HarperCollins pre-empts Hobbit anniversary

HarperCollins is starting its celebrations for the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit ahead of time, with the publication of a collection of Tolkien's artwork and a "cute" pocket-sized edition of the novel at the end of this month.

The Hobbit was first published in September 1937, but HarperCollins estates publisher David Brawn said it was beginning its celebrations early to pre-empt the excitement about Peter Jackson's film version, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, which will be released in December 2012.

HarperCollins estimates around one third of the UK population will see "The Hobbit" film. Brawn said: "Since 'The Lord of the Rings' films, The Hobbit has played second fiddle—now it's going to be the turn of The Hobbit to have that focus on it. We said: ‘Let's jump in there and celebrate Tolkien before everyone starts to celebrate Peter Jackson as director of the film.'"

Tolkien, a very good amateur artist, illustrated The Hobbit as well as producing maps and letter forms for Elvish script, plus pencil sketches and watercolours. Brawn said: "What no-one has done is pull together all the artwork and put it into one book." Now the Tolkien archives, held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, have been digitised, allowing HarperCollins to put all the illustrations in print for the first time, scanned at high resolution and with strong detail. The Art of the Hobbit, a slipcased edition (27th October, £25), edited by Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull, will carry 110 pictures by the author.

Braun said experience has showed HarperCollins that many like to read the book itself ahead of seeing the adaptation. With this in mind, the publisher is bringing out The Pocket Hobbit (£9.99), a small format edition featuring the cover illustration painted by Tolkien himself.

Braun said he was wondering what he could do that would be a little bit different: "It looks really cute, and hobbits are little, so it's the sort of mad idea you have as a publisher. I think it's going to run away."

Also being published this month will be a straight B-format reissue of the novel, as the 75th anniversary edition, (£7.99); a revised edition of The History of the Hobbit, by J R R Tolkien and John Rateliff, published in a single volume for the first time (£35); and a 75th anniversary boxed set of the four novels, telling the complete story of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Gollum and the Ring, with a new jacket design.