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Lord of the Rings Comparison 4

July 17, 2020

Tolkien set paperback HarperCollins 2020Two new boxed sets of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the latter in three volumes, were published this year by HarperCollins, London. The earliest issued of these sets, in B format (trade) paperback, is in a lightweight paper slipcase. The cover and slipcase art is photographic, with each illustration made from combined and modified stock photos. The Fellowship of the Ring includes Douglas A. Anderson’s ‘Note on the Text’ and our ‘Note on the 50th Anniversary Edition’. Our revised index is in The Return of the King. Maps are printed in sections on text pages, except for the Shire map which is printed as usual on its own page.

HarperCollins have also published a set of the four volumes in hardback, with dust-jackets, in a stiff board slipcase, with illustrations and cover art by Alan Lee. It’s what one might call a semi-de luxe edition, with titling, running heads, page numbers, and the Ring inscription in Book I, Chapter 2 printed in red. This edition omits both notes on the text, the first to do so since the 50th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings in 2004, but includes our revised index. The two larger maps are printed as endpapers, the Shire map as usual.

Tolkien set hardback HarperCollins 2020In our Comparison 2 we documented four typesettings of The Lord of the Rings from 2004 to 2014: eleven of configuration A (from the original 50th anniversary edition), four of B (primarily a mass-market, A format paperback), one of C (a Houghton Mifflin trade paperback), and one of D (the de luxe HarperCollins volume in a plastic slipcase). The two new editions of 2020 share yet another typesetting altogether: we will call the paperback and hardback respectively E1 and E2.

Compared against known errors in other copies and printings, E1 and E2 seem to be currently the most accurate texts. They incorporate all of the corrections noted in our Comparison 3 in June 2016. At least one error remains, however: ‘Dear Frodo,’ at the beginning of Gandalf’s letter received by Frodo at Bree, is still indented. Given that E is a new typesetting, it may be that new printing errors were introduced; but at present we do not know of any.

Update, July 18: In comments to this post, Douglas Bailey points out another known error uncorrected in the new editions: in Book V, Chapter 1, p. 756 of the 50th anniversary edition (our setting A), the sentence ‘“I am,” said Pippin’ should be run on with Gandalf’s dialogue in the preceding paragraph. This is explained in our online addenda and corrigenda to The Lord of the Rings. There we also identify additions and corrections to the index, which were not taken up when the references were changed to suit the new pagination. Douglas comments as well that the two endpaper maps of Middle-earth are not consistent which each other in detail; we noted this to be true of other editions in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, p. lxvii.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2020 9:55 pm

    I followed through your list of corrigenda for the 2020 illustrated hardcover edition, and while I can’t be certain about all of the index references, since the new typesetting means page numbers differ, I’ve identified at least the following minor errata in addition to the ‘Dear Frodo,’ indentation that you mention:

    p. 756: Sentence ‘“I am,” said Pippin’ remains incorrectly separated from Gandalf’s preceding dialogue. (Should run on.)

    p. 1144: Index entry for ‘Barad-dûr’: Missing citations for pp. 437, 899.

    p. 1150: Index entry for ‘Desolation of the Morannon’: Missing citations for pp. 619, 631, 648, 887.

    p. 1156: Index entry for ‘First Age’: Citation for p. 1108 incorrectly given as p. 1107.

    p. 1157: Index entry for ‘Gardner, Frodo’: Should be cross-reference: ‘see Gamgee, Frodo (Frodo Gardner)’.

    p. 1157: Index entry for ‘Gardner, Holfast’: Should be cross-reference: ‘see Gamgee, Holfast (Holfast Gardner)’.

    p. 1165: Index entry for ‘Morannon’: Missing citation for p. 882.

    p. 1168: Index entry for ‘Oliphaunt’: Missing citation for p. 648.

    p. 1170: Index entry for ‘Rhûn, Sea of’: Incorrect citations for pp. 248, 755.

    There’s one more issue, not mentioned on your corrigenda list: the 2020 edition’s maps (‘The West of Middle-earth at the End of the Third Age’, a.k.a. the 1980 UNFINISHED TALES map, and the 1954 large-scale map of Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor) both omit the corrections made for the 2004 reset edition. The UT map still shows Sirith as the western tributary and Celos as the eastern, where these names were swapped in 2004 to agree with the large-scale map. And the large-scale map still uses the ‘K’ spellings instead of the emended ‘C’ spellings: ‘Kiril’, ‘Kelos’, and ‘Kirith Ungol’.

    Another minor oddity is that the consecutive page numbering for the main text across the three volumes doesn’t quite match up. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, after prefatory pp. i–xvi, begins the text proper with the Prologue on recto p. 1, such that the subsequent volume and book identifier pages and their versos are both included in the numbering, and ends on recto p. 407, with the empty verso presumably being p. 408. THE TWO TOWERS, after prefatory pp. i–xii, resumes the text with ‘The Departure of Boromir’ on recto p. 413, implying that the preceding volume and book identifier pages and their versos are pp. 409–412, and ends on verso p. 744. So far, so consistent. But then THE RETURN OF THE KING, after prefatory pp. i–xiv, resumes the text with ‘Minas Tirith’ on recto p. 747, implying that the preceding volume and book identifier pages and their versos are pp. 743–746, which range overlaps that from the last two pages of THE TWO TOWERS. Strictly speaking, I think all the Arabic page numbers in THE RETURN OF THE KING should be increased by two.

    Textual perfection seems always just out of reach, over and over.

    • inusrrbution permalink
      July 18, 2020 10:35 am

      I just checked my 60th anniversary boxed set (w/ Reader’s Companion), and of all that you’ve mentioned, the only error in my editions is the “I am.” in The Return of the King. There are a few very minor things:
      – The Fellowship of the Ring: no comma after ‘My Dear Frodo’ (Gandalf’s letter to Frodo at the Prancing Pony)
      – The Fellowship of the Ring: the ‘Riddle of Strider’ poem has the indent error
      – The Fellowship of the Ring: Leaves from the Book of Marazubul plate section: ‘Marazubul’ is spelt incorrectly.

      My printings of the books in that set are:
      The Fellowship of the Ring: 9 (ironic)
      The Two Towers: 8
      The Return of the King: 8
      Companion: 3

      I purchased that set in the fall of 2015, in celebration of The Return of the King’s publication anniversary.

      If you want me to check anything else in my editions, let me know 🙂

    • July 18, 2020 8:28 pm

      Thanks, Douglas, we’ve added an update note to our post.

  2. July 17, 2020 11:07 pm

    While the dwarves are mentioned twice in The Hobbit as mining coal it is hard to imagine hobbits having the sophisticated chemistry to produce what we (and JRRT) think of as the moth-balls mentioned as Bilbo exits Bag End for the last time.

    • July 18, 2020 8:32 pm

      Hi, Peter. We sent you an email, replying to yours asking this question at greater length. For the sake of blog readers, we’ll mention here that we agreed that Hobbits would not be able to produce moth-balls of the sort Tolkien describes, but it’s clear that Tolkien was merely playing with anachronisms (as also for umbrellas and tissue-paper, etc.), and any such oddities could be explained as a ‘mis-translation’ from the Red Book.

  3. JimmyM permalink
    July 18, 2020 2:25 am

    Some misprints noted on the Parf Edhellen site at


    Q. a-mbar
    ambar (1) (“a-mbar”) noun “oikumenē [Greek: the earth as the human habitation], Earth, world” (MBAR), stem ambar- (PE17:66), related to and associated with mar “home, dwelling” (VT45:33); in VT46:13 the latter glosses are possibly also ascribed to the word ambar itself (the wording is not clear). The form ambaren also listed in the Etymologies was presumably intended as the genitive singular at the time of writing (in LotR-style Quenya it would rather be the dative singular); in the printed version in LR, the misreading “ambaron” appears (see VT45:33). Ambar-metta noun “the end of the world” (EO); spelt ambarmetta in VT44:36. The element #umbar in Tarumbar “King of the World” (q.v.) would seem to be a variant of ambar, just like ambar #2 “doom” also alternates with umbar (see below).
    [Quettaparma Quenyallo] Group: Quettaparma Quenyallo. Published: November 12, 2012 10:14 PM by Ardalambion (Helge Fauskanger).”


    Q. end
    tyel (1) noun “end”, stem tyeld- as in the pl. form tyeldi (FS, KYEL; the pl. form tyeldi_ was misread as “tyelde” in the Etymologies as printed in LR; cf. VT45:25 for this correction)_. Cf. tyelma.
    [Quettaparma Quenyallo] Group: Quettaparma Quenyallo. Published: November 12, 2012 10:30 PM by Ardalambion (Helge Fauskanger).”


    S. noun. land, dwelling-place, region where certain people live
    The form dor in the Etymologies is a misreading, see VT/45. In composition and in toponyms, the word is nevertheless reduced to Dor
    [Ety/376, S/430, WJ/413, Letters/417, VT/45:38, R] Group: Hiswelókë’s Sindarin Dictionary. Published: October 11, 2011 9:08 PM by Imported.”

    • July 18, 2020 8:36 pm

      Happily, we don’t have to worry about these, as we don’t edit any of the books in question. (Here ‘LR’ = The Lost Road and Other Writings, not The Lord of the Rings.)

      • July 21, 2020 8:02 am

        Happily, indeed ! I misunderstood “LR” – it did not occur to me that it stood for “The Lost Road” 😔😱😞

  4. JimmyM permalink
    July 18, 2020 2:38 am

    A question about the text of the Akallabeth, and LOTR Appendix A on “The Numenorean Kings”: was the name of Tar-Ardamin/Ar-Abattarik restored to the Akallabeth and to Appendix A, seeing as it appears in UT, in “The Line of Elros”, entry XIX and note 11 ? (I have the 1977 Silmarillion, but not the 2004 (?) edition.)

    • July 18, 2020 8:44 pm

      We added Tar-Ardamin to the list of Númenórean Kings in the 2004 Lord of the Rings. He has never been named in the Akallabêth; the error there – which has been corrected – was that Adûnakhor was described as the nineteenth king, when he should have been the twentieth (accounting for Tar-Ardamin). See our note in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, pp. 685–6.

      • July 21, 2020 7:50 am

        Thank you very much for replying 😀 I would very much like to see a flawless, complete LOTR, free of all inconsistencies except those that arise from error by the characters.

        I have some questions about lifespans and chronology relating to the info given in UT. I don’t want to clog this thread with irrelevancies, so where would be a good place to ask them ? The more expert the answers, the better.

        Thank you again.

      • July 29, 2020 6:02 pm

        (This is a reply to JimmyM)

        There are people that *extremely* knowledgeable about the Legendarium on (no account needed to ask, but it helps) or on Reddit’s r/tolkienfans (account needed), either of those places would do your question(s) justice, I think. As an example, I asked something about the chronology of when a certain story element from LotR was first drafted, in relation to some other elements, and someone answered within a day on scifi.SE with citations and references to HoME.

  5. July 18, 2020 10:13 am

    One further comment: a quick eyeball comparison between E2 and A2/A11 shows that the typesetting is essentially identical — same face and size, same leading, same line length and justification, etc. — but that the E2 chapter headers appear lower on the page, causing some lines to shift to later pages. Apart from emendations, these two appear to be the same (electronic) typesetting, but are distinct editions since their pagination differs in many cases.

    • July 18, 2020 5:14 pm

      Comparing the A and E settings, some lines are the same, but many lines are different — different line endings, not just page breaks. Both texts might derive from the same keyboarding, but have been output differently.

  6. inusrrbution permalink
    July 18, 2020 10:44 am

    “It’s what one might call a semi-de luxe edition, with titling, running heads, page numbers, and the Ring inscription in Book I, Chapter 2 printed in red.”

    Interesting, hadn’t considered that! I’ve always thought of The Lord of the Rings 60th anniversary illustrated slipcased edition to be a ‘semi’ deluxe edition, as it features a few (but not all) features that the ‘normal’ deluxe lineup (’04 onwards) have:
    – the book has it’s own slipcase
    – the unjacketed book has that quarter-bound appearance (how the spine section is also on the front and back covers, if that makes sense)
    – it has a ribbon-marker (was surprised to learn that the 2020 illustrated hardback editions have one, including The Hobbit)
    – it has a fold-out frontispiece (I also realize that some, but not all, of the ‘usual’ deluxe editions have fold-out frontispiece. they all have a frontispiece but not all are fold-out.)

    Also speaking of titling, running heads, and page numbers; in The Hobbit they received the same treatment, except green instead of red.

  7. July 18, 2020 12:32 pm

    Thank you for doing the “leg work” on this topic. I am curious to understand: why does the publisher continue to print the “uncorrected” texts? (Or am I missing something obvious?)

    • inusrrbution permalink
      July 18, 2020 12:43 pm

      I’m sure they can explain it better, but very minor errors can happen when a large body of work receives a new typesetting. I’m sure there’s to it than just updating/saving an ongoing digital document.

      • July 18, 2020 5:09 pm

        Our experience with HarperCollins editorial is that they are concerned with textual accuracy. But no doubt there are economic factors also to consider. Errors can indeed enter when there is a new edition, even when the text isn’t re-keyboarded (typed into the computer) but only re-formatted, or re-output.

    • inusrrbution permalink
      July 18, 2020 8:04 pm

      Replying to Wayne and Christina with this comment:

      Right, the errors present in my 60th boxed set (w/ The Companion) are essentially FORMATTING issues: something not being indented or lined up properly. There’s a grammatical one (the no comment in “Dear Frodo”) and Mazarubul is spelt incorrectly on the caption in the plate section for my editions.

  8. July 26, 2020 4:29 pm

    JimmyM, in regard to “questions about lifespans and chronology relating to the info given in UT”, the best place to post these would be one or more of the several Tolkien discussion forums, such as, or, or the Facebook group page of the Tolkien Society.

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