Why “The Lord of the Rings” could not be published

The history of the creation and publication of one of the most popular and influential books of the 20th century is a gross violation of the “immutable laws of commerce and marketing”, a real nightmare for “effective managers”.

65 years ago, on October 20, 1955, The Return of the King was published – the last part of John Ronald Ruel Tolkien’s grand epic The Lord of the Rings.

Now even the most biased skeptics agree that this work by an Oxford professor has become one of the most influential books of the 20th century. And if you take into account the undoubted and noisy success of the film adaptations of Peter Jackson, then, perhaps, the first half of the XXI century too. It would be more accurate to say that Tolkien managed to create a timeless book, which in its influence on the minds and hearts is quite comparable with the epic works of antiquity like the Iliad and the Odyssey.

This is not just a catchphrase: this is the point of view held by the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Clive Staples Lewis, who published a critical article in support of The Lord of the Rings. Subsequently, very, very many agreed with his opinion. But then these provisions were fiercely contested. The success of Tolkien’s “main” book was too loud. He discouraged the literary elite and caused legitimate irritation. For the simple reason that such a success was considered “wrong”: some professor suddenly burst into a privileged group of eminent writers, breaking all the existing canons of the “Great Literature”.

Hence the massive rejection by “real writers” of these “fairy tales for children and infantile adults.” This is how The Lord of the Rings was perceived even after it proved its relevance among readers. In 1961, Tolkien was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The verdict of the Nobel Committee, in particular of the secretary of the Swedish Academy Anders Osterling, was devastating: “This work can in no way be called fine literature of the highest level.”

Critics, however, were somewhat embarrassed by the undoubted reading boom. However, there were also relevant reservations. So, in the same 1961, the critic of the weekly The Observer Philip Toynbee noted with satisfaction: “Now this book, it seems to me, has become much less popular. Today these books are gradually sinking into the abyss of merciful oblivion. ” And this despite the fact that the real hurricane success of “The Lord of the Rings” was just ahead: before the general “tolkienomania” and the badges “Gandalf for President!” there were still five years left.

The most interesting is why Tolkien began to write his opus. Allen & Unwin’s Good People, inspired by the commercial success of Tolkien’s first big fiction, The Hobbit, urged the author to write something else along the same lines. It was embarrassing to refuse, besides, everyone wants recognition and money, including the Oxford professors. In a word, Tolkien, for almost the only time in his life, decided to play by the laws of “effective managers” from literature and forge the iron while it is hot.

The word “unique” should be noted and memorized firmly. Because in the future, Tolkien, from the point of view of “effective management”, always did everything wrong.

To begin with, I got down to work without not only having a clear business plan but even at the very least meaningful literary plan: it’s hard to find something new in this world”.

However, he still mastered the first few chapters in December 1937. But six months later, he did something for which he would have been cursed by the entire current literary business, aimed at the instant creation of “bestsellers”: “The continuation of The Hobbit is still in the same place. I have lost interest in him and have no idea what to do with him”.



Then things seemed to go, but again in the wrong direction. Instead of The New Hobbit, with its amusing adventures, which would have been doomed to commercial success, something completely different began to emerge: “The book moved forward and out of control. She strives further, towards some completely unforeseen goals. ”

All this went on for five whole years. In December 1942, Tolkien finally writes to the publisher: “The book is nearing completion. She reached the twenty-first chapter, and there are still six chapters left to the end”.

In fact, there were not six chapters left before the final of The Lord of the Rings, but thirty-one. And work on them stretched out until 1949. A normal modern publishing house would most likely blacklist the author’s name.

We were very fortunate that Allen & Unwin had an underperforming manager at the head. Even when he received a warning from marketers that publishing such a book would cost the firm several thousand pounds sterling, he answered in one word: “Publish.”

If not for the strange whim of the head of the publishing house Stanley Unwin, the “Lord of the Rings” could not have taken place at all. Because the whole history of its creation is a deliberate and gross violation of the “immutable laws of commerce and marketing”.

However, people who respect and abide by these same laws would still not be able to appreciate the beauty and paradox of the situation. Here we must admit the correctness of the columnist for the weekly The Oxford Times, who noted: “People who are strict and practical will not have time for this novel.” Well, thank God.

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