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The Shaping of Middle Earth cover The Shaping of Middle Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien

Published by Houghton Mifflin

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Even as JRR Tolkien was still working on his epic poems of Turin and of Beren and Luthien, he returned again to prose in the form of a "Sketch of the Mythology" to accopmany the poems and provide a background for understanding. This was to prove the foundation of all his later prose works on the Elder Days. In fact, as Christopher Tolkien notes in his commentary, many turns of phrase survived intact throughout years of reworking to appear in the final published Silmarillion

Subsequently, Tolkien expanded and reworked the "Sketch of the Mythology" into a longer and more involved text known as the "Quenta" or "Quenta Noldorinwa." To it is appended one last major poem, "The Horns of Ylmir." Tolkien also created the first complete map of the lands in which these stories take place. Although in many places this map was rather rough and retained earlier notions about the mythos which would soon be abandoned, the basic landforms are already in place and recognizable.

At this time Tolkien also began work on other prose works which were visualized as accompanying the "Quenta" in its final published form. Christopher Tolkien includes several important ones, particularly the Ambarkanta and the Annals of Valinor and of Beleriand. The Ambarkanta is of particular interest, as it is feigned to be a non-fiction treatise by one Rumil, a loremaster of the Elves, written within the Secondary World which Tolkien is creating. In it, Rumil discusses the structure of the world as created by the Music of the Ainur and realized by Eru's command of "Ea!" ("Let it Be"). Along with it are a number of diagrams of the relationship of earth and sky, which are fascinating developments from the "world-ship" diagram that appeared in the very first volume, The Book of Lost Tales, Part One.

The Annals of Valinor and of Beleriand are a sort of parallel telling of the events of the mythos in the form of chronicles rather than straight narrative. In their beginning they appear to have been little more than a chronology, rather like the ones that appear in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings. However, from this rather modest start, they would ultimately become a full telling of the stories, in tandem with the narrative of the "Quenta Silmarillion."

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Review posted October 26, 2000

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