I know that The Hobbit was written before LOTR and retconned to be part of the legendarium in the second edition. I also understand it was to some extent a children's book. Both of these explain the stylistic differences between it and LOTR.

Another possible (albeit fictional) explanation of this is that The Hobbit is an adaptation of Bilbo's book, There and Back Again - in which case the style would be expected to differ from LOTR. For example, the discrepancy between calling what are apparently the same creature Goblins in The Hobbit and Orcs in LOTR can be explained in terms of Bilbo's understanding of what these creatures are called.

Can anyone say anything about whether The Hobbit was intended to be understood this way?

  • 2
    both Yes and no.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 11:26
  • I think the Tale of Years does mention that both Bilbo and Frodo's journals were kept as one book for this very purpose.
    – Radhil
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 11:27
  • @Radhil slightly more complex than that.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 11:29
  • 1
    The foreword to later editions of The Hobbit discuss changes made after detailed ('stressful') interviews with Bilbo performed by Gandalf IIRC. Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 15:41

3 Answers 3


The Hobbit was not an adaptation, but a translation.

Tolkien envisioned himself as a translator of ancient manuscripts that had made their way into his hands. The Red Book of Westmarch, in which Frodo had compiled Bilbo's notes and consisted of There and Back Again and The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King, amongst other works. Tolkien had acquired these works and translated them into Old English, and then further into Modern English (as outlined in this comment).

While never explicitly stated by the Professor himself, it is implicit in the way many of the sections of the Lord of the Rings (LR) outside the story were written. One example is the Prologue, written in the style of a modern editor describing a time long past. Other examples exist in an introductory note to the revised edition of the Hobbit (TH), the Preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and Appendixes A, D and F, especially the note on Shire records, which invents a manuscript tradition (that the original Red Book had not survived but a copy had).

As for the stylistic difference, this from an out-of-universe perspective is because of the later addition of TH to the Legendarium when Allan & Unwin had asked for a sequel (LR), and it is worth noting that Book 1 (the first half of the Fellowship of the Ring) is stylistically closer to TH than the rest of LR, which Tolkien claims to be intentional. In-universe according to the translator theory, the stylistic change would not have been because of an adaptation but because TH was penned by Bilbo Baggins, while LR was written by Frodo, after the War of the Ring. Book 1, could therefore be stylistically closer to TH because Frodo would've been able to tell Bilbo about his adventure thus far up to their meeting in Rivendell:

What about helping me with my book, and making a start on the next?

Then Bilbo would read passages from his book (which still seemed very incomplete). or scraps of his verses, or would take notes of Frodo's adventures.
Fellowship of the Ring - Book II, Chapter 2: Council of Elrond

Given that Bilbo had most of his own tale to write about during the War of the Ring, as well as the possibility of beginning on LR, this would explain the similarity in style between Book 1 and TH, and the sudden change in the rest of LR.

Below is a plot of the Transmission of the Legends in The Chronicles of Arda by Måns Björkman


" " = Important Work,        * * = Author  
( ) = Translations,          _ _ = Regions  
 >  = Direction of flow

                      *Quennar i Onótimo*
                  "Of the Beginning of Time..."
                    "The Tale of Years"
          *Rúmil*            |                     "Parma Culuina"
      "Annals of Aman"---<---|          _Doriath_         |
        "Ambarcanta"         |      "The Grey Annals"     |
       "Ainulindalë"         |              |             |
             |               |              | *Pengolodh* |            *Dírhaval*
             |--------->-----+----->----"Quenta Silmarillion"--<--"Narn i Chîn Húrin"
             |                                "Lammas"
             |                                    |
             |                     |                  |
             |                 _Númenor_         _Rivendell_               
             |             "Indis i·Ciryamo"   "Books of Lore"
             |                     |                  |
             |                     |                  |
             |             _Arnor and Gondor_         |
             |                     |                  |          *Bilbo Baggins*  
             |            "Book of the Kings"         |            "My Diary"
             |          "Book of the Stewards"        +-("Translations from the Elvish")
             |               "Akallabêth"                               |
"Quentalë    |  *Torhir Ifant*     |              *Frodo Baggins*       |
Ardanómion"  | "Dorgannas Iaur"    |                *Sam Gamgee*        |
    |        |       |             |----->----"The Lord of the Rings"   |
    |        |       |             |                        |           |
    |        |       |             |                       "The Red Book of Westmarch"
    |        |       |             |         *Findegil*                 |
    |        |       |             |-->--"The Thain's Book"------<------|
    |        |       |             |             |                [Many copies]     _The Shire_
    |   *Ælfwine*    |             |             |                      |       "The Tale of Years"
  ("Quenta Silmarillion")          |             +----------->----------|               |
     ("Annals of Aman")            |                                    |               |
      ("Grey Annals")              |                                    |               |
             |                     |                                    |               |
                           *J. R. R. Tolkien*
                             ("The Hobbit")
                        ("The Lord of the Rings")
                          ("The Silmarillion")
  • 1
    Good answer, but I find a bit of the first paragraph a bit hard to follow as you've (perhaps unintentionally) repeated words. And in the third paragraph, could you make your acronyms clearer? I assume TH is The Hobbit, and LR is Lord of the Rings, but FR is confusing matters further.
    – IronSean
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 15:05
  • 2
    @IronSean Paragraph one, I rewrote about 12 times so yes it May be confusing, and paragraph three, of course, sorry, I was reading from Letters and such while writing so applied those. I hope that's better and thanks for letting me know!
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 15:11
  • 4
    @Laurel So Tolkien is not the "author" in this scenario (even though we know he is), he is portraying himself as an editor of works that already existed, as Middle-earth is set about 6000 years in todays past. So he had acquired the Red Book and these other ancient manuscripts and translated them from Westron and Sindarin and Quenya and Khuz-dul into Old English. He then edited them into "Modern" English. I will clarify that. It was a confusion on my part with Ælfwine/Eriol, another "translator" that you see on the graph.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 16:31
  • 2
    If you decipher the dwarvish runes inside the front cover of LotR they say “the lord of the of the rings translated from the red book”
    – ip6
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 17:32
  • 1
    @RonJohn Not similar to. I'd say it is a framing story, and that it might be useful to include this in the answer.
    – trlkly
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 22:59

In one of his letters Tolkien explicitly states that he regrets deeply the language for adolescents he used in The Hobbit. Unfortunately I don't have the book with me, so can't reference more precisely, but it definitely is there.

This is somewhat partial answer to the question: yes, it can be inferred and/or implied from various texts. Tolkien wanted the most of his works to appear as if they were "translations" from original manuscripts, but there was also a very specific decision on the kids' language used in The Hobbit, which muddies the water on the issue the OP is asking about.

Like I said, I don't have the book on me, but the passage was to the effect of:

"in retrospect language for children that was used in *The Hobbit" was a bad idea".

  • 2
    Well he intended The Hobbit to be a children's book, and then wrote a more serious sequel, so he clearly did intend it.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 13:27
  • 1
    I've just checked the Letters and could not find him stating his intention for TH or LR to be considered the same, he does however regret the decision to write TH for children as the more intelligent of them had seen past his writing (and the deeper notes he'd left in)
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 13:52
  • @Edlothiad Clarify on "his intention for TH or LR to be considered the same", so that I can amend answer accordingly, please? And thank you for the factcheck in the book. Fast work. :)
    – AcePL
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 14:01
  • Well he never explicitly states "I regret making TH a childrens book as I intedned it to comply with LR" this would be untrue as one was published 15 years before. He does however regret making TH a childrens book as it allowed for more, and a child aims to read above them rather than adults reading below them, OWTTE. It's all over about 3 or 4 letters and he seems to change his mind a little over each
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 14:03
  • @Edlothiad Edited accordingly.
    – AcePL
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 14:07

Real-world answer: Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion and then rewrote it again and again and again. Squint your eyes a bit and its all recycled, including The Hobbit. The Arkenstone is the Ring, etc etc.

  • This doesn't seem to answer the question in any meaningful way. Can you offer any evidence for this or is it just your own opinion about what happened?
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 0:01

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