Only 1,500 copies of The Hobbit were issued in the initial September 21, 1937 print run by Allen & Unwin in the UK. Positive reviews and word of mouth spread excitement for hero Bilbo Baggins’ journey to win his share of dwarven treasure from the dragon Smaug. The run sold out by December of that year, and the first of many reprints of this version was released in early 1938.
A second edition came along in 1951 with some general corrections and tweaks that eagle-eyed fans could catch. No one who had read the first edition, however, could possibly miss what was done to Chapter Five, “Riddles in the Dark,” concerning Bilbo’s game of wits against Gollum in which he “wins” and leaves with the creature’s magic ring. While much of the text remained unchanged, a full five pages of revisions and extra content were added to the chapter.
In the original version of The Hobbit people had fallen in love with (estimates of total first edition copies printed in the UK and United States are roughly only 20,000), Gollum freely offered the ring, his sole possession, as a stake in the riddle game instead of offering to guide Bilbo out of the caves.
“It must have a competition with us, my preciouss! If precious asks, and it doesn’t answer, we eats it, my preciousss. If it asks us, and we doesn’t answer, we gives it a present, gollum!”The Hobbit, 1st edition
Once Gollum fails to guess what’s in Bilbo’s pocket in the final (questionably above board) riddle, he happily paddles his boat back to his island to retrieve the present. This is in stark contrast to the story we know where he decides to use the ring’s power to turn invisible and kill Bilbo. He’s actually disappointed that he doesn’t have a present to reward Bilbo rather than losing the thing he holds most dear. It has mysteriously gone missing.
“Where iss it? Where iss it?” Bilbo heard him squeaking. “Lost, lost, my preciouss, lost, lost! Bless us and splash us! We haven’t the present we promised, and we haven’t even got it for ourselves.”The Hobbit, 1st edition
Gollum goes on to explain how great the ring is and what it can do while apologizing profusely and even offering to catch Bilbo some “nice juicy fish” to make up for it. As in later versions of the story, Bilbo already had the ring in his pocket. He had stumbled across it in the dark before meeting Gollum.
Bilbo doesn’t reveal this fact, exclaiming “Finding’s keeping!” in his internal monologue, and says that guiding him out of the caves will be an adequate replacement.
If Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube existed back then, they would have been alight with posts and videos to the tune of, “What have they done to Gollum?”, “What does the new content in The Hobbit mean for a potential sequel?”, “Has Tolkien gone mad?”.
So they weave through the cave passages side by side on the way to the exit. Bilbo tries on the ring as a lark.
“Where iss it? Where iss it gone to?” said Gollum at once, peering about with his long eyes.
“Here I am, following behind!” said Bilbo slipping off the ring again, and feeling very pleased to have it and to find that it really did what Gollum said.The Hobbit, 1st edition
They finally get to the exit passage and Bilbo literally says goodbye to Gollum. He waits until Gollum’s footsteps disappear into the distance and continues on. The rest of the chapter’s goblin escape proceeds with little alteration.