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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 01:34 GMT
Rings triumphs in Big Read vote
Big Read bookworms
Celebrity fans championed the top 21 novels on BBC Two
JRR Tolkien's epic fantasy trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, has won the BBC's Big Read contest to find the UK's most popular novel.

The three books have enjoyed renewed popularity after being made into big-budget film versions.

They tell the story of a group of "hobbits" as they battle their way across Middle Earth to destroy a powerful but evil magical ring.

The trilogy won 174,000 votes, 23% of the poll.

The other main contender going into Saturday night was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which won 135,000 votes.

Philip Pullman's metaphysical trilogy of children's books, His Dark Materials, came third with 63,000; Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was fourth with 57,000; and JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was fifth with 55,000.

Tolkien's triumph was announced live from the Royal Opera House in a programme presented by Clive Anderson.

Simon Tolkien, grandson of the author, was at the ceremony and said: "It's an unbelievable honour to be here today and for my grandfather to be so loved in this way."

He said the award would have meant an "enormous amount" to Tolkien.

1. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling
Source: BBC Big Read
He added that before the work was published, Tolkien had said he was dreading comments that would be made about it.

"He said 'I have exposed my heart to be shot at'.

"There's been a lot of shooting over the last 50 years but there's also been an enormous amount of love and I think that's come through today. It's a wonderful moment."

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh and Joseph Heller's Catch-22 also figured prominently but did not make the final shortlist.

Over the past seven weeks, the top 21 books have been championed by celebrity fans.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes had closed bets in October because The Lord of the Rings had become the only real contender in "a one horse race".

"Nobody wanted to back anybody other than Tolkien, we couldn't continue betting on a one-horse race and were forced to close the book and take the losses on the chin," a spokesman said.

'Under siege'

Odds for the Lord of the Rings had opened at 5-1.

"Tolkien fans are amongst the best organised group of supporters on the internet and for two days, our website was under siege," the spokesman said.

Book-selling internet site Amazon.co.uk reported the project - which originally shortlisted 100 novels - boosted sales of some books by nearly 500% after the list was announced on 18 October.

Winnie the Pooh led the upsurge, with sales up 474% while demand for The Lord of the Rings went up 400%.

Book chain Waterstone's said sales of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy rose 342% after being featured on the show.

The BBC's Torin Douglas
"The Lord of the Rings has long been the favourite"

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