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The Lord of the Rings, Page 2

J. R. R. Tolkien

  One could make a whole catalogue of interesting tidbits from Christopher Tolkien’s study - such as the fact that Strider was called Trotter until a very late stage in the writing of the book; that Trotter was at one time a hobbit, so named because he wore wooden shoes; that Tolkien at one point considered a romance between Aragorn and É that Tolkien wrote an epilogue to the book, tying up loose ends, but it was dropped before publication (and now appears in Sauron Defeated); and so on. But these developments are best appreciated when read within the context of Christopher Tolkien’s commentary rather than discussed separately.

  The most significant achievement of these volumes is that they show us how Tolkien wrote and thought. Nowhere else do we see the authorial process itself at work in such detail. Tolkien’s hastiest comments about where the story might proceed, or why it can or can’t go such and such a way - these queries to himself were written out: Tolkien is literally thinking on paper. This gives an added dimension of understanding to Tolkien’s comment to Stanley Unwin in a 1963 letter that, when suffering from trouble with his shoulder and right arm, ‘I found not being able to use a pen or pencil as defeating as the loss of her beak would be to a hen.’ And we, as readers of these volumes, can share with Tolkien himself the wonder and bewilderment of new characters appearing as if from nowhere, or of some other sudden change or development, at the very moment of their emergence into the story.

  I know of no other instance in literature where we have such a ‘history of the writing’ of a book, told mostly by the author himself, with all the hesitations and false paths laid out before us, sorted out, commented upon, and served up to a reader like a feast. We are shown innumerable instances in the minutest detail of the thought-process itself at work. We see the author fully absorbed in creation for its own sake. And this is all the more exceptional because this is a history not only of the unfolding of a story and its text, but of the evolution of a world. There is an additional wealth of material beyond simple narrative text. There are maps and illustrations. There are languages and writing systems, and the histories of the peoples who spoke and wrote in these systems. All of these additional materials add multiple dimensions of complexity to our appreciation of the invented world itself.

  Fifty years into the published life of The Lord of the Rings, it seems extraordinary to me that we have not only such a masterful work of literature but also as a companion to it an unparalleled account of its writing. Our gratitude as readers goes to both of the Tolkiens, father and son.

  Douglas A. Anderson

  May 2004


  In this edition of The Lord of the Rings, prepared for the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, between three and four hundred emendations have been made following an exhaustive review of past editions and printings. The present text is based on the setting of the HarperCollins three-volume hardcover edition of 2002, which in turn was a revision of the HarperCollins reset edition of 1994. As Douglas A. Anderson comments in the preceding ‘Note on the Text’, each of those editions was itself corrected, and each also introduced new errors. At the same time, other errors survived undetected, among them some five dozen which entered as long ago as 1954, in the resetting of The Fellowship of the Ring published as its ‘second impression’.

  That the printer had quietly reset The Fellowship of the Ring, and that copies had been issued without proof having been read by the author, never became known to Tolkien; while his publisher, Rayner Unwin, learned of it only thirty-eight years after the fact. Tolkien found a few of the unauthorized changes introduced in the second printing when (probably while preparing the second edition in 1965) he read a copy of the twelfth impression (1962), but thought the errors newly made. These, among others, were corrected in the course of the reprinting. Then in 1992 Eric Thompson, a reader with a keen eye for typographic detail, noticed small differences between the first and second impressions of The Fellowship of the Ring and called them to the attention of the present editors. About one-sixth of the errors that entered in the second printing quickly came to light. Many more were revealed only recently, when Steven M. Frisby used ingenious optical aids to make a comparison of copies of The Lord of the Rings in greater detail than was previously accomplished. We have gladly made full use of Mr Frisby’s results, which he has generously shared and discussed.

  In the course of its fifty-year history The Lord of the Rings has had many such readers who have recorded changes made between its various appearances in print, both to document what has gone before and to aid in the achievement of an authoritative text. Errors or possible errors were reported to the author himself or to his publishers, and information on the textual history of the work circulated among Tolkien enthusiasts at least as early as 1966, when Banks Mebane published his ‘Prolegomena to a Variorum Tolkien’ in the fanzine Entmoot. Most notably in later years, Douglas A. Anderson has been in the forefront of efforts to achieve an accurate text of The Lord of the Rings (and of The Hobbit); Christina Scull has published ‘A Preliminary Study of Variations in Editions of The Lord of the Rings’ in Beyond Bree (April and August 1985); Wayne G. Hammond has compiled extensive lists of textual changes in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography (1993); and David Bratman has published an important article, ‘A Corrigenda to The Lord of the Rings’, in the March 1994 number of The Tolkien Collector. The observations of Dainis Bisenieks, Yuval Kfir, Charles Noad, and other readers, sent to us directly or posted in public forums, have also been of service.

  Efforts such as these follow the example of the author of The Lord of the Rings during his lifetime. His concern for the textual accuracy and coherence of his work is evident from the many emendations he made in later printings, and from notes he made for other emendations which for one reason or another have not previously (or have only partly) been put into effect. Even late in life, when such labours wearied him, his feelings were clear. On 30 October 1967 he wrote to Joy Hill at George Allen & Unwin, concerning a reader’s query he had received about points in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings: ‘Personally I have ceased to bother about these minor “discrepancies”, since if the genealogies and calendars etc. lack verisimilitude it is in their general excessive accuracy: as compared with real annals or genealogies! Anyway the slips were few, have now mostly been removed, and the discovery of what remain seems an amusing pastime! But errors in the text are another matter’(italics ours). In fact Tolkien had not ‘ceased to bother’, and ‘slips’ were dealt with as opportunities arose. These, and the indulgence of his publisher, allowed Tolkien a luxury few authors enjoy: multiple chances not only to correct his text but to improve it, and to further develop the languages, geography, and peoples of Middle-earth.

  The fiftieth anniversary of The Lord of the Rings seemed an ideal opportunity to consider the latest (2002) text in light of information we had gathered in the course of decades of work in Tolkien studies, with Steve Frisby’s research at hand, and with an electronic copy of The Lord of the Rings (supplied by HarperCollins) searchable by keyword or phrase. The latter especially allowed us to develop lists of words that varied from one instance to another, and investigate variations in usage, as they stood in the copy-text and relative to earlier editions and printings. Of course Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings over so long a period of time, some eighteen years, that inconsistencies in its text were almost inevitable. Christopher Tolkien even observed to us that some apparent inconsistencies of form in his father’s work may even have been deliberate: for instance, although Tolkien carefully distinguished house ‘dwelling’ from House ‘noble family or dynasty’, in two instances he used house in the latter sense but in lower case, perhaps because a capital letter would have detracted from the importance of the adjective with which the word was paired (‘royal house’, ‘golden house’). There can be no doubt, however, that Tolkien attempted to correct inconsistency, no less than outright error, whenever it came to his attention, and it was our opinion, with th
e advice and agreement of Christopher Tolkien, that an attempt should be made to do so in the anniversary edition, in so far as we could carefully and conservatively distinguish what to emend.

  Many of the emendations in the present text are to marks of punctuation, either to correct recent typographical errors or to repair surviving alterations introduced in the second printing of The Fellowship of the Ring. In the latter respect and in every case, Tolkien’s original punctuation is always more felicitous - subtle points, when one is comparing commas and semi-colons, but no less a part of the author’s intended expression. Distinctive words such as chill rather than cold, and glistered rather than glistened, changed by typesetters long ago without authorization, likewise have been restored. A controlled amount of regularization also seemed called for, such as naught rather than nought, a change instituted by Tolkien but not carried through in all instances; Dark Power rather than dark power when the reference is obviously to Sauron (or Morgoth); Barrow-downs by Tolkien’s preference rather than Barrowdowns; likewise Bree-hill rather than Bree Hill; accented and more common Drúeadan rather than Druadan; capitalized names of seasons when used as personification or metaphor, according to Tolkien’s predominant practice and the internal logic of the text; and Elvish rather than elvish when used as a separate adjective, following a preference Tolkien marked in his copy of the second edition of The Lord of the Rings. In addition, we have added a second accent to N úmenórean(s), as Tolkien often wrote the name in manuscript and as it appears in The Silmarillion and other posthumous publications.

  The result, nonetheless, still includes many variations in capitalization, punctuation, and other points of style. Not all of these are erroneous: they include words such as Sun, Moon, Hobbit, and Man (or sun, moon, hobbit, man), which may change form according to meaning or application, in relation to adjacent adjectives, or whether Tolkien intended personification, poetry, or emphasis. His intent cannot be divined with confidence in every case. But it is possible to discern Tolkien’s preferences in many instances, from statements he wrote in his check copies of The Lord of the Rings or from a close analysis of its text in manuscript, typescript, proof, and print. Whenever there has been any doubt whatsoever as to the author’s intentions, the text has been allowed to stand.

  Most of the demonstrable errors noted by Christopher Tolkien in The History of Middle-earth also have been corrected, such as the distance from the Brandywine Bridge to the Ferry (ten miles rather than twenty) and the number of Merry’s ponies (five rather than six), shadows of earlier drafts. But those inconsistencies of content, such as Gimli’s famous (and erroneous) statement in Book III, Chapter 7, ‘Till now I have hewn naught but wood since I left Moria’, which would require rewriting to emend rather than simple correction, remain unchanged.

  So many new emendations to The Lord of the Rings, and such an extensive review of its text, deserve to be fully documented. Although most readers will be content with the text alone, many will want to know more about the problems encountered in preparing this new edition, and their solutions (where solutions have been possible), especially where the text has been emended, but also where it has not. To this end, and to illuminate the work in other respects, we are preparing a volume of annotations to The Lord of the Rings for publication in 2005. This will allow us to discuss, at a length impossible in a prefatory note, the various textual cruces of The Lord of the Rings, to identify changes that have been made to the present text, and to remark on significant alterations to the published work throughout its history. We will also explain archaic or unusual words and names in The Lord of the Rings, explore literary and historical influences, note connections with Tolkien’s other writings, and comment on differences between its drafts and published form, on questions of language, and on much else that we hope will interest readers and enhance their enjoyment of Tolkien’s masterpiece.

  Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull

  May 2004


  This tale grew in the telling, until it became a history of the Great War of the Ring and included many glimpses of the yet more ancient history that preceded it. It was begun soon after The Hobbit was written and before its publication in 1937; but I did not go on with this sequel, for I wished first to complete and set in order the mythology and legends of the Elder Days, which had then been taking shape for some years. I desired to do this for my own satisfaction, and I had little hope that other people would be interested in this work, especially since it was primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for Elvish tongues.

  When those whose advice and opinion I sought corrected little hope to no hope, I went back to the sequel, encouraged by requests from readers for more information concerning hobbits and their adventures. But the story was drawn irresistibly towards the older world, and became an account, as it were, of its end and passing away before its beginning and middle had been told. The process had begun in the writing of The Hobbit, in which there were already some references to the older matter: Elrond, Gondolin, the High-elves, and the orcs, as well as glimpses that had arisen unbidden of things higher or deeper or darker than its surface: Durin, Moria, Gandalf, the Necromancer, the Ring. The discovery of the significance of these glimpses and of their relation to the ancient histories revealed the Third Age and its culmination in the War of the Ring.

  Those who had asked for more information about hobbits eventually got it, but they had to wait a long time; for the composition of The Lord of the Rings went on at intervals during the years 1936 to 1949, a period in which I had many duties that I did not neglect, and many other interests as a learner and teacher that often absorbed me. The delay was, of course, also increased by the outbreak of war in 1939, by the end of which year the tale had not yet reached the end of Book One. In spite of the darkness of the next five years I found that the story could not now be wholly abandoned, and I plodded on, mostly by night, till I stood by Balin’s tomb in Moria. There I halted for a long while. It was almost a year later when I went on and so came to Lothlórien and the Great River late in 1941. In the next year I wrote the first drafts of the matter that now stands as Book Three, and the beginnings of chapters I and III of Book Five; and there as the beacons flared in Anórien and The came to Harrowdale I stopped. Foresight had failed and there was no time for thought.

  It was during 1944 that, leaving the loose ends and perplexities of a war which it was my task to conduct, or at least to report, I forced myself to tackle the journey of Frodo to Mordor. These chapters, eventually to become Book Four, were written and sent out as a serial to my son, Christopher, then in South Africa with the RAF. Nonetheless it took another five years before the tale was brought to its present end; in that time I changed my house, my chair, and my college, and the days though less dark were no less laborious. Then when the ‘end’ had at last been reached the whole story had to be revised, and indeed largely re-written backwards. And it had to be typed, and re-typed: by me; the cost of professional typing by the ten-fingered was beyond my means.

  The Lord of the Rings has been read by many people since it finally appeared in print; and I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meaning of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving, and for many the guide was inevitably often at fault. Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer. But even from the points of view of many who have enjoyed my story there is much that fails to please. It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody a
t all points, nor to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.

  As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit.The crucial chapter, ‘The Shadow of the Past’, is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

  The 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-dûen 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.