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The Lord of the Rings

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"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."
― Sunday Times
The Lord of the Rings
Jrrt lotr cover design.jpg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Released1954-1956
FormatHardcover, Paperback
Pages1210

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 in 1954 and 1955. Three movie productions have been made, the first, by animator Ralph Bakshi was released in 1978 (as part one of what was originally to be a two-part adaptation of the story), the second being a 1980 television special, and the third being director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings released in 2001, 2002, and 2003.


The story's titular character is the Dark Lord Sauron of Mordor. The primary villain of the work, he created the One Ring to control nineteen other Rings of Power, and is thus the "Lord of the Rings." Sauron, in turn, was the servant of an earlier Dark Lord, Morgoth (Melkor), who is prominent in Tolkien's The Silmarillion, the history of Middle-earth.

Contents

Books and volumes

Writing

Tolkien did not originally intend to write a sequel to The Hobbit, and instead wrote several other children's tales, including Roverandom and Farmer Giles of Ham. 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 trilogy came to be. Tolkien died before he could complete and put together The Silmarillion, but his son Christopher Tolkien edited his father's work, filled in gaps and published in 1977.

Tolkien had a deep desire to write a mythology for England, especially after his horrific experiences during the First World War. He was also influenced by the effects of continued industrialisation, 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 Hervarar saga, the Völsunga saga, the influential [1] as well as other Old Norse, Old and Middle English Texts. He was also inspired by non-Germanic works such as the Finnish epic Kalevala. 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, meeting weekly and discussing 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 of 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. Originally he was going 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 the powers it had and decided to write about that instead. He started to write it with Bilbo as the main character but decided that the story was too serious to use the fun loving Hobbit so Tolkien looked to use a member of Bilbo's family. He thought about using Bilbo's son but this generated some difficult questions — Where was his wife? How could Bilbo let his son go into that kind of danger? — so 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 into existence came the Hobbit Frodo.

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 wrote to Allen and Unwin, saying "I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff".

Publication

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 0-261-10387-3) 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 1954–1955 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, and The Worm Ourobouros by E. R. Eddison, 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", and is a testament to how much the popularity of these books has increased, since many critics initially decried Lord of the Rings as being " Wagner for children" (a reference to the Ring Cycle) — a specially interesting commentary in light of a possible interpretation of The Lord of The Rings as a Christian response to Wagner, for example following ATimes' pseudo-Oswald Spengler.

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 of good versus evil, the triumph of humility over pride, 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).

Religious motifs other than Christian can be discerned as strong influences in Tolkien's Middle Earth. The pantheon of the Valar and Maiar (greater and lesser gods/angels) responsible for the creation and maintenance of everything from skies (Manwe) and seas (Ulmo), to dreams (Lorien) and dooms (Mandos) suggest a pre-Christian mythology in style, albeit that these Valar and Maiar are themselves creations of a monotheistic entity — Illuvatar or Eru, "The One".

Other pre-Christian mythological references can be seen in the representations of: a "Green Man" — Tom Bombadil, wise-men — the Istari (commonly referred to as the Wizards, perhaps more of angels), shapechangers — Beorn, undead spirits — Barrow Wights, Oathbreakers, sentient nonhumans — Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, and, of course, Ents. Magic is utilised freely in Middle Earth, and may be found not only in the incantations of Wizards, but in the weapons and tools of warriors and craftspeople, in the perceptions and abilities of heroes, and in the natural world itself.

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, Tolkien had already completed most of the book, and planned the ending in entirety, before the first atom bombs were made public to the world during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. 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. Nevertheless, the author's own opinion on the matter of allegories was that he disliked them, and it would be irresponsible to dismiss such direct statements on these matters lightly.

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, an evil spirit, attempts to regain the lost One Ring which will restore him to full potency.

The Verse of the One Ring

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.

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" [2]. Although she had never read The Lord of the Rings, 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."

W.H. Auden also criticized the book in a 1968 Critical Quarterly article, "Good and evil in The Lord of the Rings," objecting to Tolkien's conception of sentient species that are intrinsically evil without possibility of redemption. (This is a criticism often directed at Dungeons and Dragons-like fantasy worlds as well as at fantasy literature in general, and a criticism that Tolkien himself increasingly struggled with during his last years.) On the other hand, in a 1956 New York Times book review, "At the end of the Quest, Victory," Auden also called the book "a masterpiece of its genre" that "succeeded where Milton failed" in depicting an epic battle between good and evil, and wrote that it "never violated" the "reader's sense of the credible."

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].

Another notable SF writer Michael Moorcock wrote a long and piercing critique of the book under the title Epic Pooh advancing the thesis that it was simply a child's tale written in the language of epic myth.

China Mieville, a modern fantasy writer, criticised Tolkien's works as "reactionary." Mieville is also a detractor of later fantasy which draws heavily upon Tolkien's work, based on the idea that such work is cliche.

Praise

"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." — Sunday Times

"Among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century." — Sunday Telegraph

"Here are the beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron." — C.S. Lewis

"J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy remains the ultimate quest, the ultimate battle between good and evil, the ultimate chronicle of stewardship of the earth. Endlessly imitated, it never has been surpassed." — Kansas City Star

"A story magnificently told, with every kind of colour and movement and greatness." — New Statesman

Peter Jackson said, "…it is as if Tolkien found some secret scroll about the real history of earth…".

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. Boorman would later use many of the locations and sets in his Arthurian epic "Excalibur"

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 was a precursor 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 used an animation technique called rotoscoping in which footage of live actors was filmed and then traced over.

The film was part one of what was originally to be a two-part adaptation of Tolkien's story, Part I ending after the battle of Helm's Deep, but before Sam, Frodo and Gollum traverse the Dead Marshes, and Part II picking up from where the first film left off. Made for a minimal budget of $8 million dollars, the film earned $30 million dollars at the box office.

United Artists viewed the film as a flop, and refused to fund 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.

However, the Rankin-Bass film picked up from where the book began, and not from where Bakshi's film left off. Additionally, the change in style and character design was quite noticeable.

Since this film was targeted to a younger audience, adult enthusiasts have complained that much of the depth and darkness of the book was discarded.

The New Line Cinema films

Main article Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings

Miramax Films developed a full-fledged live-action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson as director. Eventually, Miramax became uneasy with the sheer scope of the proposed projectand wanted to combine the suggested three films into two. Peter Jackson struck a deal with Miramax that if he could not find a fresh studio to back the project, he would walk away and leave the rights and all the work so far completed with Miramax. However, in 1998, New Line Cinema assumed production responsibility (while 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, using the "Massive" software) were filmed simultaneously. The Fellowship of the Ring was released on December 19, 2001. The Two Towers was released on December 18, 2002 and The Return of the King was released worldwide 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 noticeably different tone from Tolkien's original vision, others have hailed them as remarkable achievements. Peter Jackson has defended his changes by stating that he views the films as merely one man's interpreatation.

Peter Jackson's film adaptations 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). With 30 total nominations, the trilogy also became the most-nominated in the Academy's history, surpassing the Godfather series (28).

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 won for one film with Titanic six years earlier and the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. It also broke the previous "sweep" record, beating Gigi and The Last Emperor (which had gone 9 for 9).

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 and edited back to back over a period of little 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 24 March 2005, the three films rank (in order of release) as the 71st, 56th, and 48th highest-grossing films in the United States [4].

Fanatics of the films have also flocked to the locations where the trilogy was filmed in New Zealand, with many tour companies being totally devoted to taking fans to and from the filming locations that Director Peter Jackson chose for the adaption of Tolkien's epic trilogy.[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).

The Lord of the Rings on stage

Mirvish Productions has started rehearsals for a three-hour stage musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings that will have a cast of over 65 actors and cost C$27 million (£11.5 million). The show will be written by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus with music by A. R. Rahman and Värttinä, collaborating with Christopher Nightingale and will be directed by Matthew Warchus. It will open on March 23 2006 at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre, with preview performances from February 2 until March 22. It is planned to premiere in London in autumn 2006 and New York City within two years.

The director explained his vision of the play’s format by saying, "We have not attempted to pull the novel towards the standard conventions of musical theatre, but rather to expand those conventions so that they will accommodate Tolkien's material. As a result, we will be presenting a hybrid of text, physical theatre, music and spectacle never previously seen on this scale. To read the novel is to experience the events of Middle-earth in the mind’s eye; to watch the films is to view Middle-earth as though through a giant window. Only in the theatre are we actually plunged into the events as they happen. The environment surrounds us. We participate. We are in Middle-earth."


Satire and parody based on The Lord of the Rings

This section has been moved to the Humor page.

Awards

  • In 1957 it was awarded the International Fantasy Award
  • 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 ABC
  • In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium". [6]
  • In 2002 Tolkien was voted the ninety-second "greatest Briton" in a poll conducted by the BBC
  • In 2004 he was voted thirty-fifth in the SABC3's Great South Africans, the only person to appear in both lists
  • 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. [7]
  • The Lord of the Rings came in 3rd in the Librarians' Poll [8]


See also:



The Lord of the Rings
Foreword · Prologue · The Fellowship of the Ring · The Two Towers · The Return of the King · Appendices · Index