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Betty Ballantine, paperback pioneer, dead at 99


Feb 14, 1:02pm

Post #1 of 5 (2710 views)
Betty Ballantine, paperback pioneer, dead at 99 Can't Post

Courtesy of Tolkienlibrary.com

AP - Elizabeth Jones, "Betty," Ballantine, passed away on Tuesday, February 12 at her home in Bearsmouth, New York. She was 99 years old. Together with her husband, Ian, who passed away in 1995, they Founded Bantam Books and Ballantine Books, expanding and mainstreaming the market for paperback books in the U.S. Of course, the name 'Ballantine Books' is near and dear to readers of J.R.R. Tolkien. What lover of Tolkien's books doesn't have several beloved, dog-eared Ballantine editions of "The Hobbit" and/or "The Lord of the Rings" on their bookshelves?

Ballantine was just 20 and attending school in England, in 1939, when she met and married 23-year-old Ian Ballantine. Soon after marrying, Ian and Betty traveled by ship back to his native New York. They established the U.S. division of Penguin Books, and worked out of their apartment. In 1945, they founded Bantam Books, then part of Grosset & Dunlap, and went into business for themselves seven years later with Ballantine Books.

Charging as little as a quarter, they published everything from reprints of Mark Twain novels to paperbacks of contemporary best-sellers. They helped established the paperback market for science fiction, Westerns and other genres, releasing original works and reprints by J.R.R. Tolkien, Arthur C. Clarke and H.P. Lovecraft, among others.

One day, a switchboard operator at Ballantine who had been reading a hardcover edition of Tolkien's "The Hobbit" recommended it to the Ballantines. They offered Tolkien's publisher, Houghton Mifflin, $2,500 each for paperback rights to "The Hobbit" and the three "Lord of the Rings" novels. Houghton Mifflin initially declined, but reconsidered when pirated editions began appearing. Rights were granted to Ballantine, which on the back of the books printed a note from Tolkien himself: This paperback edition, and no other, has been published with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it and no other. Bookstores and readers, meanwhile, boycotted unauthorized texts.

The whole science fiction fraternity got behind the book; this was their meat and drink,” Betty Ballantine recalled, according to Al Silverman's "The Time of Their Lives," a publishing history which came out in 2008.

The Ballantines sold their company in the late 1960s, and ended up working at what is now Penguin Random House. While still owners of Ballantine Books, they also published the classic 3-volume edition of "The Lord of the Rings" with cover illustration by Barbara Remington. Though Ballantine Books went on to publish several other editions of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," these first Ballantine paperback editions remain beloved by those who still have them, and coveted by collectors who don't.

The TORN family offers our condolences to the Ballantine family and friends, and would like to thank Betty and Ian for being the visionaries they were, and for bringing Tolkien's works to us in affordable, enjoyable style for decades!

A fun fact: while researching editions of Tolkien's books published by Ballantine Books, we learned at the Tolkien Gateway site that the cover of the first Ballantine paperback of "The Hobbit," published in 1965, was revised in 1966 to airbrush out the lion in the lower left corner. This was done at the request of J.R.R. Tolkien who didn't like the lion on the cover because there were no lions in the story! Compare the covers below, and let us know how many editions of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" you have in your collections.

(This post was edited by Altaira on Feb 14, 9:10pm)


Feb 14, 8:23pm

Post #2 of 5 (2703 views)
It may seem remarkable now, but Tolkien despised 'paperbacks' at first. [In reply to] Can't Post

The paperback format was all about cheapness and disposability. Authors, literati, and critics of an earlier era regarded them as examples of a 'pop' culture, much like TV shows and even movies, that should be resisted in the name of the ancient literary and dramatic fine arts.

For instance, in his Letters, Tolkien says when first approached about a British paperback edition of The Hobbit, in 1960, that he would prefer not to 'cheapen' his book even if there was a chance for making more money from a pocket edition. From the context, we gather that his old-line publisher agreed with him on this:

[Puffin Books had offered to publish a paperback edition of The Hobbit.]

Thank you for your news of the 'Puffin' offer, and your advice. I may safely leave the decision to your own wisdom. The chances of profit or loss, in cash or otherwise, are evidently neatly balanced. If you wish to know my personal feelings: I am no longer able to ignore cash-profit, even to the odd 100, but I do share your reluctance to cheapen the old Hobbit. Unless the profit or advantage is clear, I would much rather leave him to amble along; and he still shows a good walking-pace. And I am not fond of Puffins or Penguins or other soft-shelled fowl: they eat other birds' eggs, and are better left to vacated nests. (JRRT, Letter 225 to Rayner Unwin, Dec. 1960).

That said, I am sorry to hear of Mrs. Ballantine's passing. Any Tolkien fan cherishes those first pb editions with their odd Remington covers, and the dramatic story of the battle with Ace editions (whose flashy and color-coordinated covers first attracted me to the LotR), and the famous gold-edged blurb on the back about "This edition,and no other, ..."

squire online:
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Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
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Feb 15, 11:55am

Post #3 of 5 (2678 views)
That Ace drama [In reply to] Can't Post

certainly did nothing to help with Tolkien's attitude about paperbacks; but my first thought was that so many people who couldn't afford the hc would be able to afford to buy their own copies. The sales were high because so many who wanted to read "The Hobbit" and other popular books could finally get one.


We have been there and back again.

TIME Google Calendar

(This post was edited by grammaboodawg on Feb 15, 11:58am)


Feb 15, 12:07pm

Post #4 of 5 (2675 views)
Rest in peace... [In reply to] Can't Post

The Ballantines changed the way books were sold. I did not know their whole story... it's amazing. Many thanks to them, personally, for what they gave to those of us who could not afford the beautiful hard copies of books.
I love the covers by Remington and am lucky to have the lion edition of "The Hobbit" and the large poster of all three covers of The Lord of the Rings"... so iconic for that first generation of Tolkien lovers.


We have been there and back again.

TIME Google Calendar

L. Ron Halfelven
Grey Havens

Feb 15, 8:23pm

Post #5 of 5 (2660 views)
Those who approve of courtesy to dead publishers will reminisce over it, and no other./ [In reply to] Can't Post


And Rose drew him in, and set him on the harpsichord bench, and put little Wilhelm Friedemann upon his lap.

He began composing a fugue. 'Well, I'm Bach,' he said.


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