September 21, 1937: The Hobbit is published.
J.R.R.Tolkien’s classic children’s novel turns 75 years old today. The book begins with the line “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”, a sentence which, according to Tolkien, came to him spontaneously while marking papers. The first edition dust jacket was designed by the author himself, who also provided the black and white illustrations. Since 1937, The Hobbit has been translated into over forty languages and sold tens of millions of copies. The initial print of 1,500 copies ran out in three months, and response was unanimously favorable. Tolkien’s close friend and fellow fantasy author C.S. Lewis wrote in The Times Literary Supplement: ”Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.”
Perhaps The Hobbit’s greatest legacy was not the book itself but the sequel that was published seventeen years later - the far more complex first volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. Urged on by his publishers, who wished to make the most out of the smashing success that was The Hobbit, Tolkien worked on his sequel slowly and deliberately through the years of World War II and after. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings brought the popularity of fantasy literature to new heights and established Tolkien as the “father” of modern high fantasy.