||This book is not for those who easily
get bored. It contains at least five versions of the first chapter of
the Lord of the Rings, and three versions of the rest of the journey
until the hobbits reach Rivendell.
In the "first phase" of the writing,
Tolkien obviously had no idea what was going to happen. He rambles on
with nonsense hobbit-talk, and the tone is much the same as in
Hobbit. There is, in fact, way too much hobbit-banter either between the
hobbits, or by the narrator, for my tastes.
Given how little Tolkien knew about
what was going to happen, it is astounding at how much detail from the
published work was attained right away. Some of the lines of dialog come
from the very first version of the tale.
The main character switches from being
Bilbo, to a nephew called Bingo, and back, several times. Tolkien didn't
want to mess with the line "and he lived happily ever after", which
ended The Hobbit. But he had trouble giving the story over to another
hobbit. Sometimes there were two hobbits, and sometimes five, who
accompanied the one who was to leave the Shire (either Bilbo or Bingo).
Sam was nowhere to be seen until much, much later. I kept getting
confused between Frodo the companion, and the main character, who was
The Ring was obviously central to the
story, but had no insidious powers at first. The Black Rider obviously
scared Tolkien as much as it did his characters, for he had no idea
where it came from! Hiding from it was simply a matter of trying to keep
the main character's secret about leaving -secret.
I find it unfortunate that while so
many changes occurred from the first draft to the later ones, that the
story of staying at Tom Bombadil's house, which was there from the
start, was retained. That section, while a nice aside in itself, grinds
the story to a halt, both in the early versions and in the published
Fellowship of the Ring. I always find the Old Forest and the
Barrow Wights very tiring, and they tend to be the first things I forget
about when recalling the story. Oddly, for Tolkien, that entire section
is so close to the published work in its very first draft, that most of
it is not reproduced in this book because of that!
The world in this book, being the first
drafts of the first half of the Fellowship of the Ring, is very much
smaller than the world in The Lord of the Rings. When Gandalf and Bingo
talk of destroying the Ring, it seems like they plan to go across the
Misty Mountains and find Sauron's fortress somewhere near Mirkwood, like
retracing Bilbo's path to the Lonely Mountain. When the hobbits reach
Rivendell, Tolkien considered the story to be three quarters finished. I find
that very funny in hindsight.
The next interesting aspect of the book
is Strider, who is called Trotter. He starts out being a mysterious
hobbit, and for most of this book, even Tolkien didn't know who he was.
He was briefly switched to being a man, but then "permanently" became a
hobbit again. Although his past would be changed to that of a Numenorian
man (not any ordinary man), his character was mostly fully developed
right from the start. When Tolkien finally decided who this guy was, he
made him into a hobbit who had been influenced by Bilbo into being
adventurous, and who had even traveled as far as Mordor (though Tolkien
didn't know where that was at the time) and captured Gollum. His name
was Peregrin Boffin.
Christopher Tolkien says that it
characteristic of his father's writing that although the main elements
were present from the beginning, the final significance of much of it is
altered radically by the end.
Although so many of the lines of dialog
and characters and events are the same as in the final form, because the
world of Middle-Earth is so small in form (Gondor and Rohan didn't
exist), it feels very much lacking in depth. It is difficult to say what
that means, exactly, but because the ruins are simply ruins, without
another, deeper history, they don't hold much interest. Because the
characters are only risking their lives to get rid of the Ring, instead
of freeing the world from the Enemy Sauron once and for all, the
adventure doesn't hold as much interest, either. Something in the later
version gives it a depth that makes it resonate, and that is what makes
it into a classic. The story as it stood in the first few sections of
this book don't hold that feeling of a classic, somehow.
Once the events were written down into
a story in the first draft, they stayed that way all the way to the
published work. Things like Trotter and the "man from Ond" (later to
become Gondor) would change, creating major changes to the story, but
for the most part, the chapters were simply "enriched", because the
events were already there. From what I can tell, none of the events were
removed once created. Many things were added through subsequent
revisions, like the house at Crickhollow and the reason for Gandalf's
delay. I like the fact that at first Gandalf was thought to be held
prisoner by the "giant Treebeard". Even though the Ents had been created
in the Silmarillion (though I think they were simply called tree shepards), Tolkien didn't think of using them in this story until much
I like the evolution of Gandalf's role
in the story. As in The Hobbit, where Gandalf disappears for a very
important period of time, he is never present when Bingo leaves the
Shire. At one point, Bingo had left without waiting for Gandalf's
instructions. In another draft, Gandalf arrived in Bree before the other
hobbits, and tried to draw off pursuit. In one story he had another of
the hobbits with him, who had been left behind to give a message to
In addition to the early drafts of the
chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, numerous outlines of what
Tolkien thought might come next are also presented in this book. Many of
them are very interesting.
The last sections of the book give the
evolution of what happens in Rivendell, the journey south along the
Misty Mountains, and the Mines of Moria up to Balin's tomb. These
chapters are very well formed, but with major exceptions, the chief
being that Trotter was still a hobbit, and there were no elves or
dwarves in the company, although Boromir was among them. There is even a
note that Gandalf should die, or at least seem to, but return later, as
he did in The Hobbit.
According to Christopher Tolkien, the
notes he was working with were very much messed up, written on ink over
pencil, with the penciled original drafts partly erased underneath. It
must have taken an eternity of patience to get through it all. I wonder
if the book was late in being produced, though, because there are a huge
number of punctuation mistakes, some of the numbered notes are wrong,
and I could pick out several spelling mistakes. Tolkien changed place
names and spelling often, but these mistakes are more ordinary.
The later two books, which bring the
old world into the story, hold more interest to me at this time. The
Shire and its strange customs are more tiring. I am glad that, with all
the repetition, that Christopher Tolkien mostly gives only changes that
occurred, rather than the same text over and over with minor changes.
Still, even with all the hobbit-talk,
it is incredible to see the genesis of the story, especially the "lightbulb
moments" when ideas were obviously conceived, and when others solidified
into the moments that occur in the final published version.