The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien initially published in three parts as The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1955), and The Return of the King (1955).
Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling books ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.
The Lord of the Rings has since been translated into at least 38 languages.
It is a sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 children’s book The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work.
The Lord of the Rings, together with The Hobbit, is considered by many to be the start of the genre known as high fantasy, and these works have had an enormous influence on that genre as a whole.
The title refers to the story’s main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power given to Men, Dwarves, and Elves, in his campaign to conquer all of Middle-earth. From homely beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land reminiscent of the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth, following the quest to destroy the One Ring mainly through the eyes of the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.
Scholars and critics have identified many themes in the book with its complex interlaced narrative, including a reversed quest, the struggle of good and evil, death and immortality, fate and free will, the addictive danger of power, and various aspects of Christianity such as the presence of three Christ figures, for prophet, priest, and king, as well as elements like hope and redemptive suffering.
Tolkien worked on the text using his maps of Middle-earth as a guide, to ensure the elements of the story fitted together in time and space. He prepared a variety of types of illustration – maps, calligraphy, drawings, cover designs, even a facsimile painting of the Book of Mazarbul – but only the maps, the inscription on the Ring, and a drawing of the Doors of Durin were included in the first edition.
The hardback editions sometimes had cover illustrations by Tolkien, sometimes by other artists. According to The New York Times, Barbara Remington’s cover designs for Ballantine’s paperback editions “achieved mass-cult status in the 1960s, particularly on college campuses” across America. In the rush to print, Remington had no time to read the book, and surprised Tolkien with details such as a tree with pumpkin-like fruits, and a lion, which was painted out for later editions.
Tolkien drew on a wide array of influences including language, Christianity, mythology and Germanic heroic legend including the Norse Völsunga saga, archaeology, especially at the Temple of Nodens, ancient and modern literature, and personal experience. He was inspired primarily by his profession, philology – his work centred on the study of Old English literature, especially Beowulf, and he acknowledged its importance to his
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.
When United Artists acquired film rights to “Rings” in 1969, Variety explained that the books’ success was fueled by students, adding that the trilogy “preceded marijuana and LSD in making the younger generation flip.” For years, “Rings” continued to fascinate but frustrate filmmakers. Among those who flirted with film adaptations were Walt Disney, John Boorman and the Beatles – Ralph Bakshi did a 1978 animated version. But a live-action version went nowhere until 1998, when Peter Jackson made a successful pitch to New Line’s Bob Shaye.
New Zealand director Peter Jackson adapted The Lord of the Rings as a lavish film trilogy. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) were highly successful, both commercially and critically. The third film won a record-tying 11 Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.
The Rhyme of the Rings:
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
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Epigraph
J.R.R. Tolkien, in full John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born January 3, 1892, Bloemfontein, South Africa and died September 2, 1973, Bournemouth, Hampshire, England.