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Lord of the Rings Comparison

February 8, 2012

Tolkien boxed set 2011A few weeks ago, we were asked a very good question: Which version of the 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings is the most accurate, taking into account the addenda and corrigenda posted on our website? We knew that HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin had made some further corrections in some versions of the anniversary edition in 2005 (following the original printings of 2004); but we weren’t sure – we hadn’t kept track – if these had carried through into in later printings, one of which (the 2011 three-volume HarperCollins paperback) had just arrived in the post.

To answer the question, Wayne pulled all of the copies of the 50th anniversary edition we have on our shelves (here A, B, and C denote the three different typesettings associated with the various issues):

A1. HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin one-volume hardcover editions (2004), deluxe (both) and trade (HarperCollins) (Tolkien Collector 27, pp. 9–10, 14)

A2. HarperCollins three-volume hardcover edition (2005), with dust-jackets reproducing Tolkien’s designs; the preliminaries have different pagination relative to A1, A3 and A4, but the setting is otherwise unchanged (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 11)

A3. HarperCollins one-volume trade (B format) paperback, the first printing (2005) in gold-coloured wrappers and a later printing (2007, marked as the 40th printing (‘40’) on the verso of the title-leaf) in red-coloured wrappers, both with Tolkien’s ‘Ring and Eye’ device on the upper cover (Tolkien Collector 27, pp. 10–11)

A4. Houghton Mifflin one-volume trade edition (2005); Wayne checked the first printing of the hardcover issue and the first and sixth printings of the paperback; the cover art is by Alan Lee, a view of Minas Tirith or, in the later paperback printing, of misty mountains (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 15)

A5. HarperCollins three-volume trade (B format) paperback (2011), in black wrappers with coloured spine panels

B1. HarperCollins three-volume mass-market (A format) paperback (2005), in white wrappers (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 11)

B2. HarperCollins three-volume mass-market (A format) paperback (2007), in black wrappers (Tolkien Collector 27, pp. 11–12)

B3. HarperCollins three-volume trade (B format) paperback (2008), with cover and interior art by Alan Lee (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 12); the type is enlarged relative to B1, B2; Wayne checked both the first and third printings

C1. Houghton Mifflin three-volume trade paperback (2005), with cover art by John Jude Palencar, made for the young adult market (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 14)

In each of these, Wayne looked at twenty selected points. Some of the points, he found, have not been changed in any issue: for example, in Book II, Chapter 8 of The Lord of the Rings, Galadriel’s phrase remains ‘We have come to bid our last farewell’, not ‘We have come to bid you our last farewell’, and in Appendix E, a direction related to Quenya still has ‘dictated’ rather than ‘indicated’.  Other points vary between issues. Here are seven examples, with page references to the ‘A’ setting given unless noted:

1. In our ‘Note on the 50th Anniversary Edition’, p. xix, l. 11, we mistakenly acknowledged ‘Yuval Kfir’ rather than ‘Yuval Welis’. The error appears in A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, and C1, but was corrected by HarperCollins in B3 (2008) and is correct also in A5 (2011).

2. Also in our ‘Note’, p. xx, line 44, although we wrote the phrase ‘check copies’ in our Word document, the typesetter of 2004 altered it to ‘check copied’. The words appear in the latter form in A1 and in the first printing of A4, but are correctly ‘check copies’ by the sixth printing of A4 and in all other versions (2005 to date).

3. In Book I, Chapter 9, p. 159, two of the verses in Frodo’s song (‘There is an inn, a merry old inn’) were mistakenly closed up in the 2004 setting: there should be a space after the line ‘and a dish ran up with the spoon’. This was corrected in the ‘B’ copies – possibly only by chance, as a page break occurs at just this point – but the error remains uncorrected in all ‘A’ copies to date as well as in C1.

4. In Book VI, Chapter 6, p. 977, line 19, there is a mention of Fréalaf, Helm’s sister-son. This name should have an acute accent over both the ‘e’ and the second ‘a’. The second accent is absent in A1, A2, A4, A5, and C1, but present in A3 and in all copies with the ‘B’ setting. Most interesting here is that although HarperCollins’ A3, the one-volume paperback of 2005 and later, has correct ‘Fréaláf’, A5 from the same publisher in 2011 has incorrect ‘Fréalaf’.

5. In the Baggins family tree, p. 1100, the death date of Bingo Baggins is given incorrectly as ‘1363’ in all versions except B3 (2008), which has correct ‘1360’. The later (2011) three-volume trade paperback from HarperCollins, with the ‘A’ setting, has ‘1363’.

6. In Appendix F, p. 1136, line 7, the ‘ancient English’ version of ‘Hamfast’, hámfæst, should be spelled thus, with an ae digraph. It was misspelled hámfœst, with an oe digraph, in 2004, and is found thus in A1, A2, A4, A5, and C1. It is correctly given in A3, B1, B2, and B3. Here again, an ‘A’ setting correction in A3 (2005) appears in the incorrect form in later A5 (2011).

7. Also in Appendix F, p. 1137, l. 29, a similar situation occurs in which A1, A2, A4, A5, and C1 have incorrect ‘butterflies to the falcon’, while A3, B1, B2, and B3 have correct ‘butterflies to the swift falcon’.

Our new, expanded index, which we were unable to complete in time for the first 50th anniversary edition printings of 2004 (and so is absent from A1), was included by HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin in all later issues, except for the Houghton Mifflin 2005 three-volume paperback, C1.

What, then, is the answer to our reader’s question? We don’t have every printing of every issue of the 50th anniversary edition, so can judge only on the basis of the fourteen copies on our shelves. But using our collection as a guide, the most accurate text to date, solely in terms of the number of corrections made, is that of the three-volume HarperCollins trade paperback of 2008 (this link is to the Fellowship; see our comment below for the other volumes). Next in this ranking would be the one-volume HarperCollins trade paperback of 2005, and then the most recent HarperCollins paperback, issued in a boxed set with The Hobbit as well as separately. The Houghton Mifflin one-volume trade edition, hardcover or paperback, has only a few of the post-2004 corrections (or had few in its earliest printings). Our correspondent, from California, hoped to be able to buy an American edition; and although the Houghton Mifflin single volume is comparatively less accurate, it’s easy to find and it continues the ‘A’ typesetting, to which our addenda and corrigenda could be applied easily as this is the typesetting we track. On the other hand, although the three-volume HarperCollins trade paperback of 2008 is comparatively the most accurate, it has the ‘B’ typesetting and therefore different pagination, which would make it harder for someone to apply our addenda and corrigenda based on ‘A’. In the end, we could make no straightforward recommendation.

We would be glad to hear from anyone who has different printings than those listed above and would be willing to check their copy or copies against my findings. A more extensive account of the variations in points (that is, the fifteen points which exhibit variation, out of the twenty checked) is posted on our website as a spreadsheet (pdf).

After the 50th anniversary edition was published in 2004, we proceeded to complete The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, in the course of which we detected a few further errors in Tolkien’s text and notified HarperCollins (as Tolkien’s primary publisher) for possible action. We’ve also submitted other points, but for the most part have posted them on our website for easy reference. Errors, unfortunately, are not always discovered in time to be incorporated into a new printing or edition, nor is it always economical to do so.

Image: HarperCollins boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (2011), A5 in the list above.

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7 Comments
  1. Jarkko Hietaniemi permalink
    February 9, 2012 1:04 am

    Thanks for this, I was just wondering about it a few weeks ago. Sadly, the answer is as I guessed: no edition/print contains all the corrections.

    A somewhat related question: has there been any discussion of “publishing the unpublished”, that is, the Unfinished Index? There are many tantalizing mentions of it in the Reader’s Companion, and however unfinished it is, I’m certain people would like to see it in full.

    • February 9, 2012 7:07 am

      Regarding the “unfinished index”, as far as we know there has not been any discussion of publication in full. This is, however, a text we intend to investigate further.

  2. Tim Vandenberg permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:42 pm

    Yay! Glad to see my inquiry ultimately serve to spark an analysis that benefited the worldwide Tolkien scholarly community! Thank you for the answers! 🙂

    Question: Which of the Variations (A1 through C1) does the 2011 4-volume boxed set in the picture line up with? Also, is there an Amazon url that would lead us to the complete HC 2008 Trade Paperback “trilogy” other than just The Fellowship of the Ring? Or, what would be the url’s for the other two corresponding volumes–I’m having trouble finding those.

    Thank you again Wayne & Christina for all your assistance!

    –The “Correspondent from California”

    • February 9, 2012 10:30 pm

      Hi, Tim. The boxed set in the photo contains the latest HarperCollins paperbacks, listed in our post as A5. (We’ve added a reference to the caption. We’ve also made the links neater.) As for the other volumes of the 2008 HarperCollins set, find The Two Towers here and The Return of the King here (though the cover art of the latter shown on the web page is different from the Alan Lee painting on our copies, which shows Minas Tirith after the battle). There was also a boxed set of this edition, with a trade paperback Hobbit, issued in 2010. We had trouble finding these too on Amazon UK, and in the end had to look them up by their ISBNs.

  3. David Doerr permalink
    February 13, 2012 9:22 am

    It would be interesting if Harper Collins would publish the corrections that Tolkien made to the appendices of THE LORD OF THE RINGS that are allegedly in a restricted file. (Although I think that some of these corrections to the Ballantine Edition were inadvertently lost, early on.)

    • February 13, 2012 8:12 pm

      The emendations to the Appendices Tolkien sent to Allen & Unwin in February 1966 (what David is referring to) were duly incorporated in the Allen & Unwin and Houghton Mifflin Lord of the Rings. The original typescript of these is part of the extensive file of Tolkien’s correspondence with Allen & Unwin, now owned by HarperCollins as Allen & Unwin’s successor. This file is indeed restricted, but we have been allowed by HarperCollins (earlier, by Rayner Unwin) and the Tolkien Estate, as rights owners, to consult it in support of Tolkien-related projects. The list of corrections is definitely in the file: there’s no ‘allegedly’ about it. Because Ballantine Books failed to return Tolkien’s emendations sent for their edition, he had to recreate a list, based on a Ballantine copy, for the sake of the Allen & Unwin second edition. See further, our Chronology, pp. 654–5, and our reply to David’s letters in Amon Hen 231.

  4. David Doerr permalink
    February 13, 2012 8:45 pm

    Yes, I see that this is what happened. Here is the manner that this is expressed in the “NOTE ON THE TEXT” that Wayne’s friend Douglas A. Anderson wrote for the Houghton Mifflin Company’s 2002 cloth bound printing: “The revised text first appeared in Great Britain in a three-volume hardcover ‘Second Edition’ from Allen & Unwin on 27 October 1966. But again there were problems. Although ther revisions Tolkien sent to America of the text itself were available to be utilized in the new British edition, his extensive revisions to the appendices were lost after being entered into the Ballantine edition. Allen & Unwin were forced to reset the appendices using the copy as published in the first Ballantine edition. This did not include Tolkien’s second, small set of revisions sent to Ballantine; but, more significantly, it did include a great number of errors and omissions, many of which were not discovered until long afterwards. . . ”

    Well, I think that Wayne and Christina have thoroughly discussed this issue, and so I shall leave off from any further discussion of it. However, I will foretell that in the future someone will discover that a set of images in THE HOBBIT correspond to similar images – in the same order – in one of the books of the Bible! This will become an article that will be titled “Bilbo and the Bible”. Someone is surely going to do this.

    I have taken enough of Wayne and Christina’s time, and I apologize for that.

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