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When Tolkien’s beloved maternal aunt, Jane Neave, asked him in October, 1961 if he “wouldn’t get out a small book with Tom Bombadil at the heart of it, the sort of size of book that we old ‘uns can afford to buy for Christmas presents” (as she is quoted in Bio 244), his correspondence with her and with his publishers (quoted or summarized in this new volume) shows that he at first envisioned a modest booklet in the manner of Beatrix Potter’s illustrated books for children. He had already published a poem about “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” in the Oxford Magazine for 16 February 1934, and he thought this might fill the bill if Pauline Baynes, with whom he had developed a good working relationship, provided illustrations for the verses. His publishers, Allen & Unwin, were interested, but asked to have a more substantial volume with a number of poems. [End Page 173]
Consequently, Tolkien looked for other of his poems that might fit with the one about Tom. He hit on the unifying idea for the collection that the disparate items might be of poetic types enjoyed by Hobbits, and revised some that had modern allusions to refer instead to Middle-earth. He added a second poem about Tom, “Bombadil Goes Boating,” partly worked up from earlier material but using settings from The Lord of the Rings. Some poems he considered but rejected for this collection, eventually deciding that sixteen were suitable. The verses are mostly playful but can be macabre (as in “The Mewlips”) or haunting (like “The Last Ship”), traditional as to metrics, and show Tolkien’s love of archaic and unusual words. “The final arrangement,” observe editors Scull and Hammond, “groups like with like as far as possible. The two ‘Bombadil’ poems are followed by two ‘fairy’ poems, two with the Man in the Moon, and two with trolls; then The Mewlips, an odd man out, placed near the centre; and, finally, three ‘bestiary’ poems and four with ‘atmosphere’ and emotion” (18). This was the collection published in 1962.
In the first printing “Cat” was number 11 and “Fastitocalon” 12, but by the vagaries of printing this resulted in their illustrations being awkwardly placed. With Tolkien’s permission the order was reversed in the second printing (also in 1962), and this order has been retained ever since. But apparently nobody thought to revise the “Preface,” with the result that when this avers that poem 12 was drawn from the marginalia in the Red Book of Westmarch, “Fastitocalon” was originally meant, while the comment that Sam Gamgee might have touched up some comic bestiary lore to produce poem 11 referred to “Cat.” Or perhaps the numbers were not corrected in the preface because it was not worth the bother as (the editors speculate) the comments could apply equally well to either poem.
ATB has been reprinted many times since its first appearance, often along with other of Tolkien’s shorter works, as in The Tolkien Reader (1966) or Tales from the Perilous Realm (2002). One remembers that the publishers wished from the start not to have too short a book. For this volume Scull and Hammond wanted to present a dedicated volume afresh, but they, too, fill it out. And it may be the extra material that will be of keenest interest to Tolkien’s audience, who already know ATB. That is the case for me.
This new volume begins with an “Introduction” by the editors. Then the 1962 ATB is reprinted from Tolkien’s mock-scholarly preface through all sixteen poems (with 11 and 12 in their final order) accompanied by the original illustrations. This is a new printing, not a facsimile edition or a direct reproduction of the first edition, with the text laid out with great care. Following this are the extras: a “Commentary” [End Page 174] with a separate section...