As promised in my New Years post, Cover Issues is back! And to start off just a slightly silly look at how many different covers of The Hobbit I managed to discover while working in my local branch of Waterstone’s over Christmas.
Covers 1-4: The Hobbit Display.
Cover 5: The Science Fiction/Fantasy Display
Cover 6: The Science Fiction/Fantasy Shelves.
Cover 7: The Children’s Display.
Cover 8: The Christmas Gift Table
So there we go. 8 different covers, 7 on prominent display. Most of them are actually pretty good, to be fair. The Clothbound cover is certainly gorgeous – though not I think one I would buy myself, far too ‘serious’ a cover for the type of book. The newer of the paperbacks is lovely as well, elegantly transforming elements of the first edition cover drawn by Tolkien (featured on the Anniversary and Pocket editions) into a smooth and modern design – would probably be my pick if I had to buy any. The older paperback’s not bad, but very generic ‘fantasy art’ which I can’t say I’m a huge fan of, can understand why they’re phasing it out. The Pocket Edition is almost perfect, certainly less cumbersome than the Anniversary Hardback, but that embossing on the front… Also a flick through revealed rather small and fiddly print – but for those with good eyesight it’s lovely and will fit in a pocket/handbag very easily. I really like the children’s cover as well, which I have to say surprised me – it’s obviously borrowed elements from the films and it kept being put on the wrong shelf with the film tie-in copy, but it has a sense of fun, style, and storytelling that’s completely lacking in the Martin Freeman one. There’s a sense of leaving the cosy home behind to go out into the wide world for an adventure, it’s actually rather lovely. The film tie-in, by contrast, is just a photograph of badly lit figure walking out of a door. Through admittedly better than many other film tie-ins I was subjected to over christmas it’s still a pretty lazy, crappy cover. As for the two-volume edition (shrink wrapped so I couldn’t see what each cover looked like) all I can say is ‘why?’ It’s really not a long book. Best guess is that one was probably envisaged when it was still going to be two films instead of three.
What really struck me though, apart from how unnecessary some of the editions were was that they were all coming from the same publishing company. This isn’t an out-of-copyright classic like Pride and Prejudice, or Dickens that anyone can print and whack on a different cover in an attempt to compete. The Hobbit is owned by HarperCollins. They could put out a single absolutely shit cover and people wanting the book would still have to buy it from them. So this really is just marketing – trying to appeal to as many sorts of readers as possible; collector’s/fans (all the hardbacks,the two-volume set, basically all the expensive ones), children/parents (the children’s cover), casual readers (the newer paperback moving away from ‘high fantasy’ art) and people with no taste who like to buy film tie-in covers. It’s annoying to shelve (I think my best friend got an incredulous text every time I discovered yet another new cover while unloading stock) and it risks irritating people who just want the damn book and don’t care what it looks like, or who do care but missed the cover they would have liked most in all the millionhundred editions in store. But I guess in the end (being a shameless cover whore myself) having the choice is nice – though I think HarperCollins has gone a bit overboard with it here.
Thing is…it’s Tolkien. People actually have reconstructive surgery on their ears they love his books so much. You just know that some
fucking weirdo fan almost certainly is going to buy the whole lot, and I can’t help but feel sorry for their wallet.