September 12, 2009

The Hobbit Aloud


The Hobbit Aloud
Saturday, September 26, 2009
9 am to approximately 6 pm in the Athenaeum Forum

The Goucher Library's Rare Book Collection contains many first editions, but the most valuable of the recently published first editions, and the most interesting one for Tolkien scholars, is the American first edition of The Hobbit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938).  The book was donated to the library in 1978 by Margaret Dixcy Morriss (Class of 1919).  On Saturday, September 26, 2009, we will read from the 1938 Hobbit in the Athenaeum's Forum to help celebrate the building's opening and the 72nd anniversary of the first-edition's publication in England on September 21, 1937.

Dancers from Choregraphie Antique will perform after Chapter 3 when the travelers arrive at Rivendell and are welcomed with singing and dancing. A second dance troupe will perform at 2:30, following the dwarves' and Bilbo's triumphant arrival at Laketown. Charm City Rapper will perform sword dances, clogging, and other Anglo-American folk dances to evoke the Lake Men's nostalgic martial world that must soon prepare to face Smaug and the War of the Five Armies.

Students, staff and faculty will be invited to sign up to read portions of the book until we have completed all 287 pages. The reading will be accompanied by projected digitized images of Tolkien's original illustrations in the 1938 Hobbit (including the dust jacket, an extremely rare survival). Additional images of Anglo-Saxon swords and jewelry will come from drawings found in the research notebooks of John Mitchell Kemble (1807-1857), part of the James Wilson Bright Collection, Japanese scrolls from the collection of Arnie Sanders, and from other books in the library's Rare Books Collection.

Because the first edition differs in important ways from all those published after 1947, listeners can read along in their modern copies to see how Tolkien's original version of the story was revised as his work on The Lord of the Rings progressed.

Tolkien's twenty-year career as Oxford's Rawlinson Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon gave him the raw material for many of the novel's details, scenes, and characters, and certainly his knowledge of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English literature and history was useful in creating the novel. Tolkien made September 22, the day on which the first copies were purchased and read, Bilbo's and Frodo's birthdays, and the American Tolkien Association has designated as "Tolkien Week" the week in which September 22 falls.  Why celebrate the 72nd anniversary? Number lore interested Tolkien, and the number "14" (seven times two) figures importantly in The Hobbit, and in Beowulf, one of the novel's inspirations.

Thanks to Arnie Sanders, Professor of English, for this text.