Guide To Currently Available U.S. Editions
The FAQ-Guide to the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
The Gallery of Tolkien Book Covers
Other Works and Books by Tolkien
Selected Out of Print Editions
Sources and Influences
Guide to Audio Editions
British Editions of Tolkien
Hard-to-find British Tolkien Items
Other recommended Tolkien resources
Sorting out the DVDs

Mass market and
trade paperback

In 1965 Ace Books, believing the copyright on Tolkien's books didn't apply in the U.S., issued a set of cheaply produced paperbacks.  These featured bizarre cover art and the type was reset which introduced numerous errors, but the appendices were photo-offset and thus were identical to the Allen & Unwin hardcover editions available at the time.  They were quickly retracted when Tolkien's publishers complained.  Volumes 2 and 3 bore the over-title of The Lord of the Rings #2 and #3, but this was lacking on volume 1.

View close-ups of the covers: Fellowship of the Ring   |   The Two Towers   |   Return of the King

View the full

Ballantine Books hurriedly issued the first authorized paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings in the United States in 1965, in response to the illegally issued Ace Paperbacks edition.   The covers stated "The Authorized Edition of the Famous Fantasy Trilogy."  The foreword was extended to include a few words about purchasing this edition "and no other" as a "courtesy to living authors."

The first Ballantine edition featured psychedelic cover artwork by Barbara Remington which was a triptych spread across the three volumes of the set.  The artwork was actually an extension of the painting that was done for Ballantine's paperback edition of The Hobbit which Tolkien made such a fuss about because of the lion, emus, and the "tree with bulbous fruit."  The covers featured reviews from the New York Herald Tribune Book Week and a "Statement from the Author about this American Edition."

The map of Middle Earth with its characteristic sharp-angled coastlines, was redrawn from Christopher Tolkien's 1954 map, although whether it was also drawn by Barbara Remington or by some other artist is not known as no credit for the maps is given anywhere in the books.

In 1966, Tolkien made revisions for the Ballantine edition, particularly to the appendices.   These corrections were implemented in the third and fourth impressions.

In 1973 Ballantine added Peter S. Beagle's well-known introduction which has been included in every Ballantine edition since.

This set was made available as a 3-book boxed set.  There were three styles of boxes, including a full-color box with Barbara Remington's painting wrapped around the three sides of the box, a black-and-white line drawing version (shown at far left), and a much more rare plain green box.

View close-ups of the covers: The Fellowship of the Ring   |   The Two Towers   |   The Return of the King

This edition was issued in 1970 in large (trade) paperback format.  Each book had a white background with the author's name and the title printed in red and the titles of the individual volumes printed in green (I), gold (II), and blue (III).  Cover art consisted of a small circular illustration taken from Pauline Baynes' poster map.  Inside, the books otherwise conform to other Ballantine editions.   Available as a 3-book boxed set, the box is decorated with Pauline Baynes' color map of Middle-Earth on the front and back.  A small strip of artwork depicting the nine members of the fellowship is added to the top end of the box, and the spine bears the title, "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy," (sic) and the individual volume titles.  There were at least four printings.

View box-front and cover of volume 1.

This reissue which appeared in 1973, featured Tolkien's own artwork.  It became a widespread favorite in the U.S., particularly for those who grew up in the 1970s.  The three watercolors are (Vol 1) "The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the-Water," identified on the copyright page as "The Hills: Hobbiton-across-the-Water; (Vol. 2) "Fangorn Forest" ("Beleg finds Gwindor in Taur-nu-Fuin"), not identified on the copyright page; and (Vol. 3) "Barad-Dûr," so identified on the copyright page.  The back covers featured promotional blurbs and a portrait photo of Tolkien.

This set was marketed as a 4-book boxed set, packaged with The Hobbit which was also reissued at this time to match the LOTR set, and featured Tolkien's painting "Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raftelves," on the cover.  There were two styles of boxes, both of which were adorned with Tolkien's Heraldic Devices of the First Age (Pictures No. 47) on either a gold foil or red background.  The gold foil box was another feature that made this set memorable.  This and the first Ballantine edition are both highly sought after among collectors.

View close-ups of this set.

This reissue is commonly referred to as the Special Silver Jubilee Edition, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the publication of The Lord of the Rings in the U.S., and issued between 1981 and 1984.  New typography and cover design  was combined with new artwork by Darrell K. Sweet.  Each book had a different background color.  The blurbs and other text on the back covers were printed over an opened scroll background.  This issue was also made available in a 4-book boxed set which included The Hobbit, also reissued in the new design with new artwork.

View the entire set.

Between 1985 and 1988, Tolkien's paintings were returned to the covers but set within the framed cover design of the third issue.  Some of the artwork was cropped or reduced to fit inside the frames.
New cover art by Michael Herring was used for this 1988 reissue, featuring portraits and scenes of some of the characters from the book.  The pictures were framed within an arch design reminiscent of the Gate of Moria.  Each book had a different background color.  As usual, they were available in a boxed set with The Hobbit which was reissued in the new design with new artwork.
In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of The Hobbit, the design of the fifth issue was changed only slightly, with black backgrounds on all the books, the author's name in gold stamped lettering, and a circular seal stating "50th Anniversary edition."  The box for the boxed set was also black.  These dreadful covers persisted for more than 11 years until the 1999 issue with the much more appealing Ted Nasmith covers.
The 1999 issue had new cover artwork by Ted Nasmith as indicated on the back cover of each book. On the copyright page, however, the cover art was erroneously credited to Michael Herring (whose artwork appeared on the previous edition). The author's name is embossed into the covers.  The box was gold and bore two of the cover illustrations. The corners and spine were decorated with an illustration of stitched leather.  Sadly, these attractive covers lasted only a year and half before being replaced by the movie tie-in covers in 2001.

View the entire set.


In 2001, in anticipation of the premier of the first installment of The Lord of the Rings motion pictures, Ballantine used movie tie-in photographs on the covers.  The 2001 covers featured Frodo, Saruman, and Aragorn.  The 2002 covers featured Frodo, Legolas, and Aragorn.  (The 2003 covers are Frodo again, Eowyn, and Aragorn with Gandalf in the background.)  The 2001 boxed set included the 1999 Hobbit cover, but later the typography and design of the cover of The Hobbit was updated to match that of the LOTR books, although the Ted Nasmith painting was retained as the picture.

View both sets of covers.

Sometimes called the "signature set," in reference to the cover art which consists of Tolkien's signature over his Eye of Sauron device in black on a tan background, this edition did not yet incorporate the revisions made to the appendices for the Ballantine editions (evidenced by the absence of the "Estella Bolger" entry as the wife of Meriadoc Brandybuck in the hobbit family tree in Appendix C).

This edition was marketed in two different forms of boxed sets: a 3-book set (LOTR only, shown at left) in a red box, and a 4-book set (with The Hobbit) in a green box (right).  The design of The Hobbit matched that of the other books, except that the Eye of Sauron device was replaced with The Lonely Mountain.  The 3-book sets are likely earlier printings than the 4-book set.


This edition is mostly identical to the 1987 hardcover edition but with a few differences.  As sold individually, the books had plastic dust jackets over the paper covers. These dust jackets feature the same Alan Lee artwork found on the hardcover edition.   The paper cover of the book itself, however, is plainer--it features the carved stone rune border, like on the dust jacket, but the main body of the cover lacks the Alan Lee artwork.  It is simply filled in with a diagonal hatching pattern.

These were available as a 4-book boxed set (with a matching The Hobbit, shown at left), although in the boxed set, the books were packaged without the fancy dust jackets.  The Alan Lee artwork was printed on the box, as one continuous picture wrapped around the three sides of the box.  Unlike the hardcover set, however, which is a 3-book set, the painting on the box for the paperback set shows more of the landscape to the left, which is the slice that is used as the cover of the dust-jacketed The Hobbit.

The Ballantine revisions to the appendices were incorporated in this edition, as evidence by the inclusion of the "Estella Bolger" entry in the Brandybuck family tree in Appendix C.

This edition includes a Note On The Text, by Houghton Mifflin's Douglas A. Anderson, that briefly discusses the printing history of The Lord of the Rings and attempts made at incorporating corrections. This note includes several interesting footnotes, one of which lists one set of Tolkien's suggestions for titles for the six individual 'books' as named in the Marquette University manuscript (which are different than those listed in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). The footnotes are mentioned here because Houghton Mifflin's 1999 trade paperback edition features a revised Note On The Text, but the footnotes have been deleted.

View close-ups of the Lord of the Rings covers.

In 2001, in anticipation of the premier of the first installment of The Lord of the Rings motion pictures, Houghton Mifflin used movie tie-in photographs on the covers.  The 2001 editions featured close-ups of Frodo, Saruman, and Aragorn.  The titles and author's name are stamped in reflective silver.  The slipcase for the boxed set featured a shot of the black riders.  The 2002 editions used more distant shots for the covers with more landscape and background.  The Fellowship of the Ring featured Gandalf in a pose echoing John Howe's well know illustration for the British 1-volume edition.  The Two Towers used the final shot from the first film as if looking on toward the next chapter of the story; and The Return of the King offered a hazy preview of Minas Tirith.  The boxed sets are three books only and do not include The Hobbit.

Note that the 1999 editions with the Alan Lee cover art are still in print, and the boxed set includes The Hobbit.  The 2001 text is identical to the 1999 edition, while the 2002 printing corrected the missing line from the ring inscription in "The Shadow of the Past."

View photos of the 2001 covers and box   |   2002 covers and box

The first 1-volume paperback edition in the U.S.  This featured artwork by Alan Lee, a painting of Minas Tirith.  Early printings bore a starburst overlay proclaming "One-volume edition.  First time in paperback."  In later printings, the message became, "Soon to be a major motion picture."  The text was that of the 1994 revision.
In 2001, with the upcoming premier of the first installment of The Lord of the Rings motion pictures, Houghton Mifflin used a movie tie-in photographs on the cover.  This edition featured an atmospheric shot of the black rider searching for the hobbits at night.  The text was that of the 1994 revsion.   The 2002 issue featured Gandalf standing inside Bag-End.  The text in this issue corrected the missing line from the ring inscription in "The Shadow of the Past."

View covers: 2001   |   2002


Houghton Mifflin 7-volume Millennium Edition boxed set, 1999
The six 'books' that make up The Lord of the Rings (the means of dividing it that Tolkien actually preferred) have been bound individually in small hardcover volumes, accompanied by a separate volume for the Appendices. Each spine is printed with single letter of Tolkien's name so that TOLKIEN is spelled out when the books are lined up. The books are given the titles that Tolkien originally conceived for the six individual books. These titles are those found in Letter #136 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, and are as follows: The Ring Sets Out, The Ring Goes South, The Treason at Isengard, The Ring Goes East, The War of the Ring, The End of the Third Age. Also includes Douglas Anderson's Revised Note on the Text (see 1999 trade paperback above).

The box and covers of the books are black with the Eye of Sauron device printed in gold on the ends and back of the box and on the book covers in gold and red. The books themselves are only slightly taller than mass market paperbacks. Although the set is highly attractive, some buyers have been less than pleased with the quality considering the premium price for this set (same price as the high-quality Collector's Edition).  The bindings are substandard--being glued rather than having sewn signatures that are used in quality hardcovers.  The covers are glossy black laminate over stiff board--no cloth or dust jackets.  The maps are printed only in the Appendices volume and do not appear in any of the other six volumes of the set.  The type has been reset for this edition and is clear and crisp.

Although this edition is out of print, the British paperback 7-volume edition is available from HarperCollins which can be ordered through AmazonUK.

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Current U.S. Editions of The Lord of The Rings
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