A first part of a study of the making of The Lord of the Rings holds up a mirror to two stories: The Hobbit (1937) and its sequel as first told to Weathertop.
The Hobbit was once an autonomous story, but it was eaten by its own offspring. This essay rediscovers the original story in the idea of the magic ring.
Around 1944, Tolkien recrafted ‘Riddles in the Dark’ to make it fit his new hobbit story. The revision changed the meaning of this chapter, and (from the point of view of the story) not for the better. Yet the new story served well enough as a ‘prelude’ to The Lord of the Rings, and so readers seem not to have questioned the loss of original meaning…
We can glimpse the original idea of the magic ring in the early drafts of the first book of The Fellowship of the Ring, composed in 1938 (see Christopher Tolkien’s Return of the Shadow). Tolkien as yet had only some idea of what we know as the One Ring and the first part of his story was conceived as the good part of an adventure of roughly the same page-length as the first hobbit story, but with most of the action set in lands before Rivendell.
Once we see how to place a mirror between The Hobbit (1937) and The Fellowship of the Ring we discover in the Old Forest, the house of Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow-downs the original transformation of the magic ring by which Tolkien set out to compose a sequel.