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Encyclopedia > Lord of the Rings
Dust jacket of the 1968 UK edition

The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy story by J. R. R. Tolkien, a sequel to his earlier work, The Hobbit.

For more information on the fictional universe the story takes place in, including lists of characters and locations, see Middle-earth.

The story's name is derived from the Dark Lord Sauron of Mordor, the primary villain of the work, who created the Ruling Ring and is thus the "Lord of the Rings" that the title refers to. Sauron, in turn, was the servant of an earlier Dark Lord, Morgoth (Melkor), who is prominent in Tolkien's The Silmarillion.


Books and volumes

Tolkien did not originally intend to write another book after writing The Hobbit, but began to compose 'a new hobbit' after persuasion by his publishers. Writing was slow, mostly due to Tolkien's wish to achieve perfection; he looked on his works as a sub-creation and himself as the sub-creator, and believed it was his duty to create this story. The work was originally intended by Tolkien to be published in one large volume, but the post-war paper shortage ruled this out. Instead it 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), and these were published on the 29 July and 11 November 1954 and 20 October 1955 in England, slightly later in the U.S.. In 1966, four indices which were not compiled by Tolkien were added to The Return of the King. 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 titles of the six "books" are:

  • Book I: The Return of the Shadow
  • Book II: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Book III: The Treason of Isengard
  • Book IV: The Journey to Mordor
  • Book V: The War of the Ring
  • Book VI: 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

Because the three-volume binding was so widely distributed, the work is usually referred to as the Lord of the Rings "trilogy"; however, this is technically incorrect, as it was written and conceived as one work.

A 1999 (Millenium Edition) British (ISBN:0 262 10399 7) 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).

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 19541955 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, realised 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 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 the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake). 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".

The books

The Lord of the Rings began as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, 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" (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 142). 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).

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.

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

The Ring Lore

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.

Negative 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" [1] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/1695926.stm). 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", although she had never read Lord of the Rings; and New York Times critic Judith Shulevitz said that its prose is so bad that it represents "death to literature itself" [2] (http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0123/dibbell.php).

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] (http://www.davidbrin.com/tolkienarticle1.html).

The Lord of the Rings on film

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.

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 is a prequel 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 featured an animation technique in which the shadows of live actors were recorded onto the film and then drawn over. This film was of uneven quality (perhaps a result of budget pressure or overruns, or difficulty grappling with the magnitude of the book). Some portions were fully- and well- animated, while others used Max Fleischer's rotoscope technique, where animation is laid over live action sequences. Additionally, the film ended somewhat abruptly after the battle of Helm's Deep, but before Sam, Frodo and Gollum traverse the Dead Marshes. Despite his best efforts, Bakshi was never able to do 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.

Since these films were targeted to a younger audience, adult enthusiasts have complained that much of the depth and darkness of the stories was discarded.

These efforts seemed to suggest that a satisfactory movie treatment of The Lord of the Rings was not practicable. Moreover, since overall interest in the novel had waned somewhat, prospects for a visual treatment seemed poor. However, advances in filmmaking techniques, in particular the development of computer graphics, made a movie treatment more feasible.

Miramax Films developed a full-fledged live-action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson as director. Eventually, with Miramax becoming increasingly uneasy with the sheer scope of the proposed project, Peter Jackson was given the opportunity to find another studio to take over. In 1998, New Line Cinema assumed production responsibility (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) were filmed simultaneously. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released in December 2001. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was released in December 2002 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released in December 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 substantially different tone from Tolkien's original vision, others have hailed them as remarkable achievements. Noted critic Roger Ebert wrote, "[Jackson] has taken an enchanting and unique work of literature and retold it in the terms of the modern action picture. [...] To do what he has done in this film must have been awesomely difficult, and he deserves applause, but to remain true to Tolkien would have been more difficult, and braver."

Peter Jackson's film adaptation 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 the awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture), but oddly, for none of the acting categories. The Return of the King's Oscar sweep is widely seen as a proxy award for the entire trilogy.

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 back to back over a period of 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). At the 2004 Academy Awards, The Return of the King won all 11 Academy Awards it was nominated for —equalling the number won by Titanic six years earlier.

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 installments. See: The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series).

Pop culture references to The Lord of the Rings

  • Leonard Nimoy's music: The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is based around this series (in particular The Hobbit).
  • Led Zeppelin's music: "Misty Mountain Hop" is named after Tolkien's Misty Mountains; "Ramble On" refers to Gollum and Mordor and "The Battle of Evermore" is an actual allegory from the "Battle of the Pelennor Fields" from The Return of the King
  • Rush has a song called "Rivendell" on their Fly by Night album.
  • Styx has a song called "Lords of the Ring" on their Pieces of Eight album.
  • Swedish musician Bo Hansson has made an entire instrumental album based on The Lord of the Rings (1973)
  • Alan Horvath has also made an entire album based on The Lord of the Rings (2004)
  • The Brobdingnagian Bards have named one of their tracks "Tolkien", and the remix "The Lord of the Rings"
  • The TV show Babylon 5 includes occasional homages to The Lord of the Rings, as well as epic themes drawn from similar mythological roots.
  • The German metal band Blind Guardian has a song called "Lord of the Rings" on the album Tales from the Twilight World. They also released an album based on The Silmarillon called Nightfall in Middle-Earth, including songs like "The Curse of Féanor", and "Into The Storm", retelling the struggle Middle Earth endured when the Two Trees were destroyed. Some of their other works also contain references to Tolkien's creations.
  • The Austrian musician Gandalf's name was chosen with reference to the hobbits' wizard friend. He has composed several pieces of music which deal with themes and characters originating from The Lord of the Rings, some of which can be found on his second album, Visions.
  • There are various references to The Lord of the Rings, e.g. to the Ents, in Stephen King's and Peter Straub's novel The Talisman.
  • The modern-era hero in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon views himself as a dwarf, his grandfather the cryptanalyst as an elf, an ex-Navy Seal as one of the race of Men, and refers to his nemesis (a psychotic lawyer) as Gollum.
  • The group Nickel Creek has a song called "The House of Tom Bombadil".
  • The Finnish musicians Nightwish have a song called "Elvenpath" which features a Lord of the Rings sample.
  • The progressive rock group Glass Hammer has numerous Tolkien-influenced songs, including "Nimrodel", and a CD entitled "Journey of the Dúnadan".
  • Enya recorded the song "Lothlórien" in 1991 and also performed the songs "May It Be" and "Aníron" for the soundtrack of Peter Jackson's movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • The Tolkien Ensemble has created three CD's, "An Evening in Rivendell", "A Night in Rivendell" and "At Dawn in Rivendell", composing original music to practically all the songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of the Rings books were an enormous influence on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, and hence continue to be a major influence on the entire field of role-playing and computer games having fantasy epic themes. Several games have been based directly on The Lord of the Rings and related works, including a board game by Reiner Knizia and a variant of Risk.

Satire and parody based on The Lord of the Rings

  • The Harvard Lampoon satire Bored of the Rings.
  • A little-known BBC Radio series, Hordes of the Things (1980) attempted to parody heroic fantasy in the style of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • A German resynchronization of the Fellowship 's first twenty minutes, called The Lord of the Weed (http://www.lordoftheweed.de.vu), portrays the characters as highly drug addicted.
  • Quickbeam and Bombadil, the Lords of the Rhyme (http://www.lordsoftherhymes.com/), mix Tolkien's fantasy world with hip-hop.
  • Two New York City based authors, Jessica and Chris, parody Tolkien's work in combination with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Once More With Hobbits (http://omwh.com/).
  • Several former members of Mystery Science Theater 3000 created Edward the Less (http://www.scifi.com/edwardtheless/) which parodies the trilogy.
  • An episode of South Park entitled "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers" spoofs the trilogy.
  • The first chapter of The Woad To Wuin by Peter David entitled "Lord of the Thing"
  • The Lord Of The... whatever (http://flyingmoose.org/tolksarc/book/book.htm), a "transcribed electronic text version", written by the Tolkien fans of the rec.arts.books.tolkien newsgroup as a reply to those who asks where can they download an electronic copy of the book. It has lots of fan in-jokes, like whether Balrogs have wings or not.
  • Flight of the Conchords (http://www.whatthefolk.net/) claim that their parody Frodo was rejected as a theme song for Peter Jackson's movies. Incidentally, Bret McKenzie (one half of the band) played an elf in the Fellowship, and his character (now known as Figwit) has become an unusual web celebrity, attracting fan sites (http://www.figwitlives.net/) and even a hate site (http://www.geocities.com/figwit_is_evil/Evil_figwit.html).
  • The Ring Thing (http://www.ringthing.ch/index.php), a Swiss parody of Peter Jackson's films, has been very popular in Switzerland. However it has received mixed reviews. The movie's dialogue is in Swiss German.
  • MadTv spoofed the series with "The Lords of the Bling." With various actors/actresses portraying characters as Gandalf, Frodo, Legolas, etc.
  • Kingdom O' Magic (http://www.lysator.liu.se/~ekman/en/article1.html), by Fergus McNeill. He became famous during the eighties for games such as Bored of the Rings (influenced by, but not adapted from, the Harvard Lampoon book) and The Boggit.

See also

  • Antimodernism - The Lord of the Rings could be considered an antimodernist work in that it expresses affection for a simple, non-mechanistic life. In this view, the bucolic Shire is the embodiment of the good life, while the industrializing Isengard is foul and corrupt.
  • The Atom - The above characterization can be given more detail if the One Ring is taken to be a metaphor for atomic energy or the atomic bomb, as has been proposed by some. However, the book was not published until the 1950s, and the plot element of the One Ring dates to the 1930s, when Tolkien could not have known of atomic energy. Further, Tolkien specifically rejects this as his intention. It is safe to conclude that Tolkien intended no such meaning. However, an author's intention is not a strict limit on the meaning that readers may take (see Intentional Fallacy); a metaphor to atomic energy is often noted by modern readers. Certainly the idea of a power too great for humans to safely wield, always evocative, was especially so in the years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addition to an atomic energy metaphor, a metaphor to the possible destructive applications of molecular manufacturing or synthetic biology is conceivable.
  • The Cursed Ring - Links The Lord of the Rings to Plato's 'The Ring of Gyges' and Wagner's 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'.
  • The Tolkien Relation, by William Ready ISBN 0-446-30110-8 - An inquiry by the author examining the sources and symbolism of the work.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter, ISBN 0-618-05702-1.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

The Lord of the Rings movies links

The Lord of the Rings

Volumes of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings book
The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers | The Return of the King

Movies in Peter Jackson's LotR movie trilogy
The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers | The Return of the King

Animated movies
The Hobbit animated movie | Lord of the Rings animated movie | Return of the King animated movie

The History of The Lord of the Rings | Lord of the Rings radio series

J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium

Works published during his lifetime
The Hobbit | The Lord of the Rings | The Adventures of Tom Bombadil | The Road Goes Ever On

Posthumous publications
The Silmarillion | Unfinished Tales | The History of Middle-earth (12 volumes) | Bilbo's Last Song

Lists of Wikipedia articles about Middle-earth
by category | by name | writings | characters | peoples | rivers | realms | ages

  Results from FactBites:
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