Completed 12/19/2017, Reviewed 12/21/2017
This is the seventh book in the History of Middle Earth (HoME) series, and the second in the History of the Lord of the Rings. It picks up where the last left off, in the mines of Moria. It covers the development of the story up through the beginnings of Rohan. I found the previous book, The Return of the Shadow, to be quite entertaining, watching the development of a story that actually led to publication. I thought this second book would continue to be as entertaining, but I found it much drier than I had expected.
I think the reason for the dryness is that the changes between drafts are much less dramatic. In the previous volume, the story was still simply a hobbit adventure. As it grew into being much more than that, the changes in the drafts were more profound and therefore interesting. It was fun watching where, how quickly, and how often the names of the characters were changing.
Perhaps the biggest change in this volume is that Aragorn goes from being a wooden-shoe wearing hobbit and comes closer to the ranger we all know and love. He still goes by Trotter at this point, instead of Strider. He was going to marry Eowyn. Arwin wasn’t even in the story yet. And Boromir wasn’t going to die originally. Rather he was going to go to Ondor (not yet known as Gondor) and be a rival to Aragorn.
Other points of interest include the beginnings of Treebeard. He was originally going to be evil, but instead turns into the giant talking tree. Galadriel also comes in here. She starts out as Mrs. Keleborn and evolves into a dominant presence. And Wormtongue barely shows up in these drafts.
Once again, I give a nod to Professor Cory Olsen at Signum University for his Tolkien Professor podcasts of his textual analysis of the book. It really makes a difference in reading these HoME volumes. He and his audience add a lot of levity to what could easily be a very boring study.
Even though this book is a little drier than its predecessor, I still give it four stars out of five. And I still don’t recommend the book for the average reader. This is for serious fans only. I’m only reading two a year at this point, following along as Cory Olsen completes his analyses.