The Lord of the Rings is a book. It has been mistaken for a screenplay, a game, a set of picture cards or even a bunch of small collectible figures painted in appropriate colours. But no, these are not The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings is a book which anyone can pick up, carry around, read and enjoy. It even comes in three volumes for easy transportation and storage, but the one shown here is the complete single-volume paperback edition currently published by Houghton Mifflin in the USA.
The austere cover painting by Alan Lee shows the devastated fields of the city of Minas Tirith the day after the Battle of the Pelennor. The defenders of the city have come near to the end of their resources and only a few of them are aware that the fate of their world lies in the hands of three small people - one young, one old and half mad and one carrying a deadly burden - stumbling across an ancient volcanic battlefield 100 miles away.
|It's a book ...|
The cover below belongs to the UK second edition one-volume paperback, first published in 1968 (this one cost UK £3.95 in 1977). Complete apart from the Appendices (but including the Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen), it was slightly lighter than the new USA edition (about 1.5 lb), but a solid companion nevertheless.
This was a very beautiful volume, with cover art by Farmer Giles of Ham and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil artist Pauline Baynes, whose artwork JRR Tolkien approved during his lifetime. The shadowy frame of trees creates a window on the world beyond, near and distant, partly our own world and partly a world of mystery, leading at last to the seven-layered city and the burning mountain. This volume has been out of print since the early 1980s, but can still be found at specialist booksellers for a reasonable price on a good day.
The current UK single-volume paperback is a slightly smaller format, includes
all the Appendices, costs UK £14.99 (this is 20 years later, remember
...) and has the well known John Howe picture of Gandalf on the cover.
It is hard to explain exactly why an epic fairy tale written during the Second World War has been named the 'Greatest Book of the 20th Century' by so many people. You have to be there. Starting at the beginning and going right through to the end always seems like the ideal way to read The Lord of the Rings, but for the uncertain reader, we have some further suggestions ...
The Lord of the Rings is on the shelves in most good bookstores If not, you can order through your local bookshop, or via an Internet bookseller. Support your local bookstore!
(Most web booksellers give a discount on the cover price, but add postal charges. Compare prices. High street bookshops rarely charge extra for special orders, but check when ordering. The TS Trading mail order service sells at cover price but adds no postal charges within the UK and only basic P&P outside the UK area.)
If you are really broke, try a library. Or get a lo-cost second-hand copy. Buy it in three easy stages. (Note: the middle volume is always in second-hand stores - no-one knows why.) New paperbacks are competitively priced, with attractive covers.
If you are feeling decisive, get the single-volume paperback. It's not light (see above), but it is a wonderful companion. Most newer editions have all the Appendices in the back. Most have an index, which is handy for checking up on bits of plot while you are reading.
A frequent complaint about The Lord of the Rings is that it is too short. At somewhat over 1,000 pages, it should keep fast readers occupied for a day or two. More sedate readers find it's good for about a fortnight. After that, try writing the writing, drawing the maps, making up tunes for the songs, working out what happened to the Entwives, and all those other things people feel compelled to do after finishing the book. Or start again.
The Lord of the Rings is a story in six parts, so you can do one chunk at a time and you get cliffhangers. Rob Inglis's renowned dramatic adaptation omitted the whole of book III. (The first half of The Two Towers. It has some of the best bits in it, but is not ideal for a solo actor.)
You could skip bits, start in the middle, avoid all the prologues and appendices and then read them later. There are some short stories in Tolkien's History of Middle-earth series, too. And there's always The Hobbit.
Don't skip the Foreword and the Prologue.
Start with The Ring Goes South (The Fellowship of the Ring, book II, chapter 3). Or, if you are OK with summit conferences and want the whole background, start with Flight to the Ford and read right through The Council of Elrond. It's worth it.
Start at the back with A Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen (hidden somewhere in Appendix A) and see what impressions you glean. Note with interest how those impressions alter as you read the rest of the story from the beginning. It's only a minor plot spoiler.
Read The Battle of the Pelennor Fields (The Return of the King, book V, chapter VI). It's a major plot spoiler, of course, but if you only read a dozen pages of The Lord of the Rings, these are a good dozen, and there's plenty more plot where that came from. Note: "Battle" doesn't mean up to the waist in intestines. It's about losing people and finding people. And some of the minor shortcomings of horses as battle machines.
If this chapter doesn't get to you, you should probably give up after reading Flotsam and Jetsam, Lothlorien, The Passage of the Marshes, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm, The Ride of the Rohirrim, Flight to the Ford ...
The single-volume Lord of the Rings is hard to lose on an overflowing desk, good for standing staplers or even coffee mugs on (more rings), and could be used as a doorstop. Then it's there when you need it.
There is no such thing as a lightweight edition of The Lord of the Rings, but the one-volume edition should last your entire vacation. An earlier version has been pressed into use as an emergency bivouac seat (although it did lose a few pages afterwards). It also contains some good advice about what to pack. Wrap it in plastic if you intend to use it as a billy stand.