How the tale grew in the telling: The unexpected sprouting of The Lord of the Rings

Where do stories come from?  The process of story creation is fascinating.  I’ve been reading a lot about JRR Tolkien, and how he came to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Most of the following information was found in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography or Tolkien. You can also read about them here at Tolkien and here at

Tolkien was someone who immersed himself in stories.  He had been creating the language and history of Middle Earth for many years, and his stories seem to emerge out of this preoccupation.  Tolkien, as quoted in Carpenter’s book:

“One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps.”

Apparently the first line of The Hobbit – “In a hole, in the ground, there lived a Hobbit” – was scrawled on the back of a student’s essay that he was grading.  And The Hobbit was written quickly and with few revisions, each chapter read to his children as they were finished.  The Hobbit was written as a children’s book, and not intended to be part of the great history of Middle Earth that was Tolkien’s real interest, the world of Middle Earth.  And yet Middle Earth seeped into the world of The Hobbit.  “The Necromancer”, the Mines of Moria, the Elves – they are like great rocks in the little stream of this story.

Creating a sequel to The Hobbit was difficult.  Publishers were not interested in “The Silmarillion”.  No publisher would bring out a book on the lore and history of Middle Earth.  The Hobbit had not been written with any sequel in mind.

He started, naturally enough, with Hobbits.  The sequel would be about Bingo, the son of Bilbo Baggins.  Actually its worse than that.  The full name was to be Bingo Bolger-Baggens. It was also natural enough that Bilbo’s ring should feature.  So Bingo and his two friends went off on a walking trip to find the other rings of power.  And here, something fascinating happened.  In the middle of this cheerful hobbit walking trip, appeared a black horseman, hunting for the hobbits. The story became darker and more frightening.  But Tolkien had no idea who this horseman was.

Could he be connected to the Ring somehow?  That seemed inevitable.  And so he hit upon the idea that the horseman was a “ring wraith” who had worn a ring of power for so long that he was now permanently invisible.    An extract from his notes states “The Ring: whence its origin?  Necromancer? Not very dangerous, when used for good purpose.  But it exacts its penalty.  You must either lose it, or yourself.”

There you have it, the very root of the entire story.  But he had not planned it that way.  It grew out of the story by itself, and it fitted.

There are many other such instances.  For example, Bingo reached Bree and another unplanned (by the author) meeting occurred.  Here is another person who made his way into the story unexpectedly and then could not be removed:

” a  queer-looking, brown-faced Hobbit, sitting in the shadows behind the others, was also listening intently. He has an enormous mug (more like a jug) in front of him and was smoking a broken-stemmed pipe right under his rather long nose. He was dressed in dark rough brown cloth, and he had a hood on, in spite of the warmth,- and, very remarkably, he had wooden shoes! Bingo could see them sticking out under the table in front of him.”

This was “Trotter” a long lost nephew of Bilbo’s who had been in Mordor and had survived torture at the hands of Sauron.  Trotter! This “queer looking, brown faced hobbit” became Strider.  Tolkien writes that “Strider sitting in a corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than Frodo”.

Another character who appears in the story apparently of his own volition is Faramir, the brother of Boromir.  It seems that these sections, where the story apparently took over and started telling itself, are the best parts of The Lord of the Rings.

While looking up these things, I found many covers of The Hobbit that I had not seen before.  This one, my favorite is by Peter Sis and can be found at

This lovely Dutch one, found at this site: Dont you just love that little hobbit in his too large cloak?

I actually first came accross it at rainwalker sunstroller blog which is worth a look for any book lover.

Another intersting one from Abi Sutherland’s hand book binding site:

There are so many more!  But I liked these particularly.

If you found this interesting, you might also like:

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. u l a n
    Jul 01, 2008 @ 11:52:56

    hello! thanks for leaving a note at my blog, and for the mention in your blog post! =) i got that image from the url that you posted, too! heehee.

  2. masha
    Jul 01, 2008 @ 11:54:37

    Hey that was quick! Trying to add your blog to my feed reader, but something is wrong 😦

  3. Trackback: Much Madness is Divinest Sense » Blog Archive » Mushrooms
  4. Simon
    Dec 01, 2020 @ 11:42:39

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks, Masha. I didn’t realise he’d written in this way. You pulled out some great quotes and examples.

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