Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bilbo's Lie

I will admit that the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I wasn't picking up every little detail because I was having a hard enough time getting the basic story line down (at the time I read it, it was one of the more challenging books I had attempted because of the writing style) and I still had the movie plot stuck in my head and I wanted to know purely what the books said.

One of the little bits that I missed came in the Prologue, when we get a summary of the Riddles in the Dark scene from the Hobbit.  I'm going to basically lay out what happened in that summary and why it's important for new readers or readers who may not have picked up on this intricacy the first time around.

In 1937 when the Hobbit was first published, Tolkien had no plans for a sequel and the story of The Lord of the Rings was foreign to him.  When the Hobbit proved to be a success, his publishers, Allen & Unwin requested that he write a sequel which morphed into the Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien decided the logical point of contact between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was the Ring Bilbo originally got from Gollum.

He ran into a problem though.  He wanted to make the Ring the Ring of Power (capable of driving someone absolutely batty with desire for it), but in his original Hobbit book, Gollum had given it away to Bilbo!  This just seemed impractical considering the Ring's pull and the obsession Gollum would have with it towards the end of The Lord of the Rings.  The same Gollum who bit Frodo's finger off for the Ring had earlier just given it away as a prize for a riddle contest?  It seemed very unlikely.

So Tolkien went back and republished The Hobbit, changing the Ring from the prize Bilbo won from Gollum to an item that he found (which Gollum claimed he stole).  Thus Gollum's obsession with the Ring was still consistent.

But now Tolkien had a problem.  The first is that there were older copies of The Hobbit floating around that told a different story than his new edition  Since he wanted his books to be like real histories written by the Hobbits and handed down to him, he had to come up with a reason that the first edition was incorrect.

He decided to write in the prologue that Bilbo had originally lied to him when he told him the tale of the finding of the Ring because he was nervous that the Ring would be taken from him (and already from this lie you can see the Ring of Power working it's "magic" by making Bilbo lie).  After the fact Bilbo came clean and a second Hobbit telling the true story was published.


  1. Huh! I didn't know the first edition was different! That's really interesting- and a good way of getting out of it, if you ask me. :D

    1. Definitely a cunning move on Tolkien's part :)