Not many people will disagree with me when I say that The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson is the greatest film trilogy of all time. Despite having watched all three films through many times (including the extended edition), I had never read the book. For years it was a goal of mine to do so, and in my top books of 2021 post I committed myself to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings this year. Last month I finally accomplished that goal, having read both of them back-to-back. It took me just over a week to read The Hobbit and five weeks for The Lord of the Rings.
There’s no shortage of The Lord of the Rings reviews and analyses on the internet, so in this post I’m not going to go that much into my thoughts on the story. What I want to focus on instead is the actual physical copy I read this on.
Some Quick Thoughts on the Story
Even though I already knew all the main story beats so well from the films, it did not at all take away from my enjoyment of the book. I was enthralled from start to finish and there was rarely any dull or slow moment. For years I had been avoiding reading the book as I had this preconceived notion that it was going to be difficult to read and the plot would proceed at a glacial pace, and that it would take me months to get through it. I was happy to not find that to be the case.
These days I don’t read much fiction, and almost never something that is this long. This is one of those rare books that made me feel this huge sense of loss after finishing it. I sat down to read this book every single day for over a month, and I was truly immersed. It felt like I was on this adventure with these characters and went through thick and thin with them. Reaching the end of their story and having to leave them behind just left me feeling sad and empty. As dramatic as it might sound, it was almost as if I had lost some purpose in life now that I won’t get to sit down and continue on the journey with them. I know this phenomenon is not uncommon among fiction readers, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I felt this way; I read the entire Harry Potter series a few years back—which is more than doubled in word count—and I don’t recall feeling this way after completing that.
The 2021 Illustrated Edition
Going into this, I knew that I wanted to read it with a physical copy. I also specifically wanted a single-volume edition with all three parts contained in one binding. The one I ended up getting is the illustrated edition released late last year. This is a hardcover and includes illustrations in full color done by Tolkien himself.
With a $60 price tag, this is not a cheap book, probably the most expensive book in our humble home library (excluding college textbooks of course). It is quite a fancy book, and I know that “you’re not supposed to read fancy books” as John Green said. But this is the only good copy I have and I just wanted to read with it.
On the outside, this book is just gorgeous. The dust jacket comes in gray and features the original illustration from the first edition of the book with Tolkien's signature. The page edges are colored red which gives out a nice contrast. The best part about the exterior design is the Ring Verse on the fore-edge. It almost made me want to shelve this book backwards so this would be visible.
With the dust jacket off (as I always do when reading hardcover books), you will find that the Eye of Sauron illustration is actually printed on the cloth hardcover itself and not on the dust jacket which I think is a nice touch. The same illustrations on the dust jacket spine can also be found on the hardcover.
With 1,178 pages, this book is not light: it weighs 1,585 grams (yes, I did put it on a scale). So it’s not one of those books that you would want to bring with you to read in a park or on a flight.
Inside there are 32 illustrations (excluding the maps) inserted throughout the book, between relevant pages. It also comes with a nice little bookmark.
I actually purchased a box set of The Lord of the Rings a while back, but it comes in three separate paperback books. The main reason I didn’t want to read those was the low print quality of the text. I don’t know what the correct term for this in publishing world, but it looks almost like these pages were photocopied from older, lower-quality edition of the book. On the other hand, this single-volume illustrated edition has high print quality and sharper text which made for a much more pleasant reading experience.
There are two 10.5”×14.5“ fold-out maps drawn by Christopher Tolkien. One of the west of Middle-earth and the other of a more close-up area near Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor. I found these maps tremendously helpful with establishing spatial awareness when it comes to the plot and character movements throughout the story.
This 2021 illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings is indeed a fancy book. To me it is well worth the premium price for the entertainment value I got out of it. Given the quality of this printing, I’m sure it will remain in good condition in my book collection for many years to come.