The Retconning of Middle-earth
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is one of the richest worlds in all of fiction. While it seems standard now to build up a lore bible around core stories, this was revolutionary in Tolkien’s time. Before writing a word of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, he first tackled the history of Middle-earth in manuscripts of The Silmarillion as early as 1917. When the core stories were published, they included maps, illustrations, and deep appendices for fans to dive into.
After Tolkien’s death, The Silmarillion and many bountiful volumes of his unseen work were released over the years. There’s so much material that Amazon will have invested an estimated $1 billion to produce five seasons of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (the first of which debuts in early September 2022) based on content outside of the core story.
As his lore grew in depth and complexity throughout his lifetime, Tolkien couldn’t help but think back to his first published work in the world of Middle-earth: The Hobbit. Fortunately for fans spanning generations, he rewrote one of the most important parts of the book brilliantly a decade after it had been published. Many years later, he got the itch again and began rewriting the entire story from the beginning.
What was in the original published Hobbit text that most people alive today have never read? What stopped Tolkien from rewriting the entire story in the early 1960s? How was the lost rewritten material and extra content eventually used to reinterpret The Hobbit for a new generation of fans? It all started with a modest printing a couple of years before the start of World War II.
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