The Princess Hobbits
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The texts of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have always been closely guarded, and any intended changes were usually made under the direction of J.R.R. Tolkien or his son Christopher. Perhaps the most radically different version of The Hobbit ever published appeared in the 1960s when the story was serialised in Princess - a British magazine aimed at teenage girls.
According to correspondence held in the Allen and Unwin archive, Fleetway Publications (the publisher of Princess magazine) contacted J.R.R. Tolkien in December 1963 about the possibility of them adapting The Hobbit in a "visual serial" - in the form of colour pictures with captions edited from the text of the book. Judging from similar adaptions in Princess, this would have been a colour centrespread with seven or eight pictures and a heavily abridged text. Tolkien said that "he would be agreeable in principle provided he could see the illustrations and that Gollum should not be made a monster".
How far the "visual serial" progressed is unknown, but on 13th August 1964 Fleetway contacted Joy Hill at Allen & Unwin to ask for permission to publish an abridged version of The Hobbit in serial form, in about ten or twelve instalments of 3,500 words - each with four or five illustrations by Ferguson Dewar. A&U agreed in principle, but said that Tolkien's agreement would be needed to proceed.
On 19th August 1964 A&U agreed to the publication of the serial and passed on some of Tolkien's comments (from a letter dated 14th August). He noted that although "criticism of the drawings is probably not in this case useful, ...I should myself wish at least that Gandalf were less fussy and over- clad and had some dignity. He should not be styled 'magician' but 'wizard'". [Unfortunately production schedules meant that there was not time to produce new illustrations]
Tolkien also thought that Fleetway should replace his plural 'dwarves' with the correct form 'dwarfs'. He had heard that a schoolmaster who had corrected one of his pupils for using 'dwarves' had been bewildered when the child produced a copy of The Hobbit with Tolkien's aberrant spelling. Tolkien added "I am all in favour of spelling being taught, and don't wish a master's authority to be damaged by the quirks of a professor!" [The change was made, but note that 'elvish' and 'elven' remained in Tolkien's preferred form rather than the technically correct 'elfish' and 'elfin']
A week later Fleetway had sent the first instalment to press. They sent a photograph to Joy Hill for comment and she replied to say that she thought the illustrations "delightful".
The story was split up into fifteen instalments and issued on a weekly basis between 10th October 1964 and 16th January 1965. Each instalment appeared on pages five and six of the magazine, and was accompanied by five or six illustrations by Ferguson Dewar. Dewar's drawings are interesting to say the least! Few will have imagined Bilbo with an afro haircut(!!!) or Smaug being rather rabbit-like.
[The illustration of Smaug appears to be influenced by John Tenniel's drawing of the Jabberwock for Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carrol - thanks to Bill Hicklin for pointing this out]
Small parts of the story have been rewritten, but most of the necessary reduction in length has been achieved by cutting out non-essential description and conversion. While not perfect, it has been fairly successful.
Little else can be gleaned from the correspondence, except that on 30th October 1964 Allen & Unwin received some complementary copies of Princess magazine (probably the first seven instalments, 10th October - 21st November). Joy Hill noted that at the end of each instalment the © sign should appear before 'George Allen and Unwin Ltd.' since the copyright was their property. This change seems to have been introduced after the 12th December issue. Allen & Unwin received the rest of their complementary copies on 30th December 1964. A&U forwarded a complete set of complementary copies onto Tolkien.
The magazine covers are displayed in the gallery below. Additional details can be seen by clicking on the images.
English Literature and History, Private Press and Illustrated Books and Related Drawings
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography
The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion & Guide: Chronology
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