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The Lost Road cover The Lost Road and Other Tales by J.R.R. Tolkien

Published by Houghton Mifflin

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Tolkien's fascination with the story of Atlantis began early. As a man he would speak of a persistant dream that haunted his childhood days, of an overwhelming wave that swept from the sea to drown a beautiful land. Even as he was struggling with his earliest conceptions of the mythos that would ultimately become the First Age of Middle Earth, he was thinking of what came after the fall of Melko. His jottings would ultimately become the story of Numenor.

At about that same time, sometime in the 1920's or 1930's, he and his good friend C.S. Lewis agreed to a sort of "novel dare". Each would write a science fiction novel, one about space travel and the other about time travel. C.S. Lewis wrote the one about space travel, and Out of the Silent Planet became the first of a trilogy. However, Tolkien could not find a suitable structure for his time-travel novel, to be entitled The Lost Road, which would have taken a father and son backwards through successive generations to their origin in lost Atlantis, there called Numenor. After generating numerous fragments and failed workings, the project foundered entirely and Tolkien abandoned it.

In this volume Christopher Tolkien presents all his father's workings on the legend of Numenor from this period. There are the successive sketches of the Numenor tale, presented in a form similar to that found in the early Quenta Noldorinwa, as well as the fragments of The Lost Road. These show a fascinating beginning for what might have been a very fine novel, if only Tolkien could have somehow forced his way through the difficulties and seen the project through to its completion.

In addition, Christopher Tolkien also presents the texts of his father's materials on the First Age as they stood just before the commencement of what would become The Lord of the Rings. The later Annals of Valinor and of Beleriand and the Quenta Silmarillion are in many ways linear developments of their earlier counterparts as presented in the previous volume. The Ainulindale is in many respects a re-development of the account of the Music of the Ainur from the Book of Lost Tales, but now as a text separate from the main Quenta Silmarillion.

In addition there is another text feigned to be a non-fiction work by an elven scholar within the Secondary World. This is the Lhammas, or Account of Tongues, which is said to be the work of Pengolod of Gondolin. The Lhammas is a linguistic essay on the development and interrelationship of the various tongues of Elves, Men and Orcs. It exists in three forms, two complete and the last (and unfortunately most well-developed) interrupted in the middle.

Finally, of especial interest to scholars of Tolkien's linguistic creations are the Etymologies. In this we find Tolkien's last attempt to set forth a comprehensive vocabulary of the elvish languages. Unlike a regular dictionary, the entries are not arranged by individual words, but by the primitive elvish stems from which the words are derived. This enabled Tolkien to display the historical relations between various words, both within the languages and between them.

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Review posted October 26, 2000

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