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Rayner Unwin; Urged Publication of 'The Hobbit'

December 11, 2000

Rayner Stephens Unwin, 74, British publisher who recommended release of "The Hobbit," the J.R.R. Tolkien classic. Unwin became a publisher in 1968 after the death of his father, Sir Stanley Unwin. The company was then called George Allen & Unwin, which had been philosopher Bertrand Russell's publisher. When Rayner Unwin was only 10, his father asked him to read a manuscript about a fantasy world called Middle Earth, populated by hairy-footed creatures called hobbits. Unwin filed a reader's report to his father that said it was worthy of publication: "This book . . . should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9," he wrote, but noted that it might lose 1,000 pounds. Back came his father's now-famous reply: "If you believe it is a work of genius, then you may lose a thousand pounds." Unwin senior went ahead with publication in 1937. The Tolkien tale and its sequels went on to become top sellers, still in demand today. In addition to publishing, Unwin wrote nonfiction, including a 1954 biography of the poet John Clare. He also wrote a memoir of his company, which merged in 1985 with another house to form Unwin Hyman. That firm was bought in 1990 by HarperCollins and Unwin subsequently retired. On Nov. 23 at a hospice in Berkhamsted, England.

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