The Tale of The Ring






A-4                 Ace A-5                Ace A-6





U7040                 U7041                  U7042



Ballantine U7039          Ace Slipcase      









The Lord of the Rings is the second bestselling novel of all time (surpassed only by Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities)*. It was a long time coming. Tolkien began it in 1934, but he had a full-time job as professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College, Oxford. (He was also a Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford.) By the time he considered the work complete, it was 1945 and the manuscript ran 9,250 pages.

The author switched publishers twice before Allen & Unwin finally published it in 1954. Tolkien was not given an advance, and it was agreed that he would earn nothing until the novel had at least "broken even." It was, of course, published in three parts. (Initially, Tolkien wanted the third to be entitled War of the Ring, believing that Return of the King gave away too much of the plot.) Later that same year, Houghton Mifflin was more than happy to produce it in the United States.

In 1965, Ace Books editor Donald A. Wollheim shocked a lot of people by declaring that he did not consider the work to be protected under U.S. copyright law because Houghton Mifflin had neglected to apply for one. As a result, the first American paperback appearances of the work were the three books you see at the top: Ace A-4, A-5 and A-6. Ace evidently sought approval and offered royalty payments, but Tolkien took issue with the paperback format in general and refused. Wollheim decided to produce it anyway, basing his decision on the fact that these were to be reprintings of the original, unrevised works that were not available anywhere else. (The author was constantly tinkering and offering revisions to the work to provide continuity with his other writings.)

Tolkien had acquired quite a following by this time, and he began writing directly to some of his fans in the United States expressing his distaste for Ace's action. He then immediately signed agreements with Houghton Mifflin and Ballantine Books to roll the work into "approved" paperback production. The reaction from fans was intense. Under extreme pressure from its readers, Ace finally agreed not to reprint its initial run and to pay Tolkien the royalties it had already set aside (though they paid no royalties to Houghton Mifflin). The "Authorized Editions" -- it clearly states so on the covers -- are Ballantine numbers U7040, U7041 and U7042. They were also "Newly Revised." U7039 is The Hobbit (which, by the way, is the seventh bestselling novel in history*). The Ballantine books were printed later that same year (1965).

HOWEVER, Ace won in one respect. The "unauthorized" paperback books are far more collectible and valuable today ... especially if they are in the accompanying slipcase (which was issued later-on as they tried to sell their remaining stock).

There is MUCH MORE information on this available to those who are interested. Many thanks to the members of the Yahoo Vintage Paperback Group who contributed links and comments.

Read the Quora article.

The Kirkus Article, which really takes offense at the inclusion of emus on the cover.

Comments from a REAL Tolkien Collector.

An in-depth 2003 term paper.


(Thanks again, Ian!)


* According to Wikipedia


Scans of individual books are Courtesy of Bob Gaines.