The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel written by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.[1]

The Lord of the Rings
The first single-volume edition (1968)

AuthorJ. R. R. Tolkien
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherAllen & Unwin
  • 29 July 1954 (The Fellowship of the Ring)
  • 11 November 1954 (The Two Towers)
  • 20 October 1955 (The Return of the King)
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Preceded byThe Hobbit
Followed byThe Adventures of Tom Bombadil

The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron,[lower-alpha 1] who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, 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, Sam, Merry and Pippin.

Although generally known to readers as a trilogy, the work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set, the other to be The Silmarillion, but this idea was dismissed by his publisher.[3][4] For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955.[3][5] The three volumes were titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Structurally, the novel is divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material included at the end. Some editions combine the entire work into a single volume. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into 38 languages.

Tolkien's work has been the subject of extensive analysis of its themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story was only the last movement of a larger epic Tolkien had worked on since 1917,[6] in a process he described as mythopoeia.[lower-alpha 2] Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, religion and the author's distaste for the effects of industrialization, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I.[8] The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great effect on modern fantasy; the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" has been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.[9]

The 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,[10] 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, board games, and subsequent literature. Award-winning adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and film.[11] In 2003, it was named Britain's best novel of all time in the BBC's The Big Read.

Plot summary


Thousands of years before the events of the novel, the Dark Lord Sauron had forged the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power and corrupt those who wore them: three for Elves, seven for Dwarves, and nine for Men. Sauron was defeated by an alliance of Elves and Men led by Gil-galad and Elendil, respectively. In the final battle, Isildur, son of Elendil, cut the One Ring from Sauron's finger, causing Sauron to lose his physical form. Isildur claimed the Ring as an heirloom for his line, but when he was later ambushed and killed by the Orcs, the Ring was lost in the River Anduin.

Over two thousand years later, the Ring was found by one of the river-folk called Déagol. His friend[12] Sméagol fell under the Ring's influence and strangled Déagol to acquire it. Sméagol was banished and hid under the Misty Mountains. The Ring gave him long life and changed him over hundreds of years into a twisted, corrupted creature called Gollum. Gollum lost the Ring, his "precious", and as told in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins found it. Meanwhile, Sauron assumed a new form and took back his old realm of Mordor. When Gollum set out in search of the Ring, he was captured and tortured by Sauron. Sauron learned from Gollum that "Baggins" of the Shire had taken the Ring. Gollum was set loose. Sauron, who needed the Ring to regain his full power, sent forth his powerful servants, the Nazgûl, to seize it.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The story begins in the Shire, where the hobbit Frodo Baggins inherits the Ring from Bilbo Baggins, his cousin[lower-alpha 3] and guardian. Neither hobbit is aware of the Ring's nature, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard and an old friend of Bilbo, suspects it to be Sauron's Ring. Seventeen years later, after Gandalf confirms his guess, he tells Frodo the history of the Ring and counsels him to take it away from the Shire. Frodo sets out, accompanied by his gardener, servant and friend, Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, and two cousins, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took. They are nearly caught by the Black Riders, but shake off their pursuers by cutting through the Old Forest. There they are aided by Tom Bombadil, a strange and merry fellow who lives with his wife Goldberry in the forest.

The hobbits reach the town of Bree, where they encounter a Ranger named Strider, whom Gandalf had mentioned in a letter. Strider persuades the hobbits to take him on as their guide and protector. Together, they leave Bree after another close escape from the Black Riders. On the hill of Weathertop, they are again attacked by the Black Riders, who wound Frodo with a cursed blade. Strider fights them off and leads the hobbits towards the Elven refuge of Rivendell. Frodo falls deathly ill from the wound. The Black Riders nearly capture him at the Ford of Bruinen, but flood waters summoned by Elrond, master of Rivendell, rise up and overwhelm them.

Frodo recovers in Rivendell under Elrond's care. The Council of Elrond discusses the history of Sauron and the Ring. Strider is revealed to be Aragorn, Isildur's heir. Gandalf reports that the chief wizard Saruman has betrayed them and is now working to become a power in his own right. The Council decides that the Ring must be destroyed, but that can only be done by sending it to the Fire of Mount Doom in Mordor, where it was forged. Frodo takes this task upon himself. Elrond, with the advice of Gandalf, chooses companions for him. The Company of the Ring are nine in number: Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, and the Man Boromir, son of Denethor, the Ruling Steward of the land of Gondor.

After a failed attempt to cross the Misty Mountains over the Redhorn Pass, the Company take the perilous path through the Mines of Moria. They learn of the fate of Balin and his colony of Dwarves. After surviving an attack, they are pursued by Orcs and by a Balrog, an ancient fire demon. Gandalf faces the Balrog, and both of them fall into the abyss. The others escape and find refuge in the Elven forest of Lothlórien, where they are counselled by its rulers, Galadriel and Celeborn.

With boats and gifts from Galadriel, the Company travel down the River Anduin to the hill of Amon Hen. There, Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, but Frodo puts it on and disappears. Frodo chooses to go alone to Mordor, but Sam guesses what he intends and goes with him.

The Two Towers

Orcs sent by Saruman and Sauron kill Boromir and capture Merry and Pippin. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas debate which pair of hobbits to follow. They decide to pursue the Orcs taking Merry and Pippin to Saruman. In the kingdom of Rohan, the Orcs are slain by a company of Rohirrim. Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn Forest, where they are befriended by Treebeard, the oldest of the tree-like Ents. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track the hobbits to Fangorn. There they unexpectedly meet Gandalf.

Gandalf explains that he slew the Balrog. Darkness took him, but he was sent back to Middle-earth to complete his mission. He is clothed in white and is now Gandalf the White, for he has taken Saruman's place as the chief of the wizards. Gandalf assures his friends that Merry and Pippin are safe. Together they ride to Edoras, capital of Rohan. Gandalf frees Théoden, King of Rohan, from the influence of Saruman's spy Gríma Wormtongue. Théoden musters his fighting strength and rides with his men to the ancient fortress of Helm's Deep, while Gandalf departs to seek help from Treebeard.

Meanwhile, the Ents, roused by Merry and Pippin from their peaceful ways, attack Isengard, Saruman's stronghold, and trap the wizard in the tower of Orthanc. Gandalf convinces Treebeard to send an army of Huorns to Théoden's aid. Gandalf brings an army of Rohirrim to Helm's Deep, and they defeat the Orcs, who flee into the forest of Huorns, never to be seen again. Gandalf offers Saruman a chance to turn away from evil. When Saruman refuses to listen, Gandalf strips him of his rank and most of his powers.

After Saruman crawls back to his prison, Wormtongue drops a sphere to try to kill Gandalf. Pippin picks it up. It is revealed to be a palantír, a seeing-stone that Saruman used to speak with Sauron and through which Saruman was ensnared. Pippin is seen by Sauron. Gandalf rides for Minas Tirith, chief city of Gondor, taking Pippin with him.

Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, who has followed them from Moria. They force him to guide them to Mordor. They find that the Black Gate of Mordor is too well guarded, so instead they travel to a secret way Gollum knows. On the way, they encounter Faramir, who, unlike his brother Boromir, resists the temptation to seize the Ring. Gollum – who is torn between his loyalty to Frodo and his desire for the Ring – betrays Frodo by leading him to the great spider Shelob in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol. Frodo falls to Shelob's sting. But with the help of Galadriel's gifts, Sam fights off the spider. Believing Frodo to be dead, Sam takes the Ring to continue the quest alone. Orcs find Frodo; Sam overhears them and learns that Frodo is still alive.

The Return of the King

Sauron sends a great army against Gondor. Gandalf arrives at Minas Tirith to warn Denethor of the attack, while Théoden musters the Rohirrim to ride to Gondor's aid. Minas Tirith is besieged. Denethor is deceived by Sauron and falls into despair. He burns himself alive on a pyre, nearly taking his son Faramir with him. Aragorn, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli and the Rangers of the North, takes the Paths of the Dead to recruit the Dead Men of Dunharrow, who are bound by a curse which denies them rest until they fulfil their ancient forsworn oath to fight for the King of Gondor.

Following Aragorn, the Army of the Dead strikes terror into the Corsairs of Umbar invading southern Gondor. Aragorn defeats the Corsairs and uses their ships to transport the men of southern Gondor up the Anduin, reaching Minas Tirith just in time to turn the tide of battle. Théoden's niece Éowyn, who joined the army in disguise, slays the Lord of the Nazgûl with help from Merry. Together, Gondor and Rohan defeat Sauron's army in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, though at great cost. Théoden is killed, and Éowyn and Merry are wounded.

Meanwhile, Sam rescues Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol. They set out across Mordor. Aragorn leads an army of men from Gondor and Rohan to march on the Black Gate to distract Sauron from his true danger. His army is vastly outnumbered by the great might of Sauron. Frodo and Sam reach the edge of the Cracks of Doom, but Frodo cannot resist the Ring any longer. He claims it for himself and puts it on his finger.

Gollum suddenly reappears. He struggles with Frodo and bites off Frodo's finger with the Ring still on it. Celebrating wildly, Gollum loses his footing and falls into the Fire, taking the Ring with him. When the Ring is destroyed, Sauron loses his power forever. All he created collapses, the Nazgûl perish, and his armies are thrown into such disarray that Aragorn's forces emerge victorious.

Aragorn is crowned King of Arnor and Gondor, and weds Arwen, daughter of Elrond. The four hobbits make their way back to the Shire, only to find that it has been taken over by men directed by one "Sharkey" (whom they later discover to be Saruman). The hobbits raise a rebellion and liberate the Shire, though 19 hobbits are killed and 30 wounded. Frodo stops the hobbits from killing the wizard after Saruman attempts to stab Frodo, but Gríma turns on Saruman and kills him in front of Bag End, Frodo's home. He is slain in turn by hobbit archers, and the War of the Ring comes to its true end on Frodo's very doorstep.

Merry and Pippin are celebrated as heroes. Sam marries Rosie Cotton and uses his gifts from Galadriel to help heal the Shire. But Frodo is still wounded in body and spirit, having borne the Ring for so long. A few years later, in the company of Bilbo and Gandalf, Frodo sails from the Grey Havens west over the Sea to the Undying Lands to find peace.

In the appendices, Sam gives his daughter Elanor the Red Book of Westmarch, which contains the story of Bilbo's adventures and the War of the Ring as witnessed by the hobbits. Sam is then said to have crossed west over the Sea himself, the last of the Ring-bearers.

Main characters

Some characters in The Lord of the Rings are unequivocal protagonists, and others are absolute antagonists. However despite criticism that the book's characters "are all either black or white", some of the 'good' characters have darker sides that feature in the story, and likewise some of the villains have "good impulses".[13] Therefore the categorization of characters as either 'protagonists' or 'antagonists' below indicates their general role in the story.




Tolkien presents The Lord of the Rings within a fictional frame-story where he is not the original author, but merely the translator of part of an ancient document, the Red Book of Westmarch. Various details of the frame-story appear in the Prologue, its 'Note on Shire Records', and in the Appendices, notably Appendix F.

In this frame-story, the Red Book is also the source of Tolkien's other works relating to Middle-earth: The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Concept and creation


The Lord of the Rings started as a sequel to J. R. R. Tolkien's work The Hobbit, published in 1937.[15] The popularity of The Hobbit had led George Allen & Unwin, the publishers, to request a sequel. Tolkien warned them that he wrote quite slowly, and responded with several stories he had already developed. Having rejected his contemporary drafts for The Silmarillion, putting on hold Roverandom, and accepting Farmer Giles of Ham, Allen & Unwin thought more stories about hobbits would be popular.[16] So 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 would not be fully published until 1955, when Tolkien was 63 years old.


Persuaded by his publishers, he started "a new Hobbit" in December 1937.[15] After several false starts, the story of the One Ring emerged. The idea for 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.[15] 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 thought that would be a better focus for the new work.[15] As the story progressed, he also brought in elements from The Silmarillion mythology.[17]

Writing was slow, because Tolkien had a full-time academic position teaching linguistics (with a focus on languages with linguistic elements he incorporated into his books, such as Old English).[18] "I have spent nearly all the vacation-times of seventeen years examining [...] Writing stories in prose or verse has been stolen, often guiltily, from time already mortgaged..."[19] Tolkien abandoned The Lord of the Rings during most of 1943 and only restarted it in April 1944,[15] as a serial for his son Christopher Tolkien, who was sent chapters as they were written while he was serving in South Africa with the Royal Air Force. Tolkien made another concerted effort in 1946, and showed the manuscript to his publishers in 1947.[15] The story was effectively finished the next year, but Tolkien did not complete the revision of earlier parts of the work until 1949.[15] The original manuscripts, which total 9,250 pages, now reside in the J. R. R. Tolkien Collection at Marquette University.[20]


The influence of the Welsh language, which Tolkien had learned, is summarized in his essay English and Welsh: "If I may once more refer to my work. The Lord of the Rings, in evidence: the names of persons and places in this story were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it."[21]

The Lord of the Rings developed as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion (particularly Catholicism[22]), fairy tales, Norse and general Germanic mythology,[23][24] and also Celtic,[25] Slavic,[26][27][28] Persian,[29] Greek,[30] and Finnish mythology.[31] Tolkien acknowledged, and external critics have verified, the influences of George MacDonald and William Morris[32] and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.[33] The question of a direct influence of Wagner's The Nibelung's Ring on Tolkien's work is debated by critics.

Tolkien included neither any explicit religion nor cult in his work. Rather the themes, moral philosophy, and cosmology of The Lord of the Rings reflect his Catholic worldview. In one of his letters Tolkien states, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."[22]

Some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Birmingham, where he first lived near Sarehole Mill, and later near Edgbaston Reservoir.[35] There are also hints of the Black Country, which is within easy reach of northwest Edgbaston. This shows in such names as "Underhill", and the description of Saruman's industrialization of Isengard and The Shire. 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.[36] The work was influenced by the effects of his military service during World War I, to the point that one critic diagnosed Frodo as suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, which was called "shell-shock" at the Battle of the Somme, in which Tolkien served.[37]

Publication history

A dispute with his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, led to the book being offered to Collins in 1950. Tolkien 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 Milton Waldman, his contact at Collins, expressed the belief that The Lord of the Rings itself "urgently wanted cutting", Tolkien eventually demanded that they publish the book in 1952.[38] Collins did not; and so Tolkien wrote to Allen and Unwin, saying, "I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff", fearing his work would never see the light of day.[15]

For publication, the book was divided into three volumes to minimize any potential financial loss due to the high cost of type-setting and modest anticipated sales: 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).[39] Delays in producing appendices, maps and especially an index led to the volumes being published later than originally hoped – on 29 July 1954, on 11 November 1954 and on 20 October 1955 respectively in the United Kingdom. In the United States, Houghton Mifflin published The Fellowship of the Ring on 21 October 1954, The Two Towers on 21 April 1955, and The Return of the King on 5 January 1956.[40]

The Return of the King was especially delayed due to Tolkien revising the ending and preparing appendices (some of which had to be left out because of space constraints). Tolkien did not like the title The Return of the King, believing it gave away too much of the storyline, but deferred to his publisher's preference. He suggested the title The Two Towers in a deliberately ambiguous attempt to link the unconnected books III and IV, and as such the eponymous towers could be either Orthanc and Barad-dûr, or Minas Tirith and Barad-dûr, or Orthanc and Cirith Ungol.

Tolkien was initially opposed to titles being given to each two-book volume, preferring instead the use of book titles: e.g. The Lord of the Rings: Vol. 1, The Ring Sets Out and The Ring Goes South; Vol. 2, The Treason of Isengard and The Ring Goes East; Vol. 3, The War of the Ring and The End of the Third Age. However these individual book titles were later scrapped, and after pressure from his publishers, Tolkien initially suggested the titles: Vol. 1, The Shadow Grows; Vol. 2, The Ring in the Shadow; Vol. 3, The War of the Ring or The Return of the King.[41][42]

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[43]), Tolkien himself made use of the term "trilogy" for the work[44] though he did at other times consider this incorrect, as it was written and conceived as a single book.[45] It is also often called a novel; however, Tolkien also objected to this term as he viewed it as a heroic romance.[46]

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.[47] It has ultimately become one of the best-selling novels ever written, with 50 million copies sold by 2003[48] and over 150 million copies sold by 2007.[1]

The book was published in the UK by Allen & Unwin until 1990 when the publisher and its assets were acquired by HarperCollins.[49][50]

Editions and revisions

In the early 1960s Donald A. Wollheim, science fiction editor of the paperback publisher Ace Books, claimed that The Lord of the Rings was not protected in the United States under American copyright law because Houghton Mifflin, the US hardcover publisher, had neglected to copyright the work in the United States.[51][52] Then, in 1965, Ace Books proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorized by Tolkien and without paying royalties to him. Tolkien took issue with this and quickly notified his fans of this objection.[53] Grass-roots pressure from these fans became so great that Ace Books withdrew their edition and made a nominal payment to Tolkien.[54][55]

Authorized editions followed from Ballantine Books and Houghton Mifflin to tremendous commercial success. Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would be published with his consent and establish an unquestioned US copyright. This text became the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, published in 1965.[54] The first Ballantine paperback edition was printed in October that year, and sold a quarter of a million copies within ten months. On September 4, 1966, the novel debuted on New York Times' Paperback Bestsellers list as number three, and was number one by December 4, a position it held for eight weeks.[56] Houghton Mifflin editions after 1994 consolidate variant revisions by Tolkien, and corrections supervised by Christopher Tolkien, which resulted, after some initial glitches, in a computer-based unified text.[57]

In 2004, for the 50th Anniversary Edition, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, under supervision from Christopher Tolkien, studied and revised the text to eliminate as many errors and inconsistencies as possible, some of which had been introduced by well-meaning compositors of the first printing in 1954, and never been corrected.[58] The 2005 edition of the book contained further corrections noticed by the editors and submitted by readers. Further corrections were added to the 60th Anniversary Edition in 2014.[59]

Several editions, notably the 50th Anniversary Edition, combine all three books into one volume, with the result that pagination varies widely over the various editions.

Posthumous publication of drafts

From 1988 to 1992 Christopher Tolkien published the surviving drafts of The Lord of The Rings, chronicling and illuminating with commentary the stages of the text's development, in volumes 6–9 of his History of Middle-earth series. The four volumes carry the titles The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring, and Sauron Defeated.


The novel has been translated, with various degrees of success, into at least 56 languages.[60] Tolkien, an expert in philology, examined many of these translations, and made comments on each that reflect both the translation process and his work. As he was unhappy with some choices made by early translators, such as the Swedish translation by Åke Ohlmarks,[61] Tolkien wrote a "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings" (1967). Because The Lord of the Rings purports to be a translation of the fictitious Red Book of Westmarch, with the English language representing the Westron of the "original", Tolkien suggested that translators attempt to capture the interplay between English and the invented nomenclature of the English work, and gave several examples along with general guidance.


While early reviews for The Lord of the Rings were mixed, reviews in various media have been, on the whole, highly positive and acknowledge Tolkien's literary achievement as a significant one. The initial review in the Sunday Telegraph described it as "among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century".[62] The Sunday Times echoed this sentiment, stating 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".[62] 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".[63] W. H. Auden, an admirer of Tolkien's writings, regarded The Lord of the Rings as a "masterpiece", further stating that in some cases it outdid the achievement of John Milton's Paradise Lost.[64] Kenneth F Slater [65] wrote in Nebula Science Fiction, April 1955, "... if you don’t read it, you have missed one of the finest books of it’s type ever to appear" [66]

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".[67] Critic Richard Jenkyns, writing in The New Republic, criticized the work for a lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fibre".[68] Even within Tolkien's literary group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson complained loudly at its readings.[69][70] 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.[6]

In 1957, The Lord of the Rings 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 United States 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.[71] In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted in Britain by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's best-loved book". In similar 2004 polls both Germany[72] and Australia[73] 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".[74]


Although The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s, Tolkien insisted that the One Ring was not an allegory for the atomic bomb,[75] nor were his works a strict allegory of any kind, but were open to interpretation as the reader saw fit.[76][77]

A few critics have found what they consider racial elements in the story, which are generally based upon their views of how Tolkien's imagery depicts good and evil, characters' race (e.g. Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, Southron, Númenórean, Orc), and how the characters' race is seen as determining their behaviour.[78][79][80] On the contrary, counter-arguments note that race-focused critiques often omit relevant textual evidence,[81][82][83] cite imagery from adaptations rather than the work itself,[84] ignore the absence of evidence of racist attitudes or events in the author's personal life,[81][84][85] and claim that the perception of racism is itself a marginal view.[85]

The opinions that pit races against each other most likely reflect Tolkien's criticism of war rather than a racist perspective. In The Two Towers, the character Samwise sees a fallen foe, a man of color, and considers the humanity of this fallen Southron.[86] Director Peter Jackson, in the director's commentary of this scene, argues that Tolkien isn't projecting negativity towards the individual soldier because of his race, but against the evil authority that is driving them.[87] These sentiments, Jackson argues, arose from Tolkien's experience in the Great War and found their way into his writings to show the evils of war itself, not of other races.

Critics have also seen social class rather than race as being the determining factor in the portrayal of good and evil.[81] Commentators such as science fiction author David Brin have interpreted the work to hold unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure.[88] In his essay "Epic Pooh", science fiction and fantasy author Michael Moorcock critiques the world-view displayed by the book as deeply conservative, in both the "paternalism" of the narrative voice and the power-structures in the narrative.[89] Tom Shippey cites the origin of this portrayal of evil as a reflection of the prejudices of European middle-classes during the inter-war years towards the industrial working class.[90]

Other observers have cited Christian, specifically Catholic, themes in The Lord of the Rings.[91]

The book has been read as fitting the model of Joseph Campbell's "monomyth".[92]


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


The book has been adapted for radio four times. In 1955 and 1956, the BBC broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a 13-part radio adaptation of the story. In the 1960s radio station WBAI 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. This dramatization of The Lord of the Rings has subsequently been made available on both tape and CD both by the BBC and other publishers. For this purpose it is generally edited into 13 one-hour episodes.


Following J. R. R. Tolkien's sale of the film rights for The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969, rock band The Beatles considered a corresponding film project and approached Stanley Kubrick as a potential director; however, Kubrick turned down the offer, explaining to John Lennon that he thought the novel could not be adapted into a film due to its immensity.[93][94] The eventual director of the film adaptation Peter Jackson further explained that a major hindrance to the project's progression was Tolkien's opposition to the involvement of the Beatles.[95] British director John Boorman also tried to make an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for United Artists in 1970. After the script was written, which included many changes to the story and the characters, the production company scrapped the project, thinking it too expensive and too risky.[96]

Two film adaptations of the book 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; it covers The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers. A three-issue comic book version of the movie was also published in Europe (but not printed in English), with illustrations by Luis Bermejo. When Bakshi's investors shied away of financing the second film that would complete the story, the remainder of the story was covered in an animated television special by Rankin-Bass. Stylistically, the two segments are very different.

The second and more commercially successful adaptation was 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). All three parts won multiple Academy Awards, including consecutive Best Picture nominations. The final instalment of this trilogy was the second film to break the one-billion-dollar barrier and won a total of 11 Oscars (something only two other films in history, Ben-Hur and Titanic, have accomplished), including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Hunt for Gollum, a fan film based on elements of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, was released on the internet in May 2009 and has been covered in major media.[97] Born of Hope, written by Paula DiSante, directed by Kate Madison, and released in December 2009, is a fan film based upon the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.[98]


In November 2017, Amazon acquired the global television rights to The Lord of the Rings, committing to a multi-season television series. The series will not be a direct adaptation of the books, but will instead introduce new stories that are set before The Fellowship of the Ring.[99] Amazon said the deal included potential for spin-off series as well.[100] The press release referred to "previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien's original writings". Amazon will be the producer in conjunction with the Tolkien Estate and The Tolkien Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Television.[101] According to a 2018 report, it will be the most expensive TV show ever produced.[102] In early July 2019, the New Zealand Economic Development Minister David Parker confirmed that a large part of the series would be produced in New Zealand following negotiations between Amazon and the New Zealand Government.[103][104] On 18 September 2019, Amazon Studios confirmed that they would be filming at three locations near Auckland. The cost is estimated at US$1.3 billion, making it the most expensive television series ever made.[105][106]


In 1990, Recorded Books published an audio version of The Lord of the Rings,[107] with British actor Rob Inglis – who had previously starred in his own one-man stage productions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – reading. 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 June 2007.


Influence on the fantasy genre

The enormous popularity of Tolkien's work expanded the demand for fantasy fiction. Largely thanks to The Lord of the Rings, the genre flowered throughout the 1960s, and enjoys popularity to the present day. The opus has spawned many imitators, such as The Sword of Shannara, which Lin Carter called "the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read".[108] Dungeons & Dragons, which popularized the role-playing game (RPG) genre in the 1970s, 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, maintained 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.[109]

Because D&D has gone on to influence many popular role-playing video games, the influence of The Lord of the Rings extends to many of them as well, with titles such as Dragon Quest,[110][111] the Ultima series, EverQuest, the Warcraft series, and the Elder Scrolls series of games[112] as well as video games set in Middle-earth itself.

Research also suggests that some consumers of fantasy games derive their motivation from trying to create an epic fantasy narrative which is influenced by The Lord of the Rings.[113]


In 1965, songwriter Donald Swann, who was best known for his collaboration with Michael Flanders as Flanders & Swann, set six poems from The Lord of the Rings and one from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil ("Errantry") to music. When Swann met with Tolkien to play the songs for his approval, Tolkien suggested for "Namárië" (Galadriel's lament) a setting reminiscent of plain chant, which Swann accepted.[114] The songs were published in 1967 as The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle,[115] and a recording of the songs performed by singer William Elvin with Swann on piano was issued that same year by Caedmon Records as Poems and Songs of Middle Earth.[116]

Rock bands of the 1970s were musically and lyrically inspired by the fantasy embracing counter-culture of the time; British 70s rock band Led Zeppelin recorded several songs that contain explicit references to The Lord of the Rings, such as mentioning Gollum in "Ramble On", the Misty Mountains in "Misty Mountain Hop", and Ringwraiths in "The Battle of Evermore". In 1970, the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental concept album based on the book titled Sagan om ringen (translated as "The Saga of the Ring", which was the title of the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings at the time).[117] The album was subsequently released internationally as Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings in 1972.[117]

The songs "Rivendell" and "The Necromancer" by the progressive rock band Rush were inspired by Tolkien. Styx also paid homage to Tolkien on their album Pieces of Eight with the song "Lords of the Ring", while Black Sabbath's song, "The Wizard", which appeared on their debut album, was influenced by Tolkien's hero, Gandalf. Progressive rock group Camel paid homage to the text in their lengthy composition "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider", and progressive rock band Barclay James Harvest was inspired by the character Galadriel to write a song by that name, and used "Bombadil", the name of another character, as a pseudonym under which their 1972 single "Breathless"/"When the City Sleeps" was released; there are other references scattered through the BJH oeuvre.

Later, from the 1980s to the present day, many heavy metal acts have been influenced by Tolkien. Blind Guardian has written many songs relating to Middle-earth, including the full concept album Nightfall in Middle Earth. Almost the entire discography of Battlelore are Tolkien-themed. Summoning's music is based upon Tolkien and holds the distinction of the being the only artist to have crafted a song entirely in the Black Speech of Mordor. Gorgoroth, Cirith Ungol and Amon Amarth take their names from an area of Mordor, and Burzum take their name from the Black Speech of Mordor. The Finnish metal band Nightwish and the Norwegian metal band Tristania have also incorporated many Tolkien references into their music. American heavy metal band Megadeth released two songs titled "This Day We Fight!" and "How the Story Ends", which were both inspired by The Lord of the Rings.[118] German folk metal band Eichenschild is named for Thorin Oakenshield, a character in The Hobbit, and naturally has a number of Tolkien-themed songs. They are not to be confused with the '70s folk rock band Thorin Eichenschild.

In 1988, Dutch composer and trombonist Johan de Meij completed his Symphony No. 1 "The Lord of the Rings", which encompassed 5 movements, titled "Gandalf", "Lothlórien", "Gollum", "Journey in the Dark", and "Hobbits". In 1989 the symphony was awarded the Sudler Composition Award, awarded biennially for best wind band composition. The Danish Tolkien Ensemble have released a number of albums that feature the complete poems and songs of The Lord of the Rings set to music, with some featuring recitation by Christopher Lee.

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).

The Lord of the Rings has had a profound and wide-ranging impact on popular culture, beginning with its publication in the 1950s, but especially throughout the 1960s and 1970s, during which time young people embraced it as a countercultural saga.[119] "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President" were two phrases popular amongst United States Tolkien fans during this time.[120]

Parodies like the Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings, the VeggieTales episode "Lord of the Beans", the South Park episode "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers", the Futurama film Bender's Game, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "Lights! Camera! Danger!", The Big Bang Theory episode "The Precious Fragmentation", and the American Dad! episode "The Return of the Bling" are testimony to the work's continual presence in popular culture.

In 1969, Tolkien sold the merchandising rights to The Lord of The Rings (and The Hobbit) to United Artists under an agreement stipulating a lump sum payment of £10,000[121] plus a 7.5% royalty after costs,[122] payable to Allen & Unwin and the author.[123] In 1976, three years after the author's death, United Artists sold the rights to Saul Zaentz Company, who now trade as Tolkien Enterprises. Since then all "authorized" merchandise has been signed-off by Tolkien Enterprises, although the intellectual property rights of the specific likenesses of characters and other imagery from various adaptations is generally held by the adaptors.[124]

Outside any commercial exploitation from adaptations, from the late 1960s onwards there has been an increasing variety of original licensed merchandise, from posters and calendars created by illustrators such as Pauline Baynes and the Brothers Hildebrandt, to figurines and miniatures to computer, video, tabletop and role-playing games. Recent examples include the Spiel des Jahres award-winning (for "best use of literature in a game") board game The Lord of the Rings by Reiner Knizia and the Golden Joystick award-winning massively multiplayer online role-playing game, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar by Turbine, Inc..

The Lord of the Rings has been mentioned in numerous songs including "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" by Leonard Nimoy, Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop", "Over the Hills and Far Away", "Ramble On", and "The Battle of Evermore", Genesis' song "Stagnation" (from Trespass, 1970) was about Gollum, Rush included the song "Rivendell" on their second studio album Fly by Night, and Argent included the song "Lothlorien" on the 1971 album Ring of Hands.

Steve Peregrin Took (born Stephen Ross Porter) of British rock band T. Rex took his name from the hobbit Peregrin Took (better known as Pippin). Took later recorded under the pseudonym 'Shagrat the Vagrant', before forming a band called Shagrat in 1970.

On November 5, 2019, the BBC News listed The Lord of the Rings on its list of the 100 most influential novels.[125]

See also


  1. This is made clear in the chapter The Council of Elrond, where Glorfindel states: "[E]ven if we could [hide the Ring], soon or late the Lord of the Rings would learn of its hiding place and would bend all his power towards it."[2]
  2. Tolkien created the word to define a different view of myth from C. S. Lewis's "lies breathed through silver". Mythopoeia was also the title of one of his poems, first published in Tree and Leaf in 1988.[7]
  3. Although Frodo referred to Bilbo as his "uncle", the character is introduced in "A Long-expected Party" as one of Bilbo's younger cousins. The two were in fact first and second cousins, once removed either way (his paternal great-great-uncle's son's son and his maternal great-aunt's son).


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Further reading

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