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The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published by Houghton Mifflin
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
In this volume Christopher Tolkien completes the examination of the earliest of his father's writings, the Book of Lost Tales. In fact, many of the stories in this volume were among the first he ever wrote. There is evidence that "The Fall of Gondolin" was originally written in a heated rush while recovering from his collapse during World War I, although that version was later overwritten by a subsequent revision.
Although the critical elements of the tales are already in place, they differ in many respects from their final forms. For instance, Beren is a Gnome rather than a Man in this version, so that the objections of Tinuviel's father are on the basis of a political dispute between elves rather than an objection to a mating between two different kinds. Beren's foe on his quest to find the Silmaril is a sort of monstrous cat who will never again appear in Tolkien's mythos, rather than the terrible Sauron.
Also many of the images in these stories are somehow "smaller," less significant than they would ultimately become. Tinwelint is a simple woodland king, the leader of rustic elves, utterly unlike the majestic king Thingol he will ultimately become. Until Urin brings him the wealth of the dragon, he has almost no gold or silver, and his crown is a wreath of red leaves. The Rodothlim occupy the same narrative space as the people of Narogothrond, but they are little more than frightened refugees hiding in some river caverns, rather than a magnificent kingdom of hidden elves awaiting the time to sally forth against Morgoth. Only Gondolin seems to approach the majesty of its final form, hidden in the Encircling Mountains.
Unfortunately, the concluding tale, that of Earendel, never reached its final form. Rather like Gilfanon's tale in the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales, it fell apart soon after its beginning and is represented only by a collection of disjointed notes. Tolkien was never able to find a suitable structure for those events, and the lack continued to be felt throughout the history of the development of the stories of the Elder Days. However, there are also a number of poetic works concerning Earendel, many never before published.
Furthermore, Tolkien never was able to come to a final conception of the "framing tale" of Eriol. Even as he was working on the main tales, he was reworking the story of Eriol, transforming him into Aelfwine, an Englishman. But this never went beyond jottings and ideas to a completed narrative.
Students of Tolkien's constructed languages will be happy to know that this volume, like its predecessor, includes a wealth of information on the elvish languages at the end. As in the first volume, this one is arranged as a list of words with a discussion of related forms and their roots.
Table of Contents
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Review posted October 26, 2000
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