The Lord of the Rings Foreword

From Tolkien Gateway

The Foreword is the very first section appearing in The Lord of the Rings.

The Foreword notoriously introduces minor spoilers that concern much later events in the story, as if they are well-known facts. For example, the first edition Forword mentioned the descendants of Master Samwise Gamgee, thus reassuring that he would survive the adventure. Other references include that the One Ring won't be used, and hints about the treachery of Saruman.

First edition[edit]

In the Foreword to the first edition of The Lord of the Rings,[note 1] Tolkien imposes himself as merely translator and editor of the text to come, thus sharing the in-universe character of the 1951 prefatory note to the second edition of The Hobbit.

Tolkien disliked his own text, noting that it mixes real-life matters of his life (including referencing the Inklings and his children) with the in-universe "machinery" of the Tale.[1]

Second and later editions[edit]

In 1965 Ballantine Books needed a new text in order to renew the copyright in the United States, and to challenge the controversy raised by Ace Books. For that edition Tolkien wrote a new Foreword.[2]:p. lxx

The Foreword written specifically for Ballantine ends with a paragraph where Tolkien thanks the American readers for their courtesy, and makes a reference to the copyright laws and the unauthorised edition (which he compares it to something that Saruman would do) and pleaded them to prefer only the edition authorised by him, dedicating the book to all those who will enjoy the story. This paragraph is absent to European editions.[2]:p. lxxx

As for the previous paragraph (where Tolkien mentions that there have been alterations, corrections and additions in that edition, like notes and a small index) sometimes is omitted, or replaced by a new text describing alterations (like the absence of the Appendices).[2]:p. lxxix

The original text wrote that his work "has been read by many people since it finally appeared in print ten years ago", a number that was updated in subsequent printings. The number was omitted in 1976 on a suggestion by Christopher Tolkien.[3]:p. lxxiiv


Recollecting the writing of the book 25 years earlier, the references to dates and progress of writing, are inaccurate (possibly false memories), contradicting more detailed letters that Tolkien had written while composing the story.

For example Tolkien claims that he began writing The Lord of the Rings soon after completing The Hobbit; and when The Silmarillion was rejected, he "went back to the sequel". In reality it was right then, December 1937, when he started writing the book.[2]:pp. lxxi-lxxii

Another example is the hiatus in 1940, after writing about Balin's Tomb, until late 1941. Christopher Tolkien says that it contradicts contemporary Letter 37; the hiatus was probably in 1939 until August 1940.[4][2]:p. xxiii

See also[edit]


  1. Reprinted in "greater part" in The Peoples of Middle-earth (pp. 25-6), and in its entirety in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (pp. lxviii-lxx).


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