Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Apple #204: Shel Silverstein

A few entries ago, I mentioned that I learned that a Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue" was actually written by Shel Silverstein. In that entry, I found out about other songs performed by Johnny Cash.

But what I most want to know is, how is it that the same person who wrote The Giving Tree and all sorts of happy, goofy poetry for children also wrote a song that involves a father cutting off a chunk of his son's ear?

So it's time, boys and girls, to learn about Shel Silverstein.

  • Born in Chicago in 1932 and grew up there
  • Wanted to be a ball player when he was a kid, but he wasn't very good at baseball, so he drew and wrote instead.
  • Served as a GI in Japan and Korea in the 1950s and while there, drew cartoons for the Pacific Stars and Stripes.
  • After leaving the military, he made cartoons for Playboy in 1956. Mainly, he took TV-show stills and wrote his own captions that were mostly punny. You can find those cartoons in collections titled Playboy's Teevee Jeebies and More Playboy's Teevee Jeebies.

(I used to have an image of one of Shel's Teevee Jeebies, but the website that hosted the images has since disappeared.)

  • He never intended to write anything for children. But a friend of his, Tomi Ungerer, who himself wrote children's books, encouraged him that he submit a children's story to an editor at Harper's.
  • The first thing he wrote for children was Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back, which was published in 1963.
  • It was the publication of The Giving Tree, which appeared in stores in 1964, that made him famous. He had trouble getting a publisher to accept it. Some said it was too short; others said it was too sad. It was four years before a publisher agreed to print it, sad ending and all. And then it became phenomenally successful and loved by thousands.

"Once there was a tree ... and she loved a little boy."
The Giving Tree

(Image from HarperCollins)

  • Also during this decade, he started writing folk music and sometimes performing themself on guitar. "A Boy Named Sue" was recorded by Johnny Cash in 1969, and "The Cover of the Rollin' Stone" was recorded by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show in 1972 (they sing this song in Almost Famous).
We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we've never known
Is the thrill that'll gitcha when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rollin Stone

(Rollin Stone.....) Wanna see my picture on the cover
(Stone.....) Wanna buy five copies for my mother
(Yah! Stone.....) Wanna see my smilin face
On the cover of the Rollin Stone....
(that's a very very good idea)

I got a freaky ole lady name a cocaine Katy
Who embroideries on my jeans
I got my poor ole grey-haired daddy
Drivin my limosine
Now it's all decided to blow our minds
But our minds won't really be blown
Like the blow that'll gitcha when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rollin Stone

  • In 1974, Silverstein published Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings, which, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the best books for children EVER.
    • One of my favorites when I was a wee applet only eight years old was the Peanut-Butter Sandwich poem. It's about a king who's a boy and who loves peanut butter sandwiches. Won't eat anything else. Then his mouth gets stuck shut. Though all his family and the wizard and the dentist try everything, including grappling hooks, to pry his mouth open, but nothing works, for twenty years. When his mouth opens with a squeak, the first thing he says is, "How about a peanut-butter sandwich?" I just loved the idea of all that peanut butter.
  • In the 1980s, he wrote several plays, including "The Lady or the Tiger Show," "The Trio," and a play performed as part of the Lincoln Center's production "Oh Hell!"
  • He also co-wrote the film "Things Change" with David Mamet in 1988. The movie is a black comedy with a light touch, about a shoe repairman (Don Ameche) who is asked by a Chicago gangster to confess falsely to committing a murder that was actually done by one of the gangster's flunkies.

Box cover of "Things Change"
(Photo from Rotten Tomatoes)

  • Once Silverstein got famous, he had three homes: one in Greenwich Village, one in Key West, and one in Sausalito, California.
  • In 1999, Mr. Silverstein had a heart attack and died in his home in Florida.
I've decided I like it that Shel Silverstein isn't only about wacky happy children stuff, he's also got some wacky adult stuff going on too. He's a real live person! Except for the fact that he's dead. But you know what I mean. Go, Uncle Shelby!

Shel Silverstein official website
Shel Silverstein biography on Geocities
KidsReads.com, Shel Silverstein 1932-1999
Sely Friday's biography of Shel Silverstein
Lyrics Download, Dr. Hook - The Cover of Rolling Stone lyrics
Hal Hinson, Review of "Things Change,"
The Washington Post, October 21, 1988

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Apple #203: Wonders of the World

Last night, a friend said, "What are the seven wonders of the world, anyway?"

I said there were seven ancient wonders and seven modern wonders, and I started to list what I could remember -- the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes -- and he suggested the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the modern wonders.

Surely, he said, Niagara Falls ought to be in there somewhere. But was there a separate list for the natural wonders versus the man-made wonders?

Clearly, it was time for the Apple Lady to step in.

As we suspected, there are actually many lists of wonders of the world. Herodotus was the first known person to come up with such an idea, as a way to celebrate the best of human structures that express a reverence for religion, art, mythology, science, or political dominance.

Ever since Herodotus, people have been coming up with lists of wonders all over the place. I'll start with the Ancient Wonders and give a couple other lists after that.


Listed chronologically, in order of their construction:

Great Pyramid of Giza
  • in Memphis, Egypt
  • built as a tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu around 2560 BC
  • the oldest and only surviving structure of the Ancient Wonders
  • was originally 481 feet high and for 43 centuries, was the tallest structure on Earth
  • each side is 751 feet long
  • consists of about 2 million blocks of stone
  • interior sarcophagus is aligned with the directions of the compass

Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • legendary palace and gardens along the Euphrates River, about 50 km south of Baghdad
  • built by King Nebuchadnezzar II, supposedly to please his wife who was from greener lands
  • built around 600 BC, and the foundation of the palace was only recently discovered
  • little is now known about the gardens
  • the plants grew above ground, even above eye-level and were irrigated with sloping channels, while grass grew green underfoot
  • all of this was accomplished in the desert-like conditions of Mesopotamia

One rendition of what the Hanging Gardens might have looked like. You can see more renditions at Joseph Berrigan's page.

Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  • enormous statue of the ruler of the Greek gods, seated on his throne
  • carved in honor of the Athenian Olympic games by renowned sculptor Pheidias
  • Pheidias started working on the statue in 440 BC
  • it was built starting with a metal frame over which were laid sheets of metal and ivory and gold
  • the statue is 40 feet high, or about four stories, and the base is 20 feet wide
  • the legs of the throne were decorated with sphinxes, Zeus' garments were inlaid with animals and lilies, and an eagle perched atop his sceptre
  • copies and reconstructions have since been attempted, but none managed to parallel the original work

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • in Ephesus, which is about 50 km south of Izmir, in Turkey
  • built in honor of the Greek goddess of hunting and nature
  • foundation was constructed in the 7th century BC, but the rest of the structure was built around 550 BC
  • it was made of marble, with 127 Ionic columns aligned around the outside
  • the terrace alone was 260 feet by 430 feet
  • it housed many statues, including four bronze statues of Amazon women
  • though the temple had been burned, it was still standing and the locus of a very strong religious group still devoted to Artemis when Paul visited Ephesus in the 1st century AD

Mausoleum at Helicarnassus
  • Helicarnassus is now Bodrum, on the coast of the Aegean Sea in southwest Turkey
  • built in honor of King Maussollos, who was a local governor of Caria, one of Persia's outposts
  • the structure of Maussollos' tomb (hence, mausoleum) and was originally planned by his wife, who was also his sister, Artemisia
  • it was completed around 350 BC, three years after Maussollos had died, and one year after Artemisia had died
  • it was 120 feet by 100 feet at the base, and rose to a total height of 140 feet
  • on the surrounding podium and on top of the roof were all sorts of life-sized statues of people, lions, horses pulling chariots, and free-standing sculptures

One depiction of what the Mausoleum might have looked like
(from a page on the subject from the Netherlands)

Colossus of Rhodes
  • built at the harbor around the Island of Rhodes, in the Mediterranean
  • enormous statue of Helios the sun-god
  • took 12 years to build, and was finished in 282 BC
  • it has long been described as standing astride the harbor, with one foot on either side, but given the width of the harbor, this is highly unlikely to have been the case
  • the base was made of marble, an iron and stone framework rose up from there, and was overlaid in bronze
  • the dimensions were such that "few people can make their arms meet around the thumb"
  • an earthquake in 226 BC weakened the statue at the knee, and it fell over

Lighthouse of Alexandria
  • built by the Ptolemy rulers of Egypt shortly after the death of Alexander the Great
  • located off the coast of Alexandria, on the island of Pharos
  • the word Pharos is the root word of lighthouse
  • the lighthouse stood about 40 stories high and contained and internal shaft where fuel was lifted to keep the nighttime fire burning
  • during the day, an enormous mirror was used to reflect sunlight and direct ships
  • a statue of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, stood atop the whole thing
  • the last of the non-existent Ancient Wonders to crumble
  • a series of earthquakes proved its undoing in 956, 1303, and 1323 AD

This model of the Lighthouse gives you an idea of the structure's massive scale (from a U of Texas course Intro to Greece)


There are lots of different lists of natural wonders. Some list only 7, some list far more. Some, though they restrict their list to 7, have different items on their list. I've decided to go with this list, which was compiled primarily by CNN:

  • Grand Canyon in Arizona
  • Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia
  • Mount Everest in Nepal
  • Northern lights
  • Paricutin Volcano in Mexico
  • Rio de Janeiro harbor
  • Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe

I know it's a postcard, but it's the best image I found that helps me to understand why a harbor is on this list. And yes, all that water is one harbor. That statue, called Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), is on other lists of man-made wonders.


This list, too, appears in many and various forms. The one repeated most often was compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers. I detect a bit of a bias towards the United States -- where's the Eiffel Tower, for example -- and towards engineering -- somehow, I doubt that the North Sea Protection Works is especially pleasing to the eye.

  • Channel tunnel between France & England
  • CN Tower in Toronto, Canada
  • Empire State Building in New York
  • Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA
  • Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam on the border of Brazil & Paraguay
  • North Sea Protection Works (good pictures of this at Wikipedia)
  • Panama Canal

The Itaipu dam provides more hydroelectric power than can be generated by 10 nuclear power plants. 28% of Brazil's electricity and 78% of Paraguay's electricity is generated by this dam alone. To build it, engineers had to move 50 million tons of dirt and rock and then shift the course of the seventh largest river in the world.
(Photo by Rab & Jo)

There are also lists of forgotten wonders, wonders of the medieval mind, forgotten wonders of the medieval mind (but if they're forgotten wonders of the mind, how did we wind up with a list of them?), and so on. Niagara Falls, by the way, are included on the Forgotten Wonders of the Natural World list.

All these lists lead me to think that you or I could make a list of wonders, and if we told enough people about our list, we might get everybody to think we were being Very Official about our Seven Wonders of the World's Bathrooms or whatever topic we chose.

In fact, a preservation foundation are trying to put together a new list of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and they're taking votes! The New Wonders will be announced in Lisbon, Portugal, on July 7, 2007 (07-07-07).

Alaa Ashmawy's Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Wonder Club, Complete Listing of World Wonders
123World, Seven Wonders of the World and More
Wikipedia, Seven Wonders of the World

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Apple #202: Apple Juice vs. Apple Cider

It's high time I wrote an Apple about something to do with apples.

I've been drinking lots of apple cider lately, now that it's in season and readily available in my nearby grocery store. I. Love. Apple. Cider. It's sweet, but not entirely so; there's more flavor to it than that. It has almost a cinamonny flavor, or anyway something darker, almost tangy, but if it's fresh, it's not tangy yet, it's still crisp. It tastes and smells like fall -- cool and orangey brown, a little bit melancholy and yet still delightful.

What's strange about my penchant for apple cider, I think, is that I really do not like apple juice. To me, apple juice is too sweet. Too simple. Like sugar water. A drink for a child. Watered down pap.

What accounts for the difference?
  • First thing to note, in countries outside the United States, "apple cider" refers to apple juice that has been allowed to ferment and become an alcoholic beverage. We in the US call this "hard cider."

Hard or scrumpy cider
(Photo from Snail's Tales, cider from J.K.'s Scrumpy)

  • But I'm not talking about hard cider, I'm talking about non-alcoholic apple cider.
  • I should also note that in countries outside the US, people do not distinguish between our apple cider and our apple juice. To them, it's all apple juice.
  • And some producers in the US even say that apple cider and apple juice are the same thing. I protest; they are NOT the same.
  • It turns out, there are no specific standards or hard & fast definitions to distinguish the two. But there are some characteristics of each that are usually true. 
Here's your basic apple juice. Note how pale the juice is compared to the cider pictured below. You can't see this, but the label reads "from concentrate."
(From a photo array created by Thomas G. Smith)

    • pasteurized and thermally processed
    • usually filtered to a clear liquid
    • may also be boiled to form a concentrate and then water is re-added
    • may include preservatives and has a far longer shelf life than cider
    • may be made entirely from the same variety of apples (Jonagold, for example)
    • usually bottled by nation-wide producers 
    Apple cider made by Kathi and her husband, using their own press. Here you can see the cider is clearly a darker color than the juice.
    (Photo from Feathering My Nest)

      • unfiltered and may include bits of apple or skin
      • those bits of apple oxidize when they hit the air, same as when you cut an apple open and let it sit a while, and turn brown, hence cider's distinctive color
      • used to be unpasteurized, but many apple cider producers now do pasteurize theirs, but not for as long as apple juice is pasteurized
      • no preservatives, which means it will stay fresh & unfermented for, at most, 2 weeks
      • often is made with several varieties of apples in the same batch, or using apples that have more tannin and generally are not eaten raw
      • contains more polyphenols (specific type of antioxidants) and more pectin (which happens to be beneficial in fighting colon cancer)
      • often made locally

                This is how most apple cider is made, or pressed
                (Photo from Noto Fruit Farm & Cider Mill)

                These people are pressing apples to make cider. Technically, they could drink it right from the press.
                (Photo by Dan Shorock, of the Sawlog 'n' Strings Bluegrass Festival)

                • In terms of mutritional content that is typically shown on packaging labels, apple juice and apple cider are roughly the same. They both have about 100-120 calories per 8 oz serving and about 22 grams of sugar, and surprisingly little Vitamin C or other nutrients.
                • To throw in one last item, apple cider vinegar is apple cider plus a particular form of bacteria, colloquially known as "mother of vinegar," which is added to turn the cider more acidic.

                Food Reference, Apple Cider, Apple Juice
                Cooking Club of America, What's the difference between apple juice and apple cider?
                Amy Topel, "Apple Cider - The Essence of Fall," The Green Guide, October 4, 2005
                Rees Fruit Farm, Our Apple Cider
                New England Apples, Apples the healthy snack
                Dear Uncle Ezra, Addicted to Apple Cider
                University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service, Home Apple Cider Production
                Answers.com, Vinegar

                Wednesday, October 18, 2006

                Apple #201: Johnny Cash Songs

                So the other day, Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" was playing over the loudspeaker in a store. If you don't know it, here are a few key lines:
                Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes
                And he went down, but to my surprise,
                He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear.

                Someone nearby remarked, "Ah, A Boy Named Sue. Courtesy of good old Shel Silverstein."

                "Shel Silverstein wrote this?" I said in shock. Absolutely yes, was the reply. "Wow," I said. "The Giving Tree and your dad cutting off your ear. Naturally both would be written by the same guy."

                So now I want to know, just how many songs that I think of as synonymous with Johnny Cash were actually written by someone else?

                In the case of some songs he's performed, I did know he hadn't written them. That Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt," for example. That was obviously a cover, since I heard NIN perform it on the radio a kajillion times first.

                And "Ring of Fire" I knew he didn't write; his wife, June Carter, wrote it. She wrote it before they were married, when they were married to other people. It is about how consumed she felt by her love for Johnny Cash, even though she knew it constituted adultery and might get her burning in hell.
                Love is a burning thing
                And it makes a fiery ring
                Bound by wild desire
                I fell into a ring of fire.

                By the way, if you want to hear the best account, ever, of how Johnny & June fell in love, listen to Sarah Vowell's "Greatest Love Story of the 20th Century" on a This American Life broadcast called What Is This Thing? (It's Episode 247; you have to scroll down to find it).

                Another Johnny Cash cover that I knew about is "Sunday Morning Coming Down", written by Kris Kristofferson, and which speaks to Johnny's days when he was hooked on barbituates and was country music's super-bad-ass:
                On a Sunday morning sidewalk
                I'm wishing Lord that I was stoned
                'Cause there's something in a Sunday
                That makes a body feel alone.
                And there's nothin' short of dyin'
                That's half as lonesome as the sound
                Of a sleepin' city sidewalk
                And Sunday mornin' comin' down.

                While we're on the subject of Johnny's bad old days, I have to repeat this story told by U2's Bono, and which I found in a Mars Hill Review of Cash's records:
                "We bowed our heads and John spoke this beautiful, poetic grace," Bono notes in Rolling Stone, "and we were all humbled and moved. Then he looked up afterwards and said, 'Sure miss the drugs, though.'"

                Speaking of U2, Cash sang the lyrics on U2's "The Wanderer," on the often-overlooked Zooropa.
                I went walking
                looking for one good man
                a spirit who would not bend or break
                who would stand at his father's right hand.
                I went out walking with a Bible and a gun.

                "Highway Patrolman," about a policeman whose brother may or may not have shot a man and who watches while his brother flees to Canada, was written by Bruce Springsteen.
                Me and Frankie, laughin' and drinkin'
                Nothin' feels better than blood on blood
                Takin' turns dancin' with Maria
                As the band played "Night of the Johnstown Flood"
                I catch him when he's strayin', like any brother would
                Man turns his back on his family, well he just ain't no good.

                "Down There by the Train" is about how everyone can get saved and sounds an awful lot like the kind of thing Johnny Cash would say. But it was originally written by Tom Waits.
                You can hear the whistle, you can hear the bell
                From the halls of heaven to the gates of hell
                And there's room for the forsaken if you're there on time
                You'll be washed of all your sins and all of your crimes
                If you're down there by the train
                Down there by the train.

                Now for some songs you all know as Johnny Cash's, and that he wrote himself:

                Delia's Gone
                Disturbing, yes. But the song does have a certain ring to it.
                First time I shot her, I shot her in the side
                Hard to watch her suffer
                But with the second shot she died
                Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

                I Walk The Line
                This is Johnny Cash's pledge to remain faithful to June
                As sure as night is dark and day is light
                I keep you on my mind both day and night
                And happiness I've known proves that it's right
                Because you're mine,
                I walk the line.

                Folsom Prison Blues
                Written not when Johnny was in jail -- he never served time in prison -- but in the Air Force
                When I was just a baby, my mama told me, "Son,
                Always be a good boy; don't ever play with guns."
                But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
                When I hear that whistle blowin' I hang my head and cry.

                Man in Black
                I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
                Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town.
                I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
                But is there because he's a victim of the times.

                He never in his life learned to read music.

                Matthew Blair's Johnny Cash fan site, The Man in Black, especially his Written versus Performed by page
                Answers.com, Johnny Cash
                Biography of Johnny Cash, from iGreens.org.uk
                About.com, Marriage, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash
                Dave Urbanski, "Mean Eyed Cat, Kneeling Drunkard's Plea, and the Wayfaring Stranger," Mars Hill Review
                Lyrics from lots of places including Lyrics Depot, Cowboy Lyrics, Lyrics4All

                Friday, October 13, 2006

                Apple #200: Top 5 of the First 200 Apples

                I have tallied the results of the voting for the Five Favorites, and I will present the list of winners shortly.

                But first, thank you to the many devoted readers who scanned through many pages of this blog to decide which five entries you liked the best. I very much appreciate the time it took to do this, which is probably more time than you my faithful readers would prefer to put forth toward the construction of someone else's blog. So you have my sincerest gratitude, and I am also forwarding the happy gratitude of fellow readers who will enjoy finding out what is the overall consensus.

                What I learned from the voting is that lots of people liked lots of different things. Very few people voted for the same entries. I actually think this is a good sign. We all need a little variety, and I think that the voting tells me I'm doing a fairly good job of providing that variety.

                Forty Apple entries were selected as people's favorites. Seven got more than one vote. That's not much of a consensus, but as I said, variety is good, and it's what we have to work with.

                Before I get to the top five, I'm going to give a little wave to the entries on the 1904 Olympic Marathon and Emma Goldman. Rather like the gymnast who performs the triple Tsukahara with a twist but doesn't take the gold, these entries got high praise but not quite enough votes.

                Going from the lowest number of votes to the highest, here are the winners:

                5. Pastrami, Apple #78
                What sets Pastrami above the other entries that received two official votes is that I happen to know that one rogue reader, who did not have the chance to enter, wanted it in her five favorites. In addition, Pastrami was also #10 in the previous poll. People like to say the word "pastrami." They like the link to the gallery of reubens. I had a reuben sandwich for dinner last night.

                4. Boston Molasses Flood, Apple #118
                I came very close to voting for this one, even had it in my original list. It's just such a fantastic story. A vat of molasses exploded all over Boston -- it's like some children's story -- except the resulting destruction was pretty serious. Horses and people got trapped in the goo. Molasses oozed out of the sidewalk for years afterwards. And the photo of said destruction is very memorable. Not the sort of story they teach you in high school history class, but they if they included things like this, I think more people would like history.

                3. Llamas, Apples #92 and #94
                Llamas got two official votes plus a vote from that rogue reader. I voted specifically for one of the two llama entries, but the other voter for llamas did not specify which entry, so we're going with the both of them. I made the same decision in the previous poll, where the llamas also rang in at #3. Llamas hum. Their fur is soft. They travel in people's minivans and look out the back window.

                2. Dewey Decimal System, Apple #198
                With three official votes outright, the entry on Dewey and his system of organization weighs in at number two. It's a very recent entry, suggested by a relatively new reader, but it was appreciated by library-lovers across the country -- and I mean literally from the East Coast to the West Coast. My favorite part of this entry is the realization that this simple system has been used for 150 years to organize all human knowledge across all time.

                1. Inventor of the Urinal Cake, Apple #177
                With a commanding four-vote victory, the urinal cake entry wins the big prize. This topic was suggested by a loyal reader, a3dmofo (who also voted for this entry). This is why I ask people for suggestions, to get the big winners. The fact that this topic was your favorite proves to me that, yes, you agree, there are interesting facts to know about any object around you, however trivial or ridiculous it may seem.

                Thank you all, again, for your votes. They are much appreciated.

                (Photo from Raynox)

                Thursday, October 5, 2006

                Deadline October 12

                All right, readers. I've taken my time putting up new posts, to give you all time to decide on your five favorites. I know for a fact that some of you already know what your five are, you just haven't put 'em up yet.

                As of today, you've got one week. Tick tock.

                Apple #199: Was there Once a Tolkien Craze?

                I am a fan of the Harry Potter books. I have all the existing books on tape, and I listen to them at night before I go to sleep. I have listened to them enough times, I can hear places where the tapes are wearing thin.

                So, like countless others, I await the final book in the series with an impatience that doesn't entirely want to be satisfied. Because once that book is published, it will be over. To tide me over, I check JK Rowling's website every now and again to see if there's anything new. If you haven't played around on the website, it's kind of fun to try to find the various objects hidden throughout the site. And if you get too frustrated, lots of people have posted helps elsewhere.

                Most times when I check on the latest Harry Potter news, it occurs to me to wonder whether the Hobbit books by J.R.R. Tolkein drummed up such anticipation in their day. Those books actually established the genre; without them there would be no Harry Potter (Rowling has claimed Tolkien as one of her influences). The Lord of the Rings books also appeared over time, and they have a huge fan base now, especially after Peter Jackson's super-produced (and woefully acted) movie versions.

                But I wonder, back in the day when the novels first appeared and there wasn't as big an advertising machine, did people get worked up waiting for the next installment of The Lord of the Rings? Did people line up at the bookstore to get the newest copy?

                • The Hobbit was published in 1937. Tolkien began it after writing haphazardly on a blank page at the end of a student's exam booklet, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
                • He decided to investigate what a hobbit was, and then he decided to keep writing. What he produced grew out of his love of the study of languages (philology) and his knowledge of epics such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
                • By the way, Tolkien says he never intended The Hobbit to be written for children. If you think it's mawkish or sentimental or overly instructional, he says that was by mistake. He tried harder with his next book to avoid doing anything like that.

                Tolkien. Nice guy in favor of goodness.
                (Photo from Tolkienet)

                • Fourteen years later, he completed The Lord of the Rings. He typed the 1,200 plus pages with two fingers. It is commonly referred to as a trilogy, but it was actually intended as a single book, and most serious Tolkien folks refer to it as such.
                • Even so, the publishers decided to break it into three parts, which we now know as The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. They were published from 1954 to late 1955.
                • Sales of the so-called trilogy exceeded publishers' expectations and they had to issue reprints. The book(s) didn't sell insanely well, though, because in 1961, one critic without his crystal ball proclaimed that it looked like the Tolkien enthusiasm had died out.
                • But in 1965, an unauthorized paperback version of the book was published, and sales exploded.

                Covers of the rogue paperbacks, published by Ace books. All three of these together are currently worth anywhere from $60 to $260.
                (Photo from Absolute Elsewhere)

                • On college campuses, where LOTR seemed to find its most enthusiastic followers, the New York Times reported that "hobbits have quite replaced Salinger and Golding as 'in' reading."
                • Several fan groups sprang up, including the Tolkien Society of America, which was founded in 1965, and two years later, boasted 1,000 members.
                • In 1967, sales of the book worldwide had topped three million copies, with the United States ringing in with the greatest number of fans by far.
                • By 1968, the book was adopted as the seminal text for thousands of "Alternative" readers, and the "cult" of Tolkien was underway.
                • From 1965 to 2001, Ballantine (only one of many publishers who've had rights to the book) sold 32 million copies of The Lord of the Rings. After the first film was released, they sold 14 million in two years.
                • So let's stack up the data on LOTR and compare with Harry Potter

                On the first day you could order advance copies of the last book in the Harry Potter series, orders were more than five times higher than the number of first-day pre-orders for the sixth book. So it looks like total pre-orders for this book will smash the number of total pre-orders for the sixth book, which amounted to 1.5 million copies.

                • So the answer is, no, the excitement over the Lord of the Rings books was not as pronounced as what we know today.
                • Make no mistake, however, there were some pretty devoted fans of LOTR in 1965. It has been noted in several places that, at the time, you couldn't go far on most college campuses in the country without seeing a bumper sticker reading "Frodo lives," or hearing people greet each other with, "May the hair on your toes never grow less."

                Bilbo Baggins, as seen in the animated movie of The Hobbit

                David Doughan, Who Was Tolkien? available at The Tolkien Society's web page
                Philip Norman, "The Prevalence of Hobbits,"
                The New York Times, January 15, 1967
                Phyllis Meras, "Go, Go, Gandalf,"
                The New York Times, January 15, 1967
                Pat Reynolds, "The Lord of the Rings: The Tale of a Text," Tolkien Society page
                Andy Seller, "'Rings' comes full circle,"
                USA Today, December 16, 2003
                Julian Dibbell, "Lord of the Geeks," Village Voice, June 6-12, 2001
                Roberto Rivera, "The Lord of the Rings: a fan of the book reviews the film," Boundless webzine, date not provided
                Shmuel Ross, Harry Potter Timeline, Infoplease
                "Potter pre-orders exceed previous book," Bloomberg News, February 2, 2007