A story of The Lord of the Rings’ scale and ambition hadn’t been seen since the prototypical epic poetry of Ancient Greece, and even though the first installment was released almost three millennia after Homer’s day, the world simply wasn’t ready for Tolkien’s masterpiece.
Written between 1937 and the early 1950s, Tolkien found it incredibly difficult to sell The Lord of the Rings to a publisher, so it wouldn’t see the light of day – commercially speaking – until the release of “The Fellowship of the Ring” in 1954.
That’s a pretty expansive timeframe, especially considering Tolkien’s smash hit debut, The Hobbit, had been a staple of bookshelves around the world for almost two decades at this point.
But when you analyze the historical context of this conception-to-bookstore period, it all starts to make a lot more sense.
Why Did It Take J.R.R. Tolkien So Long To Write The Lord Of The Rings?
Needless to say, one of the reasons it took Tolkien so long to write The Lord of the Rings is that it’s epic, both in tone and girth, and big stories take time to complete.
Now, considering that he wasn’t at any point working as a writer full-time, it seems ludicrous that he got it finished as early as he did. And get this… he endured paper shortages from 1939 through 45 thanks to WWII.
There were also a number of contextual issues that meant he had to pause work on The Lord of the Rings in order to edit The Hobbit so it would fall more in line with the expanded lore of its sequel.
This was around 1942, and he wouldn’t resume writing his new story in earnest until 1944, but again, he could only write between teaching and personal commitments.
By 1947 he had completed what is now considered a semi-final draft of the basic story, but even then, ten years down the line, it was a far sight from the story we know and love today.
Before the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien would make extensive revisions to the story and appendices.
Why Did It Take So Long For The Lord Of The Rings To Be Published?
Even after his hugely successful debut, publishers didn’t trust Tolkien’s vision and harbored numerous business-related qualms about his goal of releasing The Lord of the Rings as a single, giant entity alongside The Silmarillion.
He first approached George Allen & Unwin about publishing his epic, but they just couldn’t see the sense in publishing a 1200-page book in post-war Britain, and that’s disregarding the additional texts Tolkien wanted to bundle into the release.
They expected a book around the same length as The Hobbit, so when Tolkien’s monolithic tome reached their desks, they were somewhat befuddled.
Unwilling to accept The Lord of the Rings for what Tolkien claimed it should be, they lost the writer’s faith, and he went on without a publisher for a time, the future of his masterwork uncertain.
Nevertheless, between 1949 and 1950, he continued to add to it, committing himself to complete the appendices.
In an attempt to break his story free from limbo, he approached Collins (later HarperCollins) who stated their interest, but would come to disappoint Tolkien after requesting his manuscript be dramatically reduced.
During this time, his original publisher released a second edition of The Hobbit complete with revisions Tolkien had suggested in 1947 in order to align it with The Lord of the Rings.
The publication came as a surprise to Tolkien, who hadn’t ever even heard back about the amendments, yet here they were in the black and white in the galley proof before him.
So, the groundwork had now been laid for the release of The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien still didn’t have a publisher. Hoping there may have been a change of heart, he returned to George Allen & Unwin.
The publisher was still firmly against releasing his enormous book, but it seemed the goodwill they had created by making the suggested changes to The Hobbit established fertile grounds for discussion.
Eventually, George Allen & Unwin agreed to publish The Lord of the Rings on the condition that it be split into three books published in sequence rather than simultaneously. Tolkien acquiesced, and the first volume was published in July of 1954.
When Did The Other Two Lord Of The Rings Volumes Come Out?
The plan was to release each volume one year after the last, so “The Two Towers” was published in 1955, and “The Return of the King” was published in 1956.
Is Lord Of The Rings Allegorical?
Being that war is such a pivotal element of the narrative in The Lord of the Rings, and that Tolkien wrote the majority of the text during WWII, readers immediately started pondering the possible connection.
But Tolkien was always very clear when it came to his work and hidden meanings… there were none.
In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had created a complete and distinct work of art, and he reiterated time and time again that within the pages of his book, there was no allegory to be found.
It’s not that he never broke the fourth wall with some real-world references in his writing, such as stating that hobbits are “very much larger than lilliputians” in The Hobbit, but he didn’t veil these messages.
Always upfront and on the nose about this sort of writerly artifact, anything read between the lines by critics and the public is, according to Tolkien himself, shoehorning subtext where there is none.
To summarize, Tolkien completed the semi-final draft of The Lord of the Rings in 1947 after ten years of chipping away at the story in his spare time.
But the final draft was said to have been submitted in the early 1950s, with the galley proofs produced in 1954, amounting to a 17-year conception-to-complete writing and editing process.
It must have been grueling work for Tolkien, especially during WWII, but his perfectionism paid off in the end, as Lord of the Rings immortalized him as one of the greatest writers of all time.