Warning: spoilers for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings throughout
All authors go through a process of drafting and redrafting, and this can involve making quite drastic changes to their stories. Usually all we get as readers are occasional tidbits in interviews (Arthur Weasley was to be killed off in The Order of the Phoenix!) but in the case of JRR Tolkien’s works, we have much, much more information. Tolkien’s son Christopher gathered and published enormous amounts of his father’s unpublished work, including a lot of drafts and notes Tolkien made in the course of his writing. And some of the changes he made to his most famous novels, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, might just surprise you…
Gandalf Was Originally Called Bladorthin
One of the things Tolkien changed his mind about the most were his characters’ names, and just about every major character had a different name at some point. Frodo Baggins was called Bingo Bolger-Baggins for a long time, Thorin’s grandfather was not Thror but Fimbulfambi and Thorin himself was called Gandalf, while Pippin was two separate Tooks called Odo and Frodo. It takes absolutely ages for the quite different character of Samwise Gamgee to show up – he doesn’t appear until a scribbled note recorded on p.221 of Christopher Tolkien’s collection of his father’s early drafts for The Lord of the Rings.
We’ll come to Strider/Aragorn’s original name shortly, which is a story all of its own. And The Rings of Power’s Celeborn was at one point known as Teleporno. But the two rejected names from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that I personally find most amusing are Marmaduke for Merry Brandybuck, which sounds like either a Jeeves and Wooster character or a jam of some kind, and Bladorthin for Gandalf. The Maiar known as Mithrandir or Gandalf the Grey went by the unpronounceable Bladorthin for quite some time. Just imagine Frodo yelling that name in anguish as the wizard plunges down the chasm in Moria…
In The Hobbit 1st Edition, the Ring Was a Birthday Gift
Here is how Tolkien originally described what would later become the One Ring to Rule Them All; “Gollum had a ring, a wonderful beautiful ring, a ring that he had been given for a birthday-present ages and ages before in old days when such rings were less uncommon.” In fiction, invisibility rings turn up in everything from Plato to Arthurian legends to E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle (though that one is technically a wishing ring), so Tolkien was simply taking a well-known trope and incorporating it into his story.
This isn’t a detail found in an early draft, either – this is how the story was originally published in 1937. As Tolkien slowly put together The Lord of the Rings over the next fifteen years, it became clear that Bilbo’s Ring was going to be rather more powerful and important than this description implied. So Tolkien actually changed the text of the already-published The Hobbit, adjusting the chapter on Gollum, his Ring, and the riddle-game to better fit with the tone and the role of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings. The new edition was published in 1951 and that is what we have all been reading ever since.
…and Gollum Bet the Ring on the Riddle Game
Originally, Gollum promised Bilbo a “present” if he won the riddle-game, and the Ring was what he had in mind. When he realised it was lost, Tolkien says, “I don’t know how many times Gollum begged Bilbo’s pardon. And he offered him fish caught fresh to eat instead”. Once this ring became the One Ring to Rule Them All, which Tolkien knew from early on that Frodo would be unable to bring himself to destroy and which became too dangerous for anyone not a hobbit to carry, this obviously had to be altered a bit!
Bilbo Was Going to Get Married
There was one thing Tolkien really didn’t want to change. At the end of The Hobbit, he had written that Bilbo “remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long.” Although clearly willing to literally rewrite The Hobbit if it clashed too much with The Lord of the Rings as it developed, this was obviously an ending Tolkien was very much attached to.
That meant that the sequel to The Hobbit, which the publisher specifically wanted to be about hobbits, had to feature a relative of Bilbo rather than Bilbo himself, and Tolkien had initially intended for this to be “one of his descendants.” In order to have descendants, Bilbo was going to have to have Relations, and being a fairly devout early 20th-century Roman Catholic, for Tolkien, that meant marriage. And so Bilbo’s speech on what was initially his seventieth birthday went, “Goodbye! I am going away after dinner. Also I am going away to get married.” And then he went off to have “many children.”
Aragorn Was Once a Hobbit Called Trotter With Wooden Shoes
Tolkien’s initial description of the mysterious person the hobbits meet at The Prancing Pony Inn at Bree was “a queer-looking, brown-faced hobbit” and “remarkably, he had wooden shoes!” Butterbur tells Bingo (later Frodo) that round there he’s known as Trotter, and that you can hear him coming if he walks on the road (though he doesn’t, usually).
The character slowly evolved from that point. At one point his true identity was to be a hobbit called Peregrin Boffin, who had run off and ended up in Mordor many years before. Then he becomes a human, and a Ranger, then he gains a connection with the Ring. After a brief flirtation with the idea that he was an elf in disguise, he finally gains his human identity as Aragorn and loses the wooden shoes, but it took an extraordinarily long time for Tolkien to come to the conclusion that “Trotter” really was not suitable, even as a nickname, for such a serious character, and he was finally re-named “Strider” for the early part of the story, until his true identity was revealed.
Boromir Was Going to Betray the Others to Saruman
This one is perhaps a bit less surprising, but Boromir’s moment of weakness when he attacks Frodo and tries to take the Ring was at one point going to lead to a much bigger betrayal. In one story outline, when the remaining members of the Fellowship got to Minas Tirith and the Lord of Minas Tirith is killed, Aragorn was to be chosen as “their chief”. Boromir, “jealous and enraged,” and not yet established as the Lord’s son, was to desert to Saruman, wanting to get a lordship.
Treebeard Was an Evil Giant
When Tolkien first had Gandalf explain to Frodo why he had not met up with him as arranged on September 22nd, Gandalf explained that he had been held captive by “the Giant Treebeard”, who had caught him in Fangorn. In another scrap of a draft, Frodo is to meet with Treebeard, who “pretends to be friendly, but is really in league with the Enemy.” This didn’t last long, though – Treebeard had become “kindly and rather good” long before the story was altered to have Merry and Pippin meet him rather than Frodo.
Aragorn Was Going to Love Éowyn Back, But She Died
Éowyn was a shieldmaiden who rode into battle from early on, but earlier drafts have her riding openly as a female warrior rather than disguising herself as a man. Aragorn (who is still being referred to as “Trotter” by Merry) returned her feelings, but she and Théoden were both killed while taking down the Nazgûl King, the chief of the Black Riders. Aragorn, of course, ended up marrying Elrond’s daughter (then named Finduilas) in an echo of Tolkien’s earlier story of the mortal Beren and the half-Elven and half-Maia Lúthien. Éowyn was spared from death in the end, which left her sitting around the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith at the same time as Faramir, giving us her happy ending as we have it in the final book, though her love for Aragorn stayed even when his for her was written out.
Sam Was Headed For the Crack of Doom With Gollum
Tolkien knew from very early on that Frodo would be unable to destroy the Ring and that Gollum would take it and fall in with it. But exactly how Gollum ended up plunging into the fire was more of a point of contention. One of Tolkien’s main ideas was that Sam, who had been delayed getting up the Mountain, would arrive just in time to push Gollum into the fire. This appears a few times – but Tolkien also considered at one point having Sam push Gollum in and fall in after him himself, possibly to make the climax more heroic-sacrifice and less murder-y. Thankfully that idea was rejected fairly quickly – a lot more quickly than some of those original names…
The Lord of the Rings Once Had an Adorable Epilogue
This last one doesn’t change anything about the plot of The Lord of the Rings; it just gives the reader a glimpse into Sam’s future life (having been spared from going down the Crack of Doom with Gollum) without having to scrabble around in the Appendices.
From Pride and Prejudice to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it’s not uncommon for novels to have an Epilogue or a final cool-down chapter which allows the reader to follow beloved characters further into the future and see some of the details of their happy (or not-so-happy) endings. And so it’s a shame Tolkien was persuaded not to include this very sweet scene in which Sam tells his children that the King is coming and they will get to meet him on the borders of the Shire. Though dedicated readers can still learn something of Sam’s future life from Appendix C (family trees – he and Rosie had 13 children!) and Appendix B (a timeline – revealing that, as the last of the Ringbearers, Sam eventually went West to re-join Frodo after Rosie’s death). So that’s nice.
You can read Tolkien’s drafts for The Hobbit in John D. Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit, and his drafts for The Lord of the Rings in Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle-earth, Volumes 6-9.