Another Hobbit anniversary today, another Middle-Earth inspired adventure awaits for those who will discover it.
Perhaps, rediscovering brings a new leash on that adventure spirit. Come see a few surprises about The Hobbit.
1. An Unexpected Journey
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…” The Hobbit’s story starts in 1928, as a bored JRR Tolkien – marking summer exams – suddenly jotted those opening words down on an empty page of an exam sheet. Struck by the words, he resolved to delve into the matter more thoroughly. “Names always generate a story in my mind,” he wrote later. “I thought I’d better find out what hobbits were like.”
2. Something Borrowed
The names for the dwarves – and even the mighty wizard Gandalf, himself – didn’t just pop fully-formed into JRR Tolkien’s head. The Oxford Don ‘borrowed’ the names wholesale out of the Völuspá – an old Norse poem telling the story of the Earth’s creation.
3. Concerning Hobbits
Tolkien apparently didn’t even come up with the word Hobbit, though it’s usually attributed to him. The Oxford English Dictionary threw a spanner in the works by pointing out that the word first turned up in a 19th Century book of folklore, as an obscure word for little people or fairies. The Oxford English Dictionary is presumably written by Tooks.
4. Killer Bilbo
Bilbo wasn’t always going to be bumbling – or even dozing – through the action. During one of Tolkien’s stabs at writing the book, Tolkien actually had the leaf-smoker lined up to sting the killer blow into desolating dragon Smaug, before leaving it to more capable hands. Well, he doesn’t exactly look the monster slaying sort.
5. Motivation Required
Tolkien needed a bit of a nudge to get the book finished. He’d have probably still been tinkering with it on his deathbed had not former-student Elaine Griffiths recommended the manuscript to Susan Dagnall, a friend who worked at George Allen & Unwin publishing house. As a result of Dagnall’s professional interest, Tolkien finally completed his hairy-footed adventure.
6. First Great Review
The real diminutive hero of The Hobbit? A ten-year-old boy called Rayner Unwin. As the son of Sir Stanley Unwin, the latter-half of book publishers George Allen & Unwin’s, he was asked to rubber stamp any children’s fiction the firm released. His short review sealed the deal for Tolkien’s career. “This book… is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”
7. A Bit Sketchy
Tolkien was apparently a keen doodler as well, although while most of us just stick to band logos or your usual big veiny wang, the author’s illustrations would become as iconic as his writing: the black-and-white maps that appeared in The Hobbit are Tolkien’s, as was the famous front-cover landscape that still adorns some editions of the book. His band logos were probably cool too.
8. Not So Great Expectations
Initial hopes for the book weren’t exactly sky high. The first print run in 1937 was a whopping 1,500 copies. It’s sold over 100 million since. One of those first editions – inscribed by Tolkien to useful pal Elaine Griffiths – sold for £60,000 in 2008. Presumably he didn’t scribble a schlong onto it.
9. It’s Good To Have Friends
When The Hobbit was first published in 1937, it benefited from having a hugely positive review written anonymously in The Times Literary Supplement, bigging up the book as a “classic”. This review was actually written by popular fantasy writer CS Lewis… who just happened to be Tolkien’s BFF.
10. The Hobbit vs Hitler
“A ruddy little ignoramus,” was Tolkien’s view on Adolf Hitler. When it came to publishing the book in Nazi Germany in 1938, the author was asked to produce evidence of his ‘Aryan’ heritage. Instead, the author wrote two snotty replies and let his publisher choose which to send – one of which pointed out that the term Aryan was misused and that in terms of being Jewish, “I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.” Pure class, in a big tall glass.
11. The Hobbit: Special Edition
George Lucas wasn’t the first sci-fi overlord to dabble with a bit of revisionism. While writing Lord Of The Rings, the author realized that he’s need to tweak Bilbo’s original meeting with Gollum to make events match his much darker sequel – rewriting it so Gollum doesn’t willingly lose his precious ring. Without the internet, disgruntled Hobbit fans presumably just had to write a strongly worded letter to The Times in protest.
12. Why So Serious?
The pages of the Hobbit are a bit of a sausage fest, with only one female character actually getting a name: Bilbo’s mum Belladonna Took, since you asked. Team Wingnut has attempted to up the X chromosome quota by inviting Lost’s Evangeline Lilly (as an original character called Tauriel) and a returning Cate ‘Galadriel’ Blanchett to the party too. That’s two whole characters across three movies: feminists, rejoice.
13. Quick Draws
In order to bring Middle-earth back to life, the 350-strong art department had to make 8,000 digital paintings based on 500 concept sketches. Lead Illustrators & Conceptual Artists Alan Lee and John Howe – the eyes behind the LOTR’s distinctive look – cheekily pranked in a videoblog that they’d started drawing in 3D too, by claiming to each be drawing the same picture, one in red, one in blue, and wearing glasses to see the combined result properly.
14. For A Warhammer, Press Print…
The movie isn’t the only thing that’s gone 3D. Having to create 800 weapons for the 13 dwarves and their assorted stunt and perspective doubles, the weapons department opted for 3D printing instead – a process that takes a digital model and pumps out the object in a solid form – and then adding the finishing touches by hand afterwards.
15. Hair Care
It’s not just those walking Timotei-advert elves that the hair and make-up department have to worry about: the hairy dwarves feature more beards than the Scientology dating department. Each dwarf had six wigs and eight beards – individually made from yak hair – which then needed to be replicated across all the different doubles. Because they’re worth it.
16. Making Up For Lost Time
Luckiest dwarf on the set? Step forward boy-band dwarf Aiden Turner, who only required 30 minutes in make up to turn into Kili. Spare a thought then for William Kircher – the axe-headed Bifur – and especially poor Stephen Hunter, whose big-boned Bombur needed a whopping 105 minutes in the chair. Every single day.
17. Hot Dwarves
While the dwarves might look a bit on the cuddlesome side, they had to be super fit, and not just in the Aiden Turner sense: On average, each one is slowly cooking under an average of 80kg in padding, costume and facial hair. In order to stop them all sweating their way to The Grey Havens, they all have water-cooled vests on.
Filming in an utterly-unforgiving 48 frames-per-second raised a few problems. The initial make-up tests for the actors appeared yellow on screen – making them look a bit ill – with the cameras instantly revealing the prosthetics, forcing the artists to use more red in their pallets. The sets similarly had to have their colours boosted and extra detail added in by using real materials rather than plastic.
19. Things Peter Jackson Needs Like A Hole In The Stomach
Just as those 48fps cameras were getting ready to roll, Peter Jackson found himself suffering terrible stomach pains. He was admitted to Wellington Hospital in January 2011 and diagnosed with a perforated ulcer in his guts – effectively a hole in his intestine allowing digestive acids to leak out – which meant time off to recover. Still, after all the delays of lawsuits, union battles and personnel changes, what difference could a few more days make?
20. Baptism Of Fire
Martin Freeman first few weeks on set were less Bag End and more deep end: shooting the iconic battle of riddles with Gollum. The scene though was more difficult for Serkis: “it felt like I was doing an impersonation of a character I once played because there had been so many parodies and jokes. I was trying to find the emotional core again, get away from the impression – to bring him back.”
21. Blood And Sweat
Not all the make-up effects were expensive though: Richard ‘Thorin’ Armitage stumbled upon a more organic to create that ‘heat of the battle’ look. “I think I put a shield through my lip and had a mouthful of blood and this huge broken lip. Peter Jackson said, ‘Okay, can you just try another one now?’ But it looks great on the shot because I’ve got these bleeding teeth and it’s dripping out of my face.”
22. He’s A Celebrity…
Playing the grubby Master of Laketown, Stephen Fry had to endure a spot of Down Under’s best bushtucker trials on top of one of his less glamourous roles. “He had me eating testicles! I mustn’t give too much away but I’ve got a bald cap and then on top of that a really bad combover wig, this wispy moustache and beard, horrible blotchy skin and disgusting fingernails.”
23. Father & Son Reunion
While many of the Fellowship will be returning to New Zealand – including Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom – Gimli actor John Rhys-Davies initially declined a part, not fancying another round of the make up that had given him a terrible allergic reaction. He did visit the set to meet his dwarvish ancestors though, including Peter Hambleton, playing Gimli’s father Gloin. Rhys-Davies reaction: “You poor buggers!”
24. Visit Hobbiton
Ever fancied hanging out in Middle-earth? Well now you can. The Hobbit returned to the Shire-ish pastures of Alexander Farm in Matamata, NZ, to recreate the Hobbiton set from Lord Of The Rings, only this time they’ve made it permanent, allowing (paying) tourists to wander past Bag End for real. Just remember Hobbits are suspicious of tourists.
25. And About Those Eagles…
And finally, for the record, the reason the eagles don’t get involved earlier on is because they’re not at Gandalf’s beck and call. They just like to keep a beady birdy eye on the goblins to make sure they don’t get up to mischief, which is why they intervene when they do. Look, they’re not bloody taxis, alright?
This feature originally appeared in IGN.