Why Lord of the Rings is Actually 6 Books, Not 3

Lord of the Rings is famously comprised of Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King. So why do many fans claim LOTR is 6 books?

Elijah Wood as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings book trilogy

The Lord of the Rings is widely known as a trilogy, both in the literary and cinematic worlds, so why is it often referred to as a series of 6 books? On bookshelves and film libraries across the world, Frodo's trek from the Shire to Mount Doom is split into three parts: The Fellowship of the RingThe Two Towers and The Return of the King. This is how the story was originally published in the mid-1950s and also how Peter Jackson adapted Tolkien's magnum opus, with each book translated into an epic, longer-than-feature-length movie that served to bring Middle-earth to both a new generation and a more mainstream audience.

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The release of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy also consolidated the idea that the story is split into 3 parts, although this notion had already been firmly established by half a century of printing LOTR in three chunky installments. In fact, this structure has been in place for so long that Tolkien's original intentions have been mostly forgotten. The legendary author had already enjoyed success with The Hobbit and was encouraged to write a follow-up, in addition to his ongoing work on The Silmarillion. Unlike The Hobbit, which was intended and released as a single work, things got complicated with The Lord of the Rings.

Related: Lord Of The Rings: Saruman's Movie Death Explained (& Why It Was Cut)

Why Lord Of The Rings Is 6 Books

Lord of the Rings Books JRR Tolkien

According to Tolkien's private letters released to the public in the 1980s, the writer did not envision or create The Lord of the Rings as a three-part saga. Instead, the entire story from Bag End to Mordor and back again was penned as a single, giant tome, which Tolkien hoped would then be followed by a second work, The Silmarillion. Upon completion, The Lord of the Rings was divided into six books by the author, and although he wanted it published in one hit, Tolkien confirms in his letters that he thought of this new Middle-earth adventure as six separate books.

Unfortunately, the publishing company didn't agree on either count. Tolkien's initial insistence that The Lord of the Rings be published in its entirety was rebuffed by several prospective publishers, and the author was forced to drop this request out of fear that The Lord of the Rings might not see the light of day at all. While Tolkien had already mentally divided his story into 6, his publisher wasn't keen on this idea either. Paper supplies were still recovering from World War II and the company sought to minimize the cost of printing in case The Lord of the Rings wasn't successful. Consequently, the decision was made to release 3 volumes, each containing two books.

The Lord Of The Rings' Missing Book Titles

After reluctantly agreeing to turn The Lord of the Rings into 3 parts, Tolkien was then made to compromise again on the titles. The author initially wanted the 6 books to be named separately, but after this idea was shot down, Tolkien suggested his own titles for each part. These were The Shadow GrowsThe Ring in the Shadow and The War of the Ring. Near the turn of the millennium, as Peter Jackson's movie trilogy loomed, modern publishers thought to release The Lord of the Rings in 6 volumes, closer to what Tolkien had originally intended. Guided by prospective titles from Tolkien's letters and his son, Christopher, the books were named: The Return of the ShadowThe Fellowship of the RingThe Treason of IsengardThe Journey To Mordor/The Two TowersThe War of the Ring and The Return of the King.

Where Each Of The Six Books Finishes

Reading older editions of The Lord of the Rings, it's not always immediately obvious where the remaining story splits would have occurred if the 6-part structure had remained in place, but newer prints are divided as so:

  • Book 1 ends with the Ringwraiths being washed away by a river and Frodo losing consciousness.
  • Book 2 concludes where The Fellowship of the Ring usually does.
  • Book 3 ends with Saruman's defeat and Gandalf riding to Minas Tirith.
  • Book 4 stops in the same place as The Two Towers.
  • Book 5 finishes with Sauron commencing his attack and Pippin's fate left unclear.
  • Book 6 ends The Lord of the Rings.

More: Lord Of The Rings: What Happened To The OTHER Rings Of Power

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