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Peter Jackson’s recent film version has imprinted his vision of the characters on a new generation, and spawned the inevitable cascade of merchandise.

Jackson’s interpretation will be reinforced this Christmas and the one after as further instalments of the tale hit the screen, but for some the abiding memory will be Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 cartoon film version though it never progressed beyond the second book and came to an abrupt and unfulfilling end.

It was not without influence, however. The complete set of early 1980s Royal Doulton Middle Earth Tolkien figures which came up at Potteries Special Auctions on April 9 at Cobridge, Staffordshire had a marked cartoon quality.

These small character figures (Gandalf is the largest at 7in (18cm) tall) were modelled by D. Lyttleton and introduced from 1980 to 1982. All were withdrawn by 1984.

The Doulton set concentrated on the Fellowship of the Ring and its allies; there are no Dark Riders or Orcs, though Gollom is memorably dark and slimy.

Notable inclusions of minor characters are Barliman Butterbur, the landlord of the Prancing Pony where Frodo’s adventures really begin, and Tom Bombadil, the mysteriously gifted forest dweller. He makes a powerful impression on readers at the beginning of the tale but never reappears and so was conveniently forgotten in the Jackson film version and even in the 13-episode 1980s BBC radio adaptation.

Estimated at £900-1400, the Royal Doulton set sold to a telephone bidder for £2100 (plus 15 per cent premium).

Right: The complete set of Royal Doulton Tolkien figures offered at Specialist Pottery Auctions.
Back row, left to right:
HN2916 Aragorn,
HN2917 Legolas,
HN2918 Boromir,
HN2911 Gandalf,
HN2915 Galadriel,
HN2922 Gimli.
Front row, left to right:
HN2923 Barliman Butterbur, HN2914 Bilbo,
HN2925 Samwise,
HN2913 Gollum,
HN2912 Frodo,
HN2924 Tom Bombadil.