The Lord of the Rings

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

The Lord of the Rings
Cover design for the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings
Author J. R. R. Tolkien
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy novel
Publisher Allen & Unwin
Released 1954 and 1955
Media Type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 1216 pp
Preceded by The Hobbit

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by English academic J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier fantasy book The Hobbit and soon developed into a much larger story. It was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, with much of it being created during World War II. It was originally published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955 (much to Tolkien's annoyance, since he had intended it to be a single volume), and has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into at least 38 languages, becoming one of the most popular works in 20th-century literature.

The action in The Lord of the Rings is set in what the author conceived to be the lands of the real Earth, inhabited by humanity but placed in a fictional past, before our science but after the fall of his version of Atlantis, which he calls Númenor. Tolkien gave this setting a modern English name, Middle-earth, derived from the Old English Middangeard, the realm where humans live in Norse and related Germanic mythologies.

The story concerns peoples such as Hobbits, Elves, Men, Dwarves, Wizards, and Orcs and centres on the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. Starting from quiet beginnings in The Shire, the story ranges across Middle-earth and follows the courses of the War of the Ring. The main story is followed by six appendices that provide a wealth of historical and linguistic background material, as well as an index of characters, place names, and terms of note.

Along with Tolkien's other writings, The Lord of the Rings has been subjected to extensive analysis of its literary themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story is merely the last movement of a larger cycle, or legendarium, that Tolkien had worked on for many years since 1917. Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology and religion, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I. The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great impact on modern fantasy, and 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 immense and 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 a large number of books about Tolkien and his works being published. The Lord of the Rings has inspired (and continues to inspire) short stories, video games, artworks and musical works. Numerous adaptations of Tolkien's works have been made for a wide range of media. Adaptations of The Lord of the Rings in particular have been made for the radio, for the theatre, and for film. The 2001–2003 release of the widely acclaimed Lord of the Rings film trilogy prompted a new surge of interest in The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works.


The backstory begins thousands of years before the action in the book, with the rise of the eponymous Lord of the Rings, the Dark Lord Sauron, a malevolent incarnated immortal spiritual being possessed of great supernatural powers, later the ruler of the dreaded realm of Mordor. At the end of the First Age of Middle-earth, Sauron survived the catastrophic defeat and exile of his master, the original evil figure, Morgoth (who was formerly counted as one of the Valar, the angelic Powers of the world). During the Second Age, Sauron schemed to gain dominion over Middle-earth. In the guise of "Annatar" or Lord of Gifts, he aided the Elven-smiths of Eregion in the forging of magical rings which conferred various powers and effects on their wearers. The most important of these were nineteen, called the Rings of Power or Great Rings.

However, he then secretly forged a Great Ring of his own, the One Ring, by which he planned to enslave the wearers of the other Rings of Power. This plan failed when the Elves became aware of him and took off their Rings. Sauron then launched a war during which he captured sixteen and distributed them to lords and kings of Dwarves and Men; these Rings were known as the Seven and the Nine respectively. The Dwarf-lords proved too tough to enslave although their natural desire for wealth, especially gold, increased; this brought more conflict between them and other races. The Men who possessed the Nine were slowly corrupted over time and eventually became the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, Sauron's most feared servants. Sauron failed to capture Three, and these remained in the possession of the Elves ( Celebrimbor, leader of the Elven-smiths, had forged them independently of Sauron). The war ended as the Men of the great island-nation of Númenor helped the besieged Elves, and Sauron's forces retreated.

A map of Númenor (called Andor by the Elves).
A map of Númenor (called Andor by the Elves).

Over 1500 years later, the Númenóreans sent a great force to overthrow Sauron. Deserted by his minions, Sauron surrendered and was taken to Númenor as a "prisoner". Though taken a prisoner, such was his cunning and the strength of his will that in no time he was their King Ar-Pharazôn's closest counsellor. Sauron started to poison the minds of the Númenóreans against the Valar. He deceived Ar-Pharazôn into invading their lands, the Undying Lands, to gain the immortality of the Elves (many of the Elves had previously lived there, and many still did). However, upon reaching their destination, the King and his army were buried by a landslide. The Valar called upon Ilúvatar (God), who opened a great chasm in the sea, destroying Númenor, and removed the Undying Lands from the mortal world. The destruction of Númenor destroyed Sauron's fair and handsome physical body, but his spirit returned to Mordor and assumed a new form — black, burning hot (though he was not on fire), and terrible. Some Númenóreans (called the Faithful, for they did not join Ar-Pharazôn's expedition) also managed to escape to Middle-earth. They were led by Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion.

Over 100 years later, Sauron launched an attack against the Númenórean exiles. Elendil formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men with the Elven-king Gil-galad. They marched against Mordor, defeated Sauron on the plain of Dagorlad, and besieged his stronghold Barad-dûr, at which time Anárion was slain. After seven years of siege, Sauron himself was ultimately forced to engage in single combat with the leaders. Gil-galad and Elendil were killed as they fought with Sauron, and Elendil's sword, Narsil, broke beneath him. However, Sauron's body was also overcome and slain, and Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Narsil; when this happened, Sauron's spirit fled and did not reappear in his terrible form for many centuries. Isildur was advised to destroy the One Ring by the only effective means — casting it into the volcanic Mount Doom where it was forged — but, attracted to its beauty, he refused and kept it as weregild (compensation) for the deaths of his father and brother.

So began the Third Age of Middle-earth. Two years later, Isildur and his soldiers were ambushed by a band of Orcs at what was eventually called the Disaster of the Gladden Fields. While the latter were almost all killed, Isildur escaped by putting on the Ring — which made mortal wearers invisible. However, the Ring slipped from his finger while he was swimming in the great River Anduin; he was seen and killed by Orc-arrows, and the Ring was lost for two millennia. It was then found by chance by a hobbit named Déagol. His relative and friend Sméagol strangled him for the Ring and was banished from his home by his maternal grandmother. He fled to the Misty Mountains where he slowly withered and became a disgusting, slimy creature called Gollum.

In The Hobbit, set 60 years before the events in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien related the story of the seemingly accidental finding of the Ring by another hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who took it to his home, Bag End. The tale related in The Hobbit was written before The Lord of the Rings, and it was only later that the author developed Bilbo's magic ring into the "One Ring". Neither Bilbo nor the wizard, Gandalf, were aware at this point that Bilbo's magic ring was the One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron.


The west of Middle-earth during the Third Age.
The west of Middle-earth during the Third Age.

The Lord of the Rings takes up the story about 60 years after the end of The Hobbit. It was first published in three volumes - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The main story is divided into six books (two for each volume), successively numbered by Roman numerals. There is also a Foreword and a Prologue in The Fellowship of the Ring and six Appendices at the end of The Return of the King.

The Foreword of the Second Edition includes a dedication to American fans and a statement that the book is not an allegory, as some of its readers had already supposed. The Prologue includes a few sections providing backstory on the identity and customs of Hobbits, and a brief synopsis of The Hobbit.

Book I in The Fellowship of the Ring begins with Bilbo's hundred-and-eleventh birthday party, and his subsequent disappearance using his magic ring. In realising Bilbo's clever act of vanishing before the eyes of all spectators during and basically ending his eleventy-first birthday speech (which in itself suggested directly, in what he was saying, that he was leaving permanently), Gandalf the Gray, who attended the party, came to the hobbit's residence where Bilbo would naturally stop preceding his leaving of the Shire. There was a conflict in the little hobbit abode between Gandalf and Bilbo, who was obviously controlled by the magical ring, over the custody of the ring. Gandalf insisted that Bilbo should leave the ring, and persuaded him to do so over the ring's persuasion, and in doing so, relieved him of all of its influences, including the long life that it was sustaining him. Leaving to journey once more, he left much of his belongings, including the ring, to his cousin and adoptive heir Frodo Baggins.

After seventeen years of investigating, their old friend Gandalf the Grey revealed to Frodo, now the owner of Bag End, that the ring was in fact the One Ring, the instrument of Sauron's power, which the Dark Lord had been searching for most of the Third Age, and which corrupted others with desire for it and the power it held.

Sauron sent the sinister Ringwraiths, in the guise of riders in black, to the Shire, Frodo's native land, in search of the Ring. Frodo escaped, with the help of his loyal gardener Samwise "Sam" Gamgee and three close friends, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, Peregrin "Pippin" Took, and Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger. While Fatty acted as a decoy for the Ringwraiths, Frodo, along with Sam and Pippin and Gandalf, set off to take the Ring to the Elven haven of Rivendell. Merry would later meet them along the way.

Gandalf left to visit Saruman the White succeding his command of the hobbits to make for a town called Bree outside of the Shire, and to wait for him there to continue their journey with him. He visited with Saruman at his presiding tower Orthanc, and spoke with him of the growing threat of the Dark Lord. Saruman then revealed that he had been using one of the Palantirs, magical object that act as communication between each other over large distances. With this he became ensnared by Sauron and therefore became corrupted in believing that it is futile to engage in the next war with Him and that their option is to either join Him or be conquered by Him. Saruman's persuasion of Gandalf to join was of to no avail; Gandalf remained loyal to the cause of resisting Sauron's rule over Middle Earth. Saruman fought Gandalf in his tower and prevailed; he took Gandalf to the top of the tower and held him hostage there. He then subsequently spoke to Sauron, through the Palantir, asking to begin building his own army to assist the Dark Lord, and so Sauron sent an army orcs and Saruman began to breed orcs with men to produce Uruk Hai. Gandalf meanwhile was carried to safety by the Great eagle Gwahir to make for Bree, his rendezvous with the four hobbits.

The hobbits, meanwhile, embarked on quite an adventure. First, they met a group of elves, heading for the undying lands. They then hid away from one of the black riders and then quickly went on their way. The three hobbits continued on their way and met with Farmer Maggot of the Shire, a hobbit in which Frodo had a bad experience with when he was a child, involving the Farmer's huge dogs. Farmer Maggot then provided transportation for the three hobbits, and they ran into Merry who joined their group heading for Bree. They decided to move through the Old Forest en route west to Bree, where they were aided by the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, who saved Merry, Sam, and Frodo from Old Man Willow and took them in for a few days of feasting, rest, and counsel. They then left, regretfully, and continued towards Bree. At a valley, the Barrow-Downs, Frodo was split from the other three. He was subsequently seized and fainted. Upon coming to, he found that his three companions were also imprisoned, and a long sword stretched from above one of their necks to the others' necks. He took a small sword and stopped a hand moving to cut the necks. He sang the song of Tom Bombadil, and Tom came to his aid, assisting Frodo in saving his friends. They finished their journey to Bree after Sam, Pippin, and Merry's recovery.

At the town of Bree, Frodo's party stayed at the local inn- the Prancing Pony. In shock of Pippin, close to drunk at the bar, beginning to reveal Frodo's true name, Baggins, Frodo was going to stop him, but there was a great incident in which Frodo slipped, and the ring flew out of his hand; he reached out and it fell into his finger. The wearing of the ring attracts the attention of the Ringwraiths, but they were not the only ones. Everyone at the bar was amazed at what happened; the disappearance of Frodo was in plain veiw. A man called "Strider", who was very interested in Frodo from the start, found him under a table (after he took off the ring), and aprehended him, taking him to a different room. Sam came to the room, brave as is his nature, in protection of Frodo, but there was nothing to fear. It was revealed, in a letter left by Gandalf at the local inn for Frodo, to be Aragorn, the heir to the kingships of Gondor and Arnor, two great realms founded by the Númenórean exiles. He divulged into who the Ringwraiths, the Nazgul were - the nine comsumed by the power of the one ring ruling over these king's, given rings by the Dark Lord to connect to the one ring.

Aragorn led the hobbits to Rivendell on Gandalf's request. However, Frodo was gravely wounded by the leader of the Ringwraiths at the hill of Weathertop, their resting point. The wound was fatal, and with the help of his companions he made it far enough to meet the Elf-lord Glorfindel who carry him by horseback to the safety of Rivendell. Glorfindel brought Frodo to Rivendell's borders, with the hot pursuit of the Ringwraiths, by crossing the Ford of the river Bruinen. Here they engaged in a stand-off with the Ringwraiths, but they were swept away by an enchantment of the river when they entered its waters. Elrond supposedly caused the river to swallow the Nazgul, and the horses, galloping, forming the front of the flowing water, depicted in the movie, were a cute little touch that Gandalf added in, as he had come to Rivendell to make up for the missed rendezvous at Bree The book ends with Frodo losing consciousness.

Book II in The Fellowship of the Ring reveals that Frodo managed to recover under the care of the Half-elven lord Elrond, master of Rivendell. The hobbits also learned that Sauron's forces can only be resisted if Aragorn took up his inheritance and fulfilled an ancient prophecy by wielding the sword Andúril, which had been forged anew from the shards of Narsil, the sword that cut the Ring from Sauron's finger in the Second Age. Frodo also meets Bilbo, now living in retirement, and sees Elrond's daughter Arwen, Aragorn's betrothed.

Later, much of the story's exposition is given during a high council, attended by representatives of the major races of Middle-earth; Elves, Dwarves, and Men, and presided over by Elrond. Gandalf told them of the emerging threat of Saruman, the leader of the Order of Wizards, who wanted the Ring for himself and had imprisoned him for a time. After pondering several choices, the Council decided that the only course of action that could save Middle-earth was to destroy the Ring by taking it to Mordor and casting it into Mount Doom, where it was forged.

Frodo volunteered for the task, and a " Fellowship of the Ring" was formed to aid him — which consisted of Frodo, his three Hobbit companions, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir of Gondor, Gimli the Dwarf, and Legolas the Elf. Their journey took them through plains and over mountains, and ultimately the Mines of Moria, where they were followed by the wretched creature Gollum, whom Bilbo had met in the Goblin-caves of the Misty Mountains years before. (The full tale of their meeting is told in The Hobbit.) Gollum long possessed the Ring before it passed to Bilbo. Earlier in Book I, Gandalf explained that Gollum belonged to a people "of hobbit-kind" before he came upon the Ring, which corrupted him. A slave to the Ring's evil power, Gollum desperately sought to regain his "Precious". As they proceeded through the Mines, Pippin unintentionally betrayed their presence and the party was attacked by Orcs. Gandalf battled a demon of fire and darkness, the Balrog, and fell into a deep chasm, apparently to his death. Escaping from Moria, the Fellowship, now led by Aragorn, went to the Elven realm of Lothlórien. Here, the Lady Galadriel showed Frodo and Sam visions of the past, present, and future. Frodo also perceived the Eye of Sauron, a metaphysical expression of Sauron himself, and Galadriel was tempted by the Ring. By the end of the first volume, after the Fellowship had travelled along the great River Anduin, Frodo decided to continue the trek to Mordor on his own, largely due to the Ring's growing influence on Boromir; however, the faithful Sam insisted on going with him.

The second volume, The Two Towers, deals with two parallel storylines in each of its books. Book III details the exploits of the remaining members of the Fellowship who aid the country of Rohan in its war against Saruman. At the start of the book, the Fellowship was further scattered; Merry and Pippin were captured by Sauron and Saruman's orcs, Boromir was mortally wounded defending them, and Aragorn and the others went off in pursuit of their captors. The three met Gandalf, who had returned as "Gandalf the White"; he had defeated the Balrog at the cost of his life, but had been sent back to Middle-earth, with enhanced powers, to aid the forces of good. Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli helped defeat Saruman's armies at the Battle of the Hornburg while Saruman himself was cornered by the tree-like Ents and Huorns, accompanied by Merry and Pippin, who have escaped from captivity. The two groups were reunited in the aftermath of the battle. After Saruman refused to repent of his folly, Gandalf cast him from the Order of Wizards.

Book IV tells of Frodo and Sam's exploits on the way to Mount Doom. They managed to capture and "tame" Gollum, who showed them a way to enter Mordor secretly (as opposed to the Black Gate), albeit through the dreaded valley of Minas Morgul. At the end of the volume, Gollum betrayed Frodo to the great spider, Shelob, and though he survived, he was captured by orcs. Meanwhile, Sauron launched an all-out military assault upon Middle-earth, with the Witch-king (leader of the Ringwraiths) leading a fell host from Minas Morgul into battle against Gondor, in the War of the Ring.

In the third volume, The Return of the King, the further adventures of Gandalf, Aragorn and company are related in the first book of the volume, while Frodo and Sam's are related in the second, as with The Two Towers. As told in Book V, the Fellowship assisted in the final battles against the armies of Sauron, including the siege of the tower-city of Minas Tirith in Gondor and the climactic life-or-death battle before the Black Gate of Mordor, where the alliance of Gondor and Rohan fought desperately against Sauron's armies in order to distract him from the Ring, and hoped to gain time for Frodo to destroy it.

In Book VI, Sam rescued Frodo from captivity. After much struggle, they finally reached Mount Doom itself, tailed by Gollum. However, the temptation of the Ring proved too great for Frodo and he claimed it for himself. Subsequently, Gollum struggled with him and managed to bite the Ring off. Crazed with triumph, Gollum slipped into the fires of the mountain, and the Ring was destroyed.

Thus, Sauron was banished from the world and his realm ended. Aragorn was crowned king and married Arwen, the daughter of Elrond. However, all was not over, for Saruman had managed to escape his captivity and enslave the Shire. Though he was overthrown by the Hobbits and although the four heroes helped to restore order and beautify the land again, it was not the same Shire that they left. At the end, Frodo remained wounded in body and spirit and sailed west accompanied by Bilbo over the Sea to the Undying Lands, where he could find peace.

The Appendices contain much material concerning the timeline of the story, and information on the peoples and the languages of Middle-earth. Notably, Arwen, physically absent for much of the book, is dealt with in full here; her backstory and future with Aragorn are related.

According to Tolkien's timeline, the events depicted in the story occurred between Bilbo's announcement of his T.A.  September 22, 3001 birthday party, and Sam's re-arrival to Bag End on T.A.  October 6, 3021. Most of the events portrayed in the story occur in 3018 and 3019, with Frodo heading out from Bag End on T.A.  September 23 3018, and the destruction of the Ring six months later on T.A.  March 25 3019.



The Lord of the Rings
Volume I - Volume II - Volume III

The Lord of the Rings was started as a sequel to The Hobbit, a fantasy story that Tolkien had written for, and read to, his children, which was published in 1937. The popularity of The Hobbit led to demands from his publishers for more stories about Hobbits and goblins, and so that same year, 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 it would not be fully published until 1955, by which time Tolkien was 63 years old.

Tolkien did not originally intend to write a sequel to The Hobbit, and instead wrote several other children's tales, including Roverandom. As his main work, Tolkien began to outline the history of Arda, telling tales of the Silmarils, and many other stories of how the races and situations that we read about in the Lord of the Rings came to be. Tolkien died before he could complete and put together this work, today known as The Silmarillion, but his son Christopher Tolkien edited his father's work, filled in gaps, and published it in 1977. Some Tolkien biographers regard The Silmarillion as the true "work of his heart", as it provides the historical and linguistic context for the more popular work and for his constructed languages, and occupied the greater part of Tolkien's time. As a result The Lord of the Rings ended up as the last movement of Tolkien's legendarium and in his own opinion "much larger, and I hope also in proportion the best, of the entire cycle."

Persuaded by his publishers, he started 'a new Hobbit' in December 1937. After several false starts, the story of the One Ring soon emerged, and the book mutated from being a sequel to The Hobbit, to being, in theme, more a sequel to the unpublished Silmarillion. The idea of 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 another 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 decided to write about it instead. He began with Bilbo as the main character but decided that the story was too serious to use the fun-loving hobbit and so Tolkien looked to use a member of Bilbo's family. He thought about using Bilbo's son, but this generated some difficult questions, such as the whereabouts of his wife and whether he would let his son go into danger. Thus he looked for an alternate character to carry the ring. In Greek legend, it was a hero's nephew that gained the item of power, and so the hobbit Frodo came into existence. (Though technically Tolkien made Frodo Bilbo's cousin, the two were to consider each other nephew and uncle).

Writing was slow due to Tolkien's perfectionism, and was frequently interrupted by his obligations as an examiner, and other academic duties. The first sentence of The Hobbit was in fact written on a blank page which a student had left on an exam paper which Tolkien was marking — "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." He seems to have abandoned The Lord of the Rings during most of 1943 and only re-started it in April 1944. This effort was written as a serial for Christopher Tolkien and C.S. Lewis — the former would be sent copies of chapters as they were written while he was serving in South Africa in the Royal Air Force. He made another push in 1946, and showed a copy of the manuscript to his publishers in 1947. The story was effectively finished the next year, but Tolkien did not finish revising earlier parts of the work until 1949.

A dispute with his publishers, Allen & Unwin, led to the book being offered to Collins in 1950. He 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 his contact at Collins, Milton Waldman, expressed the belief that The Lord of the Rings itself "urgently needed cutting", he eventually demanded that they publish the book in 1952. They did not do so, and so Tolkien wrote to Allen and Unwin, saying "I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff."


For publication, due largely to post-war paper shortages, but also to keep the price of the first volume down, 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. Delays in producing appendices, maps and especially indices led to these being published later than originally hoped — on 21 July 1954, on 11 November 1954 and on 20 October 1955 respectively in the United Kingdom, slightly later in the United States. The Return of the King was especially delayed. Tolkien, moreover, did not especially like the title The Return of the King, believing it gave away too much of the storyline. He had originally suggested The War of the Ring, which was dismissed by his publishers.

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. An index to the entire three-volume set at the end of third volume was promised in the first volume. However, this proved impractical to compile in a reasonable timescale. Later, in 1966, four indices, not compiled by Tolkien, were added to The Return of the King. Because the three-volume binding was so widely distributed, the work is often referred to as the Lord of the Rings " trilogy". In a letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien himself made use of the term "trilogy" for the work though he did at other times consider this incorrect, as it was written and conceived as a single book. It is also often called a novel; however, Tolkien also objected to this term as he viewed it as a romance ("romance" in this sense refers to a heroic tale).

A 1999 (Millennium Edition) British ( ISBN 0-261-10387-3) seven-volume box set followed the six-book division authored by Tolkien, with the Appendices from the end of The Return of the King bound as a separate volume. The letters of Tolkien appeared on the spines of the boxed set which included a CD. To coincide with the film release, a new version of this popular edition was released featuring images from the films, such as:

  • I - Frodo climbing the steps to Bag End
  • II - Aragorn and Arwen in Rivendell
  • III - Gandalf in Moria
  • IV - A swan boat from Lothlórien
  • V - A Black Rider from the 'Flight to the Ford' sequence
  • VI - The tower of Cirith Ungol (although this image featured in many of the promotional books (e.g. the 'FotR Photo Guide') from the first film, it did not feature in the films until Return of the King)
  • Appendix - Frodo's hand holding the One Ring

This new imprint ( ISBN 0-00-763555-9) also omitted the CD.

The individual names for books in this series were decided posthumously, based on a combination of suggestions Tolkien had made during his lifetime and the titles of the existing volumes:

  • T Book I: The Return of the Shadow
  • O Book II: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • L Book III: The Treason of Isengard
  • K Book IV: The Journey to Mordor
  • I Book V: The War of the Ring
  • E Book VI: The Return of the King
  • N Appendices

The name of the complete work is often abbreviated to 'LotR', 'LOTR', or simply 'LR' (Tolkien himself used L.R.), and the three volumes as FR, FOTR, or FotR (The Fellowship of the Ring), TT or TTT (The Two Towers), and RK, ROTK, or RotK (The Return of the King).

Note that the titles The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard and The War of the Ring were used by Christopher Tolkien in The History of The Lord of the Rings.

Publication history

The three parts were first published, several months apart, in 1954 and 1955 by Allen & Unwin. They have since been reissued many times by multiple publishers, as one-, three-, six- or seven-volume sets. The two most common current printings are ISBN 0-618-34399-7 (one-volume) and ISBN 0-618-34624-4 (three volume set). In the early 1960s, Donald A. Wollheim, science fiction editor of the paperback publisher Ace Books, realised that The Lord of the Rings was not protected in the United States under American copyright law because the U.S. hardcover edition had been bound from pages printed in the United Kingdom, with the original intention being for them to be printed in the British edition. Ace Books proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorised by Tolkien and without 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, well below what he might have been due in an appropriate publication. However, this poor beginning was overshadowed when an authorised edition followed from Ballantine Books to tremendous commercial success. By the mid-1960s the books, due to their wide exposure on the American public stage, had become a true cultural phenomenon. Also at this time Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would have a valid US copyright. This would later become the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings.

The books have been translated, with various degrees of success, into dozens of other languages. Tolkien, an expert in philology, examined many of these translations, and had comments on each that reflect both the translation process and his work. To aid translators, Tolkien wrote his " Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings". Because The Lord of the Rings purports to be a translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, translators have an unusual degree of freedom when translating The Lord of the Rings. This allows for such translations as elf becoming Elb in German — Elb does not carry the connotations of mischief that its English counterpart does and therefore is more true to the work that Tolkien created. In contrast to the usual modern practice, names intended to have a particular meaning in the English version are translated to provide a similar meaning in the target language: in German, for example, the name "Baggins" becomes "Beutlin," containing the word Beutel meaning "bag".


The Lord of the Rings began as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion (particularly Roman Catholicism), fairy tales, as well as Norse and Celtic mythology, but it was also crucially influenced by the effects of his military service during World War I. Tolkien detailed his creation to an astounding extent; he created a complete fictional universe for his realm of Middle-earth, including genealogies of characters, languages, writing systems, calendars and histories. Some of this supplementary material is detailed in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, and the legendary history woven into a large, Biblically-styled volume entitled The Silmarillion. However many parts of the world he crafted, as he freely admitted, are influenced by other sources. Tolkien once described The Lord of the Rings to his friend, the English Jesuit Father Robert Murray, as "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." There are many theological themes underlying the narrative including the battle of good versus evil, the triumph of humility over pride, and the activity of grace. In addition the saga includes themes which incorporate death and immortality, mercy and pity, resurrection, salvation, repentance, self-sacrifice, free will, justice, fellowship, authority and healing. In addition the Lord's Prayer "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" was reportedly present in Tolkien's mind as he described Frodo's struggles against the power of the One Ring. Another Christian text that influenced Tolkien is John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost. Milton's depiction of the fallen angel Lucifer was a direct influence on Tolkien's creation of Sauron.

Non-Christian religious motifs also had strong influences in Tolkien's Middle-earth. His Ainur, a race of angelic beings who are responsible for conceptualising the world, includes the Valar, the pantheon of "gods" who are responsible for the maintenance of everything from skies and seas to dreams and doom, and their servants, the Maiar. The concept of the Valar echoes Greek and Norse mythologies, although the Ainur and the world itself are all creations of a monotheistic deity — Ilúvatar or Eru, "The One". As the external practice of Middle-earth religion is downplayed in The Lord of the Rings, explicit information about them is only given in the different versions of Silmarillion material. However, there remain allusions to this aspect of Tolkien's writings, including "the Great Enemy" who was Sauron's master and "Elbereth, Queen of Stars" ( Morgoth and Varda respectively, two of the Valar) in the main text, the "Authorities" (referring to the Valar, literally Powers) in the Prologue, and "the One" in Appendix A. Other non-Christian mythological or folkloric elements can be seen, including other sentient non-humans (Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and Ents), a "Green Man" ( Tom Bombadil), and spirits or ghosts ( Barrow-wights, Oathbreakers).

The Northern European mythologies are perhaps the best known non-Christian influences on Tolkien. His Elves and Dwarves are by and large based on Norse and related Germanic mythologies. Names such as "Gandalf", "Gimli" and "Middle-earth" are directly derived from Norse mythology. The figure of Gandalf is particularly influenced by the Germanic deity Odin in his incarnation as "the Wanderer", an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff; Tolkien states that he thinks of Gandalf as an "Odinic wanderer" in a letter of 1946. Tolkien may have also borrowed elements from the Völsungasaga, the Old Norse basis of the later German Nibelungenlied and Richard Wagner's opera series, Der Ring des Nibelungen — specifically a magical golden ring and a broken sword which is reforged. In the Völsungasaga, these items are respectively Andvarinaut and Gram, and very broadly correspond to the One Ring and Narsil/Andúril. However, Tolkien once wrote in response to a Swedish translator's claim that the One Ring was "in a certain way" Wagner's Ring, "Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases." Finnish mythology and more specifically the Finnish national epic Kalevala were also acknowledged by Tolkien as an influence on Middle-earth. In a similar manner to The Lord of the Rings, the Kalevala centres around a magical item of great power, the Sampo, which bestows great fortune on its owner but never makes its exact nature clear. Like the One Ring, the Sampo is fought over by forces of good and evil, and is ultimately lost to the world as it is destroyed towards the end of the story. In another parallel, the latter work's wizard character Väinämöinen also has many similarities to Gandalf in his immortal origins and wise nature, and both works end with their respective wizard departing on a ship to lands beyond the mortal world. Tolkien also based his Elvish language Quenya on Finnish.

In addition The Lord of the Rings was crucially influenced by Tolkien's experiences during World War I and his son's during World War II. The central action of the books — a climactic, age-ending war between good and evil — is the central event of many mythologies, notably Norse, but it is also a clear reference to the well-known description of World War I, which was commonly referred to as "the war to end all wars".

After the publication of The Lord of the Rings these influences led to speculation that the One Ring was an allegory for the nuclear bomb. Tolkien, however, repeatedly insisted that his works were not an allegory of any kind. Nevertheless there is a strong theme of despair in the face of new mechanised warfare that Tolkien himself had experienced in the trenches of World War I. The development of a specially bred Orc army, and the destruction of the environment to aid this, also have modern resonances; and the effects of the Ring on its users evoke the modern literature of drug addiction as much as any historic quest literature.

Tolkien states in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegories and that the story was not one, and it would be irresponsible to dismiss such direct statements on these matters lightly. Tolkien had already completed most of the book, including the ending in its entirety, before the first nuclear bombs were made known to the world at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

While connections between the Ring and 'nuclear' weapons are sometimes drawn, Tolkien had developed the nature of the Ring prior to public knowledge of such. However, it is clear that the Ring has broad applicability to the concept of Absolute Power and its effects, and that the plot hinges on the view that anyone who seeks to gain absolute worldly power will inevitably be corrupted by it. Some also say that there is clear evidence that one of the main subtexts of the story — the passing of a mythical "Golden Age" — was influenced not only by Arthurian legend but also by Tolkien's contemporary anxieties about the growing encroachment of urbanisation and industrialisation into the "traditional" English lifestyle and countryside. The concept of the "ring of power" itself is also present in Plato's Republic, Wagner's Ring Cycle, and in the story of Gyges' ring (a story often compared to the Book of Job). Some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Sarehole (then a Worcestershire village, now part of Birmingham) and Birmingham. 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.

Critical response

Tolkien's work has received mixed reviews since its inception, ranging from terrible to excellent. Recent reviews in various media have been, in a majority, highly positive. On its initial review the Sunday Telegraph felt it was "among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century." The Sunday Times seemed to echo these sentiments when in their review it was stated 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."

Not all original reviews, however, were so kind. New York Times reviewer Judith Shulevitz criticised 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, criticised a perceived lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fibre." Even within Tolkien's social group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson was famously recorded as saying, during one of Tolkien's readings to the group, "Oh no! Not another fucking elf!" 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."

Several other authors in the genre, however, seemed to agree more with Dyson than Lewis. Science-fiction author David Brin criticised the books for what he perceived to be their unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure, their positive depiction of the slaughter of the opposing forces, and their romantic backward-looking worldview. Michael Moorcock, another famous science fiction and fantasy author, is also a fervent detractor of The Lord of the Rings. In his essay, " Epic Pooh," he equates Tolkien's work to Winnie-the-Pooh and criticises it and similar works for their perceived Merry England point of view. Incidentally, Moorcock met both Tolkien and Lewis in his teens and claims to have liked them personally, even though he does not admire them on artistic grounds. Fantasy author David Eddings took issue with Tolkien's characters, saying that they only existed "from the neck up".[ citation needed]

More recently, critical analysis has focused on Tolkien's experiences in the First World War; writers such as John Garth in Tolkien and the Great War, Janet Brennan Croft and Tom Shippey all look in detail at this aspect and compare the imagery, mental landscape and traumas in The Lord of the Rings with those experienced by soldiers in the trenches and the history of the Great War. John Carey, formerly Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, speaking in April 2003 on the BBC " Big Read" programme which voted Lord of the Rings "Britain's best-loved book", said that "Tolkien's writing is essentially a species of war literature; not as direct perhaps as Wilfred Owen, or as solid as some, but very, very interesting as that — the most solid reflection on war experiences written up as fantasy."

The Lord of the Rings, despite not being published in paperback until the 1960s, sold well in hardback. In 1957 it 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 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 by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's Best-loved Book". Australians voted The Lord of the Rings " My Favourite Book" in a 2004 survey conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In a 1999 poll of customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium." In 2002 Tolkien was voted the ninety-second " greatest Briton" in a poll conducted by the BBC, and in 2004 he was voted thirty-fifth in the SABC3's Great South Africans, the only person to appear on both lists. His popularity is not limited just to the English-speaking world: in a 2004 poll inspired by the UK’s "Big Read" survey, about 250,000 Germans found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite work of literature.


The Lord of the Rings has been adapted for film, radio and stage multiple times.

The book has been adapted for radio three times. In 1955 and 1956, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a 12-part radio adaptation of the story, of which no recording has survived. A 1979 dramatisation 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 dramatisation in 26 half-hour installments.

Three film adaptations 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 (hence its original title, The Lord of the Rings Part 1). It covers The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers. The second, The Return of the King (1980), was an animated television special by Rankin-Bass, who had produced a similar version of The Hobbit (1977). The third was director Peter Jackson's live action The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, produced by New Line Cinema and released in three installments 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). The live-action film trilogy has done much in particular to bring the book into the public consciousness.

In 1990 Recorded Books published an unabridged audio version of the books. They hired British actor Rob Inglis — who had previously starred in one-man stage productions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — to read. Inglis performs the books verbatim, using distinct voices for each character, and sings all of the songs. Tolkien had written music for some of the songs in the book; for the rest, Inglis, along with director Claudia Howard, wrote additional music. The current ISBN is 1402516274.

There have been several stage productions based on the book. Three original full-length stage adaptations of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) were staged in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. A stage musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (2006) was staged in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

There have also been a number of game adaptations, such as The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game.

Influences on the fantasy genre

Following the massive success of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien considered a sequel entitled The New Shadow, in which the Gondorians turn to dark cults and consider an uprising against Aragorn's son, Eldarion. Tolkien decided not to finish writing this sequel, and the incomplete story can be found in The Peoples of Middle-earth. Instead, Tolkien returned to writing and revising his Silmarillion story, though he died before he could finish this. The Silmarillion was published posthumously by Tolkien's son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, in 1977. Christopher Tolkien published further parts of his father's legendarium in Unfinished Tales ( 1980) and The History of Middle-earth, a 12-volume series published from 1983 to 1996, of which The Peoples of Middle-earth is part.

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. Many other books in a broadly similar vein were published (including the Earthsea books of Ursula K. Le Guin, the Thomas Covenant novels of Stephen R. Donaldson), and in the case of the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake, and The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison, rediscovered.

It also strongly influenced the role playing game industry which achieved popularity in the 1970s with Dungeons & Dragons. Dungeons & Dragons features many races found in The Lord of the Rings, most notably halflings (another term for hobbits), elves, dwarves, half-elves, orcs, and dragons. However, Gary Gygax, lead designer of the game, maintains 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. The Lord of the Rings also has influenced Magic: The Gathering.[ citation needed] The Lord of the Rings is also suspected to have influenced the creation of various video games, including Final Fantasy IV, Ultima, Betrayal at Krondor, Baldur's Gate, EverQuest, The Elder Scrolls, Neverwinter Nights, and the Warcraft series, as well as, quite naturally, video games set in Middle-earth itself.

As in all artistic fields, a great many lesser derivatives of the more prominent works appeared. The term "Tolkienesque" is used in the genre to refer to the oft-used and abused storyline of The Lord of the Rings: a group of adventurers embarking on a quest to save a magical fantasy world from the armies of an evil " dark lord," and is a testament to how much the popularity of these books has increased, since many critics initially decried it as being "Wagner for children" (a reference to the Ring Cycle) — an especially interesting commentary in light of a possible interpretation of the books as a Christian response to Wagner.

The work has also had an influence upon such science fiction authors as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, Clarke (who found only Frank Herbert's Dune comparable) makes a reference to Mount Doom in his work 2010: Odyssey Two. Tolkien also influenced George Lucas' Star Wars films.

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