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Morgoth's Ring cover Morgoth's Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Published by Houghton Mifflin

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

After having successfully completed The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien returned once again to the stories of the Elder Days. With the growing success of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had an even stronger reason to get these manuscripts put into some form of a publishable order. The bits and hints about the elder days which had appeared in The Lord of the Rings had created an intense interest among fans in hearing the full stories behind those bits and snippets.

Unfortunately, the momentum that had built up through the 1920's and 30's had been lost during that long detour through the end of the Third Age, and could not be easily regained. Worse yet, in the rush of writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had introduced all manner of new elements that had to be somehow reconciled with a much earlier vision of his Secondary World.

Fatal doubts about the viability of many of the basic myths began to assail Tolkien. In the exuberance of his youth he had created a very "primitive" mythos of a flat Earth rather like a ship, but now that the mature Tolkien looked back at it, he no longer was sure that it was even believable as a story. He even considered throwing it all out and rewriting it so that the Earth would be round from the beginning, but this would mean discarding the entire story of the Two Trees and the creation of the Sun and the Moon, which were in many ways central to the structure of the mythos -- the Silmarils were to have been the last unsullied light of the Two Trees, while the Sun and the Moon were to some degree tainted by Morgoth's malice, having been made from the dying Trees after Ungoliant had poisoned them.

At the same time, Tolkien was also struggling with the nature of the orcs and other evil beings in the service of Morgoth and later of Sauron. If he held to his belief that evil could not create, only distort, then the orcs and other creatures had to come from some previously extant race -- but which one?

Tolkien also looked deeper into Eldarian society, exploring the nature of their customs of naming, of marriage and of family life. Part of the impetus for this was the matter of Finwe and his remarriage -- if elves were regarded as naturally monogamous, and if no elven soul ever left the World, but was reborn into another elven body, how could Finwe have remarried in the manner of mortal Men?

Nor did humanity get short shrift, as the "Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth" shows. Cast in the form of a discussion between Finrod and the mortal woman Andreth, it explores the ideas the human population of Middle Earth held about their own mortality, its nature and its origins.

This volume is of particular interest because it shows a mature writer struggling with the works of his youth, attempting to rework them to match his adult vision while at the same time retaining the joy and sense of wonder that his younger self had imbued into the originals.

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Review posted November 2, 2000

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