• Happy birthday Stephen King (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), Hans Wilhelm (I’ll Always Love You), Robin L. LaFevers (Theodosia and the Serpents of Choas) and Hazel Edwards (Stickybeak).
  • It’s the birth date of H. G. Wells (1866-1946), The War of the Worlds, Taro Yashima (1908-1994) Crow Boy, Umbrella, and Alexander Key (1904-1979), Escape to Witch Mountain.
  • In 1897 the New York Sun runs an editorial response to a girl’s letter about the existence of a Jolly Man in Red. Read Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus by Frances P. Church, illustrated by Joel Spector.
  • In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor becomes first woman to serve as an U.S. Supreme Court Justice. She also wrote the semi-autobiographical picture book Finding Susie, illustrated by Tom Pohrt.
  • It’s World Alzheimer’s Day. Read The Graduation of Jake Moon by Barbara Park, and Figuring Out Frances by Gina Willner-Pardo.
  • The United Nations has declared today an International Day of Peace. Read Peace One Day by Jeremy Gilley and Karen Blessen.

On September 21, 1937, a children’s book appeared in England that, like other English classics such as Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Potter’s Peter Rabbit, or Grahame’s Wind and the Willows, began as a story told to a specific child. Actually, the idea of the book came when the author, correcting 286 school exams, found a blank page in one of them. He wrote simply “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” and then J.R.R. Tolkien set out to discover what hobbits actually were. He started telling his three sons stories about a small being with furry feet, creatures of small imagination but great courage, the kind of courage he had seen in the trenches in World War I. In the story, Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving hero, sets out from his home with a band of dwarfs to seek the treasure guarded by a dangerous, fire-breathing dragon. Over a period of nearly three years, Tolkien developed this unlikely hero’s journey, crafting one of the greatest fantasies ever written.

The Hobbit experienced a charmed life in terms of publication. Even before Tolkien had finished the book, the editors at Allyn and Unwin knew of its existence and pursued the author. Raynor Unwin, the ten-year-old son of the chairman of the firm, was paid a shilling for reading the manuscript and giving his opinion. He wrote what is believed to be the first children’s response to the book: “This book with the help of maps does not need any illustrations…it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 to 9.” Obviously, young Raynor thought himself a bit superior to the contents, which might be best appreciated by younger children. Today The Hobbit usually gets classified as a novel for children ages ten through fourteen. Tolkien himself believed the book needed both maps and illustrations, and he also designed a book jacket decorated with runes, a language that he invented.

The book quickly became a bestseller in England, as well as in the United States when it appeared in 1938. A mere month after the publication, Stanley Unwin discussed the idea of a sequel with the author—and Tolkien set to work. But it would not be until 1951 that he completed his thousand-page extension of these sages: the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At one point in The Hobbit, Gandalf the wizard says to Bilbo, “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all.” But this little fellow has found millions and millions of fans in the wide world since he first appeared seventy-four years ago.

Happy birthday The Hobbit. Thank you for reminding us that a small fellow, or child, can go on to do great things.

Here’s a passage from The Hobbit:

The hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses have lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.


Originally posted September 21, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Quest
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Hobbit


  1. G.Perry says:

    I keep picking this book up, reading a few pages, and then putting it down again.

    The Hobbit is one of the few books on Anita’s list I’ve not read yet. Perhaps it’s time. (I won’t talk about how long it took me to read The Odyssey, nor mention how long I’ve been working on Don Quixote.) sigh..

  2. Anita says:

    Gordon: As I think I might have shared with you, I had the same problem with this book. It was particularly difficult for me, because I served as Tolkien’s publisher for many years. And then, one day, when I no longer felt I had to read it, I picked the book up again. And it grabbed me, from the first page on. I couldn’t stop until I had read all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So, this may happen to you as well! Different books work at different times in our lives.

  3. Gigi says:

    The Hobbit is one of my favorite books since about the age of twelve – a little older than Raynor Unwin’s target market. My mother read it first, then gave the book to me; Tolkien makes me nostalgic for reading with my mom. I never knew the history of The Hobbit’s road to publication. Thank you, Anita! Happy birthday, The Hobbit!

  4. Jami says:

    This book, more than any other, is what’s responsible for my lifetime love of books. I can still remember sitting in a corner reading this putting the book down every so often and uttering ‘damn’. Tolkein’s use of language is genius. I feel the same way about Lord of the Rings.

  5. Shutta Crum says:

    Thanks, Anita. What a wonderful backstory. The Hobbit was/is one of my favorites. S.

  6. Barb says:

    I read Lord of the Rings first and The Hobbit second and for some people this works best–the 2 have very different tones. Tolkien himself regretted the patronizing tone of The Hobbit in his later years.
    Also, feel free to skip the introduction and dive right into the narrative.

  7. Dotz Johnson says:

    “The Hobbit” is my all time favorite book! How fun to learn how it came to be.

  8. G.Perry says:

    Well, I started it again this afternoon and so far, I’m not beyond those Klingon language symbols in the introduction, but I’ll get there. I think.

  9. Rachel Gagnon says:

    I had the animated the film of this story on vhs when I was a little kid, and I remember watching it almost every week. I loved it! But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I decided to pick up the book, and I found it difficult to get through. I liked it, but I felt like it was work to finish it. Maybe someday I’ll try it out again and then go on to read Lord of the Rings as well.

  10. Trisha says:

    I am reading this for the first time and just loving it! I’m teaching a lit class in my daughter’s homeschool co-op,and The Hobbit is our first book that we’re studying. The students did a readers’ theatre today of the Riddle Game between Bilbo and Gollum. They had a great time! Happy Birthday to The Hobbit!

  11. Mary Alice Deveny says:

    Trisha, I would LOVE to get more information on the readers’ theatre of the Riddle Game! My brother read THE HOBBIT seven – yes, 7 – times. I love it, too!

  12. Bob Kosturko says:

    I LOVED the cover Peter Sis painted for this edition of “The Hobbit”! Peter’s use of symbols and maps echo those used by Tolkien quite beautifully. Sadly, I don’t think this particular edition of “The Hobbit” remained in print very long. It was replaced by a generic fantasy paperback design featuring a painting of Smaug the dragon guarding his hoard. So literal and predictable.

  13. Jane Martyn says:

    Love The Hobbit. Love all of Tolkien. He was a master of big ideas expressed in little moments.

  14. G. Perry says:

    Well, fast forward two years, and I just recently started it again, and this time, finished reading The Hobbit.

    This book surprised me. For a long time, I thought I had a good idea what the story was. I didn’t, and it was a wonderful story and a great read.

    I loved it.

  15. Anita says:

    Gordon: It took me a long time to read this book. I heard too much about it, and that got in the way of my being a true reader. Glad you were able to go back to it.

  16. GM Hakim says:

    My mother, on recommendation from a teacher, handed me this book when I was in 3rd grade. The rest, as they say, is history. I became a fantasy fanatic, reading Brian Jacques, R.A. Salvatore, Richard Adams, and basically anything I could get my hands on. I continue to be a fan of the genre to this day. My friend and I also invented our OWN runic alphabet (and several other symbolic alphabets) based on Tolkien’s so that we could pass notes in class and they’d be entirely unreadable if we were caught. It worked. Now, I use them as a code-breaking activity for my middle school students as a little bit of extra-time fun.

    I’ve read The Hobbit at least five times now, and it never ceases to amaze me. It’s more literary and wordy than contemporary fantasy, and a bit slower, but that only increases the depth that you get drawn into Tolkien’s masterful world building.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.