January 14, 2018

Opinion: Should "The Annotated Hobbit" Receive A Deluxe Edition?



One item that sometimes, in my experience, that gets overlooked in the field of Tolkien scholarship, as well as overall importance, is The Annotated Hobbit by Douglas A. Anderson. The book was published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Hobbit.

That is, of course, nothing ill against Anderson, The Hobbit or what he has done. In a field so varied and vast as Tolkien scholarship, it oft gets overlooked, I mean to say. In a sense, I consider it to be "an underrated piece of genius." Of course, in terms of thinking it could be overlooked, I could be completely off the mark.

I remember when the revised edition of the book was brand new. I was getting into Tolkien, and checking out various titles by and about him. I saw the book and thought it was a bit unnecessary for my needs at the time. Plus, it didn't match any of the other books in terms of size dimensions etc. More on that later.

I thought it was a neat concept, but at the time, I was casual normal reader, getting exposed to Tolkien. While not exclusively for "seasoned Tolkien fans" the fact remained that I thought it was a bit much for my current needs.

Fast forward to quite a few years later when I was knowledgeable enough, and my interest in Tolkien was high enough, to consider myself to be a 'Tolkien fan.'

While it had interested me (Anderson did, in fact, provide a note on the text for most editions of The Hobbit from the early '90s onward. That fact alone had caught my interest, by the way) something about the book still stood out:
a) it didn't "match" my other editions
b) (sort of b) there wasn't an "Annotated Lord of the Rings" or other Tolkien titles to receive similar treatment. So, I thought, while a great idea, it would 'stick out' from the rest of my Tolkien and Middle-earth books, for reasons listed previously.

It wasn't until not along ago (I believe about two years this summer) that I had received the book as a gift for my Birthday from my lovely lady.

And you know what? That was truly the best way to get this item. I had never considered asking for it (I already had The Hobbit, after, all). Again, not to downplay my interest of the book, or its importance, but it's something I had never considered doing.

So, a bit of background info about the book: it was first published in 1988 by Houghton Mifflin. That's right - nothing against Harper Collins (despite my complaints against them on and off with regards to QA for Tolkien titles, stock, etc) they have generally done a very decent job in presenting and publishing Tolkien (and related material) over the years. I was a little surprised to learn that Houghton Mifflin had published the book before, not vice-versa. Anyway, so it was published in 1988 initially, and then again as recently (depending on who published it) in 2002 and 2003.  The new edition was completely re-designed and updated in every way possible. I haven't seen the original edition in either pictures, videos, my own eyes etc, (side from the cover) but it sounds like a completely different book compared to the original.

 



So here we are, in 2018, and the book will turn 30 in October. I myself would like to see a deluxe edition of it presented by Harper Collins. Or, possibly by Houghton as well (as they haven't a deluxe edition similar to Harper Collins' since 2009, with The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun).

Here is what it could possibly look like and contain:

- quarter-bound (as per usual with the other deluxe edition titles)
- matching slipcase. Possible colours: green, or that yellow / orange that is featured for the inside endpapers of the revised edition.
- the book itself could feature a small circular version of Smaug (as seen in "Conversion with Smaug") while the slipcase could feature addition artwork, so when the book slides into the slipcase it creates a 'whole picture'. Much like using a combination of cut-out design, as seen in The Maps of Middle-earth or the deluxe editions of The Hobbit and / or The Lord of the Rings respectively.
- green or yellow / orange silk ribbon-marker
- in terms of content, maybe a 'reprint' of the most recently updated version of the book. "New" content could include a new, or additional forward (by Anderson himself...?0, as well as a frontispiece (fold-out?). my nomination for the frontispiece would be Tolkien's Mirkwood, just to change things up. 
- possibly a section in which Anderson 'compares' or 'breaks down' what is new between the original and revised editions. As well as his reasoning for providing the update etc. You know, some extra content.

The fact that it exists in deluxe edition format could prove attractive enough in its own right, however; there also exists possibility to include further new material. A similar situation somewhat exists when Harper Collins re-issued The Complete History of Middle-earth recently. It was all 12 books (presented in 3 larger books and a slipcase) yet the design was that of the deluxe editions, as opposed to 'regular' hardback. Such could be the case for The Annotated Hobbit, should a deluxe edition come to fruition.

So, at long last, in closing, The Annotated Hobbit is a book that I've come to appreciate (and receive) quite by accident, however, not for a lack of interest. With The Hobbit now just 80 years old, and the annotated edition's anniversary coming up much later this year, I highly suggest it to Tolkien fans.

As I mentioned earlier, it's not "exclusively for" the hardcore Tolkien fans, however they will enjoy and appreciate it the most. That's not to say that nobody else will, of course.

Due to the age of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it goes without saying that there are some parts of the book where the annotations may spoil the 'grand-er scheme of things', plot-wise.   

Even though I own The Hobbit (70th Anniversary Edition) I don't consider The Annotated Hobbit to be my primary reading copy, but rather, the tip of the iceberg in regards to supplemental material to Tolkien. I keep it with my 'supplementary' Tolkien books as opposed to the main ones for the simple reason of uniformity. I love the fact that Anderson created the annotated edition, and assisted with the correctness of the text for the book itself (being, The Hobbit) much in the same way that Wayne G. Hammond + Christina Scull did for The Lord of the Rings Reader's Companion; and helped edit and revise The Lord of the Rings for it's 50th an 60th anniversaries.  

So, yes, to answer the question proposed in the title of this entry - I do believe that The Annotated Hobbit should receive a deluxe edition, or some kind of celebration, later this year once the original edition celebrates its 30th anniversary.    

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