Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

THE LORD OF THE RINGS PROLOGUE AND APPENDICES

By J.R.R. Tolkien (1991, Harper Collins [original copyright 1955])
Part of The Lord of the Rings

A description of the cultures, peoples and events leading up to the War of the Ring.

 

 

Read January 28th to 31st, 2006, for the third time  
    I have decided to review the forward, prologue and appendices separately, because they deal with a lot of matter, related to the book, but not actually part of the book. Most of it comes in the form of a storyteller commenting on the story, so it is actually quite far removed from the story itself.

In Tolkien's Forward, he specifically counters the interpretations of some reviewers of The Lord of the Rings. I have heard people comparing the end of this book to the second world war. I do not know enough about the details of the end of the war to make that comparison, but I do not see how this could be viewed as an allegory. Tolkien's alternate summary of a likely "allegory" in the Forward seems more likely. He learned about the horrors of war first-hand, and this allowed him to give us some gritty details and some knowledge of strategy, but I do not see the metaphors that some people claim to see. I have always preferred this as a story, especially in light of The Silmarillion. Knowing that story, or history of the world, then The Lord of the Rings becomes an obvious conclusion of the tale.

I would suggest reading the Prologue after reading the books themselves, as the geography and people would be meaningless otherwise. It also gives away some of the things that may happen. Specifically, it tells us that Merry and Pippin became great leaders after the war, that Sam and Faramir (separately) had grandchildren, and so on... There are several places in the books where their very survival is in doubt, but this would spoil it.

I have always disliked the way Tolkien approached this and The Hobbit as histories to be translated and collected from some more ancient works. Here it is made explicit that the work could be fluid, as more "reference material" could be found. Specifically, this is found in the account of The Hobbit, as the first edition had Bilbo telling a different account of the discovery of the Ring, compared with the second edition, published after The Lord of the Rings. Obviously, Tolkien had to fit the story with his new discoveries about the Ring while writing the larger work. He interprets this discrepancy as Bilbo lying about his encounter with Bilbo, and historians correcting the story later on.

I would disagree that the Lord of the Rings is too short, as Tolkien says. I think the length is perfect (if not a little too long for the end to be reached after the Ring is destroyed). If anything, it is Appendix A that is too short. The description of the history of Arnor, Gondor, Rohan, the dwarves and the tale of Aragorn and Arwen could have been drawn into a larger story of its own. I would have loved to see the stories of Cirion and Eorl and Aragorn and Arwen from Unfinished Tales included here, instead of just a synopsis.

I was intrigued by the entire history of the Third Age, and wanted a lot more. However, some of the text was written in a strange way, that was more complicated than it should have been, I think. Instead of listing the kings, then talking about them later, it would have been better to just put a label in parentheses after their names in the text. I also found that so many of the names of kings and princes were too similar, especially for such a condensed version of the tale. It was very difficult to keep straight who was who. It was the deeds that were interesting, however.

The tale of the dwarves is so very much related to what went on in the Lord of the Rings that it seems like a shame that we only get it as an appendix. I would love to see an expanded version of their history in the Third Age.

The story of Aragorn and Arwen tells that there were only three unions of men and elves. I wonder how true that can be. It seems very restrictive, especially given their proximity in so many locations. There is also the legend that the folk of Dol Amroth were of mixed blood -elf and man.

Appendix B is a tough read, but provides us with a good summary of the Third Age, and somewhat of the Second. If anything, it gives us specifics in summary about what happened in the book we just read! However, there is so much talk of The Silmarillion, which had not been published at the time, that I wonder what readers of that time thought of it. There was an entire age unaccounted for, mentioned and obviously available to the author, but not to the readers!

The tale of years tells us that Legolas built his own ship that could travel the Straight Road! I was amazed at that; very cool. Was special knowledge required, or had Cirdan not yet left the havens? It is not clear when Cirdan was to leave, and the havens closed.

Appendix C is not really worth mentioning, being an incomplete genealogy of obscure hobbits.

Appendix D is the calendar of the realms. I wonder who cared about what the real names of the months were in different ages and species and parts of the world. Do we want to know how they reformed the calendar as we also did centuries ago?

I found Appendix E interesting only as an insight into the evolution of our own languages and letters. I have no experience in philology, and no interest, but have casually wondered how languages and writing evolved into what we use today. In that, this appendix was somewhat informative.

Appendix F, as I mentioned in The Peoples of Middle Earth, was rather uninteresting and even worthless, for me. The relationship between our languages and that of the Third Age does not feature into the story of The Lord of the Rings at all, except incidentally. It only adds to Tolkien's sense of being the objective storyteller, translating an ancient work. I feel that this actually detracts from the story. I did have to laugh at Tolkien's obvious criticism of Walt Disney, when talking about his elves and dwarves compared to the fantasy stuff that has been seen in the recent past.

I feel that the Appendices should complement the story that we just read. Appendices A and B are certainly relevant, as they add a dimension and tell a little of the history which was only referred to by some of the characters, and could only be explained by lengthy exposition. Those things are definitely better off here. It seems to me that Appendix C would only be poured over by actual hobbits, and Appendix D to people who were trying to figure out the actual timeline discrepancies, perhaps for charting purposes, as in The Journeys of Frodo. Appendix E should interest people trying to decipher the text on the cover of the book (although both sets of letters are so fluid that they are only useful to the truly dedicated, yet the appendix also gives us much more information than is necessary, at the same time). Finally, Appendix F would interest people trying to figure out why some names seem to be related to others, and why they appear to be from different European backgrounds.

The only parts of the Prologue and Appendices that I found truly enjoyable were Appendices A and B. The rest could have been expunged without true loss, perhaps freeing up space for expansion of the truly related material. Of course, I know that many other people feel differently, but I suppose these people are actually working in this special realm of Middle-Earth. Myself, I prefer stories compared to supposed "translations" of make-believe histories.

 

 

Also read September 4th to 7th, 1993 (and also sometime in 1985)  
   

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