Three editions of the trilogy over the years. The top one is the first, unauthorized paperback version. Note that the Nazgul on the cover of The Two Towers is a pegasus and not the reptilian creature that was actually in the book. The artist got other details right, like the black-robed, faceless Nazgul, and others wrong, like Gandalf the Yellow, so whether it was their fault or the publisher’s is up for grabs. Donald Wollheim of Ace books was the one who released this edition. He realized the property was hot and would sell well, but Tolkien refused to agree to a paperback version — in his mind , these were associated with pulpy trash. Wollheim published them anyway in 1965, believing they were not under copyright in the U.S. While the legal battle was being fought, Tolkien agreed to an authorized version with Ballantine books, realizing from his fans that there was a demand for a mass-market edition. He urged them to buy the Ballantine — the “official” — release, which was rush-released in 1966 to compete with Ace’s version.
The Ballantine is the second version pictured above, with psychedelic covers by New York artist Barbara Remington. The publication was so hurried she didn’t even receive a copy of the book and had to rely on descriptions from friends who had read it. The complete painting was divided in three, each section appearing on the cover of each volume. The whole remains an iconic images from the 1960s, gracing many a hippie wall. Remington picked up extra work from Wollheim doing the covers for E.R. Eddison’s books, which were released in paperback form to jump on the high fantasy bandwagon. (I’ll be reviewing one later.)
The last version is from a boxed set of the trilogy released in the late 1970s by Ballantine Books. This is the one I got for Christmas. They were oversized trade paperbacks, thick and fat, at a time when trade paperbacks, with slipcovers, were a novelty.