The work is composed of 6 "books":
Only recently has the work been bound and sold this way. Both Tolkien's British and American publishers instead issued the work in three volumes:
Because the three-volume binding was so widely distributed, the work is usually referred to as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
A British 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.
For the sake of brevity of reference, the name of each of the three volumes are often abbreviated to LotR, and its three volumes as FotR, TTT and RotK. These abbreviations are used here.
The three parts were first published by Allen & Unwin[?] in 1954-1955 several months apart. They were later re-issued many times by multiple publishers, as one, three, six or seven volumes. One current printing is ISBN 0-618-12902-2.
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 authorized edition followed from Ballantine Books[?] to tremendous commercial success. By the mid-1960s the trilogy, due to its 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, being an expert in philology, examined many of these translations, and had comments on each that illuminate both the translation process and his work. (Does anyone have a cite for a half-remembered article Tolkien wrote discussing about a half dozen translations?)
The enormous popular success of Tolkien's epic saga greatly expanded the demand for fantasy fiction. Largely thanks to LOTR, 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 and the Thomas Covenant[?] novels of Stephen R. Donaldson). As in all artistic fields, a great many lesser derivatives of the more prominent works appeared. The term "Tolkienesque" is used in the genre refer to the oft-used and abused storyline of LOTR: a group of adventurers embarking on a quest to save a magical fantasy world from the armies of an evil "dark lord".
The Lord of the Rings began as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, fairy tales, Norse and Celtic mythology. The "Ring that rules the world but betrays its bearer" idea was present in Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, which taps similar mythic and literary roots. Tolkien detailed his creation further; he created a complete mythology for his realm of Middle-earth, including genealogies of characters, languages, runes, calendars and histories. Much of this supplementary material is detailed in the appendices to LotR, and the mythological history was woven into a large, biblically-styled volume entitled The Silmarillion.
The plot of the Lord of the Rings builds from his earlier book The Hobbit and more obliquely from the history in The Silmarillion. The hobbits become embroiled in great events that threaten their entire world, as Sauron, the embodiment of evil, attempts to regain the lost One Ring which will restore him to full potency.
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 trilogy, but he abandoned the idea as too "immense" to be made into a movie.
Warner Brothers produced an animated adaptation of "The Fellowship of the Ring" and the first portion of "The Two Towers" in 1978. JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings incorporated animation over live action sequences, and was directed by Ralph Bakshi. This film was of uneven quality (perhaps a result of budget pressure or overruns, or difficulty grappling with the magnitude of the trilogy). Some portions were fully- and well- animated, while others were sketchy animation 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.
Animated versions of the Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit (1978) and "The Return of the King" (1980) were produced by Rankin-Bass[?] for television broadcast. 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 imply that movie treatment of The Lord of the Rings was not credibly possible. Since overall interest in the trilogy waned somewhat, prospects for a visual treatment of the trilogy were poor. However, advances in filmmaking techniques, in particular the development of computer graphics, made a movie treatment more feasible.
Three live action films[?], directed by Peter Jackson have been filmed. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released in December 2001 (and won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation of 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 is scheduled to be released in December 2003. Although purists have criticized these films because they have altered the story somewhat, others have hailed them as remarkable achievements.
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 instalments. It starred Ian Holm as Frodo Baggins, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, Robert Stephens[?] as Aragorn and Peter Woodthorpe[?] as Gollum. Woodthorpe reprised his role from the animated Ralph Bakshi film, and Holm went on to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's trilogy, a role played by John Le Mesurier in the BBC version. The 26-part series was subsequently edited into 13 hour-long episodes with added material. This version was released on both tape and CD; more recently the BBC has reissued the series in three sets corresponding to the three books with Ian Holm providing a new opening and closing narration for each set.
The script for this version was adapted by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell. They attempted to be as faithful as possible to the original novels, but there were some lapses. Minas Anor and Minas Tirith were referred to as though they were separate cities; these are merely alternate names for the same city. The Riders of Rohan sequences is sung on an opera style rather than acted. Even so, the series has to be admired for its ambition; the BBC has not otherwise attempted anything of this scale for a radio series.
The Lord of the Rings 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.