[This is a review of the 70th Anniversary Edition, not so much of THE HOBBIT itself. I've reviewed the book proper elsewhere, and would rather focus on the actual edition itself.]
THE HOBBIT is one of those few books that I have felt justified to buy multiple copies over the years. It is a book I have read and cherished, and a book I dearly love. THE HOBBIT is a novel that deserves to be bought multiple times over, and I always enjoy looking at new editions of this classic work. So imagine my excitement when I found out they would be publishing a 70th anniversary edition of one of my most cherished novels!
This has been a big year for Tolkien fans. Christopher Tolkien published THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, a newly completed version of Turin's legend, in April. We've gotten (at long last), THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT, expertly handled by brilliant Tolkien scholar John D. Ratcliffe and published in two separate volumes. And of course, we have the 70th anniversary of Tolkien's first primary work, THE HOBBIT, which this edition is published in celebration of that momentous occasion. And does it live up as a major new edition of this fantasy classic?
That's a pretty easy answer. The answer is NO.
First off, here are the positives. The 70th anniversary edition is pretty much how the first edition of THE HOBBIT was actually published back in 1937 with some notable improvements, and conforming to Tolkien's pretty exacting specifications, including how the dust jacket should appear, as well as the art and maps that accompany the text.
These are the notable differences between the first edition and this edition. Due to cost, Tolkien was not able from a production standpoint to have the book appear exactly as he envisioned. The 1937 publication cut some of his artwork, the map was not how he so desired, and the dust jacket, due to printing cost, was limited to three primary colours (green, black, and white). Originally, Tolkien wanted the sun on the front cover and the dragon on the back cover to be totally in red, but this was not feasible.
Obviously Tolkien's work is successful enough that these production costs are no longer an issue, and so this is a relatively accurate facsimile of what Tolkien would have wanted to publish in 1937 had money not been an object, as it too often is in the real world. For that, this edition has some worth.
Now, there are some negatives. And these are big negatives.
First off, paper quality and binding. It's bad.
Then there's the actual art work. The colour artwork is quite nicely implemented into the main text, and overall I don't have a problem with the colour artwork from a production standpoint. The paintings are bright and colourful, and remain true to higher quality prints of Tolkien's phenomenal painting. But unfortunately the same cannot be said of the black and white illustrations. Like a reviewer said before me, it appears Tolkien's drawings were reproduced on a cheap scanner. Tolkien's artwork is highly valuable, but unfortunately the drawings here are rather badly reproduced in this edition.
Then there's the advertisement for LOTR at the end that's rather annoying. They reproduce the first chapter of FELLOWSHIP and place it at the end of the novel, acting like a cheap plug for Tolkien's masterpiece. I don't have any problem with plugging LOTR, but to me this inclusion of the first chapter just cheapens the whole book, especially when it's supposed to be a major edition of a major work. We all know about LOTR. Do we really need the first chapter here? Rather tacky, to say the least.
Then there's the problem of Christopher Tolkien's forward. This is what I was most looking forward too, actually. Having read E. A. Solinas's review, I was under the impression this was a new forward prepared specifically by Christopher for the 70th anniversary of his father's work. Not the case. It's simply a reprint of the forward he wrote for the 50th anniversary of THE HOBBIT, twenty years previously.
As far as textual authenticity, I must be honest in the fact that I've only browsed it at a Borders bookstore, but I'd be very surprised if they did not use the text from The Annotated Hobbit, as it is the most definitive and accurate text yet established for the book. Still, I can't verify that that is the case.
Overall, this is a fair edition of THE HOBBIT. It could have been a lot more. What sets this apart from the other copies is this is how Tolkien truly envisioned how he wanted the book to appear, and for that fact alone, this is a valuable edition to the Tolkien collector. Unfortunately the poor production quality of the black and while illustrations, the rather tacky inclusion of LOTR's first chapter, and the disappointment of the publishers' just reprinting a twenty year old introduction to the 50th anniversary publication rather brings the whole affair down. I think I'll pass on this one.
For those looking for the best edition of Tolkien's book, buy THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT, first published in 1988 and republished in a new format in 2003. The second version of THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT is the definitive edition of this phenomenal work as far as I'm concerned.