NewsWire: `Lord of the Rings' publisher journeys to bank: - The Beacon Journal

 

Clay Harper remembers the first time he saw a screening of the New Line Cinema adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It was the late fall of 2001, and the first of the three Peter Jackson-directed Tolkien films was set to open Dec. 19.

``I was a basket case,'' Harper said. ``I'd seen the trailer and clips, of course. The buzz was there. But still... you just never know. I was hopeful, but I had my fingers crossed.''

As a fan of Tolkien's epic saga for more than 25 years, he had a book lover's anxiety about seeing a favorite work through the eyes of someone else. Was New Zealand really going to look like Middle-earth? Was Ian McKellan the best choice to play Gandalf? How much of the book had been cut?

As publisher Houghton Mifflin's Tolkien projects director, Harper also had a lot on the line professionally. Houghton Mifflin, the official U.S. publisher of Tolkien's work for more than 60 years, had paid a hefty sum to acquire the rights to the movie tie-in volumes. What if the film trilogy was a disaster? Would they lose an entire generation of potential readers?

``Just in case, we put the new editions out early before the movie so we could sell as many copies as possible,'' he said. ``And to New Line's great credit, they did a great job of encouraging people to read Tolkien.''

As it turned out, they also had made a great movie. And it paid off for Houghton Mifflin.

``In the history of the company, there have only been two million-copy best sellers,'' Harper said. ``One was Tolkien's The Silmarillion in 1977, and the other was The Lord of the Rings in 2001.''

What has happened since this has been ``phenomenal,'' he said. ``Because the movies come out late in the year, the sales spill over into the next. The books just keep selling, and we're not done yet.''

The DVD edition of the second movie, The Two Towers, came out last week. It further whets the appetite for Tolkien by including a preview of The Return of the King, the conclusion of the epic, which hits theaters Dec. 17.

The latest addition -- and edition -- to the Tolkien publishing program (dozens of volumes by Tolkien, about Tolkien, about the movies, etc., plus readers guides, calendars and gift books) is a $20 collectible one-volume paperback. The cover features the Dark Lord Sauron's gloved hand with an embossed ring -- as in the ``One Ring to rule them all/ One Ring to find them, /One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them'' legend, which appears in its entirety on a color frontispiece. The deluxe edition also has flaps that fold out to show color versions of the original maps of Middle-earth.

``These maps have been in the hardcover, but we wanted to do something special for the final film,'' Harper said. ``The one-volume movie tie-in is the cornerstone of the Tolkien publishing program.''

More than 2 million copies of the one-volume trade paperback have been sold in the United States the past three years. More than 25 million Tolkien-related books have been sold.

``That's just in the U.S.,'' Harper said. ``Tolkien has been a cultural phenomenon for years. The Lord of the Rings has sold 50 million copies worldwide. But there's been nothing like the audience growth we've experienced coinciding with the new movies. I know of no other publishing experience like it.''

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