Bilbo’s Property

The Hobbit was published September 1937 and in the week leading to the following Christmas Tolkien bowed to polite yet firm requests from his publisher and began a sequel. He sat down and wrote five manuscript pages to which a title was added ‘A long-expected party.’ I have said before that The Lord of the Rings may be read as a commentary on The Hobbit and the early drafts especially. This first draft chapter provides a nice distillation and mirror of the original story.

Bilbo Baggins is celebrating his twentieth birthday. It is two decades since he returned from his adventure. At a magnificent birthday party, in which the Shire (still lower case) begins to come into being, he announces he is leaving again and also that he is going to get married. In the flummaxation that follows Bilbo disappears (the ring is in his hand as he gives his after-dinner speech). The story then switches to Bag-end and an absent host. Bilbo’s property has been arranged and labelled as gifts to various friends and relations and the Sackville-Bagginses finally get their hands on Bilbo’s luxrurious hobbit hole.

So, observe the various correspondences. The Hobbit was a story of there and back again. This first chapter – which announces that the new story will be about Bilbo’s heir but does not name him – is all about Bilbo: here and gone again. An unexpected party had flummoxed Bilbo, but now he organizes a party to flummox all the other hobbits. Bilbo’s earlier adventure is referred to by the other hobbits as his “mysterious vanishment,” and the new adventure begins with his second and final vanishment (a more effective vanishment as he now owns a magic ring of vanishment). After he has vanished a second time the ending of the original story is mirrored, but instead of an auction of his property Bilbo now directs its passage to new owners. Finally, note how the idea of a birthday party points to some as yet unrealised idea about transfer of the magic ring to an heir: the magic ring began as Gollum’s birthday present, and the idea of its passage to another is associated with Bilbo’s birthday.

Because an heir is not named – indeed, at this point Bilbo has only just announced marriage and so a descendant is not yet even a twinkle in his eye – so there is no suggestion that the magic ring is to be included in the transfer of Bilbo’s property to others. Nevertheless, I believe that sufficient factors point to an idea already in the author’s mind that the magic ring will be central to the new story, and so must pass to a new hero. This first draft chapter is setting up the conditions for a transfer of ownership. As seen, the chapter clearly mirrors the bookends of the original story – opening party and auction of property at the end – and the central theme of a birthday party points to some (just what is hard to say) idea of a subsequent chapter that mirrors the riddle game in some way and sees a Baggins family heirloom passed on.

The mirror of the riddle game was never written because, just after he had got to Bilbo’s second vanishing in a second draft of the chapter, Tolkien wrote some notes on the story that was brewing in which the Necromancer is named as the origin of the magic ring. This changed the nature of the inheritance, with the magic ring suddenly a burden and a threat and not something you would wish to leave to your heirs.

Subsequent posts will explore the new property of the magic ring. But I want to highlight here how this first draft chapter of the sequel helps us better read the original. My last post gave one item of the index of the original hobbit story:

Bilbo Baggins.

property, acquired: magic ring

property, inherited: Bag-End; generic hobbit vanishing magic; Baggins luck; queer Took quality

Visibility. Of body: see magic ring. Of properties: see wizard’s eye, magic ring, dwarves

In my reading of the 1937 story of Bilbo Baggins, property is a key word. The draft chapter of the sequel confirms its importance and reminds me that the entry above takes no account of the auction and needs to be supplemented:

Bilbo Baggins.

property, acquired: magic ring, some treasure (much spent in regaining auctioned property)

property, auctioned: most inherited property left in Bag-End

property, inherited: Bag-End; generic hobbit vanishing magic; Baggins luck; queer Took quality

Visibility. Of body: see magic ring. Of properties: see wizard’s eye, magic ring, dwarves

The additions are worth making if only because they bring to light Tolkien’s vision of the original story as all about Bilbo’s properties: in going there and coming back again Bilbo acquires a magic ring that reveals his inner properties, the name of a legendary burglar, some wealth, and comes home to find his original property passing into the hands of others.

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