Today is the 62nd anniversary of the publishing of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic. The first installment of this trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was published on July 29th, 1954. To celebrate this occasion, as well as to culminate the end of the 2016 Silmarillion Awards, myself, along with the hosts of the various Silmarillion Awards are writing articles in honor of this one fantasy series to rule them all!
For my contribution I submit for your reading pleasure these 10 Amazing Facts about The Lord of the Rings. Though diehard Tolkien fans and scholars will no doubt be familiar with most, if not all of them, you might just learn a thing or two. Read on and watch your step, if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to!
1. Tolkien intended the books to be published as a single volume
You think The Fellowship of the Ring and the other volumes are long by themselves, do you? Well, the Oxford Don originally wanted all three to be published in a single volume, along with the appendices and perhaps the Silmarillion thrown in for good measure! Can you imagine the size of such a book? Though now that the series is so popular you can buy all three books in a single volume, his publisher at the time, perhaps wisely, chose to release the story as a trilogy. So now you know Peter Jackson wasn’t going so far out of line when he stretched The Hobbit into three movies. He was simply honoring a time-honored Middle-Earth tradition.
2. The story is not meant to represent WWII
Theories abound that the ring represented the nuclear bomb or that Mordor represented Nazi Germany. Published as it was, shortly after World War II, one can see the attraction of this type of thinking. And Tolkien was a public critic of certain aspects of the war, including the bombing of Japan. But Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in 1937, long before the bomb came out and he has gone on record over and over in stating that the story was not an allegory. Tolkien once wrote that:
“…real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-Dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.”
3. Part of the trilogy’s popularity came from the rise of environmentalism
In the 1970’s what would become the environmental movement was starting to take hold in the west, rising to the attention of many after the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Richard Nixon. As it grew, many saw an environmentally friendly message in Tolkien’s love of forests and personification of the trees as Ents. Like the World War II issue, this was not Tolkien’s primary intention when he wrote the story, but people will take a novel to mean all sorts of things once it’s printed and such interpretations certainly did not hurt the sales of the series.
4. The original covers were nothing to “write home about”
All those who reject popular wisdom and do “judge a book by its cover” would probably have passed on the original editions if you had seen them in a book store. Thankfully, many people did follow the old adage and bought in on this new series when it came out back in the day.
5. The series was first revised in 1965
In 1965 Ace Books published an unauthorized and royalty-free version of The Lord of the Rings in the U.S. because Tolkien had lost his copyright to the work. By revising it, he was able to correct certain errors in the original editions and, more importantly, reassert his copyright. Though Tolkien made no wholesale changes and did not consider his works in any way allegorical, such as C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, he wrote of the revisions in a letter to Robert Murray, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”
6. The trilogy has sold over 150 million copies
Wondering where these books rank on the all time bestsellers list? As of 2016, according to the best data I could find, The Lord of the Rings has sold over 150 million copies. If considered as a single book (as it was originally intended to be—see fact #1) this would make it either the #1 or #2 selling English work of fiction of all time (one source had Tale of Two Cities as surpassing it, but classics are hard to pin down as there do not seem to be reliable sales figures for them). As a series, this would only put it in the top 20, however, behind things like the Goosebumps series and Choose Your Own Adventure. Still, by any measure, it has been one of the most successful works of fiction of all time. Bilbo could have bought quite a few suits of mithril armor with the sales from this series.
7. Alan Lee and John Howe’s art has had a huge influence on how we see Middle-Earth
If you do not own an illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings you should. And while many artists have tried their hand at bringing Tolkien’s words to life through the visual arts, Alan Lee and John Howe have probably been the most influential. Their work is so iconic that they were brought to work on the art direction of the blockbuster Lord of the Rings films. And if you’ve seen those movies, you’ll recognize their inspiration in practically every frame. Here are only two of the many paintings they have done over the years. Look familiar?
8. The poem “One Ring to Rule Them All” was composed in the bathtub
Yes, that’s right. It’s hard to believe that this epic and dark piece of verse was created while taking a bath, but according to Tolkien, that’s precisely where he came up with it. Part of me imagines he exchanged his beloved tobacco pipe for one blowing bubbles as he droned out these famous words in his thick British accent. If you’re a writer looking for some inspiration, you might want to draw yourself a long hot bath and see what happens!
If you’re not familiar with the verse (or even if you are it’s so good it’s worth reading again) here they are:
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.
9. Enjoy Lord of the Rings? Thank C.S. Lewis
Tolkien was reading various Middle-Earth genealogies and appendices to his friend C.S. Lewis long before there were any stories to go along with them. Tolkien was perfectly content with focusing on that sort of thing, but it was Lewis who urged him to put things into novel form. Tolkien once confided in Walter Hooper, a mutual friend, “You know Jack (Lewis’ nickname). He had to have a story! And that story—The Lord of the Rings—was written to keep him quiet!”
10. Lewis nominated Tolkien for a Nobel prize in literature
Lewis had such a high estimation of his friend Tolkien’s work that he nominated him for a Nobel prize in literature in 1961. Sadly, he did not win. What’s surprising, though, according to documents only released a few years ago, is the reason he was snubbed. According to the opinion of the Nobel committee, Tolkien’s writing did not “in any way measure up to storytelling of the highest quality.” The voters that year instead decided to honor Ivo Andrić of Yugoslavia, for “the epic force with which he … traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from his country’s history.” No disrespect to Mr. Andrić, but I’d have to say the committee was smoking some strange pipeweed on this one. Tolkien’s storytelling is not of the highest quality? 150 million people beg to differ.
And those are my 10 Amazing Facts about The Lord of the Rings. Hope you enjoyed them. Be sure to check out my review of The Lord of the Rings. Also, check out Jenelle Schmidt’s link up post to find out about all the other great Lord of the Rings posts happening today in celebration of the 62nd anniversary of this wonderful fantasy series.