John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892 – 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, best known as the author of the high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien never expected his stories to become popular, but by sheer accident a book called The Hobbit, which he had written some years before for his own children, came in 1936 to the attention of Susan Dagnall, an employee of the London publishing firm George Allen & Unwin, who persuaded Tolkien to submit it for publication. When it was published a year later, the book attracted adult readers as well as children, and it became popular enough for the publishers to ask Tolkien to produce a sequel.
The request for a sequel prompted Tolkien to begin what became his most famous work: the epic novel The Lord of the Rings (originally published in three volumes in 1954–1955). Tolkien spent more than ten years writing the primary narrative and appendices for The Lord of the Rings, during which time he received the constant support of the Inklings, in particular his closest friend C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set against the background of The Silmarillion, but in a time long after it.
After Tolkien’s death, his son Christopher published a series of works based on his father’s extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about a fantasy world called Arda and, within it, Middle-earth. Between 1951 and 1955, Tolkien applied the term legendarium to the larger part of these writings.
While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence and the shaping of the modern fantasy genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature—or, more precisely, of high fantasy, as in the work of authors such as Ursula Le Guin and her Earthsea series. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
J. R. R. Tolkien – First Edition Identification Guide
Note: This list only includes works published prior to 1977.
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1949||FARMER GILES OF HAM||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, MCMXLIX||Boards. First published in 1949 on © page.|
|1976||THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, ||Boards. First published in 1976 on page . Note: Issued without dust jacket.|
|1954||THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1954||First published in 1954 on © page. |
ALSO: New York: Ballantine Books, . Wrappers. First Printing: October, 1965 on © page. Ballantine Books U7040 (95¢). [Second edition.] Revised text. Adds new author's "foreword."
ALSO: London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, . 16-line printing history on © page with line 16 reading: Second Edition 1966. First hardcover printing of the second edition. Minor variations in foreword, otherwise follows the 1965 Ballantine text. Collected later as part of one of THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
|1937||THE HOBBIT OR THERE AND BACK AGAIN||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, ||First Published in 1937 on © page. |
Note: All examined copies of first printing dust jacket misprint "Dodgeson"for "Dodgson" on rear flap.
ALSO; London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, . Second edition [fifth impression]. Revised text.
ALSO: London: Unwin Books, . Wrappers. 16-line printing history on © page with line 16 reading: Third edition (sixteenth impression) 1966. Additional textual revisions.
ALSO: [London]: Longmans, . Boards. First published 1937/Second edition (fifth impression) 1951/Third edition (sixteenth impression) published in the Heritage of Literature Series in 1966 by arrangement with Messrs. George Allen & Unwin Ltd. on © page. First hardcover printing of the third edition.
Note: Whitaker's Cumulative Book List cites June 1966 as month of publication for both Allen and Unwin and Longmans editions. Possibly published simultaneously but the Longmans edition may precede. The British Library received the Longmans edition on 6 June 1966 and the Allen and Unwin edition on 11 July 1966.
|1968||THE LORD OF THE RINGS||London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, ||Wrappers. First published in one volume 1968 on © page. Reprint. Collects THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS, and THE RETURN OF THE KING. Lacks index and appendices, save for "A Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen." |
Note: A Canadian variant was probably produced during the same print run. This issue bears the imprint Thomas Nelson and Sons (Canada) Ltd on the title page, includes the following statement on the © page: George Allen & Unwin Ltd have authorized this edition for sale in Canada by Thomas Nelson & Sons (Canada) Ltd, page  is blank, and the publisher's spine imprint reads NELSON.
ALSO: London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, . This India paper edition first published 1969 on © page. First hardcover one-volume edition. Follows second edition text and includes the six appendices and index.
|1955||THE RETURN OF THE KING||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1955||First published in 1955 on © page. |
ALSO: New York: Ace Books, Inc., . Wrappers. No statement of printing on © page. Ace Science Fiction Classic A-6 (75¢). Abridged. Does not contain appendices. Text follows the 1955 Allen & Unwin edition.
ALSO: New York: Ballantine Books, . Wrappers. First printing: December, 1965 on © page. Ballantine Books U7042 (95¢). [Second edition.]. Revised text; adds index.
ALSO: London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, . 12-line printing history on © page with line 12 reading: Second Edition 1966. First hardcover printing of the second edition. Follows the 1965 Ballantine text. Collected later as part three of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. THE SILMARILLION. International publication date was 19 September 1977.
Three editions, simultaneous publication but priority of printing probably as indicated:
|1967||SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, ||First published in 1967 on © page. Note: Issued without dust jacket.|
|1966||THE TOLKIEN READER||New York: Ballantine Books, ||Wrappers. First Edition: September, 1966 on © page. A Ballantine Book U7038 (95¢)|
|1964||TREE AND LEAF||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, ||Boards. First published... 1964 on © page. Includes essay "On Fairy Stories, "short story "Leaf by Niggle," and an introductory note.|
|1975||TREE AND LEAF/SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR/THE HOMECOMING OFBEORHTNOTH BEORHTHELM'S SON||[London]: Unwin Books, ||Wrappers. Unwin Books Edition 1975 on © page. Note: "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, "a verse play, is first collected here in a Book solely by Tolkien; fiction is reprinted from earlier books.|
|1954||THE TWO TOWERS||London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1954||First published in 1954 on © page. |
ALSO: New York: Ballantine Books, . Wrappers. First Printing: November, 1965 on © page. Ballantine Books U7041 (95¢). [Second edition.] Revised text.
ALSO: London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, . 13-line printing history on © page with line 13 reading: Second Edition 1966. First hardcover printing of second edition. Follows the 1965 Ballantine text. Collected later as part two of THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
J. R. R. Tolkien – First Printing Dust Jacket Identification Points
Gallery of First state Dust Jackets of Tolkien’s works. Only includes the first appearance in book form. Either the UK or US edition and does not include later printings.
- L. W. Currey, Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography of First Printings of Their Fiction and Selected Nonfiction.