I own a version of The Fellowship of the Ring that I'm enjoying a lot, and now that I'm nearing the end I thought I might as well buy an ebook on Amazon containing all three books so I can go on with my reading (instead of looking for book 2 and 3 of this one specific edition).

However, I've come across an unexpected obstacle. By skimming through the free Kindle previews that Amazon offers, I've found that none of them use asterisms—whereas my copy does. By this, I mean this symbol here:

                             *             *             *

which is sometimes used to indicate a hard break between paragraphs, with smaller breaks being indicated by a simple empty line between the paragraphs in question. But in every single preview I've read, the empty-line type of break is the only one that is universally used in all instances.

So I started wondering: what did Tolkien do? Which version should I go for in order to read a text that is the closest to Tolkien's own use of punctuation?

  • 3
    It seems like the placed to look would be either his manuscript notes, or the first printings by Allen & Unwin.
    – Buzz
    Jan 4, 2022 at 23:57
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    @Labba I learn something new every day. I was going to criticize you for writing "asterisms "instdad of "asterisks", but apparently a group of three asterisks is called an asterism. At first I thought you were asking about the usual meaning of "asterisms" - patterns of stars in the sky. You should probably edit the question to make it more clear what you ask about. Jan 5, 2022 at 5:26
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    The style used in many print Tolkien books is to only uses three asterisks to indicate a section break where it coincides with a page break and to just used a double line break everywhere else. On an ebook there are no page breaks, so they would never use the three asterisks.
    – ibid
    Jan 5, 2022 at 21:13
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    Note: The backslash produces literal characters in an enormous variety of contexts. Also, did you really mean three asterisks in a row, which is sometimes called a dinkus, or did you mean the more typical asterism (⁂)?
    – Adamant
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:01
  • 2
    @Valorum - Then use as many non-breaking space characters as you need to get the length, but don't violate SE policy and break a bunch of tools by using code formatting.
    – Adamant
    Sep 30, 2022 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


I don't believe he used asterisms but cannot say for sure as photos of inside pages of the first edition are incredibly hard to find - probably from owners wanting to keep their originals as pristine as possible. However, looking through what is available, the asterism doesn't seem to align with his style.

Here's a look inside a first edition:

enter image description here

And a second edition:

enter image description here

(more images are available through the links.)

For your second question, it's important to note that there were major print errors introduced with the second impression, and many of those issues still show up in print today. So, I would argue that you'll probably never get a version that is a perfect representation of his initial creation.

Additionally, there were 9,250 pages in the original manuscripts. Tolkien intended for the work to be as single and complete piece of literature. However, from the Lord of the Rings Wikipedia article:

For publication, the work was divided into three volumes to minimize any potential financial loss due to the high cost of type-setting and modest anticipated sales: The Fellowship of the Ring (Books I and II), The Two Towers (Books III and IV), and The Return of the King (Books V and VI plus six appendices).

My final recos:

  • For the version closest to his vision but probably furthest from the first impression: Check out a 50th Anniversary Edition single volume version. Concerted efforts were made to correct book errors and provide a version that aligned with Tolkien's initial vision.
  • For a reasonably priced version that most closely resembles the initial impression: I'd recommend the mass market paperback from the 70's. (Basing this on timing of release, pagination , and research).
  • This aligns with what I found in my facsimile Hobbit. It's likely an Allen and Unwin typesetting style.
    – Spencer
    Oct 3, 2022 at 12:33

Doesn't seem like it

William Fliss, the Tolkien Archivist at Marquette University (where all of the Lord of the Rings manuscripts are), said in a reddit AMA that he doesn't remember seeing any, though added that he never actively looked for them either.

Q. Does Tolkien ever use asterisms is his manuscripts? (i.e. putting a row of three dots to indicate a section break). I think in the published books section breaks are just shown as an extra line break, but how does Tolkien tend to do it in his manuscripts?

A. Not that I can think of, but I haven't been looking for asterisms either. ... Sorry for the brevity of the response. I am overwhelmed by the number of questions!
I am William Fliss, Tolkien Archivist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Ask Me Anything!


I took a quick look and didn't find any in my 1st edition (see picture below). You should point out a specific part of the text where there is a dinkus in you edition if you want me to compare on that specific spot :)

For the rest, I fully agree with Grokante's answer.

enter image description here

  • 3
    Such a flex. "Let me check my first edition.... [settles monocle]" :-D Oct 25, 2022 at 2:50

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