Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
(1989, Houghton Mifflin Company)

The History of Middle-Earth, book 7

A presentation of the development of The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers.


-- 2nd reading (hardcover)
June 10th to 26th, 2008


A little slow, making me wonder if I am getting tired of reading these drafts, or if the drafting of the Lord of the Rings is less interesting than that of The Silmarillion. Much of the problem with this part of the series, I think, comes from the fact that Tolkien actually finished The Lord of the Rings, compared to the complete rewrites of The Silmarillion, which was only published after his death. So much of the book is Christopher Tolkien listing only differences, instead of actually giving full drafts. Doing the latter is out of the question, as we would get so many repetitive drafts of nearly the same thing that the readers certainly wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Spoiler review:

Much of the difference listing is due to the change of names, which doesn't interest me at all. Reading about the map and how it changed over time was my least favorite part of the book. The Appendix of Runes didn't do much for me, either.

And because so much of each chapter reached nearly its full form right away, or within a couple of amended drafts,  it somehow becomes less interesting. The book starts off once again from the beginning. It was obvious by this point that Tolkien knew some of where he was going. Still, even as the world of Middle-Earth grew, it still has so much growing to do after this. There is no sign of any of Elrond's kin, especially Arwen. The realms of the surviving Numenorian princes were less than awesome. But here Minas Tirith appears, and Rohan has become a kingdom of good people, where they were evil horselords back in The Return of the Shadow. It is also in this timeframe that Treebeard went from an evil Giant to an ancient tree-shepherd.

Tolkien was building up speed at this point. Each chapter was written, then rewritten, and by the third or fourth time, it had reached nearly the final form. But in most cases, even the initial drafting reached the final story, so there is really only changes of phrasing to note. This makes the development less interesting, as it is more difficult to see the moments of clarity, when Tolkien finally realized what was necessary to make the story happen. In most of the chapters, the first draft was erased, as Tolkien wrote in pen over pencil, then erased the pencil, as paper was in very short supply at this time, World War II.

My favorite sections were the outlines, describing what was to occur next. They all contain a grain of truth that was followed, but the story developed so differently than the author expected. It's easy to laugh when Tolkien thinks there are only half a dozen or so chapters remaining after Gandalf dies in Moria. It's amazing to see how Frodo and Sam's story developed, in that Frodo's capture and Sam taking the ring was part of the outline, developed in more detail as the outline progressed- this is the stuff I like, seeing the germ of the idea take form. That story, of course, was moved so far forward that it ended up in Book 6!

Saruman and his betrayal appears also at this time, and every time we see Saruman, his story has become even darker, and his betrayal deeper. Finally, by the end of The Treason of Isengard, Wormtongue has appeared, and Saruman's betrayal has been fully revealed. The end of the story for Aragorn and the others, however, is nowhere near complete. Apparently, they were to take on Isengard, then go to break the siege of Gondor. Nowhere is the Palantir depicted, so Gandalf would show up with Aragorn. Still, the germ of the story is there.

As I said in my review of The Return of the Shadow, this book is not for those who get bored easily, or with repetition. There is much less repetition in this book than in that one, but there is enough to want to move on with the story. I can't figure out how the book became so long; it didn't feel so dense, but it was. Christopher Tolkien does a good job of keeping things moving forward, for the most part, but gets a little talky, especially with Tolkien's first love, names. That was, of course, Tolkien's motivation in writing all his books, so we shouldn't begrudge either of them for it. Still, it makes


-- First reading (hardcover)
May 28th to June 11th, 1991


No review available.


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