Animated 'Lord of the Rings' From 1978: Ralph Bakshi's Inventive Classic

By | August 13, 2019

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Left: Gandalf and a Hobbit as portrayed in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated Lord Of The Rings film. Right: One of the Ringwraiths. Source: IMDB

In 1978, The Lord Of The Rings hit movie theaters and introduced Frodo, Gandalf, Gollum, and the rest of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earthlings to a generation of viewers. This is animator Ralph Bakshi's Lord Of The Rings -- not Peter Jackson's dazzling film trilogy, which came 23 years later. Bakshi, who was already known for animated movies including Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, used a variety of animation techniques to tell the story in his film, which was a box-office success.

'Lord Of The Rings' Was An Underground Phenomenon

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Left: Orcs from the 1978 'Lord Of The Rings.' Right: Elrond's council. Source: Pinterest

In the late '60s and '70s, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books were an underground phenomenon on American college campuses. The three Lord of the Rings books weren't published in paperback editions in the States until 1965 and steadily climbed the New York Times bestseller list. Direct and indirect allusions to Tolkien in the music of Led Zeppelin and Rush confirmed the cool factor for Tolkien -- for shaggy college kids who liked heavy music, you couldn't get a better seal of approval than Robert Plant/Jimmy Page lyrics (see "Ramble On" and "Battle of Evermore"). This same demographic was obviously early adapters of Dungeons & Dragons, which came out in 1974 and borrowed heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien's world (earning a lawsuit from Tolkien Enterprises, but that's another story). Lord of the Rings posters and "Frodo Lives" graffiti were common on college campuses -- by 1978, the burgeoning popularity of Tolkien caused the American film industry began to see the cinematic possibilities in the story.