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Which edition of The Hobbit
has the best text?
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Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, The Annotated Hobbit, Revised Edition, 2002ISBN: 0618134700

Hardcover; 399 pages; Black and white illustrations; color insert.
The revised edition of The Annotated Hobbit contains much to entice any Tolkien fan, whether or not they already own the first edition.  This edition, being of slightly smaller dimensions (7.25" x 9.5" compared to the 1st ed's 8.75" x 11.25"), is more manageable to hold, yet still a sizable volume.  Of course it uses the most accurate and up-to-date text available.  Enhancements to the material include an extended introduction 25 pages in length, and an expanded section on runes in Appendix B.  Among the annotations are an explanation of the "two Thrains" revision, plus three early poems of Tolkien's, "Glip," "Progress in Bimble Town," and "The Dragon's Visit."  The notes on textual revisions which in the first edition were collected into Appendix A (and which include the original version of the conclusion of the riddle game from Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark), have been incorporated into the annotations throughout the book, allowing for direct and convenient comparisons while reading the main text.

Two special features of the new edition are an 8-page insert of color plates including illustrations by Tolkien and other artists; and a more extensive version of "The Quest of Erebor" than the one included in Unfinished Tales.  The inclusion of "The Quest of Erebor" here serves two purposes.  Ostensibly, it provides some background to The Hobbit, since it is Gandalf's explanation of how he arranged for the journey to Erebor and for Bilbo to accompany the dwarves.  On another level however, being that this work was composed during the later stages of completing The Lord of the Rings, the style of writing is more like LOTR than The Hobbit and therefore provides a suitable transition to prepare one for the writing style of LOTR even though it deals with events surrounding The Hobbit.  For readers new to Tolkien, this may be a first introduction to Tolkien's method of providing backstory, or Middle-Earth "lore."  Lastly, even the bibliography contains hidden treasures, namely  Section II sandwiched in the middle which discusses the various editions and revisions The Hobbit has gone through including a few examples of early cover designs.  An all-around delightful volume.

How does it compare to the first edition of The Annotated Hobbit?

Houghton Mifflin, paperback, 2002     ISBN: 0618260307

This latest paperback printing of The Hobbit incorporates Tolkien's original painting, "Conversation with Smaug."  This edition also includes the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring to further entice readers to go on to The Lord of the Rings.  It uses the same revised and corrected text as used in the one with the Peter Sís cover and which also appears in the new Annotated Hobbit.
Houghton Mifflin 2001
Hardcover:  ISBN 0618162216

Paperback:  ISBN 061815082X

This newer edition of The Hobbit (which the publisher refers to as the Young Adult Edition) features new cover artwork by Peter Sís and a Note on the Text by Douglas A. Anderson.  Anderson explains that in 1995, The Hobbit text was stored in a computer file and corrections have been made at various times since then.  For this newest edition, line-by-line comparisons have been made with earlier editions to achieve the best possible text.  The size of the hardcover edition (1.54in x 9.28in x 6.36in) is slightly larger than the classic 1978 edition.
Houghton Mifflin hardcover, 1978 "Classic" edition  ISBN: 0395071224
This edition has remained almost unchanged since first published in the U.S.  The paper dust jacket bears Tolkien's own cover art in green, blue, and black. This is the Tolkien book in print in the U.S. that stills features Tolkien's own artwork on the cover. The cover is full cloth, green with the title stamped in blue. The maps are printed as endpapers; Thror's Map inside the front cover, and the map of Wilderland inside the back cover. The book includes 8 of Tolkien's line drawings.  This is a good reading edition, due to its manageable size and its durability which will stand up to repeated readings.
Houghton Mifflin, illustrated by Michael Hague, 1984
Hardcover:  ISBN  0395362903

Paperback:  ISBN  0395520215

Similar in size to the Alan Lee edition, this volume, illustrated by Michael Hague, comes in a sturdy hardcover edition and a paperback edition which is the same size as the hardcover.  Both have same cover artwork, although the design of the covers differ slightly.  The hardcover is shown at left.
Houghton Mifflin hardcover Collector's Edition, 1973    ISBN: 0395177111
This larger size deluxe hardcover edition is bound in green textured leatherette with a matching slipcase.  It features gold and red foil rune stamping on the spine and cover.  The book is printed on high quality paper and in addition to the 8 usual line drawings, features 5 of Tolkien's watercolor paintings in full color. A very handsome and elegant edition of The Hobbit, it complements the style of the Collector's Edition of The Lord of the Rings.  The maps are printed inside the first two pages (Thror's map) and the last two pages (Wilderland).

In 1987, a limited 50th Anniversary Edition was produced with a gold textured leatherette cover and slipcase. The rune border on the cover and spine is stamped in green and red. To this edition was added a 16-page forward by Christopher Tolkien which includes a reproduction of one of three surviving pages of the original draft of the first chapter, and 6 of Tolkien's drawings and sketches, some of which were previously published in Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien and others which were unpublished at that time, but later appeared in Hammond and Scull's J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. It otherwise conforms to the Collector's Edition described above.

Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1997, illustrated by Alan Lee    ISBN: 0618002219
Dust jack illustration by Alan Lee. Cloth cover is green cover with gold lettering and stylized dragon design by JRR Tolkien.  Very sturdy.  Uses the 1978 A&U text with a few further minor corrections (e.g. 'hold' rather than 'hole' in Elrond's speech on the elf-swords).  Printed on high quality paper with color and black and white illustrations throughout.  The two-color maps are spread over two pages (causing some details to be hidden in the crease);  the Erebor map at the front of the book and the Wilderland map at the back.  In addition, an Alan Lee illustration showing the characters examining the Erebor map appears opposite the page where it appears in the text; much as Tolkien originally wanted the map to be presented.  Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of The Hobbit.
Houghton Mifflin trade paperback 1999     ISBN: 0618002219

Cover art by Alan Lee. Thror's Map is in the front, Wilderland map is in the back of the book. Includes Tolkien's line drawings as found in the regular hardcover edition, plus list of illustrations and a Note On The Text by Douglas A. Anderson. It is available alone or as part of a boxed set with The Lord of the Rings.
Ballantine/Del Rey paperback, 1999     ISBN: 0345339681

The cover art is by Ted Nasmith which was done for the 1999 edition. Typography and design have been changed slightly to match that of the new movie tie-in editions of the The Lord of the Rings.  It is available alone or as part of a boxed set with The Lord of the Rings.  Both maps are printed at the beginning of the book.
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