Silmarillion Blues: The Tolkien Quest returns! For those coming in late, this project started back in August of 2015 with The Hobbit, continued through The Lord of the Rings and “Bilbo’s Last Song,” and finally with The Silmarillion. That is, we’ve made it through the canonical writings so far. For the most part, with few exceptions, the pace was a week per chapter / section / subsection. Then a hiatus happened because, well, life happened. Even so, Libromancer’s Apprentice and I have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on this quest, so when last we left off, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we started delving into Professor Tolkien’s non-canonical works regarding Middle-Earth. And now, at long last, here we are: the Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth. This is the first book dealing with what Christopher Tolkien calls “the history of the writings of The Lord of the Rings.” That’s not daunting at all! Terribly exciting though.
The pace this time will be one post every two weeks, so hopefully more people will want to join in. I certainly invite anyone along for the journey who wants to undertake it
Before we get going on this, let me offer new readers some background on where I stand in all this. In regards to my level of “expertise” in all things Middle-Earth, I don’t claim anything beyond enthusiasm. I’ve read The Hobbit multiple times. The Lord of the Rings is my favorite book of all time, and it’s been read and re-read accordingly whenever I can make time to do so. Since discovering it, I conclude that reading with “Bilbo’s Last Song,” being an appropriate epilogue to that tale. The Silmarillion vexed me for two decades. I couldn’t grasp it at all. It was the Elven Bible, and it read like it. In that time, I studied the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, including a number of texts from that era. I did this for no other purpose than because it was interesting. Thing is, the side effect of all that scholarship was that I unlocked the ability to understand and appreciate The Silmarillion. When this project began, that was the end goal, with no intention of going farther into the non-canonical texts. Truth is, I was afraid of The Silmarillion, and the same held true of anything beyond it. Now that I’ve found such beauty and magnificence in that tome, it gave me the courage and curiosity to venture forward. So let me stress this: from this point forward, this is completely virgin territory for me.
Let’s begin with what this book is. Unfinished Tales is exactly what it says it is: earlier, incomplete drafts from Professor Tolkien that his son Christopher uncovered and assembled in the process of his efforts to publish The Silmarillion. It’s a Herculean endeavor, and like many Tolkien fans around the world, I am forever grateful.
Enough preamble. Time for some deep geeking. That is, after all, what this project is about.
The Fall of Gondolin is finally about to see a similar publication as of this writing. Until it was recently announced, the whole of the account as we know it was limited. Even then, it seems to comprise the largest parts of this book. According to Christopher Tolkien, his father repeatedly said that this story was the first of the tales he ever wrote in regards to the First Age, beginning on sick-leave from the army in 1917, sometimes 1916 depending upon the recollection. In any case, the evolution of this story is documented in the opening notes for the Unfinished Tales, and the fullest narrative is central to his imagination in regards to the First Age and “not suitable for inclusion in this book.” That was 1980, so 38 years later we’re finally getting that. What makes in unsuitable for this text is the archaic style in which it was written and the fact that in “embodies conceptions out of keeping with the world” of the already published books, belonging instead to the earliest phase of the mythology, “The Book of Lost Tales.” He says that is a substantive work in and of itself, so I wonder if he’s referring to what we know now as The Book of Lost Tales volumes 1 and 2 or to the larger whole of the History of Middle-Earth series that those books begin. As you can tell, I’ve not yet done that research. Like I say, this is virgin territory for me.
“Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin”… I’m just going to say up front that there are five and half pages of small print notes at the end of this section that highlight the differences between what’s found here and what’s found in The Silmarillion. Right out of the gate, I can see it’s going to be a fool’s errand to try to document all of that, especially given that this is a more expansive account than what was published before. How expansive? The original chapter in my hardcover edition of The Silmarillion is six pages. Of that, the portion of the tale covered in Unfinished Tales is summarized in just under two pages of The Silmarillion. My hardcover of Unfinished Tales clocks this chapter in at 34 pages.
This is really setting the tone for what we can expect to find in this book, and probably in all the books after this. No wonder few have attempted to blog about this stuff… You see, there isn’t really any way to summarize it further than how it’s been done already, and CT did provide us with a list of notes on what’s different, as I say. Not really sure what I can blog about that can add to or improve upon that in any meaningful way. And this may yet be the case with a number of the chapters in this book. Where we hit new territory, I’ll certainly expound upon what’s to be found. I know there’s going to be a lot of new information. Why else publish? It’s just a question of presentation.
For what it’s worth, between the time I cracked open this book to start this project and the time of publication of this post, I read and posted a review for A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte. Given when Tolkien wrote this unfinished tale, I think to be of immense value to have gone through that book. As I posted on the corresponded chapter of The Silmarillion, the lesson of World War I was that isolationism is a policy that will implode upon itself. Tolkien was living that lesson as he wrote this, surrounded by the ills of the world that had come a-knocking. Even though what’s here is only the prelude to Gondolin’s fall, we know it’s coming, and we know how it’ll unfold. I’d say it would be worth a great deal to know what was going through Tolkien’s mind as he wrote this, but I don’t think we even need to guess. It’s all there for us, in black and white.
Also for what it’s worth, the expansion found here is time well spent for those who want that extra character development and world building. I am stunned by awe at how much detail is here. Many familiar names. Given his linguistic prowess and how Middle-Earth was built, I’d be curious to know which came first, the names or the language. Probably a bit of both, though given his youth at this point, the names came first in these writings. It’s difficult not to appreciate the genius in play, knowing how this is to develop.
After combing through this, to know that a full version of The Fall of Gondolin is coming just hits me in all the feels. *fangirl flail*
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