The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings

Douglas A. Anderson's notes opening the Mariner edition of "The Lord of the Rings" makes the argument that J.R.R. Tolkien's best-known work is erroneously called a trilogy when it is actually one large extended novel that happened to come out in three volumes.

This edition does not make that mistake. The entire story – which was released as "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King" – are all within the covers of this one edition, including the appendices and indexes.

The biggest difference, perhaps, is the single volume urges readers to keep turning the pages upon entering one section to the next, while reaching for the next volume might give a reader pause to pick up a different book in between "Fellowship" and "Towers" or "Towers" and "King."

No matter. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" still remains a classic despite decades of imitators. The clarity and descriptive quality of the writing, the characterizations, the adventure and even those long passages that delve deep into the details of the landscape or the long conversations of characters holding council are all majestic and startling.

I first read "The Lord of the Rings" more than 40 years ago and felt it had made such an impression that its details were firmly etched in my mind. Forty years can make a lot of things hazy. The book is far more different than the movies of 20 years ago and yet those films – truly a trilogy on the screen – are far more faithful than many may guess. 

But they are not 100% accurate and, though the original theatrical releases stretch to nearly 10 hours of screen time, the movies leave out an awful lot of Tolkien's original story. Especially the conclusion that stretches nearly 100 pages past the destruction of the ring and the end of Sauron.

Still, cracking open a new volume of "The Lord of the Rings" is like putting on a backpack and traveling with the hobbits Frodo and Sam, the wizard Gandalf, the ranger/king Strider/Aragorn, the elf Legolas, the dwarf Gimli, the hobbits Merry and Pippin and the man Boromir on a quest to destroy an all-powerful ring, encountering goblin-like orcs, tree-like ents, malevolent wizards, magical elves, a balrog, etc.

One is tempted to say it's as simple as pulling old volumes off a shelf but reentering "The Lord of the Rings" is not simple. It is a consuming read, requiring stamina and attention. Plus, the old editions on one's shelf may be yellowed with cracked spines and loose pages.

There are plenty of volumes available to start anew. One can choose the story in hardback, or durable paperback, as three books – shh, don't tell Anderson if calling them a trilogy, or select the story in one volume. 

One further note of advice if choosing a single volume, your arms will get a work out lugging this thick cinderblock of a book around.

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