Today 29 June in 1954 the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published. Happy 66th book anniversary to such an amazing novel! To celebrate, I have written this post, but I invite you to join the biggest celebration regarding J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, which takes place in September this year. To know more about the Oxonmoot, go here.
In case you might know these facts, it is always pleasant to remember them.
After succeeding with The Hobbit, professor Tolkien was asked to write a sequel. The audience and the editors from Allen & Unwin wanted to know more about hobbits. But Tolkien was thinking about The Silmarillion, of which he sent some draft to Unwin who answered:
“The Silmarillion contains plenty of wonderful material; in fact it is a mine to be explored in writing further books like The Hobbit rather than a book in itself… What we badly need is another book with which follow up our success with The Hobbit and alas! neither of these manuscripts quite fits the bill. I still hope that you will be inspired to write another book about the Hobbit”.
– quoted on Carpenter, H. (1987) J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography.
Tolkien replied that he was delighted to hear that The Silmarillion was not rejected, although, he truly desired to publish it in the future, for he said that: “the construction of elaborated and consistent mythology (and two languages) rather occupy the mind and the Silmarils are in my heart”. It was clear that when writing the new book, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was going to be influenced by The Silmarillion, which he insisted on being published many times. He wanted to develop his mythology.
Despite the story told in The Lord of the Rings was more complex than The Hobbit, the Inklings referred to it as “The New Hobbit” or “the Hobbit sequel”.
II. Frodo was originally named Bingo
In the first draft of The Lord of the Rings, the main character was called Bingo, which was the name of a toy koala bears family their children owned. Bingo was going to be Bilbo’s son. Before sending the first chapter to his published, he decided to make Bingo not Bilbo’s son but his nephew and called it Bingo Bolger Baggins.
Then he thought that Bingo was a bad name and changed it to Frodo when doing so, he wrote on the draft: “No – I am now used to Bingo”. But as we all know, in the end, the protagonist was named Frodo.
III. “I need to know how to cook stew rabbit”
It is well- known that professor Tolkien took the task of writing a book very seriously. When writing The Lord of the Rings, he wrote to his son Christopher Tolkien:
“I struggled with a recalcitrant passage in ‘The Ring’. At this point I need to know how much later the moon gets up each night when nearing full, and how to stew a rabbit!”
– J.R.R. Tolkien. 26 April, 1944. Letter 63. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter.
Maybe most of the people who have seen the adaptation directed by Peter Jackson can remember when Sam cooks the stewed rabbit. But maybe don’t know that J. R. R. Tolkien took the task of writing a chapter called “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit” very seriously.
IV. A Single Novel
Despite The Lord of the Rings is often called a trilogy, it is not a trilogy. The Lord of the Rings is a single novel, divided into six books plus appendices, which were published in three volumes: “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”. About the title of the third volume, Tolkien was not very convinced on the name as he thought it spoiled the ending.
V. Middle Earth Maps
If we readers love the works written by J. R. R. Tolkien, we own so much to his son Christopher Tolkien. Christopher did not only gave us the final edition of The Silmarillion, the History of Middle Earth among others, but he also contributed immensely in producing The Lord of the Rings.
Christopher Tolkien did not only helped his father typing the novel but also assisted him to draw a map of Middle Earth that could be suitable with the written story.
VI. Farmir was not an originally planned character
When writing, J. R. R. Tolkien planned his writings and revised them numerous times. Originally, Faramir was not part of his plot. He wrote to Christopher Tolkien:
“a new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien)”.
– J. R. R. Tolkien. May 4, 1944. Airgraph to Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
In the end, Tolkien loved Faramir so much, he decided that Faramir was a more suitable character for Éowyn, being Aragorn too old for her.
VII. Written in his life-blood
While working on The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote a letter to his publisher saying:
“It is written in my life -blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other. I fear it must stand or fall as it substantially is”.
– J. R. R. Tolkien. Letter 109. July 31 1947. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
Professor Tolkien took the task of writing his books very seriously, and he apologise to Unwin for taking so long to write the book. The professor could not believe when the novel was finally printed and ready to be sold.
VIII. The First Fan
It is famously known that C.S. Lewis was one of the first people who read The Lord of the Rings, he was a member of the Inklings where Tolkien and his friends shared their writings. But when Tolkien sent him the finished manuscript in 1949, C. S. Lewis wrote to him:
“I have drained the rich cup and satisfied a long thirst. Once it really gets underweight the steady upward slope of grandeur and terror (not unrelieved by green dells, without which it would indeed be intolerable) it is almost unequalled in the whole range of narrative art known to me… And the long coda after the eucatastrophe, whether you intended or no, has the effect of reminding us that victory is as transitory as conflict”.
– C. S. Lewis. quoted on J. R. R . Tolkien: A Biography. Carpenter, 2000
Despite C. S. Lewis was one of the most loyal positive critics on Tolkien’s works, it was not the first one to officially like them, it started with the T.C.B.S, especially with his friend, Geoffrey Bache Smith.
IX. The Criticism
Not all criticism could be positive. When The Lord of the Rings was published, it obtained praises but also negative reviews, some were not very objective. Edwin Muir in the Observer wrote a review under the title “A Boys’ World”:
“The astonishing thing is that all the characters are boys masquerading adult heroes. The hobbits or halflings, are ordinary boys; the fully human heroes have reached the fifth form; but hardly one of them knows anything about women, except by hearsay- Even the elves and the dwarves and the ents are boys, irretrievably, and will never come to puberty”.
– Edwin Muir quoted on J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography.
Of course, we readers know that such accusation is not true. The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s works have many strong women who play a fundamental role in the story. Tolkien replied:
“Blast Edwin Muir and his delayed adolescence. He is old to know better. If he had an M.A. I should nominate him for professor of poetry”.
– J. R. R. Tolkien. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography.
X. The Fate of Gollum and the Ring
People who have read The Lord of the Rings might wonder about Gollum’s fate and professor Tolkien was asked about it. He explained that Gollum:
“is to me just a ‘character’ – an imagined person- who granted the situation acted so and so under opposite strains, as it appears to be probable that he would (there is always an incalculable element in any individual real or imagined: otherwise he/she would not be an individual but a type”.
– J. R. R. Tolkien. Letter 81. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
Tolkien considered Gollum an imagined person, and he had believed that the ending of the quest for destroying the Ring: “was bound to fail as a piece of world-plan, and also was bound to end in disaster”. But:
“the ‘salvation’ of the world and Frodo’s own ‘salvation’ is achieved by his previous pity and forgiveness of injury. At any point any prudent person would have told Frodo that Gollum would certainly betray him… By a situation created by his ‘forgiveness’, he was saved himself, and relieved of his burden. [Frodo] was just accorded the highest honours – since it is clear that he and Sam never concealed the precise course of events… Gollum was pitiable, but he ended in persistent wickedness, and the fact that this worked good was not credit to him”.
– J. R R. Tolkien. Letter 81. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
In other words, the quest of destroying the Ring did not succeed as expected but it was human feelings that allowed a great story ending.
Bonus. The Tearful ending
J. R. R. Tolkien confessed that he actually wept when writing the account of the heroes´ welcome that is given to the hobbits on Fields of Cormallen.
He had planed for so long that some characters should sail to the Grey Heavens, but he found necessary to add a chapter were Sam could stay in the Shire and tell his children what had happened to the rest of the characters.
✶⋆ Did you know these facts?
To Know More
- J. R. R. Tolkien. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. edited by H. Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. First Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Great Britain. 2000
- Carpenter, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. First Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Great Britain. 2000