June 30, 2001
Like Magic, Lord of the
Rings Flies Off Shelves
The movie isn't out until December, but all it took was 90 seconds of coming attractions, new book covers and some help from Harry Potter, and sales of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings are soaring.
"It's a nice thing for a book that's 50 years old," says Bridget Marmion, marketing director of Houghton Mifflin, which has reprinted another 100,000 copies -- up to 350,000 -- of a new, one-volume "movie tie-in" edition of Tolkien's trilogy ($20 for the paperback, $38 for the hardcover).
"Sales are going through the roof," says Kuo-Yu Liang, associate publisher of Del Rey/Ballantine, which publishes the mass-market paperback editions ($27.95 for a boxed set of four books, including Tolkien's earlier The Hobbit).
Del Rey reports shipping 1.7 million copies of Tolkien's books since last June -- tripling the total from two years earlier.
"I've never seen anything like it, six months before a movie," says Liang, who handled book tie-ins for Star Wars and Jurassic Park. "By October, who knows how big it will be?"
Tolkien's work always has sold well in summer, but sales began climbing a year ago when librarians and booksellers recommended it to young readers and parents asking for "anything like Harry Potter."
Then came buzz about the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, Part 1 of the trilogy, opening Dec. 19. The Two Towers is out in 2002, The Return of the King in 2003.
Fellowship stars Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf. ("Gandalf for President" buttons were popular on college campuses in the '60s.)
When preview snippets were posted on the movie Web site (www.lordofthe rings.net), they were downloaded 350 million times within three months. They are a hotly discussed topic on unofficial Tolkien Web sites, such as www.theonering.com.
BookSense.com's Carl Lennertz says "prime Internet fodder" and "Potter coattails" add to Tolkien's multigenerational appeal: "Baby boomers having 'their Potter' hit the screen!"
The Lord of the Rings -- crowned "book of the millennium" in a 1999 readers survey by Amazon.com -- made National Public Radio's summer reading list, recommended by Salon.com's Laura Miller. "All kinds of people are re-reading it because the coming movie has reminded them of how much they loved it the first time," she says.
The movie is expected to stay true to Tolkien's story about magic, as a power for good, falling under sinister forces. But, Miller says, once we see the movie, "our sense of the book will never be quite the same again, and because for so many people it's a favorite, I think that makes it well worth a revisit beforehand."
The Lord of the Rings -- Usually ships in 24 hours.
The Lord of the Rings Official Movie Guide