Even before the blockbuster The Lord of the Rings movies, Middle earth rare books were highly sought after. In fact, The Hobbit and the trilogy have been popular since publication, and J.R.R. Tolkien developed a cult following in the sixties.
Middle-earth is a fictional land created by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973), a University of Oxford professor of English Language and Literature as well as Anglo-Saxon.
The Hobbit began as a story recited by Tolkien to his children and was not originally part of Middle-earth. Around this time he was also writing Middle-earth stories and histories that were eventually published in collections after his death. The popularity of The Hobbit called for a sequel, so Tolkien started The Lord of the Rings, drawing on his Middle-earth writings.
Tolkien was an authority on languages and English literature. He translated Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1925), while his Beowulf lectures, first collected in Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics (1937), were extremely influential, so he was quite capable of creating a complex and detailed fantasy world of sorcerers, knights, winged Nazgûls, Elvish languages and family trees.
Many people have tried to find symbolism in Tolkien's work similar to the writing of his fellow Oxford professor C.S. Lewis. Unlike Lewis, though, who filled his books with religious allegory, Tolkien was always opposed to reading too much into his books. If you want to place Middle-earth somewhere, it could be Northern Europe, perhaps with the oncoming catastrophe of a world war, while the Hobbits in The Shire, with their tidy Hobbit holes and proper ways of doing things, are the British people.
Tolkien's Middle earth Rare Books
Not all books written by J.R.R. Tolkien are set in Middle-earth though. For instance, there is the fantasy novella Farmer Giles of Ham (1949). A look into his writing in any depth will reveal many more wonderful works to read and collect such as Goblin Feet, his first poem in print that is found in Oxford Poetry 1915.
Tolkien's rare Middle-earth books have always been expensive, but since the Ring movies came out, their prices have risen even further. You can rest assured, though, that these values are not momentary spikes. The costs will remain high for such classic, influential works of fantasy.
Many Tolkien books are scarce and expensive. A great deal of helpful, detailed information about the various printings is available at An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography. Although the first American editions from Houghton Mifflin sell for thousands of dollars, the first printings from Great Britain are truly the dragon's treasure of Middle earth rare books.
- The Hobbit London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937. 1st edition.
Tolkien introduced Bilbo Baggins, Gollum and Gandalf in this book that is now considered to be a prelude to the larger trilogy. A reprint containing the manuscript as originally published in the first edition should be tracked down for the sections Tolkien rewrote to fit better with the Middle-earth of The Lord of the Rings. Chapter five, where Bilbo acquires the Ring, is an important difference.
- The Fellowship of the Ring London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954. 1st edition.
- The Two Towers London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954. 1st edition.
- The Return of the King London: George Allen & Unwin, 1955. 1st edition.
Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a single book and did not want the manuscript published in sections. The Ace paperback publication is an unauthorized US edition. Although not nearly as expensive or scarce as a first edition hardcover, a nice set still sells for over $100.
- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil London: George Allen & Unwin, 1962. 1st edition.
Tom Bombadil appeared in The Fellowship of the Ring. These poems, supposedly collected by Hobbits, are a Middle earth rare book.
Books Published after Tolkien's Death
Christopher Tolkien, the author's son, assembled unpublished writings by his father. Some manuscripts are more finished than others. These later books are not as scarce as the novels published during Tolkien's lifetime but are important to anyone interested in Middle-earth. The complete 12-volume set in hardcover of The History of Middle-earth (1983-96) that collects and analyzes Tolkien's work can be expensive.
- 'The Silmarillion' Tolkien, Christopher (editor). London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977. 1st Edition.
The 1982 leather-bound limited edition from Allen & Unwin is desirable. It comes with a card signed by Christopher Tolkien.
In addition to early printings, published and unpublished manuscripts are collectible. There are also letters written by Tolkien as well as Middle-earth maps and other drawings by the author.
- Poems and Songs of Middle-earth Caedmon audio recording, 1967. 1st Edition.
Donald Swann wrote the music to accompany Tolkien's poems. This record includes Tolkien reading poems in English and in Elvish, but not all issues of the title contain identical tracks. Collecting Middle-earth rare records can get as complicated as sorting through the printings of Middle-earth rare books.
More About Middle-earth
Although there were many Tolkien organizations before the internet, they have increased online. Two websites are:
- The Tolkien Society began in 1969.
- The Official Tolkien Site currently tells about the publication of The Children of Hurin, "the oldest story of Middle-earth."