Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
(1996, Harper Collins)

The History of Middle-Earth, book 12

A history of the development of the Lord of the Rings Appendices, as well as the last works of Tolkien's life, including a potential sequel.


-- First reading (hardcover)
April 10th to May 6th, 2000


After reading this, I have finally decided that I am not even remotely interested in linguistics or phonology.  I have also concluded that I do certainly enjoy the history of Arnor and Gondor, in a completely different way from the Lord of the Rings.  But to the point that I was dismissing the hobbit sections in favour of the Numenorean sections. 

Like the preceding eleven volumes, and Unfinished Tales, this book is compiled by Christopher Tolkien, who comments and makes notes on just about everything in the making of whatever is being discussed.  It follows the most minute differences between texts, be they early drafts, or nearly final copies.  The notes that I found most interesting were the references to the other books in this series, where I could look up what he was referring to, and could even remember some of them!

The first part of the book, which takes up more than half the pages, deals with the making of the Appendices.  Some of this I enjoyed, others I did not.  I liked the retelling and creation of the myths of Numenor to Arnor and Gondor.  I had always placed the making of the Rings of Power in the Third Age, but this is wrong.  They were made in the Second Age, which ended when the One Ring was lost. 

The Tales of Years and the Heirs of Elendil  were the best parts of this, because we could see the development of various aspects of the myths, showing the kings down from Elendil to Aragorn.  The meeting of Aragorn and Arwen is special, and I have decided that I must reread Unfinished Tales in order to get a better feel for the relationship. 

I was not really interested in the Hobbit genealogies, nor the calendars, and tried to pass through these chapters quickly.  But it was interesting to see how Tolkien had developed the evolution of the calendars, in the different realms. 

What I really didn't like, however, was how Tolkien made himself into a historian, translating the "tales" uncovered from ages long past.  I hate the way he tells the reader how he came up with the names, because they are not the real names, and the real names would sound too strange for our ears.  So he gives examples of the real names, and how he has translated them.  I understand that the creation of languages was the primary reason for creating the world of Arda, but it is the part that interests me the least.  I wish he would have left it as a story, or myth, and not try to give it as if it had been just discovered.  I realize that between the Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, the form is of a story or myth, but it is obvious that he wanted to do more with it.

Part Two deals with some later writings, all of which deal with languages, and the way they had changed over the course of the first three ages.  The languages of Men were interesting to a certain degree, but it tended to drag on.  Tolkien also revisited the languages after The Lord of the Rings was published, and discovered that there were roots and parts of words that just did not make phonological sense.  So he wrote long essays on why this was so, from the purposeful changes in the elf languages, to the variations of mannish and dwarfish languages.

Part Three gives some more language explanations, typically from an Elvish point of view, explaining it to man.  I found it tiresome, except that this was explained as if it belonged to the Book of Lost Tales.

Part Four gives the proposed sequel to the Lord of the Rings, which seems to be a dark mystery, but doesn't fit in with what we know about Middle-Earth.  However, I can see why Tolkien abandoned it, because it becomes less interesting when there are no elves, dwarves or magical peoples around.  Men are just not interesting by themselves in a fantasy universe. 

The second story in this part I found to be more interesting, and I wish it had been finished.  It comes from the point of view of some Wild Men, when the Numenorean Kings first landed in Middle-Earth.  It is truly engaging, for the short distance it takes.  It is unclear whether the Numenoreans have fallen under the power of Sauron yet, but perhaps there are two groups -one whom the Wild Men fought off the first time, and the second group, who are elf friends.  We'll never know.

So there were good parts and bad parts, and parts that simply did not interest me in the slightest.  I will enjoy going back and rereading many parts of this history, but I do not think that I will take in every page of it again.


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