The Unauthorized Lord of the Rings

I bought my first copy of The Hobbit at a library sale in Quechee, VT when I was a kid. At the time, I remember noticing that the cover was graced with an ‘The Authorized Edition’, and it’s been something that I’ve noticed over the years. A couple of months ago, I wrote a column on Ace Books and their double novels, and came across the reason for the words: Ace had published an unauthorized version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, citing a publishing loophole and sparking a publishing row that had some pretty profound implications on the fantasy publishing field.

There’s the common narrative that the book was stolen outright, but digging a little deeper finds that there’s quite a bit more to the story than Ace’s edition.

Go read The Unauthorized Lord of the Rings over on Kirkus Reviews.

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian W. Aldiss – Aldiss recounts this incident briefly, and notes that the impact that it had on fantasy: that it generally heightened the profile of the fantasy trilogy.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter – Carpenter’s biography comes out of Tolkien’s camp, and it’s understandably tilted more towards Tolkien’s views of how this happened, but it does provide some good details as to what his reactions and motivations where here.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, Wayne Hammond and Douglas A. Anderson – This book is a detailed look at the publication history of Tolkien’s works, and they provide a good look at the Ace and Ballantine editions.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien – My recent copy of Fellowship of the Ring (the hardcover boxed set with art from Alan Lee) contains a note that talks a bit about the text of the books, including (but not naming Ace) and their editions.
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien – My 1966 edition of the Hobbit features the ‘Authorized Edition’ and a note from Tolkien in the back of the book.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Tale of a Text, Pat Reynolds – This site has some good additional information on the incident.
  • Betsy Wollheim: The Family Trade, Locus – Wollheim’s daughter, Betsy, now the president of DAW books has a couple of good quotes on just how her father came to the decision to publish his own version of Lord of the Rings.
  • Donald Wollheim, Betsy Wollheim – Betsy was an invaluable help here, pointing me to her father’s side of the argument, which was largely overlooked. She provided me with a copy of her essay about her father that provided some very helpful insights into his character and personality.
  • Eisen, Durwood & Co., Inc. v. Tolkien: This is the 1993 court ruling that ruled on the legality of Wollheim’s actions many years after this happened.
  • ISFDB Bibliography – The Internet Speculative Fiction Database provides a comprehensive listing of the releases for Tolkien’s books, along with dates, which was very helpful.
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