While early reviews for The Lord of the Rings were mixed, reviews in various media have been, on the whole, highly positive and acknowledge Tolkien's literary achievement as a significant one. The initial review in the Sunday Telegraph described it as "among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century". The Sunday Times echoed this sentiment, stating that "the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them". The New York Herald Tribune also seemed to have an idea of how popular the books would become, writing in its review that they were "destined to outlast our time". W. H. Auden, an admirer of Tolkien's writings, regarded The Lord of the Rings as a "masterpiece", further stating that in some cases it outdid the achievement of John Milton's Paradise Lost.
New York Times reviewer Judith Shulevitz criticized the "pedantry" of Tolkien's literary style, saying that he "formulated a high-minded belief in the importance of his mission as a literary preservationist, which turns out to be death to literature itself". Critic Richard Jenkyns, writing in The New Republic, criticized the work for a lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fibre". Even within Tolkien's literary group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson complained loudly at its readings. However, another Inkling, C. S. Lewis, had very different feelings, writing, "here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart." Despite these reviews and its lack of paperback printing until the 1960s, The Lord of the Rings initially sold well in hardback.
In 1957, The Lord of the Rings was awarded the International Fantasy Award. Despite its numerous detractors, the publication of the Ace Books and Ballantine paperbacks helped The Lord of the Rings become immensely popular in the United States in the 1960s. The book has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, judged by both sales and reader surveys. In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted in Britain by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's best-loved book". In similar 2004 polls both Germany and Australia also found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite book. In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium".