On the Tolkien Boom

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[page 9] ON THE TOLKIEN BOOM That the works of J.R.R. Tolkien are now being reprinted in paper-back form, and why, is so widely known that it can be briefly described. _The Lord of the Rings_ was sought after by paperback publishers for years without success-- until somebody over at Ace books realized that the books were not copyrighted in the United States at all! Needless to say, _The Lord of the Rings_ shortly appeared with an Ace trademark. The Tolkien public, which is quite considerable, was very upset about it. As for Tolkien, he hied himself over to Ballantine books an authorized an edition to include _The Hobbit_, which is not in the public domain. (There is, you know, no love lost between Ballantine and Ace) There is one new Tolkien book available (unfortunately). _Tree and Leaf_ is an essay on fairy tales which manages to be perfectly obvious most of the time and perfectly dull all the time. That's the "Tree", you see; the "Leaf" is a fable J.R.R. apparently spewed out one morning on awakening and finding that his favorite tree had been mutilated during the night. Eventually it was cut down and completely destroyed, I suppose. Unfortunately for Tolkien's literary reputation, no such disaster befell "Leaf by Niggle". This is by far the dullest piece of popularly aimed material Tolkien has produced. Why he allowed this exercise in pure professorese to be published at all is beyond me. If you are a completist and really must have this, there are two editions of it. I don't remember who published the hardcover, but I kind of hope for J.R.R.s @J.R.R.'s@ sake it isn't Houghton-Mifflin. Whoever it is by, they were as uneconomical and sneakey with their insertion of blank pages as some Ace Paperbacks that were originally a short novel in a happily defunct pulpzine forty years ago. The paperback edition is by Unwin Books, London. Neither edition has a very inspired cover; of course both portray trees, and there isn't much you can do with that. The paperback cover is better since it looks like a normal, happy unpretentious little shrub; while the tree on the hardcover looks like it is trying to crawl in the bedroom window. As I said, if you are a mad Tolkien fan who has copies of his last year's grocery list (no doubt printed by Juniata Coulson @Juanita Coulson@ on that horrible yellow paper), you might consider this. If you aren't, and you haven't already been scared off by those long glossaries in all those fanzines, _don't_ buy this, or scared away you will certainly be. If you do buy it, please remember: he isn't _always_ like this. [page 10] To get back to the Ring series: On the back of the Ballantine edition is a somewhat pitiful little statement from Tolkien: "This paperback edition, and no other, has been published with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it, and no other." Unfortunately, there is no note on the backof @back of@ the Ace edition saying, "This book has been published without my consent. Those who approve of courtesy will not buy it." So I fear that those outside of the fannish microcosm (and Ballantine) may never get the message, especially since, although I have seen the Ace edition (or parts of it...I've yet to see a store with all three books available at one time), I don't know of anywhere that the Ballentine edition can be had (except maybe Springfield, Ill.). Come to think of it, I've noticed very few of Ballantine's books around here at all, while Ace seems to be overflowing the shelves. Do you suppose Donny is up to his old tricks? I'm also sorry to say that I suspect the average reader will look at the 75¢ price on the Ace edition and the 95¢ tag on the Ballantine and decide he just doesn't approve of courtesy. (I myself am fond of courtesy, somewhat, but I dislike being pressured. Come to think of it, I myself am but indifferent @indifferently@ honest.) The Ace edition sports inspiredly uninspired covers by Gaughan, each featuring a group of heroic figures who look like they have been washed but not ironed, respectively with red, yellow and blue backgrounds and asteriks @asterisks@ that probably indicate something profound on the spine. (Maybe they're symbols.) Of the Ballantine edition I have only _The Hobbit_. When you get right down to it, Ballantine would probably be better off if they had only _The Hobbit_. I find their chances of profit on the others rather slim. At 95¢ the Ballantine _Hobbit_ is thoroughly worthwhile, because it is the revised edition and my hardcover is the original. This means nothing to anyone who has not read the books already; it consists of some changes in the fifth chapter to allow for more latitude, or something, in the later Ring stories. The end-paper maps of the original are reprinted, but not the illustrations that Tolkien did for the original, which is a shame becasue they are extremely good and the cover of the Ballantine edition is not. For one thing, it has a pink border. For another the artist seems to have the impression that lions ran rampant through the Shire, which they did not. Granted that _The Hobbit_ was written for children, there was still no reason to insert that poor, befuddled little lion, who obviously belongs somewhere else and knows it, and furthermore looks like a faggot, onto the cover. It is unfortunate that Tolkien's excellent books should have fallen into the public domain where any publisher of easy virtue could snap it up; further it is unfortunate that Ballantine should have the collasal @colossal@ nerve and lack of common sense to price their edition (on which the good professor gets royalties, of course) higher than the edition that was, shall we say, borrowed. They would do well to issue the series in a box, as other houses have for books like Costain's _The Pageant of England_, though I doubt if they will. The whole affair is a bloody, much discussed mad-tea party, but at least we can all hope that someone, somewhere, lost in the dusty archives of Houghton-Mifflin is now finding gainful employment in the publishing business scanty. --David Hall

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