The First Authorized Paperback Edition of The Lord of the Rings (Ballantine, 1965)

Fellowship 1965

Towers 1965

Return 1965

Tolkien did not initially want his trilogy to appear in so “degenerate a form” as the paperback book. What happened is that Donald Wollheim, then editor-in-chief of Ace Books, released an unauthorized edition of LOTR in 1965, believing, or claiming to believe, that the soon-to-be literary phenomenon was in the public domain. The Ace edition, being affordable at 75¢/book, sold extremely well, and Tolkien immediately came to terms with the vulgar paperback medium. Ballantine’s revised and authorized edition, priced at 95¢/book, appeared in October, 1965 (The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers) and November, 1966 (The Return of the King). Said Tolkien to his son in October of 1965:

Campaign in U.S.A. has gone well. ‘Ace Books’ are in quite a spot, and many institutions have banned all their products. They are selling their pirate edition quite well, but it is being discovered to be very badly and erroneously printed; and I am getting such an advt. from the rumpus that I expect my ‘authorized’ paper-back will in fact sell more copies than it would, if there had been no trouble or competition.

Wollheim’s unscrupulous maneuver—he was eventually forced to pay Tolkien the royalties he deserved—was the single most important event in the popularization of the fantasy genre and the birth of geek culture.

You can see the spines and back covers of the original Ballantine editions at Tolkien Collector’s Guide, where I found the images above. The cover artist is Barbara Remington.

10 Responses to “The First Authorized Paperback Edition of <em>The Lord of the Rings</em> (Ballantine, 1965)”


  1. 1 Michael J. July 22, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    My father owned the box set of these, and they were my first exposure (or glimpse, really) of Tolkien’s universe before I became swept up in the Rankin-Bass version of the Hobbit (Which I will always love far more that Mr. Jackson’s version…)

    It would be years before I had the patience to actually read them, but this artwork will forever stick with me. It’s absolutely beautiful and captures a lot of what I envision that era (60’s/70’s) of fantasy to be like.

    Thank you for the memories.

  2. 2 2W2N July 22, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you for the comment. I love paperback art for exactly the reason you mention: it generally captures the era in which it appears. My first exposure to LOTR was the 1981 Ballantine edition, with cover art by Darrell Sweet.

  3. 3 His friend J July 22, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Comparing these covers to the poster/puzzle in your previous post, Tolkien really has no room to complain. It looks pretty much the same to me.

  4. 4 2W2N July 22, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    Well, Tolkien complained about the Ballantine books covers, which were the basis for the puzzle and the poster. Ironically, he preferred the covers to the unauthorized Ace edition.

  5. 5 Helene Faris February 21, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I have a 1965 copy of The Return Of The King. It’s priced .95, and is a treasured edition to my bookcase. I found it in the women’s dorm of a county jail, several years ago. I picked it up to read, and saw how old it was. I showed it to a guard and why I wanted it, and asked to take it with me when I left. I got permission and gladly took it with me 4 months later. I have had it for 7 years. Don’t want to sell it but would like to know the value, as it will be passed as a treasure to my sons.


  1. 1 Star Trek Poster by Jim Steranko, Circa 1973 | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on August 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm
  2. 2 John Boorman and the Making of Excalibur: ‘The Biggest Selling Game in America is Something Called Dragons and Dungeons’ | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on September 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm
  3. 3 ‘Come to Middle Earth’ Posters (1967, 1969) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on February 12, 2015 at 7:17 pm
  4. 4 Frank Frazetta Cover Art for Tales from the Crypt (Ballantine, 1964) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on October 7, 2015 at 2:26 pm
  5. 5 Middle Earth Clothing Ad, Circa 1967 | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on November 18, 2015 at 7:32 pm

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