Sunday, 22 February 2009


A debate has been raging on the European LOTRO forums around a casual comment by Halo Jones concerning a hitherto unknown edition of Lord of the Rings: "After Moria, the fellowship went to Mordor directly, at least they did in edition 1 of the book, and thats the only edition that Turbine have rights for. There was no Rohan, there was no Gondor, Helm's deep was added in the 70's as marketing people suggested reprints should have more blood and gore to keep up with the times".

It would have been helpful if Halo Jones had given the full background to this fascinating bibliographical conundrum. He is of course wrong in referring to the so-called Coimbra variorum edition as "edition 1"; the true first edition is the one published in 1954 and 1955 by George Allen & Unwin, London. However, in 1957 an unauthorised and indeed pirated version of Lord of the Rings was published in a cheap, one-volume paperback by Olivares S.A. of Coimbra, Portugal, and exported to a number of countries in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. Olivares was able to do so thanks to the same loophole in international copyright legislation which allowed Ace Books in the U.S.A. to circulate their own unauthorised paperbacks of the work. As it happened, for reasons of economy, Olivares employed an expatriate Welsh poet called Owen Shuttlegrove, then resident in Coimbra, to reduce the full original text to the final 278 pages of their version; rather than undertake an extensive re-write, Shuttlegrove simply carved the central three quarters of the plot out of the book. It is undoubtedly this version that Halo refers to, above. I should add that the Coimbra variorum is exceedingly rare, and that copies can fetch substantially more than authentic first editions of Lord of the Rings.


Anonymous said...

Borges meets Tolkien? Of course, both were students of Anglo-Saxon literature.

Kairos said...

Oddly enough, the only surviving copy of the Coimbra variorum I am aware of is in the National Library of Argentina, and was, I believe, the gift of Bioy Casares, whose name appears on the fly-leaf.