The Lord of the Rings isn’t really a trilogy, but it is a romance

The Lord of the Rings is widely known as a trilogy of films. However, Tolkien had other plans and intended LOTR to be a “heroic romance”.


Much of today’s cinematic entertainment is originally based on books. Netflix has the rights to Chronicles of Narnia and has several projects under construction, while a The Spiderwick Chronicles the series is coming to Disney+. Then there is The house of the dragonan It prequel series, a Willy Wonka prequel film and multiple Dune movies on the way. So it’s safe to say that producers and writers are recycling classic books for inspiration.


And there’s no problem using books as inspiration. It gives writers an idea of ​​what was popular in the past and allows older books some recognition with newer audiences. But although it is possible that all the mentioned films and series will do well, it is unlikely that any of them will live Lord of the Rings’ success. Peter Jackson’s trilogy is probably the most successful book-to-film adaptation, even if Christopher Tolkien didn’t care for it. However, it is worth noting two important misconceptions that Jackson’s adaptation helped build around JRR Tolkien’s work.

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Why Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy

Movie posters of the Lord of the Rings trilogy

Jackson’s adaptation consisted of three films: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King. This was a logical way to divide the films, as the books are also divided into three parts. However, Tolkien was adamant about it Lord of the Rings it wasn’t meant to be a trilogy. A passage from Letter 252 says: “PS The book is of course not a ‘trilogy’.” That and the titles of the volumes were a fabrication deemed necessary for publication, due to length and cost. The story is conceived and written as a whole, the only natural division being ‘books’ I-VI (which were originally titled).

In that quote, Tolkien was referring to a historical event. He wanted to Lord of the Rings considered as one unique story, but logistics got in the way. After World War II, there was a paper shortage in Great Britain. So, printing Lord of the Rings in one huge volume it would not be allowed. Thus, the idea of ​​a trilogy was conceived with all three parts published over the course of a year.

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Why Lord of the Rings is a romance

Aragorn and Arwen at his coronation in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Another thing that Tolkien was adamant about was Lord of the Rings‘ genre classification. Jackson’s films made the series seem like an action-packed, epic story. That wasn’t completely wrong, but it missed the point a bit. Even in Tolkien’s time, people started to mention Lord of the Rings like an epic novel, which he didn’t like. So, in letter 92, he wrote: “I am very little interested in the history of serial literature, and not at all interested in the history or present state of the English ‘novel’. My work is not a ‘novel’ but a ‘heroic romance’ a much older and quite different literature.”

While there is a love story in Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was not referring to Aragorn and Arwen’s story when he used the word “romance”. A “heroic romance” was a long, medieval narrative that described the adventures and heroism of a virtuous Arthurian hero. There was usually magic involved and it was also meant to be morally instructive rather than just entertaining. Although many people may not know what a heroic romance is, it was the most appropriate genre Lord of the Rings. He played Aragorn in his quest for peace, defeating evil and regaining the throne of Gondor. So, in the end, Lord of the Rings may look like a trilogy of films based on epic novels, but that was not Tolkien’s vision. He wanted his work to be a single, cohesive heroic romance.

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