The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite books, yet I never take it on my travels – although I’ve travelled inside it many times. Over the years, I’ve probably spent as much time looking at maps of Middle-earth as I have looking at the map of the London Underground, or the AtoZ.
As I won’t be mentioning it in my travels, I thought I’d use it as an example of the bibliophile’s vice – buying multiple copies of the same book.
I first encountered Tolkien when I was five. My father brought The Hobbit home from the library, but I didn’t like the cover (the black, white and green one). Instead, I got into Narnia, and for a long time wouldn’t read anything but CS Lewis. Once I’d read all the Chronicles of Narnia, I moved onto his other work. I did enjoy The Screwtape Letters, but most of the others didn’t really interest me at that age.
I think I came across some of Tolkien’s poems (Oliphaunt?) in a poetry anthology, but I’ve never been able to remember what it was called.
Then one day when I was about ten, at a friend’s house, I saw a huge paperback belonging to her father – The Lord of the Rings. The cover looked familiar – it was by Pauline Baynes, who had also done the Narnia covers current at the time – so I asked to borrow it.
(I won’t go into the plot here – everyone’s seen the movies, right? They’re among the better adaptations of books to screen, and almost do the source justice. Shame about The Hobbit…)
That first night I read up to the part where the Black Rider is sniffing its way towards Frodo… It gave me nightmares, but didn’t stop me reading, and I’d finished it two days later.
I loved it – I didn’t want to give it back. As I couldn’t afford to buy my own copy, I started borrowing it from the local library on a regular basis. They had a three volume edition (1973, with the ring and eye design on cover) so that was the one I was most familiar with. And unlike the single volume it had the appendices, with family trees, chronology, runes, and big maps to unfold!
The first copy I bought was the 1983 Unicorn edition, which I think was the first single volume paperback to include all the appendices. I didn’t really like the cover (and it was quite heavy) so when I found second-hand paperback copies of the 1979 edition of my library’s version, I bought them.
But then I came across a copy of the 1968 edition (the first one I’d read, with the Pauline Baynes cover) in perfect condition, even the spine! – so I could hardly leave it lying in the charity shop. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to track down books now – back then it was an absolute thrill to stumble across a book you’d been after for years.
In 1991 they brought out the huge hardback single volume edition with illustrations by Alan Lee. I told myself there was no way I could justify the expense, not when I had three copies already. Fast-forward to the day a neighbour was having a clear-out, and asked me if I wanted to look through some books before she threw them away! And there it was – so I rescued it.
I did like the look of the seven volume millennium edition – I resisted, but in the end got a second-hand copy of the last volume – the appendices, possibly my favourite part.
There was simply no way I could resist the little volume of Poems from The Lord of the Rings – or The Road Goes Ever On (sheet music for some of the songs) – or Bilbo’s Last Song. I’ve managed to resist all the recent movie tie-ins (although I have got a copy of the film book of the animated version – does that count?).
So – more copies of one book than I really need – yet I love them all, for different reasons. I have duplicate copies of a few books – sometimes intentional, sometimes not (why do people keep giving me the Klingon Dictionary?), but the only other book which I have deliberately bought several times is Dracula – more on that in another post, perhaps…