I first read The Hobbit over 20 years ago, when I was still a child. I remember it as an extremely cozy and "non-epic" story about a bunch of dwarves, a wizard and of course Bilbo. In particular, I remembered the part when they took the "barrel ride" from some kind of house for some reason, and the dragon in the end was a big deal with a lot of trickery and talking and running around and scheming.

Now, I'm re-reading it (modern copy) and there are only a few pages left. The five-army battle has just begun.

I realize that, in the original version, there were "some changes". In particular, Gollum was just some crazy, creepy individual who actually was prepared to give away the Ring to Bilbo if he guessed the riddles correctly, which of course had to be rewritten by Tolkien once he had made The Lord of the Rings, which clearly made this utterly impossible.

However, I don't remember if my first copy had Gollum gambling with his ring or not. It was borrowed from a library, and it didn't seem like it was from the 1930s, so most likely, it was the revised version. It's frustrating to not know for sure, though.

What shocked me was how short the interaction with Smaug was. Basically, all this build-up just for a very short talk session between invisi-hobbit and him, and then he just flies away and they never see him again? And some entirely separate person shoots him down after the bird gives him Bilbo's tip? That... was unexpected. An anticlimax if you will. I kept thinking that the dragon was going to rise from its watery grave, until the narrator started talking about it decaying. I felt almost cheated somehow. Most of all, it perplexed me.

Could it really be that my memory had muddled up the story to the point where I really did think that Bilbo and the dwarves spent a long time with combined efforts to trick the dragon somehow, all by themselves, in the treasure chamber, and that it was Bilbo who used his elf-sword to finally slaughter the beast? Or was this how it happened, and Tolkien decided that since he changed the Gollum part, he might as well also add an epic battle in the end to make it work better with LOTR, no longer just a plain "dragon slaying adventure" for children? While unlikely, I wouldn't be surprised.

I remember them killing the dragon there and then, not barricading themselves and sitting around like greedy dwarves when they didn't even do anything and just released the dragon to kill and destroy the city. Granted, I've not read it all the way to the end yet, so please don't spoil it if Smaug does indeed return somehow, or they all become friends after the orc battle (which I strongly suspect).

I suppose it's good that the story isn't completely predictable, but this final battle made it far more "epic" than I both remembered, wanted and expected. Could it be that this was actually added in later, and it wasn't part of the original The Hobbit? Did Tolkien make such drastic changes to the story? Or is this just another case of my memory getting mixed up with fantasies and expectations and possibly those (mostly) deadly dull movies?

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    Welcome to Literature.se! There's a good question here about the differences between the 1937 and 1951 editions of The Hobbit, but I think it would help if you can edit the question to make it clear that you know there were two editions, and that you know the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter was radically changed, but you want to know the full extent of the revisions. Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 18:56
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    "memory getting mixed up with fantasies and expectations and possibly those (mostly) deadly dull movies" - looks like this, also, for Bilbo, the battle ends very prematurely.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: the only major changes between editions were in the characterisation of Gollum.

You can read a summary of revisions to The Hobbit at Wikipedia or Tolkien Collector.

There were many small revisions done to the text at various times, including to bring the story of The Hobbit more into line with the later epic The Lord of the Rings: for example, "elves, that are now called Gnomes" made it through the first and second editions but was changed to "High Elves of the West, my kin" in the third edition.

But the only large revision was done in the second revision to the chapter "Riddles in the Dark", again to make the story of Gollum and his ring consistent with the compelling power of the One Ring as it's written in The Lord of the Rings. Even that didn't change the overall shape of the plot: regardless of Gollum's attitude, the end result was that Bilbo got the ring by accident and it had the power to make him invisible. See also Was the One Ring's malevolent nature foreshadowed in the Hobbit? If so, how? Changes to this chapter are recorded in detail here.

Certainly the plot of the story was never changed after first publication in such major ways as altering Smaug's fate or adding the Battle of Five Armies. Tolkien was never such a casual writer as to think he "might as well also add an epic battle": even the Gollum changes were retconned to achieve an in-universe explanation of the original version of the text (namely, Bilbo was lying).

Tolkien did once attempt to rewrite The Hobbit to better fit the tone of The Lord of the Rings, making it less of a children's tale and more of a serious epic. But he abandoned the attempt after just a few chapters, on the advice of reviewers who told him it "just wasn't The Hobbit" any more.

So yes (to your title question), or no (to your question of whether Tolkien made such drastic changes/additions in the later parts of the book).

Further reading:

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