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THE WAR OF THE RING

A compilation of works of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Christopher Tolkien (1990, Houghton Mifflin Company)
Book 8 of the History of Middle-Earth

A presentation of the development of The Two Towers and part of The Return of the King.

 

 

Read August 23rd to September 20th, 2009 for the second time  
    I had a lot of trouble with this book. Looking at how long it took for me to read it the first time, I would say I had the same trouble then. Of course, back then I had just entered university, and the workload was more than I expected.

This time around, I think I was simply less interested. But I wonder if it was just the style. Most of this book was the author pointing out passages that changed, which requires an intimate knowledge of the Lord of the Rings, down to the sentences in each chapter. It almost expects the reader to have reread the trilogy just before reading this book.

Back in The Return of the Shadow, the text was so different from what ended up in The Fellowship of the Ring that we got five versions of the initial chapters, which was interesting, though it became repetitive. The Treason of Isengard gave us less of the initial text, and more author commentary, where he passes over much of it, telling us simply that very little changed from one version to the next.

Christopher Tolkien's reason for writing these books was to chronicle the evolution of The Lord of the Rings. His primary goal was the chronological evolution, followed by the textual changes. So each chapter, while it might have been written at a different time, gets several passes. Sometimes it flows so seamlessly that I didn't even realize he had changed from manuscript A to B or "fair". I think he could have given a better demarcation between versions.

Regardless, my primary enjoyment of this book was reading the various versions of the text, and the author's commentary in pointing out where it had changed, or where it was similar. But it really helps to have read the text immediately preceding the commentary. Where he notes subsequent versions, he mostly mentions simply the differences between the two, and infrequently gave the full text. Of course, this would have added a couple more books to the series with probably little value, and I don't see a different way of doing this -but it doesn't mean I like it any more.

J.R.R. Tolkien's obsession at this point in writing The Two Towers and The Return of the King was of chronology. He had tracked the days of the characters' journeys, and found them to be inconsistent, so he was obsessed in finding the correct number of days. I don't see why he simply couldn't have given an extra day in some part of the journey that wasn't fully documented. Eventually he did extend several journeys, not just the one that was missing a day!

This book gives the evolution of the end of book III of The Two Towers, where the Palantir first emerges, which was the most interesting part of the book. Most of Book IV of The Two Towers had already been mapped out, so Frodo and Sam's meeting with Gollum seemed to go on for a while longer than it should have. Although the introduction of Faramir is shown to be sudden and radically altered the structure of the book afterward, I didn't find that it had much of an impact on me.

As opposed to my feelings toward The Return of the King, the evolution of Book V did little for me here, but it was insightful to see how much it became extended, when Tolkien thought he had only a few chapters left after Gandalf and Pippin got to Minas Tirith. Maybe it was because the chapters were already almost fully formed, and so the author didn't really give much of the actual text, beyond the rather dull assembly of the Rohirrim. Most of the evolution took place in reordering the narrative events, like moving the story of Aragorn's journey through the mountains from a retelling much later to The Passing of the Grey Company, much earlier.

I can't say I liked this book as much as its predecessors. Although the development of the Palantir, Faramir, the shadow host, and Shelob were interesting, the story had so much momentum at this point that it didn't need too much revision. Each chapter reached nearly the final version by the second or third draft. On the other hand, the single most interesting piece of information given in this book was the fact that Tolkien stopped twice for a couple of years at a time while writing this segment of the trilogy. Every time he returned, he added a new vigour to it. And that says a lot about the writing process itself, at least for an epic such as The Lord of the Rings.

 

 

2 stars

Also read October 1st, 1991 to February 27th, 1992  
   

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