‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’. J R R Tolkien wrote the first line of The Hobbit (1937) on a scrap of paper while he was marking exams. He later reflected, 'I did not and do not know why. I did nothing about it, for a long time, and for some years I got no further than the production of Thror’s map'. When he returned to these ideas and began to make up a story for his children, he wrote what would become one of the world’s most popular fantasy adventures.
Tolkien drew the detailed maps and illustrations for The Hobbit himself. Maps play a crucial role within the book, too. Bilbo and the dwarves use ‘Thror’s map’ (shown here) to find a way into the Lonely Mountain, where the dragon Smaug guards his stolen treasure. The map is supposedly made by an ancestor of the dwarves.
Stanley Unwin, one of Tolkien’s publishers, paid his young son sixpence to read the manuscript of The Hobbit. His son liked the story, and so Unwin decided to publish it.
When Tolkien wrote the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, he rewrote chapter five of The Hobbit so that the two books didn’t contradict one another. That version of the story, published in 1951, is the one that most people have read.