came to fruition

To close this post, I would like to highlight a selection of ideas that Tolkien had that did not always make it into the final product.

'The Tale that is Brewing' (Letters, p. 28). These pages (Return, pp. 40 - 44) are a treasure trove of ideas:

i) the name Frodo first appears, but he is one of Bilbo's travelling companions; ii) the return of the ring becomes important to the tale; iii) some hesitation involving a dragon coming to Hobbiton (amazing!) but satisfied to a degree by Gandalf's dragon firework that first appears in the second version; iv) Bilbo asks for something that will heal him of his 'money-wish' (it had all been spent in the early versions). Elrond 'tells him of an island. Britain? Far west where the Elves still reign. Journey to perilous isle' (Return, p. 41).

The latter is most striking as it suggests two things: 1) in 1937 Tolkien conceived of his legendarium as a mythology for his own land. However the change from England to Britain is perhaps telling that he was coming to the realisation that there was some futility in his attempts to create a whole mythology for his country that drew significantly from Irish and Welsh folklore. 2) Tolkien was wanting to fuse his mythology with the world of The Hobbit even further with its sequel (evidenced in his letters at the time). There are of course echoes of The Book of Lost Tales here, Bilbo is pitched as a figure similar to Eriol or Ælfwine.

4) That's a wrap

The various versions of the opening chapter yields a plethora of fascinating insights into what might have been. Tolkien's mind started to shift from fairy to myth quite quickly and with it, his style began to adapt too. As we move forward and out of the Shire, it will be interesting to see what other changes Tolkien made as he moved from 'innocence' to 'experience'.


Fimi, D. & Higgins, A. (2016). 'Introduction'. In Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins (Ed.), A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages. (pp. xi - ixv). London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1988). The History of Middle-earth: The Return of the Shadow. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1989). The History of Middle-earth: The Treason of Isengard. [Ed. Tolkien, C.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2006). The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. [Ed. Carpenter, H.]. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien. J. R. R. (2007). The Lord of the Rings. London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2014). Tolkien On Fairy-stories. [Ed. Flieger, V. & Anderson, D. A.]. London: HarperCollins.

Walker, S. (2009). The Power of Tolkien's Prose: Middle-earth's Magical Style. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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