The Lord of the Rings
The first single volume edition (1968)
|Author||J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Publisher||George Allen & Unwin (UK)|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Hobbit|
|Followed by||The Adventures of Tom Bombadil|
The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel written by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.
The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron,[note 1] who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, not only the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took, but also the hobbits' chief allies and travelling companions: the Men Aragorn son of Arathorn, a Ranger of the North, and Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; Gimli son of Glóin, a Dwarf warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard.
The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set, the other to be The Silmarillion, but this idea was dismissed by his publisher. For economic reasons The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. The three volumes were titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Structurally, the novel is divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material included at the end of the third volume. Some editions combine the entire work into a single volume. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into 38 languages.
Tolkien's work has been the subject of extensive analysis of its themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story was only the last movement of a larger epic Tolkien had worked on since 1917, in a process he described as mythopoeia. Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, religion and the author's distaste for the effects of industrialization, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I. These inspirations and themes have often been denied by Tolkien himself. The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great effect on modern fantasy; the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" have been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien's works, and the publication of many books about Tolkien and his works. The Lord of the Rings has inspired, and continues to inspire, artwork, music, films and television, video games, and subsequent literature. Award-winning adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and film. In 2003, it was named Britain's best-loved novel of all time in the BBC's The Big Read.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Main characters
- 3 Concept and creation
- 4 Publication history
- 5 Reception
- 6 Themes
- 7 Adaptations
- 8 Legacy
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Thousands of years before the events of the novel, the Dark Lord Sauron had forged the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power and corrupt those who wore them: the leaders of Men, Elves and Dwarves. Sauron was defeated by an alliance of Elves and Men led by Gil-galad and Elendil, respectively. Isildur, son of Elendil, cut the One Ring from Sauron's finger, causing Sauron to lose his physical form. Isildur claimed the Ring as an heirloom for his line, but when he was later ambushed and killed by the Orcs, the Ring was lost in the River Anduin at Gladden Fields.
Over two thousand years later, the Ring was found by one of the river-folk called Déagol. His friend Sméagol fell under the Ring's influence and strangled Déagol to acquire it. Sméagol was banished and hid under the Misty Mountains. The Ring gave him long life and changed him over hundreds of years into a twisted, corrupted creature called Gollum. Gollum lost the Ring, his "precious", and as told in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins found it. Meanwhile, Sauron assumed a new form and took back his old realm of Mordor. When Gollum set out in search of the Ring, he was captured and tortured by Sauron. Sauron learned from Gollum that "Baggins" of the Shire had taken the Ring. Gollum was set loose. Sauron, who needed the Ring to regain his full power, sent forth his powerful servants, the Nazgûl, to seize it.
The Fellowship of the Ring
The story begins in the Shire, where the hobbit Frodo Baggins inherits the Ring from Bilbo Baggins, his cousin[note 2] and guardian. Neither hobbit is aware of the Ring's nature, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard and an old friend of Bilbo, suspects it to be Sauron's Ring. After Gandalf confirms his suspicions, he tells Frodo the history of the Ring and counsels him to take the Ring away from the Shire. Frodo leaves the Shire, in the company of his gardener and friend, Samwise ("Sam") Gamgee, and two cousins, Meriadoc Brandybuck, called Merry, and Peregrin Took, called Pippin. They are nearly caught by the Black Riders while in the Shire, but they shake off pursuit by cutting through the Old Forest. There, they are aided by Tom Bombadil, a strange and merry fellow who lives with his wife Goldberry in the forest. Surprisingly, the Ring has no power over him.
The Hobbits leave the Old Forest and reach the town of Bree, where Gandalf is expected to meet them. Instead, they meet a Ranger named Strider, whom Gandalf had mentioned in a letter. Strider persuades the hobbits to take him on as their guide and protector. Together, they leave Bree after another close escape from the Black Riders. On the hill of Weathertop, they are again attacked by the Black Riders, who wound Frodo with a cursed blade. Strider fights off the Black Riders with fire and leads the hobbits towards the Elven refuge of Rivendell. Frodo falls deathly sick from the wound. The Black Riders nearly overtake Frodo at the Ford of Bruinen, but flood waters summoned by Elrond, master of Rivendell, rise up and overwhelm them.
Frodo recovers in Rivendell under the care of Elrond. The Council of Elrond speaks of the history of Sauron and the Ring. Strider is revealed to be Aragorn, the heir of Isildur. Gandalf reveals that Sauron has corrupted Saruman, chief of the wizards. The Council decides that the Ring must be destroyed, but that can only be done by sending it to the Fire of Mount Doom in Mordor, where it was forged. Frodo takes this task upon himself. Elrond, with the advice of Gandalf, chooses companions for him. The Company of the Ring are nine in number: Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, and the Man Boromir, son of the Ruling Steward Denethor of the land of Gondor.
After a failed attempt to cross the Misty Mountains through the Redhorn Pass across the flank of Caradhras, the Company are forced to try a dangerous path through the Mines of Moria. They are attacked by the Watcher in the Water before the doors of Moria. Inside Moria, they learn of the fate of Balin and his colony of Dwarves. After surviving an attack, they are pursued by Orcs and by an ancient demon called a Balrog. Gandalf faces the Balrog, and both of them fall into the abyss. The others escape and find refuge in the Elven forest of Lothlórien, where they are counselled by Galadriel and Celeborn.
With boats and gifts from Galadriel, the Company travel down the River Anduin to the hill of Amon Hen. Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, but Frodo puts on the Ring and disappears. The Company is scattered in the panic to find Frodo, and they are attacked by Orcs. Frodo chooses to go alone to Mordor. Sam guesses Frodo's mind, and goes with him.
The Two Towers
Orcs sent by Saruman and Sauron kill Boromir and take Merry and Pippin. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas debate amongst themselves which pair of hobbits to follow. They decide to follow the Orcs bearing Merry and Pippin to Saruman. In the kingdom of Rohan, the Orcs are slain by a company of the Rohirrim. Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn Forest, where they are befriended by Treebeard, the oldest of the tree-like Ents. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track the hobbits to Fangorn. There they unexpectedly meet Gandalf. Gandalf explains that he slew the Balrog; darkness took him, but he was sent back (to Middle-earth). He is clothed in white and is now "Gandalf the White", for he has taken Saruman's place as the chief of the wizards. Gandalf assures his friends that Merry and Pippin are safe. Together they ride to Edoras, capital of Rohan. Gandalf frees Théoden, King of Rohan, from the influence of Saruman's spy Gríma Wormtongue. Théoden musters his fighting strength and rides with his men to the ancient fortress of Helm's Deep, while Gandalf departs to seek help from Treebeard.
Meanwhile, the Ents, roused by Merry and Pippin from their peaceful ways, attack Isengard, Saruman's stronghold, and trap the wizard in the tower of Orthanc. Gandalf convinces Treebeard to send an army of Huorns to Théoden's aid. Gandalf brings an army of Rohirrim to Helm's Deep, and they defeat the Orcs, who flee into the waiting shadow of the trees. Gandalf visits Saruman, offering him a chance to turn away from evil. When Saruman refuses to listen, Gandalf strips him of his rank and most of his powers. Pippin picks up a palantír, a seeing-stone that Saruman used to speak with Sauron and through which Saruman was ensnared, and is seen by Sauron. Gandalf rides for Minas Tirith, chief city of Gondor, taking Pippin with him.
Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, who had been following them from Moria. They force him to guide them to Mordor. They find that the Black Gate of Mordor is too well guarded, so instead they travel to a secret way Gollum knows. On the way, they encounter Faramir, who, unlike his brother Boromir, resists the temptation to seize the Ring. He provides Frodo and Sam with food. Gollum — who is torn between his loyalty to Frodo and his desire for the Ring — betrays Frodo by leading him to the great spider Shelob in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol. Frodo falls when pierced by Shelob's sting. But with the help of Galadriel's gifts, Sam fights off the spider. Believing Frodo to be dead, Sam takes the Ring in the hope of finishing the quest alone. Orcs find Frodo, and from their words Sam becomes aware that Frodo is yet alive. The Orcs take Frodo's body, and Sam chases after them, entering Mordor alone.
The Return of the King
Sauron sends a great army against Gondor. Gandalf arrives at Minas Tirith to warn Denethor of the attack, while Théoden leads the Rohirrim to the aid of Gondor. Minas Tirith is besieged. Denethor is deceived by Sauron and falls into despair. He burns himself alive on a pyre, nearly taking his son Faramir with him. Aragorn, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli and the Rangers of the North, takes the Paths of the Dead in the hopes of bringing the Dead to his aid, for the Dead Men of Dunharrow are bound by a curse by which they are given no rest until they fulfil their oath to fight for the King of Gondor. With the coming of Aragorn, the Army of the Dead fulfil their oath and strike terror into the Corsairs of Umbar invading southern Gondor. Aragorn defeats the Corsairs and takes their ships, which he uses to bring the men of southern Gondor up the Anduin, coming just in time to the aid of Minas Tirith. Éowyn, Théoden's niece whom he loves as a daughter, slays the Lord of the Nazgûl with help from Merry. Théoden is slain and Éowyn and Merry are injured. Together Gondor and Rohan defeat Sauron's army in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Meanwhile, Sam rescues Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol. They set out across Mordor. Aragorn leads an army of men from Gondor and Rohan to march on the Black Gate of Mordor, so as to distract Sauron from his true danger. His army is vastly outnumbered by the great might of Sauron. Frodo and Sam reach the edge of the Cracks of Doom, but Frodo cannot resist the Ring any longer. Frodo claims the Ring for himself and puts it on his finger. Gollum suddenly reappears, having caught up with the hobbits. He struggles with Frodo and bites off Frodo's finger with the Ring on it. Celebrating wildly, Gollum loses his footing and falls into the Fire, taking the Ring with him. The Ring is destroyed, and Sauron loses his power forever. The Nazgûl perish, and Sauron's armies are thrown into such disarray that Aragorn's forces emerge victorious.
Aragorn is crowned Elessar, King of Arnor and Gondor, and weds Arwen, daughter of Elrond. The four hobbits make their way back to the Shire, only to find out that the Shire has been enslaved by bad men. The hobbits raise a rebellion and overthrow the men, who turn out to be led by Saruman. Frodo does not allow the hobbits to kill Saruman, but Gríma turns on Saruman and kills him in front of Bag End (Frodo's hobbit-hole). He is slain in turn by hobbit archers, and the War of the Ring comes to its true end on Frodo's very doorstep.
Merry and Pippin are celebrated as heroes. Sam marries Rosie Cotton and uses his gifts from Galadriel to help heal the Shire. But Frodo is still wounded in body and spirit, having borne the Ring for so long.
In the appendices, Sam gives his daughter Elanor the Red Book of Westmarch, which contains the story of Bilbo's adventures and the War of the Ring as told by the hobbits. Sam is then said to have crossed west over the Sea himself, the last of the Ring-bearers.
Some characters in The Lord of the Rings are unequivocal protagonists, and others are absolute antagonists. However despite criticism that the book's characters "are all either black or white", some of the 'good' characters have darker sides that feature in the story, and likewise some of the villains have "good impulses". Therefore the categorization of characters as either 'protagonists' or 'antagonists' below indicates their general role in the story.
- The Company of the Ring:
- Frodo Baggins, bearer of the One Ring, given to him by Bilbo Baggins
- Samwise Gamgee, gardener and friend of the Bagginses
- Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry), Frodo's cousin and friend
- Peregrin Took (Pippin or Pip), Frodo's cousin and friend
- Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, leads the Fellowship until his fall in Moria, returns from death as Gandalf the White to lead the armies of the West against Sauron
- Aragorn, descendant of Isildur and rightful heir to the thrones of Arnor and Gondor
- Legolas Greenleaf, an Elf prince and son of King Thranduil of the Silvan Elves of Northern Mirkwood
- Gimli, son of Glóin, a dwarf
- Boromir, the eldest son and heir of Denethor
- Denethor, ruling Steward of Gondor and Lord of Minas Tirith
- Faramir, younger son of Denethor
- Galadriel, Elf co-ruler of Lothlórien, and grandmother of Arwen
- Celeborn, Elf co-ruler of Lothlórien, husband of Galadriel, and grandfather of Arwen
- Elrond Half-Elven, Half-elven Lord of Rivendell and father of Arwen
- Arwen Undómiel, daughter of Elrond, love interest of Aragorn
- Bilbo Baggins, Frodo's cousin[note 2]
- Théoden, King of Rohan, ally of Gondor
- Éomer, the 3rd Marshal of the Mark and Théoden's nephew. Later King of Rohan after Théoden's death.
- Éowyn, sister of Éomer, who disguises herself as a male warrior named Dernhelm to fight beside Théoden
- Treebeard, oldest of the Ents
- Sauron, the Dark Lord and titular Lord of the Rings, a fallen Maia who helped the Elves forge the Rings of Power in the Second Age.
- The Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, men enslaved by Sauron when they accepted his treacherous gifts of Rings of Power
- The Witch-king of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl, and Sauron's most powerful servant, who commands Sauron's army
- Saruman the White, a wizard who seeks the One Ring for himself. Originally the chief of the order of wizards of which Gandalf is also a member; corrupted by Sauron through the palantír.
- Gríma Wormtongue, a secret servant of Saruman and traitor to Rohan, who poisons Théoden's perceptions with well placed "advice"
- Gollum, a river hobbit originally named Sméagol
- Shelob, a giant spider who dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul
- Durin's Bane, a Balrog dwelling beneath the Mines of Moria
Concept and creation
The Lord of the Rings started as a sequel to J. R. R. Tolkien's work The Hobbit, published in 1937. The popularity of The Hobbit had led George Allen & Unwin, the publishers, to request a sequel. Tolkien warned them that he wrote quite slowly, and responded with several stories he had already developed. Having rejected his contemporary drafts for The Silmarillion, putting on hold Roverandom, and accepting Farmer Giles of Ham, Allen & Unwin thought more stories about hobbits would be popular. So at the age of 45, Tolkien began writing the story that would become The Lord of the Rings. The story would not be finished until 12 years later, in 1949, and would not be fully published until 1955, when Tolkien was 63 years old.
Persuaded by his publishers, he started "a new Hobbit" in December 1937. After several false starts, the story of the One Ring emerged. The idea for the first chapter ("A Long-Expected Party") arrived fully formed, although the reasons behind Bilbo's disappearance, the significance of the Ring, and the title The Lord of the Rings did not arrive until the spring of 1938. Originally, he planned to write a story in which Bilbo had used up all his treasure and was looking for another adventure to gain more; however, he remembered the Ring and its powers and thought that would be a better focus for the new work. As the story progressed, he also brought in elements from 'The Silmarillion' mythology.
Writing was slow, because Tolkien had a full-time academic position, and needed to earn further money as a university examiner. Tolkien abandoned The Lord of the Rings during most of 1943 and only restarted it in April 1944, as a serial for his son Christopher Tolkien, who was sent chapters as they were written while he was serving in South Africa with the Royal Air Force. Tolkien made another concerted effort in 1946, and showed the manuscript to his publishers in 1947. The story was effectively finished the next year, but Tolkien did not complete the revision of earlier parts of the work until 1949. The original manuscripts, which total 9,250 pages, now reside in the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at Marquette University.
The influence of the Welsh language, which Tolkien had learned, is summarized in his essay English and Welsh: "If I may once more refer to my work. The Lord of the Rings, in evidence: the names of persons and places in this story were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it."
The Lord of the Rings developed as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion (particularly Roman Catholicism), fairy tales, Norse and general Germanic mythology, and also Celtic,[better source needed] Slavic, Persian, Greek, and Finnish mythology. Tolkien acknowledged, and external critics have verified, the influences of George MacDonald and William Morris and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. The question of a direct influence of Wagner's The Nibelung's Ring on Tolkien's work is debated by critics.
Tolkien included neither any explicit religion nor cult in his work. Rather the themes, moral philosophy, and cosmology of The Lord of the Rings reflect his Catholic worldview. In one of his letters Tolkien states, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."
Some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Birmingham, where he first lived near Sarehole Mill, and later near Edgbaston Reservoir. There are also hints of the Black Country, which is within easy reach of north west Edgbaston. This shows in such names as "Underhill", and the description of Saruman's industrialization of Isengard and The Shire. It has also been suggested that The Shire and its surroundings were based on the countryside around Stonyhurst College in Lancashire where Tolkien frequently stayed during the 1940s. The work was influenced by the effects of his military service during World War I, to the point that Frodo has been "diagnosed" as suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or "shell-shock", which was first diagnosed at the Battle of the Somme, at which Tolkien served.
A dispute with his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, led to the book being offered to Collins in 1950. Tolkien intended The Silmarillion (itself largely unrevised at this point) to be published along with The Lord of the Rings, but A&U were unwilling to do this. After Milton Waldman, his contact at Collins, expressed the belief that The Lord of the Rings itself "urgently wanted cutting", Tolkien eventually demanded that they publish the book in 1952. Collins did not; and so Tolkien wrote to Allen and Unwin, saying, "I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff."
For publication, the book was divided into three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring (Books I and II), The Two Towers (Books III and IV), and The Return of the King (Books V and VI plus six appendices). This was due largely to post-war paper shortages, as well as being a way to keep down the price of the book. Delays in producing appendices, maps and especially an index led to the volumes being published later than originally hoped — on 29 July 1954, on 11 November 1954 and on 20 October 1955 respectively in the United Kingdom, and slightly later in the United States. The Return of the King was especially delayed. Tolkien did not like the title The Return of the King, believing it gave away too much of the storyline. Nor, moreover, was he happy with the title The Two Towers, as he felt that books III and IV were not really related, and as such the eponymous towers could be either Orthanc and Barad-dûr, or Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr, or Orthanc and Cirith Ungol. Tolkien was, in fact, opposed from the outset to titles being given to each volume, preferring instead the use of the book titles: i.e. The Lord of the Rings: Vol. 1, The Ring Sets Out and The Ring Goes South; Vol. 2, The Treason of Isengard and The Ring Goes East; Vol. 3, The War of the Ring and The End of the Third Age. However, due to pressure from his publishers, Tolkien considered the titles: Vol. 1, The Shadow Grows; Vol. 2, The Ring in the Shadow; Vol. 3, The War of the Ring or The Return of the King.
The books were published under a profit-sharing arrangement, whereby Tolkien would not receive an advance or royalties until the books had broken even, after which he would take a large share of the profits. It has ultimately become one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.
Editions and revisions
In the early 1960s Donald A. Wollheim, science fiction editor of the paperback publisher Ace Books, claimed that The Lord of the Rings was not protected in the United States under American copyright law because Houghton Mifflin, the US hardcover publisher, had neglected to copyright the work in the United States. Ace Books then proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorized by Tolkien and without paying royalties to him. Tolkien took issue with this and quickly notified his fans of this objection. Grass-roots pressure from these fans became so great that Ace Books withdrew their edition and made a nominal payment to Tolkien. Authorized editions followed from Ballantine Books and Houghton Mifflin to tremendous commercial success. By the mid-1960s the novel had become a cultural phenomenon. Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would be published with his consent and establish an unquestioned US copyright. This text became the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, published in 1965. Houghton Mifflin editions after 1994 consolidate variant revisions by Tolkien, and corrections supervised by Christopher Tolkien, which resulted, after some initial glitches, in a computer-based unified text.
Posthumous publication of drafts
From 1988 to 1992 Christopher Tolkien published the surviving drafts of The Lord of The Rings, chronicling and illuminating with commentary the stages of the text's development, in volumes 6–9 of his History of Middle-earth series. The four volumes carry the titles The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring, and Sauron Defeated.
The novel has been translated, with various degrees of success, into at least 38 languages. Tolkien, an expert in philology, examined many of these translations, and made comments on each that reflect both the translation process and his work. As he was unhappy with some choices made by early translators, such as the Swedish translation by Åke Ohlmarks, Tolkien wrote a "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings" (1967). Because The Lord of the Rings purports to be a translation of the fictitious Red Book of Westmarch, with the English language representing the Westron of the "original", Tolkien suggested that translators attempt to capture the interplay between English and the invented nomenclature of the English work, and gave several examples along with general guidance.
While early reviews for The Lord of the Rings were mixed, reviews in various media have been, on the whole, highly positive and acknowledge Tolkien's literary achievement as a significant one. The initial review in the Sunday Telegraph described it as "among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century". The Sunday Times echoed this sentiment, stating that "the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them". The New York Herald Tribune also seemed to have an idea of how popular the books would become, writing in its review that they were "destined to outlast our time". W. H. Auden, an admirer of Tolkien's writings, regarded The Lord of the Rings as a "masterpiece", further stating that in some cases it outdid the achievement of John Milton's Paradise Lost.
New York Times reviewer Judith Shulevitz criticized the "pedantry" of Tolkien's literary style, saying that he "formulated a high-minded belief in the importance of his mission as a literary preservationist, which turns out to be death to literature itself". Critic Richard Jenkyns, writing in The New Republic, criticized the work for a lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fibre". Even within Tolkien's literary group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson complained loudly at its readings. However, another Inkling, C. S. Lewis, had very different feelings, writing, "here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart." Despite these reviews and its lack of paperback printing until the 1960s, The Lord of the Rings initially sold well in hardback.
In 1957, The Lord of the Rings was awarded the International Fantasy Award. Despite its numerous detractors, the publication of the Ace Books and Ballantine paperbacks helped The Lord of the Rings become immensely popular in the United States in the 1960s. The book has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, judged by both sales and reader surveys. In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted in Britain by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's best-loved book". In similar 2004 polls both Germany and Australia also found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite book. In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium". The Lord of the Rings was awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2009.
Although The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s, Tolkien insisted that the One Ring was not an allegory for the atomic bomb, nor were his works a strict allegory of any kind, but were open to interpretation as the reader saw fit.
A few critics have found what they consider to be racial elements in the story, generally based upon their views of how Tolkien's imagery depicts good and evil, characters' race (e.g. Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, Southron, Númenórean, Orc); and that the character's race is seen as determining their behaviour. Counter-arguments note that race-focused critiques often omit relevant textual evidence to the contrary, cite imagery from adaptations rather than the work itself; ignore the absence of evidence of racist attitudes or events in the author's personal life and claim that the perception of racism is itself a marginal view.
Critics have also seen social class rather than race as being the determining factor in the portrayal of good and evil. Commentators such as science fiction author David Brin have interpreted the work to hold unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure. In his essay "Epic Pooh", science fiction and fantasy author Michael Moorcock critiques the world-view displayed by the book as deeply conservative, in both the 'paternalism' of the narrative voice and the power-structures in the narrative. Tom Shippey cites the origin of this portrayal of evil as a reflection of the prejudices of European middle-classes during the inter-war years towards the industrial working class.
The Lord of the Rings has been adapted for film, radio and stage.
The book has been adapted for radio four times. In 1955 and 1956, the BBC broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a 12-part radio adaptation of the story. In the 1960s radio station WBAI produced a short radio adaptation. A 1979 dramatization of The Lord of the Rings was broadcast in the United States and subsequently issued on tape and CD. In 1981, the BBC broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a new dramatization in 26 half-hour instalments. This dramatization of The Lord of the Rings has subsequently been made available on both tape and CD both by the BBC and other publishers. For this purpose it is generally edited into 13 one-hour episodes.
Two film adaptations of the book have been made. The first was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1978), by animator Ralph Bakshi, the first part of what was originally intended to be a two-part adaptation of the story; it covers The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers. A three-issue comic book version of the movie was also published in Europe (but not printed in English), with illustrations by Luis Bermejo. When Bakshi's investors shied away of financing the second film that would complete the story, the remainder of the story was covered in an animated television special by Rankin-Bass. Stylistically, the two segments are very different. The second and more critically and commercially successful adaptation was Peter Jackson's live action The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, produced by New Line Cinema and released in three instalments as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). All three parts won multiple Academy Awards, including consecutive Best Picture nominations. The final instalment of this trilogy was the second film to break the one-billion-dollar barrier and won a total of 11 Oscars (something only two other films in history, Ben-Hur and Titanic, have accomplished), including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 1990, Recorded Books published an audio version of The Lord of the Rings, with British actor Rob Inglis – who had previously starred in his own one-man stage productions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – reading. A large-scale musical theatre adaptation, The Lord of the Rings was first staged in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2006 and opened in London in May 2007.
Influences on the fantasy genre
The enormous popularity of Tolkien's epic saga greatly expanded the demand for fantasy fiction. Largely thanks to The Lord of the Rings, the genre flowered throughout the 1960s, and enjoys popularity to the present day. The opus has spawned many imitators, such as The Sword of Shannara, which Lin Carter called "the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read". Dungeons & Dragons, which popularized the role-playing game (RPG) genre in the 1970s, features many races found in The Lord of the Rings, most notably halflings (another term for hobbits), elves (who are distinct from dark elves, following Tolkien's example), dwarves, half-elves, orcs, and dragons. However, Gary Gygax, lead designer of the game, maintained that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings, stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity the work enjoyed at the time he was developing the game.
Because D&D has gone on to influence many popular role-playing video games, the influence of The Lord of the Rings extends to many of them as well, with titles such as Dragon Quest, the Ultima series, EverQuest, the Warcraft series, and the Elder Scrolls series of games as well as video games set in Middle-earth itself.
Research also suggests that some consumers of fantasy games derive their motivation from trying to create an epic fantasy narrative which is influenced by The Lord of the Rings.
In 1965, songwriter Donald Swann, who was best known for his collaboration with Michael Flanders as Flanders & Swann, set six poems from The Lord of the Rings and one from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil ("Errantry") to music. When Swann met with Tolkien to play the songs for his approval, Tolkien suggested for "Namárië" (Galadriel's lament) a setting reminiscent of plain chant, which Swann accepted. The songs were published in 1967 as The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle, and a recording of the songs performed by singer William Elvin with Swann on piano was issued that same year by Caedmon Records as Poems and Songs of Middle Earth.
In 1988, Dutch composer and trombonist Johan de Meij completed his Symphony No. 1 "The Lord of the Rings", which encompassed 5 movements, titled "Gandalf", "Lothlórien", "Gollum", "Journey in the Dark", and "Hobbits". In 1989 the symphony was awarded the Sudler Composition Award, awarded biennially for best wind band composition. The Danish Tolkien Ensemble have released a number of albums that feature the complete poems and songs of The Lord of the Rings set to music, with some featuring recitation by Christopher Lee.
Rock bands of the 1970s were musically and lyrically inspired by the fantasy embracing counter-culture of the time; British 70s rock band Led Zeppelin recorded several songs that contain explicit references to The Lord of the Rings ("Ramble On","Misty Mountain Hop", "The Battle of Evermore", and "Over the Hills and Far Away"). In 1970, the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental concept album based on the book titled Sagan om ringen (translated as "The Saga of the Ring", which was the title of the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings at the time). The album was subsequently released internationally as Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings in 1972. The songs "Rivendell" and "The Necromancer" by the progressive rock band Rush were inspired by Tolkien. Styx also paid homage to Tolkien on their "Pieces of Eight" album with the song "Lords of the Ring", while Black Sabbath's song, "The Wizard", which appeared on their debut album, was influenced by Tolkien's hero, Gandalf. The heavy metal band Cirith Ungol took their name from a mountain pass in Middle-earth. Progressive rock group Camel paid homage to the text in their lengthy composition "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider", and Progressive rock band Barclay James Harvest was inspired by the character Galadriel to write a song by that name, and used "Bombadil", the name of another character, as a pseudonym under which their 1972 single "Breathless"/"When the City Sleeps" was released; there are other references scattered through the BJH oeuvre.
Later, from the 1980s to the present day, many heavy metal acts have been influenced by Tolkien. Blind Guardian has written many songs relating to Middle-earth, including the full concept album Nightfall in Middle Earth. Almost the entire discography of Battlelore are Tolkien-themed. Summoning's music is based upon Tolkien and holds the distinction of the being the only artist to have crafted a song entirely in the Black Speech of Mordor. Gorgoroth and Amon Amarth take their names from an area of Mordor, and Burzum take their name from the Black Speech of Mordor. The Finnish metal band Nightwish and the Norwegian metal band Tristania have also incorporated many Tolkien references into their music. A Swedish metal band, Sabaton, based their song "Shadows" on the nine ring wraiths. American heavy metal band Megadeth released two song titled This Day We Fight! and How the Story Ends which were both inspired by the Lord of the Rings series. German folk metal band Eichenschild is named for Thorin Oakenshield, and naturally has a number of Tolkien-themed songs. They are not to be confused with the 70s folk rock band Thorin Eichenschild.
Enya wrote an instrumental piece called "Lothlórien" in 1991, and composed two songs for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring—"May It Be" (sung in English and Quenya) and "Aníron" (sung in Sindarin).
Impact on popular culture
The Lord of the Rings has had a profound and wide-ranging impact on popular culture, beginning with its publication in the 1950s, but especially throughout the 1960s and 1970s, during which time young people embraced it as a countercultural saga. "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President" were two phrases popular amongst United States Tolkien fans during this time.
Parodies like the Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings, the VeggieTales episode "Lord of the Beans", the South Park episode "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers", the Futurama film "Bender's Game", The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "Lights! Camera! Danger!", The Big Bang Theory episode "The Precious Fragmentation", and the American Dad! episode "The Return of the Bling" are testimony to the work's continual presence in popular culture.
In 1969, Tolkien sold the merchandising rights to The Lord of The Rings (and The Hobbit) to United Artists under an agreement stipulating a lump sum payment of £10,000 plus a 7.5% royalty after costs, payable to Allen & Unwin and the author. In 1976, three years after the author's death, United Artists sold the rights to Saul Zaentz Company, who now trade as Tolkien Enterprises. Since then all "authorized" merchandise has been signed-off by Tolkien Enterprises, although the intellectual property rights of the specific likenesses of characters and other imagery from various adaptations is generally held by the adaptors. Outside any commercial exploitation from adaptations, from the late 1960s onwards there has been an increasing variety of original licensed merchandise, from posters and calendars created by illustrators such as Pauline Baynes and the Brothers Hildebrandt, to figurines and miniatures to computer, video, tabletop and role-playing games. Recent examples include the Spiel des Jahres award winning (for best use of literature in a game) board game The Lord of the Rings by Reiner Knizia and the Golden Joystick award-winning massively multiplayer online role-playing game, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar by Turbine, Inc..
The Lord of the Rings has been mentioned in numerous songs including The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins by Leonard Nimoy, Led Zeppelin's Misty Mountain Hop, Over the Hills and Far Away, Ramble On, and The Battle of Evermore, Genesis' song "Stagnation" (from Trespass, 1970) was about Gollum, and Argent included the song "Lothlorien" on the 1971 album Ring of Hands.
Steve Peregrin Took (born Stephen Ross Porter) of British rock band T. Rex took his name from the hobbit Peregrin Took (better known as Pippin). Took later recorded under the pseudonym 'Shagrat the Vagrant', before forming a band called Shagrat in 1970.
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There was a campaign against Ace, who, as a result, agreed to pay royalties, and not to print any more copies. But, as a result of being advised that he had lost his copyright, even before the Ace edition was issued, Tolkien began to revise The Lord of the Rings, so that there could be an authorised paperback which would be a new edition, and more importantly, a new edition for which he would still own the copyright. This was published by Ballentine [sic] Books in October 1965.
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- Tolkien website of Harper Collins (the British publisher)
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- The Encyclopedia of Arda: An Interactive Guide to the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Tolkien Library