As an inveterate booklover who was spent his entire professional career working in libraries, I have come to enjoy the glory of the “Annotated Edition.”
I am talking about those editions of books that are for the true completist who wants to rapturously revel in every last detail concerning the book they love. You know the type (and you may even be one), the kind of person who involuntarily shudders at the sight of anything that says “abridged.” The filmic corollorary would of course be the type of person who does not purchase a movie unless it is the “Super Special Limited Ãœber-Collectors Edition Multi-Disc DVD.” Needless to say, I am confident there is a level of hell dedicated solely to Reader’s Digest and its sad-sack readers who have kept it alive for so many decades.
So I am currently reading “The Annotated Hobbit.”
Like you, my fellow nerds, I am a big fan of all things related to J.R.R. Tolkien. I own pretty much everything by him in every edition. I’ll start and stop the strutting of my street cred by saying I have a tattoo of the Star of FÃ«anor on my ankle. Which I drew myself at a tattoo parlor. Now I first read “The Hobbit” when I was 10 years old. I’m not sure if I’ve picked it up much since then but I thought I had remembered it ably enough, what with Bilbo, all 13 of the dwarves, Gandalf, the three trolls turned to stone, Elrond, Gollum, the Ring and the epic riddle game, Orcs, Wargs, Eagles, Smaug, the Black Arrow, and everything in between. Until now.
In reading this annotated edition (which comes replete with copious notes and illustrations lining the edges of the pages), I have across some seriously bizarre stuff that I had no idea existed in the earlier 1939 edition of the The Hobbit and which were excised or rewritten entirely for all later editions that followed the publication of the Lord of the Rings in the mid-1950s. Just to tantalize you, I give you these meager examples: for starters, the 1939 edition made references to “policemen” and “trains.” I mean, WTF?? I thought this was a certifiably preindustrial society?! Also, the earlier version has Gollum feeling sorry for his rudeness toward Bilbo and volunteers to help him find his way out of the caves below the Misty Mountains. That’s so wrong! In addition, I found out that Ol’ JRR lifted the names of the 13 dwarves directly from the Elder Edda, with no modifications whatsoever. I knew he was inspired by Nordic and Germanic myths but holy cow, he stole the names wholesale! I am seriously afraid of what else I will find out as I slowly make my way through the voluminous notes in this volume. It was bad enough finding out from Christopher Tolkien’s massive, bookshelf-busting 12-volume “History of Middle-Earth” series that Bilbo’s original name was “Bungo.” Man, I say at that point just give it over to the Harvard Lampoon guys responsible for the 1960s-era “Bored of the Rings” and go with their choice for Bilbo (hint: switch the “b”s with “d”s).
I also own copies of the “Annotated Alice” [Lewis Carroll, whose pen name, I found out, is a retranslation of a Latinized anagram of his real name, Charles Dodgson–see, lots of good stuff to be found in these!] and the three volume “Annotated Sherlock Holmes.” I’ve read the former and am licking my lips at the latter, although I must say the 3000 DENSE pages of information scare me just a little.
The other Annotated Editions, published by W.W. Norton & Co., which I am currently eyeing on Amazon include The Wizard of Oz, Brothers Grimm, The Hunting of the Snark, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Classic Fairy Tales. I’ll keep you posted on the ongoing, piecemeal destruction of all that was sacred from my childhood.