The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by the English academic and philologist J.R.R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier work, The Hobbit, but 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.[1] Although intended as a single-volume work, it was originally published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955, and it is in this three-volume form that it is popularly known. It has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into many different languages,[2] becoming one of the most popular and influential works in 20th-century literature.

The story of The Lord of the Rings takes place in an alternate pre-history, the Third Age of Middle-earth. The lands of Middle-earth are populated by Men (humans) and other humanoid races (Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs), as well as many other creatures, both real and fantastic (Ents, Wargs, Balrogs, Trolls, etc.). The story centres on the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron in an earlier age. From quiet beginnings in the Shire the story ranges across Middle-earth following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, most notably the hobbits, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. The main story is followed in the book by six appendices that provide a wealth of historical and linguistic background material.[3]

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 only the last movement of a mythology that Tolkien had worked on since 1917.[4] Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, industrialization, and religion, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I.[5] The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great effect 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.[6]

The great 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,[7] 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. Adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and 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.[8]


The historical background of the story of The Lord of the Rings is revealed as the story goes on, and is also elaborated upon in the Appendices and in The Silmarillion, the latter published after Tolkien's death. It begins thousands of years before the action in the book with the eponymous Lord of the Rings, the Dark Lord Sauron, who secretly forged a Great Ring of power, the One Ring, to enslave the wearers of the other Rings of Power. He launched a war during which he captured 16 of the Rings of Power and distributed these to seven Dwarf Lords and nine Kings of Men; the Men who possessed the Nine were corrupted over time and became the undead Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, Sauron's most feared servants. Sauron failed to capture the remaining Three, which remained in the possession of the Elves. The Men of the great island-nation of Númenor helped the besieged Elves in the war, and much later they sent a great force to overthrow Sauron, who surrendered, and was taken to Númenor as a prisoner. Over time, with cunning Sauron poisoned the minds of the Númenóreans against the Valar (deities in Tolkien's mythos) and deceived them into invading the Undying Lands, for which act Númenor was destroyed, the island created by the Valar for Men's courage in fighting Morgoth, Sauron's Master, being sunk beneath the sea like Atlantis. Sauron's spirit escaped to Middle-earth, as did some Númenóreans who had opposed the invasion, led by Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion.

Over 100 years later, Sauron was at war with the Númenórean exiles who had established themselves in Middle-earth. Elendil formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men with the Elven-king Gil-galad, and they marched against Mordor, defeating Sauron's armies and besieging his stronghold Barad-dûr. After seven years of siege, during which time Anárion was killed, Sauron himself came forth and engaged in single combat with the leaders of the Last Alliance. Gil-galad and Elendil were both killed as they fought with Sauron, but Sauron's body was also overcome and slain.[9] Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Elendil's broken sword Narsil, and when this happened Sauron's spirit fled into the wilderness. Isildur was advised to destroy the One Ring outright by 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 the Gladden Fields. Isildur escaped by putting on the Ring — which made mortal wearers invisible — but the Ring betrayed him and slipped from his finger while he was swimming in the Great River Anduin. He was seen and shot dead by Orcs, and the Ring was lost for two millennia on the river's bottom.

It was then found by chance by a river hobbit named Déagol. His relative and friend[9] Sméagol killed him for the Ring and was banished from his home. Sméagol fled into the Misty Mountains where, corrupted by the power of the Ring, he became a loathsome, slimy creature called Gollum. Much later, as told in The Hobbit, another hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, seemingly accidentally found the Ring in Gollum's cave, and took it back to his home, Bag End, unaware that it was anything more than just a magic ring.


Main article: The Fellowship of the Ring

The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings are each divided into two 'books', making six books in total. Book I in The Fellowship of the Ring begins in the Shire with Bilbo's 111th (or "Eleventy-first" in Hobbit speak) birthday party, about 60 years after the end of The Hobbit, and his subsequent disappearance using his magic ring. Departing to retire in Rivendell, he left many of his belongings, including the ring, to his nephew and adoptive heir, Frodo Baggins. After 17 years of investigating, their old friend Gandalf the Grey confirmed that this ring was in fact the One Ring, the instrument of Sauron's power, for which the Dark Lord had been searching for most of the Third Age, and which corrupted others with desire for it and the evil power it held. Unknown to Gandalf, Gollum had made his way to Mordor, where he was captured and the little information he had about the Ring and its whereabouts extracted through torture.

Sauron sent the nine Ringwraiths, in the guise of riders in black, to the Shire 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 and the others set off to take the Ring to the Elven haven of Rivendell. They were aided by the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, and by a man called "Strider", who was later revealed to be Aragorn son of Arathorn, the heir to the kingships of Gondor and Arnor, and direct male descendant of Isildur, who had defeated Sauron centuries earlier. Aragorn led the hobbits to Rivendell on Gandalf's request. However, Frodo was gravely wounded by the Ringwraiths at the hill of Weathertop. With the help of his companions and the Elf-lord Glorfindel, Frodo managed to enter Rivendell's borders by crossing the Ford of the river Bruinen. The Ringwraiths, in close pursuit, were swept away by an enchantment of the river when they entered its waters. Book I ends with Frodo losing consciousness.

Book II reveals that Frodo managed to recover under the care of the Half-elven lord Elrond, master of Rivendell. Frodo met Bilbo, enjoying his retirement, and saw Elrond's daughter Arwen. 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. In order to fulfil an ancient prophecy about the return of the King of Gondor and Arnor, Aragorn was going to war against Sauron armed with Narsil, the broken sword of Elendil. The shards of the sword had been kept safe through the intervening years, and were now reforged in Rivendell and renamed Andúril. 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. At the council there was much debate about who would take the actual ring to Mordor, and it was essentially a clash of the races of Middle-Earth. However, Frodo finally volunteered for the task (and thus ended the debate), and a "Fellowship of the Ring" was formed to aid him, comprising his three Hobbit companions, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir of Gondor, Gimli the Dwarf, and Legolas the Elf, and with Frodo himself they were nine companions to go against the nine Ringwraiths.

The company journeyed across plains and over mountains, and ultimately to the Mines of Moria, where they were tracked by Gollum, who, having been released by Sauron, desperately sought to regain the ring he called his "Precious". When they were almost through the mines the party was attacked by Orcs. Gandalf battled a Balrog, an ancient demon creature, and fell into a deep chasm, apparently to his death. Escaping from Moria the Fellowship, now led by Aragorn, took refuge in the Elvish wood of Lothlórien, the realm of the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn. The Fellowship then travelled down the great River Anduin by boat, and Frodo eventually decided to continue the trek to Mordor on his own, largely due to the Ring's growing influence on Boromir and the threat it posed to the others. At the end of the book, Frodo attempted to continue his mission alone, but Sam was able to catch him at the last minute, and the two of them went off together towards Mordor.

The second volume, The Two Towers, deals with two parallel storylines, one 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 beginning of the book, the remaining members of the Fellowship are attacked by Saruman's Orcs, and in the battle Boromir is killed and Merry and Pippin are kidnapped by the Orcs (Saruman, now turned traitor and seeking the One Ring himself, had sent them to intercept the Fellowship and bring any Hobbits to him alive). Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursued Merry and Pippin's captors, and 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 because his work was not finished. The four helped Rohan defeat Saruman's armies at the Battle of the Hornburg. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin, freed from captivity, motivated the ancient, tree-like Ents to attack Saruman at his stronghold of Isengard. The two groups were reunited in the aftermath of battle. Saruman refused to repent of his folly and Gandalf cast him from the Order of Wizards, stripping Saruman of most of his power.

Book IV tells of Frodo and Sam's exploits on the way to Mount Doom. They managed to capture Gollum and convinced him to guide them to the Black Gate, which they found to be impenetrable. Gollum then suggested a secret path into Mordor, through the dreaded valley of Minas Morgul. While travelling there, the three were captured by Rangers of Gondor led by Boromir's brother Faramir. After hearing the story of his Brother's death, Faramir became convinced that the Ring was better off destroyed than used as a weapon. He spared Gollum's life, resupplied the hobbits, and warned them about the path they were to take. At the end of the volume, Gollum betrayed Frodo to the great spider Shelob, hoping to scavenge the Ring from Frodo's remains after she had consumed the hobbit. Shelob's bite paralysed Frodo, but Sam fought her off using Sting. Frodo was soon taken by orcs to the nearby fortress of Cirith Ungol. Sam had thought his master dead, and saved the Ring, but was now left to find Frodo's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Sauron launched an all-out military assault upon Middle-earth, precipitating the War of the Ring, with the Witch-king (leader of the Ringwraiths) leading a large army into battle against Gondor.

The third volume, The Return of the King, begins with Gandalf arriving at Minas Tirith in Gondor with Pippin, to alert the city of the impending attack. Merry joined the army of Rohan, while the others led by Aragorn elected to journey through the 'Paths of the Dead' in the hope of enlisting the help of an undead army against the Corsairs of Umbar. Gandalf, Aragorn and the others of the Fellowship then assisted in the final battles against the armies of Sauron, including the siege of Minas Tirith. With the timely aid of Rohan's cavalry and Aragorn's assault up the river, a significant portion of Sauron's army was defeated and Minas Tirith saved. However, Sauron still had thousands of troops available, and the main characters were forced into a climactic all-or-nothing 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 Ringbearer, and hoped to gain time for Frodo to destroy it.

In Book VI, Sam rescued Frodo from captivity. The pair then made their way through the rugged lands of Mordor and, after much struggle, finally reached Mount Doom itself (tailed closely by Gollum). However, the temptation of the Ring proved too great for Frodo, and he claimed it for himself at the edge of the Cracks of Doom. While the Ringwraiths flew at top speed toward Mount Doom, Gollum struggled with Frodo for his "Precious" and managed to bite the Ring off Frodo's finger. Crazed with triumph, Gollum lost his footing and fell into the fire, destroying the Ring. With the end of the Ring, Sauron's armies lost heart, the Ringwraiths disintegrated, and Aragorn's army was victorious.

Thus, Sauron was banished from the world and his realm ended. Aragorn was crowned king of Gondor and married Arwen, the daughter of Elrond. All conflict was not over, however, for Saruman had managed to escape his captivity in Orthanc and enslave the Shire. Although he was soon overthrown by the Hobbits, and the four heroes helped to restore order and beautify the land again, it was not the same Shire that they had left. At the end, Frodo remained wounded in body and spirit and, accompanied by Bilbo, sailed west 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 Template:ME-date birthday party, and Sam's re-arrival to Bag End on Template:ME-date. Most of the events portrayed in the story occur in 3018 and 3019, with Frodo heading out from Bag End on Template:ME-date, and the destruction of the Ring six months later on Template:ME-date.

For character information see: List of Middle-earth characters

Concept and creation


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Tolkien 1916

Tolkien in army uniform.

The Lord of the Rings was started as a sequel to The Hobbit, a fantasy story published in 1937 that Tolkien had originally written for and read to his children.[10] 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, such as 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.[11] Some Tolkien biographers regard The Silmarillion as the true "work of his heart",[12] 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."[9]

Persuaded by his publishers, he started 'a new Hobbit' in December 1937.[10] 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.[10] 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 decided to write about it instead.[10] Once Tolkien remembered the Ring, the books really became centred around it and its influence of the inhabitants of Middle-Earth. In fact, each book is preceded by the verse:

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.[13]

He began with Bilbo as the main character, but decided that the story was too serious to use the fun-loving hobbit. Thus Tolkien looked for an alternate character to carry the ring, and he turned to members of Bilbo's family.[10] He thought about using a son, but this generated some difficult questions, such as the whereabouts of Bilbo's wife and whether he would let his son go into danger. In Greek legend, it was a hero's nephew that gained the item of power, and so the hobbit Frodo came into existence.[10] (Technically Tolkien made Frodo Bilbo's second cousin once removed, but because of age differences 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 by other academic duties.[14] According to sources, he seems to have abandoned The Lord of the Rings during most of 1943 and only re-started it in April 1944.[10] 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 with the Royal Air Force. He made another push in 1946, and showed a copy of the manuscript to his publishers in 1947.[10] The story was effectively finished the next year, but Tolkien did not finish revising earlier parts of the work until 1949.[10]

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."[10]

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 never went very far with this sequel, as it had more to do with human nature than with epic struggles, and the few pages which were written 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, and The Silmarillion was published posthumously by Tolkien's son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, in 1977.


For publication, due largely to post-war paper shortages, but also to keep the price 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 the volumes being published later than originally hoped — on 21 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, 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.[15]

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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 the poet W. H. Auden (who famously reviewed the final volume in 1956), Tolkien himself made use of the term "trilogy" for the work[16] though he did at other times consider this incorrect, as it was written and conceived as a single book.[17] It is also often called a novel; however, Tolkien also objected to this term as he viewed it as a romance.[18]

A 1999 British (ISBN 0-261-10387-3) seven-volume box set followed Tolkien's original six-book division, with the Appendices from the end of The Return of the King bound as a separate volume. The individual names for the books were decided based on a combination of suggestions Tolkien had made during his lifetime and the titles of the existing volumes. From Book I to Book VI, these titles were The Ring Sets Out, The Ring Goes South, The Treason of Isengard, The Ring Goes East, The War of the Ring, and The End of the Third Age [2]. The titles The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring, and The End of the Third Age were also used as volume titles by Christopher Tolkien in The History of The Lord of the Rings.

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


Main article: The Lord of the Rings influences

The Lord of the Rings developed as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion (particularly Roman Catholicism), fairy tales, as well as Norse mythology, but it was also crucially influenced by the effects of his military service during World War I.[19] Tolkien created a complete and highly detailed fictional universe (), in which The Lord of the Rings was set, and many parts of this world were, as he freely admitted, influenced by other sources.[20]

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."[9] 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.[9]

There are allusions to earlier, at the time unpublished events and characters from The Silmarillion 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. Mythological and folkloric elements can be seen, including other sentient non-humans (Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and Ents), (Tom Bombadil) and spirits or ghosts (Barrow-wights, Oathbreakers).

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The Northern European mythologies are perhaps the best known non-Christian influences on Tolkien.[citation needed] His Elves and Dwarves are by and large based on Norse and related Germanic mythologies[21][22] as well as the Celtic[23]. Names such as "Gandalf", "Gimli" and "Middle-earth" are directly derived from Norse mythology. Gandalf, which means "wand elf" or "magic elf" in Old Norse, appears in the "Catalogue of Dwarves" in the Voluspa, a poem in the Norse epic the Poetic Edda.[24] The figures of Gandalf is particularly influenced by the Germanic deity Odin[citation needed] in his incarnation as "The Wanderer", an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff; Tolkien stated that he thought of Gandalf as an "Odinic wanderer" in a letter of 1946, nearly a decade after the character was invented.[9]

Specific literature influences on The Lord of the Rings from European mythologies include the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which influenced the figures of the Rohirrim.[25] Tolkien may have also borrowed elements from the Völsunga saga (the Old Norse basis of the later German Nibelungenlied and Richard Wagner's opera series, Der Ring des Nibelungen, also called the Ring Cycle), 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. Finnish mythology and more specifically the Finnish national epic Kalevala were also acknowledged by Tolkien as an influence on Middle-earth.[26] 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 Kalevala'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.[27]

Shakespeare's Macbeth influenced Tolkien in a number of ways. The Ent attack on Isengard was inspired by "Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane" in the play; Tolkien felt men carrying boughs were not impressive enough, and thus he used actual tree-like creatures.[28] The phrase "crack of doom" was actually coined by Shakespeare for Macbeth, with an entirely different meaning.

On a more personal level, some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Sarehole and Birmingham.[29] 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.[30] 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 the 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.[31] Tolkien, however, repeatedly insisted that his works were not an allegory of any kind. He stated in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegories, which he felt imposed the "domination of the author" on the reader. Instead he preferred what he termed "applicability", the freedom of the reader to interpret the work in the light of his or her own life and times.[32]

Nevertheless, a number of the work's themes have modern resonances. There is a strong theme of despair in the face of new mechanized warfare that Tolkien himself had experienced in the trenches of World War I. Some say 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 legendTemplate:ME-fact, but also by Tolkien's contemporary anxieties about the growing encroachment of urbanisation and industrialisation into the "traditional" English lifestyle and countryside.[33] 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.

Publishing history

The three parts were first published several months apart, in 1954 and 1955 by Allen & Unwin. The novel has since been reissued many times by multiple publishers, as one-, three-, six- or seven-volume sets. There were significant changes in the text from the first editions of the three separate parts to the next three-volume print.

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, theorized 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, unauthorized 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 authorized edition followed from Ballantine Books to tremendous commercial success. By the mid-1960s the novel, due to its 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 an unquestioned US copyright. This would later become the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings. Years later the copyright theory advanced by Ace Books was repudiated and their paperback edition found to have been a violation of Tolkien's copyright under US law.[34]

Since the original printings of the 1950s and 1960s, many different editions of The Lord of the Rings have appeared. In the 1990s (partly in anticipation of the forthcoming The Lord of the Rings film trilogy) several new editions were released, including a three-volume hardback edition from Houghton-Mifflin, featuring colour illustrations by Alan Lee. In 2004 a new edition was published for the fiftieth anniversary of the book's original publication.


Main article: Translations of The Lord of the Rings

The novel has been translated, with various degrees of success, into dozens of other languages.[35] 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, and because he was unhappy with some choices made by early translators such as Åke Ohlmarks,[36] Tolkien wrote his "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings" (1967). Because it purports to be a translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, with the English language in the original purporting to represent the Westron of the original, translators need to imitate the complex interplay between English and non-English (Elvish) nomenclature in the book.

Critical response

The Lord of the Rings 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 its 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."[37]

Not all original reviews, however, were so kind. 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."[38] Critic Richard Jenkyns, writing in The New Republic, criticized a perceived lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fiber."[39] Even within Tolkien's literary group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson complained loudly at its readings, and Christopher Tolkien records Dyson as "lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, 'Oh God, no more Elves.'"[40] 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.[41]

Several other authors in the genre, however, seemed to agree more with Dyson than Lewis. Science-fiction author David Brin criticized the book for what he perceived to be its unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure, its positive depiction of the slaughter of the opposing forces, and its romantic backward-looking worldview.[42] Michael Moorcock, another famous science fiction and fantasy author, is also critical of The Lord of the Rings. In his essay, "Epic Pooh", he equates Tolkien's work to Winnie-the-Pooh and criticizes it and similar works for their perceived Merry England point of view.[43] 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.

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.[44] 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." In similar 2004 polls both Germany[45] and Australia[46] also found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite book. In a 1999 poll of customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium."[47]

<span id="Minority criticisms"/>Some recent analysis has focused on criticisms within The Lord of the Rings held by minority groups.[48] One criticism holds that the book displays racism in its portrayal of white-skinned Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits as protagonists and dark-skinned Orcs and Men as antagonists. The book also mentions that the Númenóreans became weak when they mingled with 'lesser Men'. Critics have held that this amounts to a declaration that foreigners destroy culture, especially those of another ethnicity.[49] Among other counter-criticisms,[50] skin colour being somewhat diverse among the Free Peoples - for example, some Hobbits were brown-skinned,[51] and dark-skinned allied men help defend Minas Tirith.[52] Tolkien also elicits sympathy for the Men serving Sauron; seeing a corpse of one such Man, Sam Gamgee contemplates whether he was "really evil of heart", or rather enslaved and deceived.[53] The decline of the Númenóreans is also stated to be due to many factors, such as their own pride and lust for power. This racist interpretation is also seen as inconsistent with Tolkien's personal beliefs. In private letters, Tolkien called Nazi "race-doctrine" and antisemitism "wholly pernicious and unscientific",[54] and apartheid, "horrifying".[55] He also denounced the latter in his valedictory address to the University of Oxford in 1959.[56]


Main article: Adaptations of The Lord of the Rings

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

The book has been adapted for radio four times. In 1955 and 1956, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a 12-part radio adaptation of the story. In the 1960s radio station WBAI in New York 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.

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 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). The final instalment of this trilogy was only the second film to break the one-billion-dollar barrier, after 1997's Titanic, and, like Titanic, won a total of 11 Oscars, including 'best motion picture' and 'best director'. The live-action film trilogy has done much in recent years to bring the book back into the public consciousness.[8]

In 1990, Recorded Books published an unabridged audio version of the books (ISBN 1402516274). 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;[citation needed] for the rest, Inglis, along with director Claudia Howard, wrote additional music.[citation needed]

There have been several stage productions based on the book. Full-length stage adaptations of each 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 [3]. 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.


Main article: Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien

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. Many other books in a broadly similar vein were published, including the Earthsea books of Ursula K. Le Guin, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond Feist, The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, the Thomas Covenant novels of Stephen R. Donaldson; the "Wheel of Time" books of Robert Jordan, and, in the case of the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake and The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison, rediscovered.

With a significant overlapping of their respective followings, there has been and still is extensive cross-pollination of influence between the fantasy and science fiction genres. In this way, the work also had an influence upon such science fiction authors as Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke[57] and filmmakers such as George Lucas.[58]

It strongly influenced the role playing game industry which achieved popularity in the 1970s with Dungeons & Dragons, a game which 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.[59] The video game industry has also been influenced by the legacy of The Lord of the Rings, with titles such as Ultima, EverQuest, and the Warcraft series,[60] 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 Der Ring des Nibelungen) — an especially interesting commentary in light of a possible interpretation of the books as a Christian response to Wagner.[61] The book also helped popularize alternative spellings for the plurals of elf and dwarf (using -ves instead of -fs).

Impact on popular culture

The Lord of the Rings has had a profound and wide-ranging impact on popular culture, from its publication in the 1950s, but especially throughout the 1960s and 1970s, where young people embraced it as a countercultural saga[62] - "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President" were two phrases popular among American Tolkien fans during this time.[63] More recent examples include The Lord of the Rings-themed editions of popular board games (e.g., Risk: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition, chess and Monopoly);[64] and parodies such as Bored of the Rings, Lord of the Beans, the South Park episode The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers, the Mad Magazine musical send-up titled "The Ring And I," and The Very Secret Diaries. The relatively new HBO series The Flight of the Conchords also has band members singing a spoof song entitled "Frodo." Its influence has been vastly extended in the present day, largely due to the Peter Jackson-directed live-action films.

The book, along with Tolkien's other writings, has influenced many musicians. Rock bands of the 1970s were musically and lyrically inspired by the major fantasy counter-culture of the time; British 70s rock band Led Zeppelin is arguably the most well-known group to be directly inspired by Tolkien, and have four songs that contain explicit references to The Lord of the Rings. Other 70s rock bands such as Camel, Rush and Styx were also inspired by Tolkien's work. Later, from the 1980s to the present day, several (mostly Northern European) metal bands have drawn inspiration from Tolkien, often with a focus on the 'dark' or evil characters and forces in Tolkien's Middle-earth. These include German band Blind Guardian, Austrian band Summoning, and Finnish bands Nightwish and Battlelore. Furthermore, several bands from this metal subgenre have taken their names from Tolkien's story (Burzum, Gorgoroth, Amon Amarth, Ephel Duath and Cirith Ungol for example), and even band members have adopted stage names borrowed from the story, such as Count Grishnackh and Shagrath. 1960s guitarist Steve Took also took his pseudonym in honour of the hobbit character Peregrin Took. Progressive rock bands Iluvatar and Isildur's Bane borrow their names from characters in the epic.

Outside of rock music, a number of classical and New Age music artists have also been influenced by Tolkien's work. The New Age artist 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). Swedish keyboardist Bo Hansson released an instrumental album entitled "Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings" in 1970. The Danish Tolkien Ensemble have released a number of albums that have set the complete poems and songs of The Lord of the Rings to music, some featuring recitation by Christopher Lee...

Current Editions

  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2007). The Lord of the Rings: Based on the 50th Anniversary Single Vol. Ed. of 2004, pb, HarperCollins. ISBN 0-261-10325-3. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2005). The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary Ed., pb, HarperCollins. ISBN 0-007-20363-2. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2005). The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary Ed., pb, Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-64015-0. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2005). The Lord of the Rings, pb 3vol box set, Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-57499-9. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2005). The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary Ed., hc, Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-64561-6. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2002). The Lord of the Rings, hc 3vol box set, HarperCollins. ISBN 0-007-13658-7. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2002). The Lord of the Rings, hc 3vol box set, Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-26058-7. 
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [1954] (2002: 129th+ printings). The Lord of the Rings, pb 4vol box set with The Hobbit, Ballantine/Del Ray. ISBN 0-345-34042-6. 


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Secondary literature on The Lord of the Rings:

See also

External links

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