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How C.S. Lewis Critiqued and Improved Tolkien's Work

In June of 1938, J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings author) wrote a letter to his editor Stanley Unwin explaining why he was behind schedule finishing the final draft for The Hobbit. Tolkien told Unwin that instead of drafting more material, he decided to start over and rewrite the first three chapters. What motivated Tolkien to go back and start the whole thing over again? He had received "excellent criticism" from his readers. C. S. Lewis was one of those readers. Apparently Lewis read chapters, liked the story, and encouraged Tolkien, but he also took the time to critique it and make specific suggestions for its improvement.

For instance, Lewis told Tolkien that there was too much dialogue, too much chatter, too much silly "hobbit talk." According to Lewis, all this dialogue was dragging down the story line. Tolkien grumbled in response to Lewis, "The trouble is that 'hobbit talk' amuses me … more than adventures; but I must curb this severely." But he still accepted the advice anyway.

Also, in the first draft, the story centers on a hobbit named Bingo, who sets out with two companions (Odo Took and Frodo Took). As Tolkien revises, Bingo becomes Frodo, and he is joined by his friends Sam and Pippin. (I wonder—would The Lord of the Rings have been nearly so popular if the main character had been called Bingo all along?)

But more than just names have been transformed. Tolkien's revised version is shorter and much clearer, too. When Tolkien rewrote this material, he cut nearly half of the dialogue. Page after page, he cuts out long conversations, and he picks up the action. Even though he personally prefers a story with much more "hobbit talk," he bows to his critics and creates a tale with much less. He also makes small but elegant refinements throughout the pages.

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