I am a big fan of reading annotation, particularly on a book I have re-read. There is much controversy among hard-line readers as to whether one should read annotations. I feel that they are useful to provide context or background information which I do not possess. Reading annotations provides a rich experience. This is especially true when reading ancient or historic literature. In addition, I always read with a pen, and the margins of my books are littered with my own comments, questions and reactions… my own informal annotations. I would feel like a hypocrite if I complained about annotations while writing my own!
This particular edition of The Hobbit provides rich commentary and cross references on all aspects of the story. It is very interesting and illuminating reading. For example, the annotator (Douglas Anderson) cites a hypothesis that Tolkien invented the name Baggins from the Lancashire English word “bagging”, a term that the Oxford English Dictionary defines as eating food “between regular meals”. In use, the word would be pronounced “baggin”, dropping the terminal “–g”. Tolkien was a philologist, and his interest and knowledge in language is crucial to his development of his Middle Earth mythology. The hypothesis about the origins of Baggins is given further weight by the citation Anderson provides from Walter E. Haigh’s A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield (1928), which Tolkien himself “wrote an appreciative forward”. Haigh deifnes baggin as “a meal, now usually ‘tea,’ but formerly any meal; a bagging. Probably so called because workers generally carried their meals to work in a bag of some kind”.
Such is the nature of the annotations provided on Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The book also includes illustrations from various editions over the years, as well as references to the publishing history of the book. In short, it is a delightful book. If you can afford it, then buy it. If it is in your library, then borrow it.
The opening inscription in the book cites Horace: “What we read with pleasure, we read again with pleasure.” Reading The Annotated Hobbit is very pleasurable indeed!