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The Return of the Shadow cover The Return of the Shadow by J.R.R. Tolkien

Published by Houghton Mifflin

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

After the success of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien soon came under considerable pressure to write a sequel to this delightful story. However, he really had no idea where to start or how to proceed. He'd pretty much said in the end of The Hobbit that Bilbo Baggins would have no further adventures.

Still, he felt an obligation to his fans to produce another hobbit story. So he dutifully sat down and began to write in an effort to get Bilbo into a situation where he would have to go adventuring again. However, that proved easier said than done, and it took a number of false starts before Tolkien finally settled on the idea that Bilbo's ring was no mere "ordinary" magical ring, but a great and terrible artifact left over from an earlier age. Once he had the germ of the idea that Bilbo's ring was the Ruling Ring, by which Sauron could control the other rings of power and conquor all of Middle-Earth, the story began to take shape of the quest to destroy the One Ring before Sauron could recover it.

In this volume Christopher Tolkien presents his father's fumbling struggles to begin the "new hobbit story" which would ultimately become The Lord of the Rings. The first chapter alone required several starts, with whole ideas discarded as unworkable. The first phase of writing carried Tolkien through to Rivendell, but stalled as he realized he needed to go back to the beginning and bring it in line with what he was now writing.

This led to the second phase, in which Tolkien re-arranged some of the characters and expanded several parts of the narrative. Here we see the first versions of the history of the Ring as told by Gandalf to Bingo, who would ultimately become Frodo.

Even then, Tolkien could not find a completely satisfactory form for the story, and he backed up again to re-develop the story from the journey to Bree. From there he was able to sustain his forward momentum for a number of chapters, until he reached the Tomb of Balin in the depths of Moria. There he stalled, with no idea of where the story should go from there. He remained stalled for some time, and that makes it a suitable stopping place for this volume.

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buy the book Click here to buy The Return of the Shadow as a boxed set with The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring and Sauron Defeated.

Review posted October 26, 2000

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