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The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy story by J. R. R. Tolkien, a sequel to his earlier work, The Hobbit. It was published in three volumes from 1954 to 1955. Two movie adaptions have been made, the most notable being Peter Jackson's trilogy of films released from 2001 to 2003.

For more information on the fictional universe the story takes place in, including lists of characters and locations, see Middle-earth.

The story's name is derived from the Dark Lord Sauron of Mordor, the primary villain of the work, who created the Ruling Ring and is thus the "Lord of the Rings" that the title refers to. Sauron, in turn, was the servant of an earlier Dark Lord, Morgoth (Melkor), who is prominent in Tolkien's The Silmarillion.


Books and volumes


Tolkien did not originally intend to write a sequel to The Hobbit, and instead wrote other works, including The Silmarillion as his main work. He also published several other children's tales, including Roverandom and Farmer Giles of Ham for publication.

He had a deep desire to write a Mythology for England,especially after his horrific experiences during the First World War, where he saw much of the England he loved passing away and became aware of the immense evil in the world. Thus to understand his writings we must be aware of how Tolkien the scholar influences Tolkien the author. His writing of this mythology emerges as an Oxford philologist well acquainted with Northern European Medieval Literature including the great mythic works such as the Finnish epic Kalevala, the influential Beowulf as well as other Old and Middle English Texts. For a man who had created his first language by the age of seven, he was driven by a desire to write a mythology for England influenced by his exposure and expertise of these ancient traditions. The need for such a myth was often a topic of conversation in his meetings with The Inklings (fellow Oxford scholars, who have been described as Christian Romantics, who would meet weekly and discuss icelandic myths and their own unpublished compositions). Tolkien agreed with one of the other members of the group, C.S. Lewis, that if there were no adequate myths for England then they would have to write their own. Tolkien's work has been commonly interpreted in this light.

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, and the significance of the Ring did not arrive, along with the title The Lord of the Rings until spring 1938.

Writing was slow due to Tolkien's perfectionism, and was frequently interrupted by his obligations as an examiner, and other academic duties. (In fact, the first sentence of The Hobbit was written on a blank page a student had left on an exam paper that Tolkien was grading - "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit"). He seems to have abandoned the book 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 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 grovelled 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, 6 appendices). Delays in producing appendices and maps led to these being published later than originally hoped - on the 29 July and 11 November 1954 and 20 October 1955 in the United Kingdom, slightly later in the United States. The Return of the King was especially delayed. He did not, however, much 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, where Tolkien would not receive an advance or royalties until the books had broken even, but after then take a large share of the profits.

An index to the entire 3-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 which were not compiled by Tolkien were added to The Return of the King.

Because the three-volume binding was so widely distributed, the work is usually referred to as the Lord of the Rings "trilogy". 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 novel.

A 1999 (Millennium Edition) British (ISBN 0-262-10399-7) 7-volume box set followed the six-book division authored by Tolkien, but with the Appendices from the end of Book VI bound as a separate volume. The letters of Tolkien appear on the spines of the boxed set which includes a CD. The individual names for books in this series were decided posthumously, based on a combination of suggestions Tolkien had made during his lifetime, title of the volumes, and whole cloth - viz:

  • T Book I: The Ring Sets Out
  • O Book II: The Ring Goes South
  • L Book III: The Treason of Isengard
  • K Book IV: The Ring Goes East
  • I Book V: The War of the Ring
  • E Book VI: The End of the Third Age
  • N Appendices

The name of the complete work is often abbreviated to 'LotR', 'LOTR', or simply 'LR', 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 three 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.

Some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Sarehole (then a Warwickshire village, now part of Birmingham) and in Birmingham itself.

Publication history

The three parts were first published by Allen & Unwin in 19541955 several months apart. They were later reissued many times by multiple publishers, as one, three, six or seven volumes. Two 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, realized that The Lord of the Rings was not protected in the United States under American copyright law because the US hardcover edition had been bound from pages printed in the UK for the British edition. Ace Books proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorized by Tolkien and without compensation to him. Tolkien made this plain to US fans who wrote to him. Grass-roots pressure 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 authorized 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. The Second Edition of the Lord of the Rings dates from this time - Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would have a valid U.S. copyright.

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 illuminate both the translation process and his work.

The enormous popular success 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 well-written books of this genre were published (comparable works include 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, rediscovered.). It also strongly influenced the role playing game industry that achieved popularity in the 1970s with Dungeons & Dragons which featured many creatures that could be found in Tolkien's books.

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".

The books

The Lord of the Rings began as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion particularly Roman Catholicism; fairy tales, and Norse and Celtic mythology. Tolkien detailed his creation to an astounding extent; he created a complete mythology for his realm of Middle-earth, including genealogies of characters, languages, runes, calendars and histories. Some of this supplementary material is detailed in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, and the mythological history was woven into a large, biblically-styled volume entitled The Silmarillion.

J. R. R. Tolkien once described The Lord of the Rings as "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" he wrote to his friend, the English Jesuit Father Robert Murray, "unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision."(The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 142). There are many theological themes underlying the narrative, the battle versus good and evil, the triumph of weakness over self destructive evil, the activity of grace, Death and Immortality, Resurrection, Salvation, Repentance, Self-Sacrifice, Free Will, Humility, Justice, Fellowship, Authority and Healing. In it the great virtues of Mercy and Pity (shown by Bilbo and Frodo towards Gollum) win the day and the message from the Lord's Prayer "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" was very much on Tolkien's mind as Frodo struggled against the power of the One Ring (Letters, 181 and 191).

Tolkien did repeatedly insist that his works were not an allegory of any kind, and even though his thoughts on the matter are mentioned in the introduction of the book, there has been heavy speculation about the Ruling Ring being an allegory for the atom bomb. However, these comparisons do not withstand a careful look at the facts. Before atomic weapons were first detonated on August 6 and August 9, 1945, Tolkien had already completed most of the book, and planned the ending in entirety – an atom bomb had certainly never been the basis for the Ring. However there is a strong theme of despair in front of new mechanized warfare that Tolkien himself had experienced in the trenches of World War One. The development of a specially bred orc army, and the destruction of the environment to aid this have modern resonances.

The plot of The Lord of the Rings builds from his earlier book The Hobbit and more obliquely from the history in The Silmarillion, which contains events to which the characters of The Lord of the Rings look back upon in the book. The hobbits become embroiled in great events that threaten their entire world, as Sauron, the servant of evil, attempts to regain the lost One Ring which will restore him to full potency.

The Verse of the Rings

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
   Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
   One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
   One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
   One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

The lines :

   One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
   One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

are inscribed in the language of Sauron and Mordor (the Black Speech) on the One Ring itself. Phonetically it would be:

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

The storyline

See the articles on The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King for plot summaries.

Negative Criticism

The book was characterized as "juvenile balderdash" by American critic Edmund Wilson in his essay "Oo, those awful Orcs", and in 1961 Philip Toynbee wrote, somewhat prematurely, that it had "passed into a merciful oblivion" [1]. Germaine Greer wrote "it has been my nightmare that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the twentieth century. The bad dream has materialized", although she had never read Lord of the Rings. New York Times critic Judith Shulevitz said that its prose is so bad that it represents "death to literature itself" [2].

Science-fiction author David Brin has criticized the books for unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure, their positive depiction of the slaughter of the opposing forces, and their romantic backward-looking worldview [3].

The Lord of the Rings on film

Early efforts

There were plans for the Beatles to do a version of The Lord of the Rings but they came to nothing. It was even said that Stanley Kubrick had looked into the possibility of filming the story, but he abandoned the idea as too "immense" to be made into a movie. In the mid-1970s, renowned film director John Boorman collaborated with film rights holder and producer Saul Zaentz to do a live action picture, but the project proved too expensive to finance at that time.

In 1978, Rankin-Bass studios produced the first real film adaptation of any Lord of the Rings related material with an animated television version of The Hobbit, which is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Shortly after, Saul Zaentz picked up where Rankin-Bass left off by producing an animated adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers in 1978. The Lord of the Rings, originally released by United Artists was directed by Ralph Bakshi and featured an animation technique in which the shadows of live actors were recorded onto the film and then drawn over. This film was of uneven quality (perhaps a result of budget pressure or overruns, or difficulty grappling with the magnitude of the book). Some portions were fully- and well- animated, while others used Max Fleischer's rotoscope technique, where animation is laid over live action sequences. Additionally, the film ended somewhat abruptly after the battle of Helm's Deep, but before Sam, Frodo and Gollum traverse the Dead Marshes. Despite his best efforts, Bakshi was never able to do a Part II (covering the rest of the story), leaving the door open for Rankin-Bass to do the work for him with the 1980 animated television version of The Return of the King.

Since these films were targeted to a younger audience, adult enthusiasts have complained that much of the depth and darkness of the stories was discarded.

These efforts seemed to suggest that a satisfactory movie treatment of The Lord of the Rings was not practicable. Moreover, since overall interest in the novel had waned somewhat, prospects for a visual treatment seemed poor. However, advances in filmmaking techniques, in particular the development of computer graphics, made a movie treatment more feasible.

The Peter Jackson films

Miramax Films developed a full-fledged live-action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson as director. Eventually, with Miramax becoming increasingly uneasy with the sheer scope of the proposed project, Peter Jackson was given the opportunity to find another studio to take over. In 1998, New Line Cinema assumed production responsibility (Miramax executives Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein retained on-screen credits as executive producers on the films).

The three live action films (supplemented with extensive computer-generated imagery, for example in the major battle scenes) were filmed simultaneously. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released on December 19, 2001. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was released on December 18, 2002 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released on December 17, 2003. All three films won the Hugo Award for Best (Long-form) Dramatic Presentation in their respective years.

Although some have criticized these films because they have altered the story somewhat and, arguably, have a substantially different tone from Tolkien's original vision, others have hailed them as remarkable achievements. Noted critic Roger Ebert wrote, "[Jackson] has taken an enchanting and unique work of literature and retold it in the terms of the modern action picture. [...] To do what he has done in this film must have been awesomely difficult, and he deserves applause, but to remain true to Tolkien would have been more difficult, and braver" [4].

Peter Jackson's film adaptation garnered seventeen Oscars (four for The Fellowship of the Ring, two for The Two Towers, and eleven for The Return of the King); these cover many of the awards categories (in fact, The Return of the King won all of the eleven awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture). The Return of the King's Oscar sweep is widely seen as a proxy award for the entire trilogy. The Return of the King's 11 Oscars at the 2004 Academy Awards tied it for most awards for one film with Titanic six years earlier and the 1959 version of Ben-Hur.

The visual-effects work has been groundbreaking, particularly the creation of the emotionally versatile digital character Gollum. The scale of the production alone —three films shot back to back over a period of more than three years— is unprecedented.

The films have also proven to be substantial box office successes. The premiere of The Return of the King took place in Wellington, New Zealand on December 1, 2003 and was surrounded by fan celebrations and official promotions (the production of the films having contributed significantly to the New Zealand economy). It has made movie history as the largest Wednesday opening ever. The Return of the King was also the second movie in history (after Titanic) to earn over 1 billion $US (worldwide). Note, however, that these numbers are all unadjusted for inflation, making their significance questionable. Adjusted for inflation, as of March 24, 2005, the three films rank (in order of release) as the 71st, 56th, and 49th highest-grossing films in the United States [5].

The Lord of the Rings on radio

The BBC produced a 13-part radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 1956, and a 6-part version of The Hobbit in 1966. It is uncertain whether Tolkien ever heard either series. No recording of the 1956 series is known to exist, but The Hobbit has survived. It is a very faithful adaptation, incorporating some passing references to The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion.

A 1979 dramatization was broadcast in the USA and subsequently issued on tape and CD. No cast or credits appear on the audio packaging. Each of the actors was apparently recorded separately and then the various parts were edited together. Thus, unlike a BBC recording session where the actors are recorded together, none of the cast are actually interacting with each other and the performances suffer badly as a result.

In 1981 the BBC broadcast a new, ambitious dramatization of The Lord of the Rings in 26 half-hour instalments. See: The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series).

Pop culture references to The Lord of the Rings

  • Leonard Nimoy's music: The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is based around this series (in particular The Hobbit).
  • Led Zeppelin's music: "Misty Mountain Hop" is named after Tolkien's Misty Mountains; "Ramble On" refers to Gollum and Mordor and "The Battle of Evermore" is an actual allegory from the "Battle of the Pelennor Fields" from The Return of the King
  • Some songs by the celtic metal band Cruachan, such as The Fall of Gondolin, have been inspired by the Lord of the Rings.
  • Rush has a song called "Rivendell" on their Fly by Night album.
  • Styx has a song called "Lords of the Ring" on their Pieces of Eight album.
  • Swedish musician Bo Hansson has made an entire instrumental album based on The Lord of the Rings (1973)
  • Alan Horvath has also made an entire album based on The Lord of the Rings (2004)
  • The Brobdingnagian Bards have named one of their tracks "Tolkien", and the remix "The Lord of the Rings"
  • The TV show Babylon 5 includes occasional homages to The Lord of the Rings, as well as epic themes drawn from similar mythological roots. See Babylon 5 influences for a more detailed exploration.
  • The German metal band Blind Guardian has a song called "Lord of the Rings" on the album Tales from the Twilight World. They also released an album based on The Silmarillon called Nightfall in Middle-Earth, including songs like "The Curse of Féanor", and "Into The Storm", retelling the struggle Middle Earth endured when the Two Trees were destroyed. Some of their other works also contain references to Tolkien's creations.
  • The Austrian musician Gandalf chose his name with reference to the hobbits' wizard friend. He has composed several pieces of music which deal with themes and characters originating from The Lord of the Rings, some of which can be found on his second album, Visions.
  • There are various references to The Lord of the Rings, e.g. to the Ents, in The Talisman, a novel by Steven King and Peter Straub
  • The modern-era hero in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon views himself as a dwarf, his grandfather the cryptanalyst as an elf, an ex-Navy Seal as one of the race of Men, and refers to his nemesis (a psychotic lawyer) as Gollum. He recognizes Enoch the Red as a wizard and, true to form, Enoch appears in the Baroque Cycle as well.
  • The group Nickel Creek has a song called "The House of Tom Bombadil".
  • The Finnish musicians Nightwish have a song called "Elvenpath" which features a Lord of the Rings sample.
  • The progressive rock group Glass Hammer has numerous Tolkien-influenced songs, including "Nimrodel", and a CD entitled "Journey of the Dúnadan".
  • Enya recorded the song "Lothlórien" in 1991 and also performed the songs "May It Be" and "Aníron" for the soundtrack of Peter Jackson's movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • The Spanish metal band Lorien released an album in 2002 entitled "Secret's of the Eldar" with such song's as "The Voice of Saruman".
  • The Tolkien Ensemble has created three CD's, "An Evening in Rivendell", "A Night in Rivendell" and "At Dawn in Rivendell", composing original music to practically all the songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of the Rings books were an enormous influence on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, and hence continue to be a major influence on the entire field of role-playing and computer games having fantasy epic themes. Several games have been based directly on The Lord of the Rings and related works, including a board game by Reiner Knizia and a variant of Risk as well as the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game made by Decipher.

Satire and parody based on The Lord of the Rings

  • The Harvard Lampoon satire Bored of the Rings.
  • A little-known BBC Radio series, Hordes of the Things (1980) attempted to parody heroic fantasy in the style of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • A German resynchronization of the Fellowship 's first twenty minutes, called The Lord of the Weed, portrays the characters as highly drug addicted.
  • Quickbeam and Bombadil, the Lords of the Rhyme, mix Tolkien's fantasy world with hip-hop.
  • Two New York City based authors, Jessica and Chris, parody Tolkien's work in combination with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Once More With Hobbits.
  • Several former members of Mystery Science Theater 3000 created Edward the Less which parodies the trilogy.
  • The episode of South Park entitled The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers spoofs Peter Jackson's version of the trilogy. A few elements from Jackson's The Return of the King appear in the episode Best Friends Forever.
  • The first chapter of The Woad To Wuin by Peter David entitled "Lord of the Thing"
  • The Lord Of The... whatever, a "transcribed electronic text version", written by the Tolkien fans of the rec.arts.books.tolkien newsgroup as a reply to those who ask where can they download an electronic copy of the book. It has lots of fan in-jokes, like whether Balrogs have wings or not, a long-standing debate in the Tolkien fandom.
  • Flight of the Conchords claim that their parody Frodo was rejected as a theme song for Peter Jackson's movies. Incidentally, Bret McKenzie (one half of the band) played an elf in the Fellowship, and his character (now known as Figwit) has become an unusual web celebrity, attracting fan sites and even a hate site.
  • The Ring Thing, a Swiss parody of Peter Jackson's films, has been very popular in Switzerland. However it has received mixed reviews. The movie's dialogue is in Swiss German.
  • MADtv spoofed the series with "The Lords of the Bling", with various actors/actresses portraying characters as Gandalf, Frodo, Legolas, etc.
  • Kingdom O' Magic, by Fergus McNeill. He became famous during the eighties for games such as Bored of the Rings (influenced by, but not adapted from, the Harvard Lampoon book) and The Boggit.
  • Why can't they just lose the ring in the sink?, Humour Columnist Dave Barry's satire.
  • Dead Ringers, BBC Radio/TV satirical comedy show regularly features Lord of the Rings-themed sketches, usually with the characters of Gandalf, Saruman and Frodo.

See also

  • Antimodernism - The Lord of the Rings could be considered an antimodernist work in that it expresses affection for a simple, non-mechanistic life. In this view, the bucolic Shire is the embodiment of the good life, while the industrialized Isengard is foul and corrupt.
  • The Atom - The above characterization can be given more detail if the One Ring is taken to be a metaphor for atomic energy or the atomic bomb, as has been proposed by some. However, the book was not published until the 1950s, and the plot element of the One Ring dates to the 1930s, when Tolkien could not have known about atomic energy. Further, Tolkien specifically rejects this as his intention. It is safe to conclude that Tolkien intended no such meaning. However, an author's intention is not a strict limit on the meaning that readers may take (see Intentional Fallacy); a metaphor to atomic energy is often noted by modern readers. Certainly the idea of a power too great for humans to safely wield, always evocative, was especially so in the years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addition to an atomic energy metaphor, a metaphor to the possible destructive applications of molecular manufacturing or synthetic biology is conceivable.
  • The Cursed Ring - Links The Lord of the Rings to Plato's 'The Ring of Gyges' and Wagner's 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'.
  • The Tolkien Relation , by William Ready ISBN 0-446-30110-8 - An inquiry by the author examining the sources and symbolism of the work.
  • , by Humphrey Carpenter, ISBN 0-618-05702-1.

External links

The Lord of the Rings movies links

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