Ringmaster Tolkien has been discussed much in these pages of late. Now, Publishers Weekly Daily newsletter has an interview today with Tolkien scholar Douglas Anderson, author of The Annotated Hobbit:
- PW Daily spoke with Anderson about juggling the roles of bookseller and author, and why reading an annotated Hobbit is even better than reading the original.
PWD: When did you first become a bookseller?
DA: I’ve been involved in bookselling for 20 years, first at Borealis Bookstore in Ithaca, N.Y., an alternative independent. I was co-owner for the last three years it existed. Then I left in 1994 and moved out to Indiana where I grew up and started working at the Book Bag in Valparaiso, where I was the adult trade buyer. But I’ll be moving up to Three Rivers, Michigan, near to Kalamazoo.
PWD: Have you been inspired by any of the books or writers you’ve encountered as a bookseller?
DA: Jonathan Carroll. I’ve read just about every one of his books the day it came out. His books The Land of Laughs and After Silence are on the top. In particular, After Silence is wonderful–and entirely non-fantastical. It’s about a man who is not unlike a cartoonist like Gary Larson, who is dating a woman. She has a baby and he starts to doubt that this baby is actually this woman’s child. It starts to gnaw on him and goes from there.
PWD: So, the six-million-dollar question: if someone has already read The Hobbit, why should they buy an Annotated Hobbit?
DA: The amount of material I added is the equivalent of another book–and that’s not counting the illustrations. Some people like to look behind the scenes, and this book gives them that. There are 20 illustrators and with my annotations, they can see how people have visualized it in many ways. The annotations immediately give a wider cultural perspective than the simple text. Of course, The Hobbit is still damn fine on his own.
PWD: So, in a sense, you’re trying to provide an “Authoritative Hobbit” as well?
DA: Yes, in a sense that’s what I did. Tolkien revised it twice in his lifetime. When it first came out in 1937, there was no intention of a sequel. After The Lord of the Rings came out, it then became necessary to alter the original book to fit better the sequels. For example, in the first edition of The Hobbit, Golum isn’t nearly as nasty a creature as he appeared in The Lord of the Rings. So, it became necessary to resolve it in some manner.
PWD: What do you find most enduring in Tolkien’s work?
DA: I find that since they’re very finely done, self-contained world, the books have an enormous appeal to people. Tolkien speaks to any day and age. The first film came out in December and because of the fraught political situation that we’re familiar with on a daily basis, the books have a contemporaneousness that’s accidental.
PWD: In your opinion, are there writers of fantasy who will sustain the same level of interest?
DA: There are other writers who have used fantasy in brilliant manners, Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood series or Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books. But unlike many fantasy writers today, Tolkien really tapped into mythic roots.
PWD: It’s been said that The Lord of the Rings was inspired by Tolkien’s experience in World War I. Have you found this to be true?
DA: Yes, in a sense it’s a reaction to the trauma he suffered in World War I. He was sent to a war that was supposed to end all wars, and all his friends but one were killed. After World War I, Tolkien conceived a mythology he could dedicate to England. Quite separately, as his children grew up, he told them stories. In the Hobbit, you see them merge. Tolkien was a scholar of Beowulf, which is an elegiac story about passion and change. The Lord of the Rings is about the old order changing and giving in to the new. It’s also an elegiac book, though
some people have confused it with a longing for a wished-for-past. I hink they’re completely wrong about that. It’s like the enduring interest in The Civil War. People like to read about it, but they don’t long for a return to that time.