History of Middle Earth books

I noticed the History of ME books at the bookstore. What are they? Extra history about the events in the book, or what JRRT was thinking as he wrote it?

One was “The Return of the Shadow”, does that correspond with FOTR? And then “The Treason of Isengard” with TTT and “The War of the Ring” with “ROTK”? Where does “Sauron Defeated” fit in?

What about “Unfinished Tales”?

Before I get them, can you tell me a bit about them?

Would you recommend them?

“Unfinished Tales” is worth getting just for the Tale of the Children of Hurin, which is a more fully fleshed out account of Turin Turambars exploits in the Silmarillion. This really gives an insight into what the Silm might have been had JRRT ever been able to finish it…and there’s lots of other bits and bobs about the Istari, Palantiri and stuff that’s pretty interesting.

I’m sure the resident Tolkien experts will be along shortly to fill you in about the History of Middle Earth series - I believe Illuvatar himself posts on here!

Okay, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote and published:

  1. The Hobbit
  2. The Lord of the Rings

Prior to having written the Hobbit, he had an inchoate mass of saga, poetry, myth, legend, and just general tale set in Beleriand and Arda, to which the two published works refer in much the same way as we might make reference to St. Peter and the Pearly Gates or the Trojan War. This was The Silmarillion, for which, after the amazing success of LoTR, there was a massive demand. However, with his traditional perfectionism and tendency to procrastinate and woolgather over side issues, Tolkien was still preparing the Silmarillion for publication when he died.

His son Christopher R.R. Tolkien (CRRT) took the manuscripts in hand and attempted to abstract from them a coherently told narrative, which resulted in the published work The Silmarillion. Several portions of this book were told at much greater length, including in narrative poetry as well as in saga-style prose.

CRRT then assembled the pieces of narrative that were removed from LotR or were written to supplement it, the often-incomplete pieces of the more-detailed, longer Silmarillion sections, and added three essays on “Middle Earth FAQs” and published them as Unfinished Tales.

He then set out to publish the complete ouevre of his father, showing the genesis of Middle-Earth. This is what’s referred to around here as HOME.

The first two books date from the WWI period and are written in very archaic language and with a conception of the connection between Middle-Earth and today that was later totally rejected. This is The Book of Lost Tales (in two volumes).

This was followed by the long narrative poems of The Lays of Beleriand.

The fourth book was (IIRC) The Origin of Middle Earth, and the fifth The Lost Road. Each contain additional versions of the narratives and much supplemental data (e.g., The Lhammas, on the origins of the Elven languages, and the Chronicles of Beleriand).

The sixth through ninth books, which I do not yet have, show the revisions made in the course of writing to The Lord of the Rings.

I’m assuming that you’ve already read “The Silmarillion”. If not, then start there first, then read “Unfinished Tales” after you finish “The Silmarillion”. I wouldn’t recommend buying any of the “History of Middle Earth” series until AFTER you have read “Unfinished Tales”, because the material in HoME (as it’s usually abbreviated) is even more unfinished than the stuff in “Unfinished Tales”. If you find that you don’t like “Unfinished Tales”, then you’ll know not to bother with HoME.

As to what HoME contains: it’s a hodgepodge of rough drafts, partially finished stories, essays, etc., with scholarly comments by Christopher Tolkien, who compiled it. A rough summery of the series follows:

Book of Lost Tales, volumes 1 and 2 - contains Tolkien’s earliest writings (from 1917 to the early 1930s), which are the seed from which “The Silmarillion” later sprouts. They are written in a very archaic style, are are considerably at varience with his later work. These are the LAST books to read in the series, IMHO, even though they were the first published.

Lays of Beleriand - contains partially finished versons of several poems, including the Narn i Hin Hurin and the Lay of Leithen/Tale of Beren and Luthien. Fun if you like poetry.

The Lost Road and The Shaping of Middle Earth - these contain the first drafts of “The Silmarillion”, also an extensive proto-Quenya lexicon, which is essential if you are interested in studying Tolkien’s languages.

The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring, and Sauron Defeated - these four volumes contain rough drafts of “The Lord of the Rings”; Sauron Defeated, as I recall, also contains some supplemental essays and some materials that didn’t make it into the final version of the book (including the original ending chapter for “The Return of the King”, which WASN’T The Grey Havens!)

Morgoth’s Ring, The War of the Jewels, and The Peoples of Middle Earth - IMHO, the best three volumes in the series, they contain another, later draft of “The Silmarillion”, the Grey Annals (which gives a timeline for events in the First Age), Laws and Customs among the Eldar (exactly what it sounds like) and “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” (a philospohical conversation between Finrod and a mortal woman about the differing nature and fate of Elves and Men), and multilpe essays concerning the nature of Morgoth, the origin of Orcs, Glorfindel’s death and return, dwarves, languages of the Elves and how they change with time, etc - wonderful stuff. Peoples of Middle Earth also contains the original appendices for “The Lord of the Rings”.

If you like “The Silmarillion” and “Unfinished Tales”, I’d recommend starting HoME by reading “Morgoth’s Ring”, then “War of the Jewels” and “Peoples of Middle Earth”, THEN read the rest of the series (which is much harder to follow).
If you DON’T like “The Silmarillion” and “Unfinished Tales”, then honestly, I wouldn’t bother with any of the HoME series, except perhaps for the four volumes containing the rough drafts of “The Lord of the Rings” (but ONLY if you want to see how the novel evolved over time).

Hope this helps!

I’m reading them now – albeit very, very slowly, as I have so much reading for school that I don’t have much time for other stuff – and they’re well worth checking out. It’s really amazing how much of the stuff that made it to the final form was there from the beginning, only with a very different meaning. (For instance, in the chapter where we first meet Strider, a lot of the wording is much the same in the early draft versions – only Strider was a mysterious hobbit named Trotter!)

Some of the early stuff was weird, though. Did you know Frodo was originally named Bingo Bolger-Baggins? :eek:

Anyway, I would definitely recommend those (textual criticism is fun!) and also Unfinished Tales – as The Clawman says, the long version of the Children of Hurin is worth it on its own. Haven’t read enough of the rest of HoME to discuss it, though.