Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsForeword To The Second Edition Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | Foreword to the Second Edition | Summary


The Lord of the Rings was originally meant to be published as one entire book. However, due to publishing demands, the work was divided into three books that were published separately—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Each book is further divided into two parts, with associated chapters.


Tolkien describes the process by which he wrote The Lord of the Rings. Even though he began it soon after The Hobbit was written, he took time off to complete his "mythology and legends of the Elder Days," which included the linguistic background material for the Elvish languages, among other things. He also explains that The Lord of the Rings took a long time to complete due to other practical considerations, such as his own duties as a professor and the outbreak of World War II. He also discusses some of the varied reactions to his work (because this foreword is to the second edition), saying, "I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved." He notes a few details have been corrected in this second edition.


Tolkien writes of the tension between his established readers' insatiable desire for more about hobbits after reading The Hobbit, and his own sense of being "irresistibly" drawn into the mythological "older world" he had been developing, or rather, discovering: "The discovery of the significance of these glimpses [of Elrond, Moria, and other elements of the greater mythology seen in The Hobbit] and of their relation to the ancient histories revealed the Third Age and its culmination in the War of the Ring."

Tolkien also establishes his purpose for writing The Lord of the Rings. He objects to anyone's suggestion that his work is allegorical, especially an allegory of any particular war, and even cites specific differences between real war and the conflict described in his work. He notes that some of the oldest sections of the book, including the important "Shadow of the Past" chapter, was written long before 1939, and so could not have World War II as its source: "its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit." Rather, he says his motives were "the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them."

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