Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Lost Road and Other Writings

JRR Tolkien
Completed 1/1/2017 Reviewed 1/3/2017
3 stars

This is volume 5 of the History of Middle Earth (HoME) Series.  “The Lost Road” is Tolkien’s first writings of the tales of Númenor.  There are only four chapters along with some fragments.  It was the product of a challenge Tolkien made with C.S. Lewis.  Lewis was to write a space travel novel and Tolkien was to write a time travel novel.  Lewis’ novel became “Out of the Silent Planet”.  Tolkien’s book floundered, as did many of the works he started, but the idea was that a philologist and his son travel back through time to an Atlantis-like society.  Instead of being finished and published in its own right, story lived on in the tales of Númenor, the kings of which Aragorn is descended from. 

One of the most interesting things about this is that Tolkien had an obsession Atlantis.  He had recurring nightmares of the waves overtaking the land as it sank into the ocean.  Little did he know, one of his sons had the same recurring nightmare.  So eventually, the Atlantean myth made its way into Tolkien’s universe, as the tale of Númenor.  The lives of humans on Númenor comprise the second age.  But the story is never completely fleshed out.  Even in the published “Silmarillion” it is only about thirty pages of text (if I remember correctly).

In addition to “The Lost Road”, this volume contains the “The Silmarillion” in the closest form it came to being published in the 1930s.  The timing of it is interesting.  Tolkien was writing this as “The Hobbit” was being published, but just also as he was beginning to write his sequel, which was to become “The Lord of the Rings”.   You get the sense that at this time, “The Hobbit” wasn’t connected yet to the rest of the mythology.  This comes predominantly from Tolkien’s discussion of dwarves.  There seems to be no correlation between the dwarves in “The Hobbit” compared to the dwarves, particularly their creation, in “The Silmarillion”.  Specifically, it is believed by the elven author of “The Silmarillion” that dwarves have no soul.  But anyone who has read “The Hobbit” could successfully argue against this notion. 

I give this book three out of five stars.  I’m not giving it the standard four stars because it was perhaps the toughest of the HoME books to read so far.  Despite following along with The Tolkien Professor’s podcasts of his textual analysis of the book, I found myself confused by yet another version of these stories.  I think that even being the fanboy that I am, I found something missing, particularly in “The Silmarillion”.  There’s a warmth that’s missing from the published S (I’m just going to use the abbreviation now).  This may sound weird to the people who didn’t like the S, but there is something that I really got with the S upon my first reading of it, the depth of the myths, perhaps.  This version, while fleshed out more than ever before, read more like a history to me than a collection of mythological stories.  This is perhaps because its writing came on the heels of the Annals, which are also included in this book, and are very much like a history book with names and dates.

So because of this, I knocked off a star.  It’s still good for the fanboys and fangirls out there, but a little heavier than the other books have been.  I think I’m ready for the next book in the series, the first of four books that documents the history of LOTR.  It will be nice to get away from the S mythology for a little while.

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