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Tolkien-related books fly off the shelves long before the box office results are in
It may seem silly to talk about word-of-mouth for a 50-year-old book, but that's exactly what's happening with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, whose first volume was published in the U.S. in 1954. The impending opening of New Line Cinema's $300 million trio of movies directed by Peter Jackson (one for each of the three volumes of the novel), in tandem with the film debut of a young wizard named Harry, is bringing a new generation of readers to Tolkien's magnum opus. (Tolkien originally wrote The Lord of the Rings in 1954 as a one-volume followup to 1937's The Hobbit. His publisher feared no one would read 1,200-page manuscript, so the book was broken into three separate volumes and published in 1954 and 1955. Houghton's recently repackaging The Lord of the Rings back into its original single volume would no doubt please the late author, who used to bristle at the books being labeled a "trilogy.").
So far Houghton Mifflin -- which has 50 Tolkien books in print in various editions and has been his U.S. publisher since The Hobbit first came out in 1938 -- has reaped most of the benefits of the hype surrounding the first movie, Fellowship of the Ring, to be released on December 19. "Last year, Tolkien sales were in the mid-seven figures," Clay Harper, Houghton's director of …