lord of the rings
The Fellowship of the Ring

On the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, part one of JRR Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, we take a look at ten things you probably didn't know about the work and its predecessor, The Hobbit.

1. It's not my precioussss

Gollum is best known for his obsessive desire for the ring and his hatred for the "Bagginses" who "stole" it from him. In the very first edition of The Hobbit, however, Gollum actually wanted to give Bilbo the ring as a reward for beating him at riddles. When he discovered he'd already lost the ring he felt so guilty about it, he wanted to offer Bilbo a fish instead.

But The Fellowship of the Ring makes it quite clear this would be very strange behaviour for someone whose only reason for living is possession of the ring. Seeing this glaring inconsistency between his new work and the old, Tolkien simply retconned the story, giving the explanation that The Hobbit represented Bilbo's memoirs and therefore reflected his attempt to justify how he came into possession of the ring.

2. Do elves actually have pointy ears?

Nowhere in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion does it state that elves, or anyone else for that matter, have pointy ears. This biological curiosity is of some importance because it has surely led to some believing that elves are similar to vulcans from Star Trek – logical, wise and unemotional, when very often they are not.

There is, however, one piece of textual evidence for the pointy ears claim. Buried deep within the etymologies of "The History of Middle Earth", it states that the elven word for "ear" is the same or similar to the word for "leaf", indicating that elves do indeed have a point to their ears.

3. The one female character in The Hobbit is...

...Not the one played by Evangeline Lilly in the film. That character was created by Peter Jackson on the perhaps understandable grounds that there is very little female representation in The Hobbit. In fact, there is only one female character in The Hobbit. A giant spider killed by Bilbo within minutes of her appearing on the scene. Still at least The Lord of the Rings had Eowyn...

4. Tolkien passes his exam

As is well known, JRR Tolkien was an Oxford professor for much of his life and during the summer months, he would supplement his income by marking exam papers. Much of The Lord of the Rings was written during the Second World War and paper was often in short supply. As a result, Tolkien would often write his drafts for The Lord of the Rings on the back of old exam papers.

5. Jews of Middle Earth

The dwarves (not dwarfs but that's another story) of Middle Earth were based loosely on the Jewish people. As a people, the dwarves are highly skilled, prosper at whatever they put their talents to, but always find themselves being driven from their homeland and wandering from place to place (Tolkien was of course writing before the creation of the state of Israel).

Some have questioned whether the similarities are symptomatic of anti-Semitism, especially when one considers the dwarf obsession with gold and the fact that in early writings the dwarves were often portrayed as an amoral race that was just as willing to work with orcs as they were elves or humans, provided the price was right.

But it's probably fair to say that those early portrayals of dwarves were written before the bearded ones were connected with Judaism. Perhaps Tolkien's views on Jews are best summarised by his response to a German publisher in the mid-1930's:

"If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people."

6. Aragorn marries his cousin

One would assume that an interracial marriage between the man Aragorn and the elf Arwen would be the safest way possible of mixing up the gene pool. In actual fact, Arwen is considered to be one of the half-elves and is related by blood to Aragorn.

Her grandfather was a half-elf named Earendil. Earendil had two sons, one being Elrond (Arwen's father) the other being Elros, who chose to live a mortal life and was the ancestor of Aragorn. Still, there was a period of about 6,000 years between Elros and Aragorn, so one would imagine that a bit of genetic differentiation would happen in that period.

7. The Great Hobbit retcon that never was

Upon completing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien started to rewrite The Hobbit to fit in with the more serious tone of The Lord of the Rings. However, when he showed his initial draft to a friend, she replied: "It's very good but it's not The Hobbit." So the attempt was abandoned.

8. The Dark Lord was a cat

The Dark Lord Sauron, the terror of Middle Earth, began his literary existence as a villain in a story that would later become one of the major myths of The Silmarillion. In the early versions of that story, he was not a mighty armoured figure in black, or a giant fiery eye but a cat named Telvido.

A lot of redrafting later, Sauron finally became a threat to world peace that could be taken much more seriously. Although Frodo did once describe the Eye of Sauron as being "like a cat's"...

9. Only Fools and Horses

Speaking of humble beginnings, the character of Aragorn was originally going to be a hobbit called Trotter. Even more bizarre was that this particular hobbit wore wooden shoes, apparently because dark forces had once gotten hold of him and done unspeakable things to his feet.

Even after Tolkien decided to turn the character into a human being, he still kept the name Trotter (as opposed to Strider) until terrifyingly late in the development of the book.

10. House!

Aragorn was not the only character to have been originally given a stupid name. Until Tolkien thought better of it, Frodo was known as Bingo Baggins. He was also Bilbo's son rather than his nephew.