THE Hobbit is the latest must-see film bursting on to our cinema screens this Christmas.

The film tells the story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to help the dwarves reclaim their lost city.

It has already set a box office record with the biggest December opening ever in the US, beating the three previous Lord of the Rings films with a haul of 84.8 million dollars (£52.4 million).

But had it not been for a chance visit to Worcestershire more than half a century ago by novelist J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit may never have been made.

The career of the author, who also wrote of The Lord of the Rings, was almost over before it began.

The story goes back to a warm summer’s day in Malvern in August 1952, when Tolkien paid a visit to an old friend who lived in the town.

According to a report in the Malvern Gazette, the author had become depressed by the refusal of publishers to print the book on which he had spent a decade and a half.

In an attempt to lift his gloom, Tolkien arrived at the home of George Sayer, who taught at Malvern College for many years.

The newspaper story went on: “By day, they tramped the hills and Tolkien compared them with his own creation, the White Mountains of Gondor.

“At night, to entertain him, Mr Sayer brought out a tape recorder, for Tolkien had never seen one before. He was fascinated and asked if he might record some of the poems in The Lord of the Rings to find out how they sound to other people.

“He recorded several long passages and, when he heard them played back, his confidence in thework returned.”

Mr Sayer also did Tolkien another favour by recommending that he approach the publisher Rayner Unwin.

Unwin took the book and by the time Tolkien died in 1973, it had sold three million copies. It has, of course, sold many times that number since.

Mr Sayer survived his old friend by many years, dying in 2005. This latest adaption of Tolkien, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, has opened to rave reviews.

From Academy Awardwinning filmmaker Peter Jackson, it is the first of a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece.

The three films tell a continuous story set in Middle Earth 60 years before The Lord of the Rings.

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of 13 dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield.

Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever...Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s precious ring.