Monday 16 November 2015

The Lord of the Rings is not a Trilogy

Obviously it isn't 

It is just a novel (usually) published in three volumes: a three volume novel. 


1. It is nearly-always called a trilogy.

2. It led to (nearly) all of the fantasy novels since Tolkien being called - but not actually being - trilogies.

That's it, really...


Roger W said...

It is indeed not a trilogy, but if the aim is to use correct terminology for Tolkien's work, I'm not so sure that it's so accurate to describe it as a novel either (except in the usual loose modern use of the term to cover virtually any long work of prose fiction, which is in itself problematic). Tolkien's own preference, which seems to have a sound enough basis in literary history, is in any case on record:

"I have very little interest in serial literary history, and no interest at all in the history or present situation of the English 'novel'. My work is not a 'novel', but an 'heroic romance' a much older and quite different variety of literature."

:- J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter #329

Bruce Charlton said...

@Roger L - Fair enough. But most lay readers regard any long ficton as a novel - and it is only scholars who draw the distinction which makes Richardson's Pamela of 1740 the first novel; and excludes earlier works such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

Ray P said...

Michael Moorcock, some years ago, pointed out that the practice of publishing novels in multiple volumes (including three parts) originated with 19th c. commercial lending libraries, which put pressure on publishers in order that revenue could increase.

Judy-Lynn del Ray brought it back as a mass market phenomenon when she discovered Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara) and Stephen Donaldson (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) both of whom became New York Times best sellers during the late nineteen seventies.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ray P - Yes, the three volume novel phenomenon gets a mention in several Victorian works, including The Importance of Being Earnest. But I suppose Moorcock's econmic are backwards - the public wanted/ wants three volume novels and so writer write them!

Anonymous said...

Modern publishing technology did not, alas, serve our one-volume paperback Lord of the Rings well: it fell apart (our hardback one-vol. Dutch translation was much better served - sturdy and handsome).

It's interesting what (and how many!) languages tend to use some form of the word 'romance' where English would tend to use 'novel', but I know next-to-nothing about how that happened historically. (Hawthorne explicitly called each of his famous long single-narrative works a "Romance" in title or subtitle: I'm not sure how much that was a conscious reaction to the English use of 'novel' by then - though he may explicitly discuss that in prefaces, etc. - that seems to ring a bell, but I haven't paused to check.)

I also wonder how fruitfully LotR might be compared, in approach, with that of the 'totaler Roman'.

David Llewellyn Dodds