I've been to dinner at Jimmy Buffet's house, and I've eaten it at a homeless shelter. And there's great joy and harrowing terror to be found in both places.
"panic" only comes from having real expectations
I wasn't sure if it would be something like that or more of splitting the journey in half, like after Bilbo gets the ring from Gollum...
Here is my understanding (which I only confirmed by browsing these Wikipedia articles, so take it for what it is worth):
Tolkien started developing Middle Earth (and basically writing what would become The Silmarillion) in 1914. He continued to work on it throughout his life. Essentially, this book was a history of Middle Earth, and although I have not even read the whole thing my impression and understanding is that it is basically the same in style as the appendix of Lord of the Rings: in other words, somewhat dry, VERY detailed, and with a heavy emphasis on languages (which is not surprising given that Tolkien was an English scholar at Oxford).
In the 1930s (by which time he was already a fairly established "serious" literary critic), he started writing The Hobbit, which was basically a children's story that took place in the same world (and wasn't really related to any of the main plots). It was first published in 1937, and was immediately popular. Importantly (well, if you are a dork like me and consider any of this stuff important), the first published version of The Hobbit did not place any emphasis on the importance of the ring, and in fact Tolkien in no way planned for the ring to play an important role in Middle Earth's history. In the first published version of The Hobbit, in fact, Gollum willingly gambles the ring with Bilbo in the riddle game, and willingly lets Bilbo take it when he has lost.
Due to The Hobbit's popularity, his publishers asked for a sequel. My understanding was that Tolkien basically said, "great news! I've got a wonderfully detailed history of this fictional land complete with made up languages and maps already written ready to be published!" The publishers basically said: "um, no, that sounds terrible, you're going to give us a book with more hobbits." This is what caused him to start writing The Lord of the Rings, which he started writing in the 1930s, which he wrote as one book, but which was ultimately published in the 1950s in three separate volumes. It was, again, immediately popular, and I believe today is the most popular book ever published (except The Bible).
However, the story of The Lord of the Rings required retroactive changes to The Hobbit. He therefore rewrote The Hobbit, changing the scene with Gollum so that Bilbo tricks him into giving up the ring (which is the version that everyone on this thread has almost certainly read, unless you are in possession of a very rare early edition). Apparently, this was somehow explained by Tolkien as the original version being a lie that Bilbo told so that it would not be clear how important the ring was to him.
Tolkien eventually started reworking the whole history of Middle Earth to make it consistent with The Lord of the Rings, but he never finished it. His son did, and it was published in various forms as The Simarillion in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, although from what I gather there are vigorous debates as to how much of this is actually Tolkien's (the dad's) work.
I think it's so interesting that he went back and changed The Hobbit. If someone did that today (like, say, for a TV show, or in A Song of Ice and Fire, or see the general reaction to Lucas's changes to Star Wars films), there would be widespread outrage. But the greatest storyteller of the 20th century (not the greatest author, but greatest storyteller, imo), realized it was much more important to tell a great and compelling story than it was to make a book consistent with something you published 20 years ago. There is an obsession now (see Lost, the aforementioned ASOIAF, basically every ongoing comic series), with making everything consistent with past volumes, and focusing on continuity and having a grand master plan, such that the basic art of telling a great story gets lost. Thank god Tolkien, despite his focus on the most mundane details imaginable, didn't have that obsession.
Last edited by top6; 12-27-2011 at 12:41 PM.