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Typos in The Lord of the Rings

2023 Update: this post contains some outdated argument and I have found many more typos since then. Please refer to its new version here instead.

I noticed a few possible typos in The Lord of the Rings. There are various origins: 1. from Tolkien himself and existed since 1954;2. the publisher misinterpreted Tolkien’s manuscript, such error also existed since 1954; 3. due to the wearing out of the printing device: type slug, photographic film or paper; 4. scanning error when the conventional typesetting was changed to computer typesetting, such error existed since 1994, when computer typesetting was used on LOTR for the first time.

Since I only checked a few editions, I can only determine a rough range of when one error appeared for the first time. You can help to narrow this range 🙂

Important editions are: Unwin 1954 (first print), Unwin 1965 (second edition), Harper Collins 1994 (first time for computer typesetting), Harper Collins 2004 (50th anniversary edition, on which almost all modern editions are based)

Title page

The title page is written in Cirth and Tengwar:

The Lord of the Rings translated from the Red Book
of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth
the history of-the War of-the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the hobbits

Focus on the two “by”. In Tengwar they are written like “mǐ”, the breve-like tehta is used to denote y [ai]. However, the letter turned from like ǐ to more like í in the 2004 edition, which would mislead reads to read them as “be”.

Another interesting thing is in 1994 edition, the whole inscription is rewritten in much thicker strokes. And 2004 edition seems to have resumed the older inscription, but during the process the tehta on “by” blurred due to scanning error.

(Also note the “siin” in Tolkien’s draft and Unwin 1954 edition was corrected to “seen” in later editions)

Ring Inscription

In all the editions I checked, the stroke in the last consonant letter “l” is always unbroken before 1994, and always broken after 1994. So this mistake also probably happened in Harper 1994 due to scanning error. According to D. Anderson, in 1999 the US editions by Houghton Mifflin adopted Harper 1994’s text. So I guess the stroke should be unbroken for any Houghton Mifflin editions before 1999.

The Doors of Durin

10 “i”s are written on Durin’s Gate, 3 in the outer arc and 7 inner. Compare Tolkien’s draft and the publisher’s redrawn versions, you’ll notice all the “i”s by Tolkien have the dot. But the 1954 version missed one dot (the first one in outer arc), and two more dots missing since at least 1985 (the first two in inner arc).

The missing dot might have influenced some linguists. In most Elvish language introductions, like An Introduction to Elvish, wikipedia and Amanye Tenceli, the “undotted i” is considered the standard form in the Mode of Beleriand of Tengwar, whereas “dotted i” is but a variant. However, as we see how Tolkien wrote it, he preferred “i” in formal writing. Here is another example, when he told a reader how to write “Imladrist”, he used “i” with the dot:

DTS 58

Also in a detailed description of the Mode of Beleriand of Tengwar written in 1930s, Tolkien gave the dotted i as standard form:

Parma Eldalamberon 22, p30

That’s not to say Tolkien didn’t use undotted i. In the earlier drafts of Durin’s Gate, he preferred undotted i. The letters are also in a more flowing manner. So maybe undotted i could be considered as a more cursive form. According to Parma Eldalamberon 22 Tolkien said the dot of i in Mode of Beleriand is a mere definer “to facilitate analysis of letters”.

DTS 31

We’ve seen 3 examples of the missing parts caused by reasons such as wearing out of the prototype (paper, type slug, photographic film, etc.). What if dust falls on the prototype, will an extra dot appear? Sure! Durin’s initial, the letter “D” is inscribed in Tengwar on his Gate:

Since at least 1991, his initial has an extra dot.

Dwarf family tree

In Appendix A, the Dwarf family tree shows a straight line between Durin the Deathless and Durin VI. It should be a dashed line, hinting there are generations in between, just as the line between Thorin III and Durin VII (In HM 1994 edition, this second line is also mistakenly represented by a straight line). In Tolkien’s earliest dwarf family tree (The Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 277), he also used a dashed line in both cases. So I guess this is either Tolkien’s error or the publisher misread his manuscript. This error existed since at least 1965. And was probably introduced in the 1954 1st print.

(The Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 277)

Following w

The sign for following w (required for the expression of au, aw) was in this mode the u-curl or a modification of it ˜.

It’s known in Tolkien’s Tengwar specimen he used “∽” for following w. Why saying “~” here? In fact, according to the privately circulated Jim Allan’s Report from Marquette, in the typescript for App.E, “∽” was used here, written by hand. (See Måns Björkman Berg’s post in elfscript2 group) Apparently the printers misinterpreted and used “~” instead.

Doors of Durin revisited

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

Finally I’ll show an example I thought was a mistake yet turn out to be not. Look at the letter y in the first word “Ennyn”. In the first 4 drafts Tolkien produced, he always wrote it like “9”, rather than the traditional Tengwar for s silme nuquerna. Only his final draft looks like silme nuquerna, which was used for the publisher’s redrawn version. In App. E Tolkien also said “The use of No. 30 as a sign for vocalic y may be noted”. So the letter is silme nuquerna indeed. But in Sindarin s has no connection to y. Why would they use the letter for s to represent the vowel y? The drafts suggest what Tolkien had intended for the letter y in the Mode of Beleriand was a completely different new letter. Actually, Arden R. Smith mentioned it in 2011:

The tengwa /y/ in the Mode of Beleriand: All the unpublished tables of that mode agree that the loop of the letter should in fact be closed. This being the case, it should not be regarded as an alternative usage of silme nuquerna, but rather as an entirely different tengwa.

Then in 2015 we finally have the first glimpse of Tolkien’s papers on Mode of Beleriand in Parma Eldalamberon 22 (written in 1930s): the letter is always written like “9”. And has no connection with the letter for s, silme. Tolkien even suggested the y letter was from Úre(letter for u) in both sound and shape, which makes much sense.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-3.png
PE22/30, in the alphabet “y” is next to “u”, and separated from “s”

However, probably Tolkien later changed his mind in 1950s when preparing the final version of the Doors of Durin.


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