The Lord of the Rings (1965)

These are the covers of the original, official American paperback edition of Lord of the Rings from Ballantine Books (they came into print in 1965, but went through scads of reprints – these are from ‘72 and the covers were phased out in ‘73, possibly due to Ballantine’s acquisition by Random House).

Couple fun things about this. First, Tolkien hated paperbacks, which he viewed as a degenerate form of book (remember, paperbacks as we know them had only existed since the ‘30s). That opinion soured a potential deal with Ace Books to publish LotR in the States in paperback in 1964, which in turn led Ace to publishing them anyway, using a loophole in copyright law at the time. Those editions sport gorgeous covers by Jack Gaughan and are worth checking out.

Because of the time crunch created by the fast-selling Ace editions, cover artist Barbara Remington wasn’t able to read the books before painting the cover. Rather, she relied on an overview from friends who read the books. I love these covers, partly because they get the vibe of the book so right and so wrong simultaneously.

Finally, the success of Lord of the Rings (and the PR campaign to brand the Ace editions as illegitimate) and Tolkien’s other paperbacks (as well as some other key novels, like Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy and Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn) provided the financial foundation for what would become Lin Carter’s Ballatine Adult Fantasy line of paperbacks, which is an amazing and influential 65-book run of fantasy and science fiction both old and new, sporting oh-so-rad 70s cover art. The line put an important spotlight on Lovecraft, among others, helping to solidify him in the public imagination.

Funny how that all worked out, right?

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