JRR Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien
Completed 7/23/2017, reviewed 7/25/2017
This is the sixth volume of the History of Middle Earth (HOME) series and the first of the History of the Lord of the Rings sub-series. It covers the first several drafts of the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. I really enjoyed this book. It was a nice break from the first five volumes which look at the stories that make up The Silmarillion. I’m sure I liked this book because I’m more familiar with the LOTR than I am with the Silmarillion stories and I’m enjoying the break from them. Different is good, especially when you’re getting twelve volumes of drafts and notes and research.
Perhaps the most fun of this book is finding out Tolkien’s original names for the characters. Frodo was Bingo. I think everyone is glad this eventually got changed. Between the song, “And Bingo was his name-o”, and the game, I think the name would have been too distracting. In actuality, Bingo is named after a family of stuffed bears Tolkien’s children had. Frodo was one of the companion hobbits. In addition, Aragorn was a hobbit named Trotter, and Pippin was Marmaduke. So lots of changes took place between the original drafts and the final addition.
The thing to remember when reading this and keeping in mind all these name changes is that LOTR was a sequel to The Hobbit. With these early drafts, it’s clear that the Tolkien’s intention was to come up with another adventure for hobbits, not the thousand-page saga of apocalyptic proportions that it turned into. There’s a lot of hobbit banter, that is, rather silly conversations between the hobbits that amused Tolkien and his son, but would have been remembered today as goofy, less risqué Monty Python-esque absurdities. Think of Pippin’s silliness multiplied by four. The story didn’t become serious until the first Black Rider appeared, something that surprised Tolkien himself as he wrote it.
It’s not until Trotter (the future Aragorn) tells the tale of Beren and Luthien that Tolkien starts to bring in the whole Middle Earth mythology. Suddenly, LOTR becomes part of the universe of the Silmarillion. The nature of the Ring grows from just being a simple magic trick to something much more dangerous. Things come together and soon the drafts transform into the text we are all more familiar with.
This book doesn’t cover the whole Fellowship of the Ring. It stops at the Mines of Moria. Aragorn is still Trotter, and Gimli and Legolas are still not formed either. It’s only 1939-1940 and Tolkien is still getting stuck. I think it’s funny that Tolkien sends updates to his publisher that chapters are being completed when he still doesn’t know where the story is really going.
I’m looking forward to the next three volumes. As usual, I followed along with Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor and his Mythgard Academy textual analysis of the book. This makes it much more readable. I have to admit, some of Christopher Tolkien’s background is very dry, but Olsen’s analysis breathes life into the history of the stories. I give the book four stars out of five and as usual give the warning that this is pretty much a book for fans like me, a dedicated geek.