Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales: First Impressions

The Tolkien Quest — Silmarillion Blues — has begun again.  Excited?  Absolutely I am!  The plan is to do one section every couple of weeks, and we’re going to hold to that just on account.  This particular blog post, unscheduled and unplanned, is more a case of I need to bounce myself off the proverbial wall for a moment and shake loose some of my personal baggage that I brought into this.

The problem, as I’m seeing it, is that upon examining Unfinished Tales, I’m not entirely certain what it is I’m looking at or how it’s structured.  Not fully.  Something’s not clicking for me yet.  On the surface of it, just scouring the table of contents, it looks simple enough:  Parts, Chapters, Sub-chapters.  As with previous books, a sub-chapter would be its own section no matter how long or how short, regardless of whether or not there would be much of anything to blog about (such as with certain sections of the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings).

When I read the introduction to Unfinished Tales, this is pretty much what I expected, until the end of it where Christopher Tolkien states: “There follow now primarily bibliographical notes on the individual pieces.”

Um… what?  What do I do with that?  What the freak did I get myself into here?

While I’ve not gone through the largest part of Tolkien’s Legendarium (which is expressly the entire point of the Silmarillion Blues project), I’ve certainly encountered Christopher Tolkien’s notes before in works such as The Fall of Arthur.  I thought I knew what to expect from this.  I think I expected exactly what the title suggested — Unfinished Tales — earlier drafts or separate stories that were never included up to this point.  I expected some history behind the development, of course, as that’s what Christopher Tolkien is offering per his father’s notes.

I’ve read over the first subsection, “Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin.”  Very likely I’ll do so again a few more times just to ensure I’ve got my head on straight.  I think my own expectations are getting in the way of what’s really here, and it’s causing a bit of literary dysphoria.  I’m certainly no stranger to dysphoria, so I can deal with this too.  This feels like I can expect less of Professor Tolkien’s work and more of his son’s “documentary” of how the sausage was made.  Or maybe I’m wrong about that too?  I’m hoping this is just a classic case of making it harder than it has to be, like maybe I’ve psyched myself up into believing it’s this incredibly difficult thing, as I did with The Silmarillion.

For those Tolkien scholars among you who’ve read Unfinished Tales before, I’d appreciate any thoughts on how best to approach this.  In the meantime, I’ve got time to work this through before the July 1 posting.  I’m going to sit back, let this marinate a bit, and hopefully the way forward will become clear.  Maybe the blogging part of this is the hard part?  Maybe that’s why few have done it?  Believe me, I’ve looked.  I’ve got some other resources to explore along these lines, so I have to believe there’s a way to wrap my head around this that will make align to… what, exactly?  I could really use a Gandalf to help point the way right about now.  And more coffee.  Coffee good…

Forgive me while I flail about.  I’ll get there in the end.

4 thoughts on “Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales: First Impressions

  1. Good grief!! You are thinking way too much. Relax. Just read it as it comes. You’ve read the Silmarillion so most of the stuff in Unfinished Tales is “extended editions” of that or extra bits (something like extra appendices) that couldn’t fit in LOTR. It’s mostly the extra stuff J.R.R. Tolkien wrote with notes where necessary from Christopher. I do suggest reading the notes when you come across the subscripts instead of at the end. Sometimes the commentary is useful and entertaining. If the First Age makes your head swirl (I could never keep all the names straight), I suggest moving to the second age or third age with more familiar characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tanya. Overthinking is what I do, especially when it comes to Tolkien. It’ll come together one way or another. “Extra appendices” is certainly an interesting way of looking at this.


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