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10 Amazing Facts about The Lord of the Rings

lord of the rings amazing facts

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 book 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

one ring lord of the ringsTheories 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”

lord of the rings first editionAll 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 findThe 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?

gandalf cart in the shire

orthanc by alan lee

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

C.S. LewisTolkien 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 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.

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Comments (23)

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt July 29, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    TLOTR hit me like a sledgehammer in college when I read it in a weekend. Your post gave me chills, just remembering. I think there are a lot of us.

    I’m glad Lewis nominated Tolkien for a Nobel prize; regard from fellow writers is the highest form of praise. We writers look for that all our lives. Fellow writers know that when something is good, it is the result of an incredible amount of hard work; readers only get a glimpse of that.

    Thanks for taking this on – a good trip down memory lane. And I have those covers on my shelf.

    • DJ Edwardson July 29, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      You have the originals! Wow. Despite my saying they aren’t all that dazzling, I would love to own a first edition!

      And you read the whole trilogy in a weekend? You have earned my double respect.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and all the best to you with your writing!

  2. kabos July 29, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve always found Alan Lee and John Howe’s illustrations to be meh, at best. Orthanc in particular is entirely unlike Tolkien’s description, which presents joined piers of a clearly obsidian-like, shiny black stone, without carving or other decoration. There are a number of other illustrations that are similarly off from the image in the text. I always dislike illustrations that make it appear the illustrator hasn’t read, or hasn’t carefully read, the work itself. The Brothers Hildebrandt calendars, although somewhat juvenile, are a much better representation of Tolkien imho.

    • DJ Edwardson July 29, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Yes, Hildebrandt’s LotR stuff is quite good. I think the fact that Lee and Howe’s work got into some of the definitive editions and even used in a few games and of course in the movies is the reason their work got such wide exposure.

      Is Hildebrandt even alive still? If so perhaps he should have been consulted for the movies as well.

      • kabos July 29, 2016 at 4:12 pm

        Agree, I do think it’s the fact that their work was in the books that makes it so well-known. I just wish their work adhered more closely to the descriptions. Of course, this is often a wide-spread complaint among authors about their approved cover art as well… “didn’t they even read the book!?” 😉

        The Hildebrandts are actually two brothers who illustrate(d) together… Think they’re still alive.

  3. Deborah O'Carroll July 29, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Fabulous post, DJ! I greatly enjoyed this! 🙂 I knew most but not all of these facts — love it! What a great collection of info. 😀 I’m so glad Tolkien wrote LOTR to keep Lewis quiet. 😉 Yeah, I love that quote about what it would have been like if it was an allegory of WWII… yikes. I love that Tolkien drew the original covers, even if they were kinda plain. 150 million copies? WOW. I didn’t remember that the ring poem was composed in the bathtub — awesome. XD He TOTALLY should have won the Nobel prize. >.> Aaand now I want an illustrated version of LOTR, which I sadly do not possess. Well played, DJ. 😉 Thanks for sharing! This was awesome! Happy LOTR day to you, and happy birthday to my favorite book of all time! <3

    • DJ Edwardson July 29, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      I’m not surprised you knew most of these Deborah. Your TIQ (Tolkien Intelligence Quotient) is quite impressive.

      I didn’t realize that Tolkien drew the covers. Self-published authors take note, it can be done! (though I’d recommend writing copious notes, appendices, genealogies, maps, and history for 15+ years as well for maximum effectiveness)

      And yes, Tolkien not winning the Nobel prize was their loss as far as I’m concerned. Very often do those committees get it right in retrospect. Who needs the critics? Pish posh.

      Happy LOTR day to you too. It’s my favorite book as well!

  4. E. E. Rawls July 29, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Great post! Many of these facts I didn’t know, but then I’m not a scholar or anything on the subject. It’s fun to see how close Lewis and Tolkien were, and how he was the one to convince Tolkien to write the LOTR as a story! 🙂
    Were Lewis and Tolkien both Catholic?
    Tolkien wrote One Ring to Rule them All in the bathtub?! Hmm…maybe I need to start writing while in the bath… 😀
    Happy LOTR day!

    • DJ Edwardson July 31, 2016 at 7:34 am

      Tolkien was Catholic, but Lewis was Anglican. Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis turning from atheism to faith, however.

      Have fun writing in the bathtub! I may have to try it myself as well!

  5. Abbey July 30, 2016 at 1:38 am

    I didn’t know that C.S. Lewis had such an impact on LotRs! I knew that he and Tolkien were close friends, of course, but I didn’t know they were so involved in each other’s work. That’s interesting about the copyright, too.

  6. Sharon Reamer July 30, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Thanks for this! I enjoyed reading it. I recently read Tom Shippey’s book about Tolkien and your post revived my nostalgia for all things LotR.

  7. Christine July 30, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    What a fantastic post! I knew some of these, but many I was unaware of. Absolutely fascinating!

    That’s too great that poem was composed in the bathtub. XD But not surprising! I declare over half of my stories are plotted in the shower. Lol!

    I’ve always loved how Tolkien and Lewis influenced each other. I remember when I was little and first discovered those two had been friends, I just about exploded. XD Could there be a more epic duo?

    That’s so very sad Tolkien did not get the Nobel prize. If anyone deserved it, it was our dear Tolkien.

    Thanks for sharing all this with us. I loved reading all these facts!!

    A happy LotR day to you!!! (Or, well, LotR weekend now? I’m a day late, unless I’m a wizard, since wizards are never late. ;D)

    • DJ Edwardson July 31, 2016 at 7:28 am

      Yeah, their friendship sounds too good to be true, like something made up for a movie script. But it may have been just the thing which made their writing what it is.

      Hope you enjoyed all the LotR goodness this weekend. Such fun to bask in the goodness of these wonderful stories, isn’t it?

  8. Jenelle July 30, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Wow. I did not know 2,3,5,8,9, or 10 of that list! That’s so cool!

    • Jenelle July 30, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Hit “post comment” before I actually meant to.

      I love the Alan Lee and John Howe illustrations. It was fun, watching the Hobbit special features – those two are featured quite heavily in a lot of the special features, and they are both obviously huge fans of Tolkien’s work – talking about various quotes and favorite parts of the stories. Of course they take artistic license in some places, but to say “they didn’t even read the books” as another commenter accused them of is, I believe, rather unfair.

      I mean, I knew Lewis and Tolkien were good friends and influenced each other’s writing quite a lot… I didn’t know about that particular “nudge” from Lewis and had never heard that quote from Tolkien. (Did they call C.S. Lewis “Jack”??? Why? Though, I suppose if my name were “Clive” I’d want to be called something else, too) haha

      Wonderful post!

      • DJ Edwardson July 31, 2016 at 7:32 am

        Yeah, artists tend to chart their own course, even with such beloved material as Lord of the Rings. My copy of LotR is illustrated by Lee and I wouldn’t part with it for anything. His illustrations make the book better than it would be without them and for that I am grateful.

        As for the nickname “Jack”, I’m not sure where it came from, but all his close friends called him that. Tolkien’s nickname was “Tollers” by the way. And Jack and Tollers’ friendship has to be one of the great literary friendships of all time.

      • Abbey July 31, 2016 at 7:29 pm

        Once I asked Jack if she called herself “Jack Lewis” after C.S. Lewis and she said yes! I agree: if I’d been named Clive, I would definitely want to be called something different… Poor P.G. Wodehouse had it worse, though. The P.G. stands for Pelham Grenville. People called him “Plum” for short.

  9. katemartyn August 1, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Fun facts, thanks for an entertaining post! Some years ago I wrote a piece on the Tolkien/Lewis friendship for a literary magazine; an absolutely fascinating story and a relationship that was intellectually, spiritually and emotionally enormously influential for both of them. It was very sad that in latter years it cooled significantly into almost antipathy on the part of Tolkien – perhaps because Lewis did not become a Catholic but was content to remain Anglican.

    • DJ Edwardson August 1, 2016 at 9:14 am

      I’ve read similar things. I even heard rumblings that a movie was in the works which explored their friendships. Don’t know if it ever made the theaters or not. I do think when Lewis passed away Tolkien did miss his friend dearly, but it’s sad that they grew apart in their later years.

      Thanks for the insightful comment!

  10. Tracey Dyck August 1, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    What a great post! Many of these I didn’t know, and I especially love those last three facts. Oh, to travel back in time to be a part of a Tolkien/Lewis conversation… And like Christine said, I’m not surprised at all that Tolkien composed that poem while taking a bath. Showers are the best place to brainstorm. XD

    • DJ Edwardson August 1, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      Yes, I’m sure there are probably books written about their friendship. One of these days I might try to hunt some of them down. It would be fascinating reading!

      And wherever you brainstorm, bathroom, shower, tree swing, or laundromat just keep at it. Doesn’t matter where the ideas come, just that the do come!

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