Courtesy of the New York Times, a reminder of the day that’s in it and some thoughts of gratitude for the life of a good man – whether or not you think his works should be seen as among the treasures of the twentieth century.

“The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien, was published 80 years ago this week.

The book, and the follow-up trilogy “The Lord of the Rings,” gave Sept. 22 as the birthday of the two greatest hobbit heroes, Bilbo Baggins and, 78 years later, Frodo. Fans celebrate it as Hobbit Day.

Tolkien himself designed this dustjacket for the first edition of “The Hobbit.”

Bonhams, via Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Tolkien said he had first written about the invented being on an exam he was correcting while an Oxford professor. He later told a friend, the poet W.H. Auden, “I did not and do not know why.” His inspired scrawl — “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” — became the opening of his endlessly popular epic.

A British letter-writer wondered if the hobbits were modeled after “little furry men seen in Africa” and pointed out a “Hobbit” fairy tale from 1904. “My hobbit did not live in Africa, and was not furry, except about the feet,” Tolkien said.

He told The Times in 1967 that the hobbits were inspired by the people of Sarehole, England, where he grew up. The Oxford English Dictionary included “hobbit” in the 1970s, attributing it to him.

In 1971, two years before his death, Tolkien reflected: “Oh what a tangled web they weave who try a new word to conceive!”

Charles McDermid contributed reporting.



NYT Morning Briefing is published weekdays at 6 a.m. Eastern and updated all morning. Browse through past briefings here.

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