Here’s my review of the newest editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (trade paperbacks measuring about 8″ by 5″–considerably larger than the mass-market ones we’re all used to); essentially, they’re in the same style as the recent one-volume edition of the Lord of the Rings published in June of this year. A hearty thank you to Houghton Mifflin to sending us these copies! And so, without further ado…
Noble, Dignified, and Still the Best Epic Ever
We’ve all heard the adage, “It’s not whats on the outside but what’s on the inside that counts.” That always holds true with books… especially Tolkien’s novels. This year alone we’ve seen three major re-releases of The Lord of the Rings: the one-volume edition in June, the Millennium Edition in October , and the new trade paperbacks in October as well. I have no idea how many hundreds of times The Lord of the Rings has been published in various different forms in the last five decades, but through those various incarnations (besides the first few reprints where corrections were made) what is on the inside of the books has changed very little–and I must admit that I do like the small changes in these editions–while the exterior has gone through scores of mutations.
Before I reveal those small changes on the interior that caught my eye, what first seized my attention of this edition was the exquisite exterior. For these new trade paperback editions of The Hobbit and the three Lord of the Rings books, Houghton Mifflin used four of Alan Lee’s paintings on the covers; if you haven’t seen Alan Lee’s paintings, I think you’re missing the best professional artist with an incredible vision of Tolkien’s world (check out his images here). His paintings are subdued, yet powerful; they don’t whack you over the head with loud colors and Fabio-like characters that have plagued other recent editions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (how many of you remember that effeminate Aragorn from the cover of the 1993 Ballantine edition of Return of the King?). Also, the titles printed on the covers give a disgnified and distinguished overall quality to the books; I especially like the gold gilding around the title boxes.
The back is also rather tasteful. On the back of The Hobbit the description is in Tolkien’s own words, not some editor who’s tried to pull together a rousing summary of the action that often ends up sounding trite (and usually is dotted with badly-used exclamation marks), just like one of my old copies of The Hobbit I have sitting next to me here. Alas, I cannot say the same for the three books of The Lord of the Rings–no words by Tolkien, but descriptions that feel very respectful towards this timeless epic. I also like the quotes they’ve used; I’ve always loved the quote which they used here by Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.”
Now on to the interior. Just like the June 1999 one-volume edition, these editions have put the maps in the absolute back of the book (the last page is the last map) instead of the front, making it just a bit quicker to flip to them–definitely a good idea. Interestingly, the pages in The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King are numbered as if they were one book. So, The Two Towers begins with page 403, and Return of the King begins with page 731–now, maybe they did this because they were lazy and wanted to use the same page templates as the one-volume edition, but I’d like to think they wanted to give a unifying feel to the one story that has erroneously been called a trilogy for much too long.
Overall, I like these bigger trade paperbacks better than the small mass-market paperbacks; I can curve and cradle these comfortably into my hand instead of the thumb-wrestling that occurs with the spine of those small mass-market books. If you want a dignified, attractive, and nobly distinguished edition of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that is easier to handle than the one-volume edition, look no further. The combination of distinguished exterior, upgraded interior, and comfortable feel make this the best paperback edition of these four books yet. For these editions, it’s what’s on the outside and (still most importantly) what’s on the inside that make them stand apart from the rest.
by Jonathan A. Watson
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Check out the New Trade Paperbacks at Amazon.com:
One Volume Edition (same style):