The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun – J.R.R. Tolkien

With the discovery of a nearby low cost used bookstore. I finally got the impetus to scratch the itch of getting all of the Tolkien books lumped together as “The History of Middle Earth“.  Well, guess what – this isn’t part of that at all.

This, instead, is a retelling/translation of some old Norse/Germanic myths that the professor had done, along with some notes on the process by his son.  So in this way they were similar to the History of Middle Earth books.

Seems pretty well done, and the volume is first class.  However, verse is not my favorite medium.

Sauron Defeated – J.R.R. Tolkien

History of Middle Earth. Volume IX

This compilation of Tolkien’s drafts and notes finishes up the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and adds some other writings to pad out the book to a reasonable length.  I finished the first part very quickly, then ran out of steam on the new material.

The part I found hard going was “The Notion Club Papers” which seemed more like a bunch of inside jokes for his buddies at the weekly ‘literary critique” get-togethers they had.  It finally started to pick up when one of them started having visions of the fall of Numenor – tied to some Anglo Saxon root rather than Middle Earth.

Then in the last section, he lifts the good parts out of the Notion Club and drops it entirely into his Middle Earth and we see that story get fleshed out polished.

At this point I am about half through the series – I strongly prefer the ones that follow the development of the books I am familiar with to the more detached works.  If you are tempted to read these I would start with Volumes VI to IX which follow the writing of Lord of the Rings. If you don’t like those, the others are likely to be even harder to get through.


The War of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien

History of the Lord of the Rings, Part Three + History of Middle Earth Volume VIII

Another of the compilations of Tolkien’s notes and drafts of the Lord of the Rings, spanning the time when Minas Tirith was under attack.  This part was started and stopped several times during the years of World War II, and there were several chronoligical shifts as Tolkien tried to get elements of the Frodo storyline and the War storyline to mesh properly.

One interesting feature was that the character of Faramir appeared late relative to the others.  Some other iconic moments, like Eowyn versus the Nazgul King were also late developments.  Otherwise, there isn’t time for the story to drift away from its origins as in the early books – matters are closer to their final form.

The Treason of Isengard – J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the second part of the History of the Lord of the Rings, and the 7th volume in the  History of Middle Earth.  Tolkien’s son is going through the original drafts and reconstructing some of the thought processes and phases in the development of the story.

What is interesting here is how some parts of the take pop up in one step, and others change over and over.  There are many alterations in the scene where the fellowship breaks up…Boromir doesn’t die in some, they are on different sides of the river at times, Merry and Pippin do not get kidnapped.

On the other hand, the scene at Cirith Ungol where the orcs grab Frodo is almost complete, long before the narrative gets there.  The pass even moves location from the Black Gate to Minas Morgul.

The book stops at the point where Gandalf reaches Rohan, more or less in the middle of the Two Towers.

Pretty interesting stuff.

The Return of the Shadow – J. R. R. Tolkien

This is volume VI in the “History of the Lord of the Rings“, compiled by Tolkien‘s son Christopher.  This book, and the next three, are about the writing of the trilogy itself.

It is pretty interesting because the development of the story is so un-uniform.  Parts spring up very early in nearly their final form, while others are entirely absent.  When he started writing, the party in Hobbiton that starts matters is all there, but much of the rest of the world is blank – Gondor, Mordor, Isengard…all missing.   In fact, for much of the book “Strider” is a hobbit!  Of course, his name was ‘Trotter’ then.

It also was probably a good thing when Frodo got his name…Bingo Bolger-Baggins might not have worked very well.

Pretty quickly, though, the tone seems to shift away from a strict second book like the Hobbit – one geared towards children – with the introduction of the Black Riders.  They reached final form very quickly, although the number of them was pretty flexible.

This volume takes the story up to the MInes of Moria.  Even at this point, what would happen on the other side of the mountains was a blank slate.

Interesting stuff, and I went through it a lot quicker than the other books in this series.  I’m already into the next one.

The War of the Jewels – J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve been picking up the odd volume of “The History of Middle Earth“, which is a release of parts of the drafts and other papers from Tolkien published after his death.  I  wasn’t keen enough to get them new, but these days with a 5 dollar bookstore nearby and Amazon used books ready to send them for a very low cost, why not pick them up?

This book covers the latter half of the Silmarillion, which is the Tolkien book that most don’t like as much.  I did, since I am a history buff, and the big picture overview didn’t put me off like it might for some.  Also, it sure gives a different picture of the elves – not the wan, fading figures from Lord of the Rings, but the kind of folk that would tell their gods to shove it, walk to a new continent, betray each other, and then go and attack another god and his minions for a centuries just to get three jewels back.

In the main, I found this book interesting.  There are some new aspects revealed in it, but in a patchy way.  It isn’t a replacement for the Silmarillion, but a supplement.  I have another couple stored up to put in the queue next – one of the War of the Ring books.

Tales from the Perilous Realm – J. R. R. Tolkien

Way back in the day I used to be very curious about the Tolkien craze that was hitting in the ’80s.  Being short of money I drew the line at getting all the ‘History of Middle Earth’ collections that would come out every so often.

Recently I found quite a few volumes on display at a low price bookstore in the area and picked them up, and probably my ‘completist’ tendencies will make me get them all.

This book is a collection of stories, most of which are not really part of the Middle Earth cycle, but are instead normal fairy stories. Roverrandom, about a toy dog that is a real one under enchantment is a bit ‘young’ for my taste, but Farmer Giles of Ham is very good. Giles is an accidental hero who in the end, instead of slaying the dragon makes a deal with him.   This turns out to be useful when the local king gets to heavy-handed about collecting the loot for himself.

Smith of Wootton Major is another nice one – about a gift that allows a child and man to enter Fairie, but in the end has to be given up and passed on to another.  But my favorite is Leaf by Niggle.  I won’t say much about that one except if this isn’t based on how Tolkien felt about his own life I’ll eat my hat.

The Children of Hurin – J. R. R. Tolkien

I’ve decided to pick up some more of the works of Tolkien. I liked the Lord of the Rings when I first read it in High School, and even liked the Silmarillion as it touched the ‘history lover’ in me perhaps more than most people.  The era when the subsequent posthumous books were coming out were times when I had less money than now and I never picked them up.  With the appearance of a number of these books in a discount bookstore nearby I started to pick up a few, and the ‘completist’ urges are starting to get stronger.

The Children of Hurin is a tale from the First Age, when the elves were less majestic remnants in hiding and more fiery characters.  A number of them broke out of the elvish ‘Heaven’ to recover some jewels stolen by Morgoth, a god.  For a time they contended as equals, but eventually Morgoth’s powers grew and theirs faded.  This story is shortly after a climactic battle that broke much of the power of the elves.  Hurin’s father was captured and is being held prisoner by Morgoth, and he curses his family and allows him to watch as it plays out.

Turin grows up in a land occupied after the defeat, and soon is sent for safety a kingdom of the elves, where he makes friends and enemies.  His mishandling of his enemies and mistrust of his friends leads to a self-imposed exile.  Since he is a hero, he performs great deeds, but since he is cursed, even the great deeds leave wreckage behind.  Eventually the wreck extends to his own family and himself as well.

It is not a very happy tale. It has a Götterdämmerung feel to it, even more so than the Lord of the Rings does, because the story ends before the events leading to Morgoth’s ultimate defeat.