I came across a jarring statement in Unfinished Tales, in the chapter "The Palantíri":

It must however be noted with regard to the narrative of The Lord of the Rings that over and above such deputed authority, even hereditary, any "Heir of Elendil" (that is, a recognized descendant occupying a throne or lordship in the Númenórean realms by virtue of this descent) had the right to use any of the palantíri.

This passage seems to occur "in-universe", which is why it surprised me. I don't recall coming across a reference to The Lord of the Rings as such in Tolkien's other works, in an in-universe context. I was also under the impression that Frodo's title for the story we know as The Lord of the Rings in The Red Book of Westmarch was considerably more wordy, something like The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King.

Would Frodo, Bilbo, or Sam have called the story The Lord of the Rings? If not, did Tolkien simply make a mistake here?

  • 3
    The Lord of the Rings is mentioned at the Counsel of Elrond. "Sooner or later, The Lord of The Rings would learn of its hiding place and bend all his power towards it".
    – user46509
    Aug 1, 2015 at 17:25
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    @CarlSixsmith - Good point. I know that Sauron is referred to as "the Lord of the Rings" on occasion, but I don't remember the story itself being referred to as such.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 1, 2015 at 17:26
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    Unfinished tales is heavily out of universe IIRC. It quite literally is the bits that weren't quite finished Aug 2, 2015 at 23:54
  • @JourneymanGeek - I'm almost done with the book, and I don't think any of the main text was out-of-universe. It is called Unfinished Tales because Tolkien hadn't edited and revised it a billion times, as he was wont to do. It doesn't include any stories that end mid-sentence, for instance. It just wasn't ready to be published (by Tolkien's exacting standards, at least) when he died. I think the biggest problem he had with the stories was that he hadn't been able to make them completely consistent with the already published works.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 3, 2015 at 0:04
  • My thinking on this, as the question asks for what the Hobbits called the story, is "The story of Nine-fingered Frodo and the ring of Doom". Exactly as Sam (a Hobbit) says in the book
    – Danny Mc G
    Apr 6, 2019 at 4:02

2 Answers 2


The story is titled (in-universe) as:

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My Diary. My Unexpected Journey. There and Back Again. And What Happened After. Adventures of Five Hobbits. The Tale of the Great Ring, compiled by Bilbo Baggins from his own observations and the accounts of his friends. What we did in the War of the Ring.

                                                                      THE DOWNFALL
                                                                              OF THE
                                                                  LORD OF THE RINGS
                                                                            AND THE
                                                                  RETURN OF THE KING

                  (as seen by the Little People; being the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo of the Shire, supplemented by
                                                  the accounts of their friends and the learning of the Wise.)

                                       Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo in Rivendell.

It seems at least reasonably likely that they would shorten the name of the story to "The Lord of the Rings" since that's a pretty catchy title (as evidenced by the fact that at least one other author (Tolkien) calls it that).

  • 41
    How about "That Awful Affair of Mad Baggins and his Poor Nephew Who Went Off for a Year with Master Gamgee and Came Back a Broken Hobbit, Not to Mention the Other Two Who Were a Bit Peculiar Afterward"?
    – Beta
    Aug 2, 2015 at 3:36
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    @Beta - "The year when horrible people turned up asking lotsa questions about Frodo, then turned our shire into crap"
    – Valorum
    Aug 2, 2015 at 7:18
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    Wow. This answer looks awful on mobile
    – Valorum
    Aug 3, 2015 at 11:42
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    @raidri - Page 1002 of the ebook version books.google.co.uk/…
    – Valorum
    Aug 3, 2015 at 11:47
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    @Gae.S. - SE changed the formatting rules. It all worked beautifully before...
    – Valorum
    Jul 5, 2023 at 22:36

Richard has correctly identified the in-universe title of the story. However, that has nothing to do with the reason that Lord of the Rings is referred to by that name in the "Palantíri" essay. Christopher Tolkien explains the source of this essay in the introduction to Unfinished Tales:

For the second edition of The Lord of the Rings (1966) my father made substantial emendations to a passage in The Two Towers, III 11 "The Palantír" (three-volume hardback edition p. 203), and some others in the same connection in The Return of the King, V 7 "The Pyre of Denethor" (edition cited p. 132), though these emendations were not incorporated in the text until the second impression of the revised edition (1967). This section of the book is derived from writings on the palantíri associated with this revision; I have done no more than assemble them into a continuous essay.

(emphasis added)

In other words, this is not a slip on Tolkien's part; he's writing this essay as the author, to try and clarify his thoughts on a section of his book.

The book itself, or at any rate the manuscript conceived of as being the basis of the novel, is referred to by name only once by any character. As Frodo is consoling Sam at the Grey Havens, he tells Sam:

You will be the Mayor, of course, as long as you want to be, and the most famous gardener in history; and you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone...

That's the only reference to the book, by name, by a character in the book.

  • 1
    Very interesting. Thanks! I didn't think my copies of the LotR books were substantially revised from the original version. I guess I was wrong about that.
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 1, 2015 at 21:10
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    Is there any indication of the use of the name in-universe?
    – Valorum
    Aug 1, 2015 at 21:19
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    @Richard the book is only ever referred to as "the Red Book" in-universe. Aug 1, 2015 at 21:40
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    @wadCheber see my update. Aug 2, 2015 at 2:30
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    Elsewhere, the book is referred to as The Red Book of Westmarch, as it was kept in Westmarch later in the history. Aug 2, 2015 at 9:59

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