Fantasy paperback week (mostly)! What a wonderful, musty week indeed.

This, my friends, is one of my favorite things. It is a set of Ace Books’ unauthorized publications of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (1965). The story here is tortured (and you can find a fuller accounting on Kirkus Reviews). Basically, Donald A. Wollhiem approached Tolkien about producing an American edition of the books in paperback and was snootily turned down (Tolkien apparently saw paperbacks as “degenerate”). Offended, Wollhiem hunted around and found an apparent loophole in copyright law at the time (I do not pretend to entirely understand this) that had allowed the trilogy to fall into the public domain in the US. He quickly published these books, beating Ballantine’s revised editions to shelves by five months. Tolkien and Ballantine waged a war against Ace in the papers, accusing them of pirating the trilogy — eventually Ace relented, gave Tolkien royalties and let their (still popular editions) go out of print.

The cover art is by Jack Gaughan, who was featured on many Ace books. I feel like I know him primarily through covers for Jack Vance novels, but he has a distinct sort of mid-century medieval style I really enjoy. I love these covers, with their bright colors. They actually reflect the content of the books better than the covers on the Ballantine editions — Barbara Remington’s strange triptych evokes some of the books, but because of the Ace edition, she didn’t have time to read the books before she commenced painting.

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