Completed 9/28/2019, Reviewed 9/29/2019
I have to admit book nine is the first History of Middle Earth (HoME) book that I haven’t finished. I read about 385 pages out of about 440. The last fifty odd pages were very dry, almost textbook-ish, reading. I skimmed through it and got the general idea of what it was about. In general, the book was very dry compared to the other books in the series. It was in three parts: the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, the Norton Club Papers, and the Fall of Numenor. The Norton Club Papers was particularly difficult to read, it being different than anything else Tolkien or his son Christopher published so far. Thank goodness for the Tolkien Professor’s podcast on this book. While I haven’t finished all seventeen episodes yet, it really helped me a lot in understanding the Norton Club papers. I found the majority of the book to be dry and not as interesting as the first eight in the series. Even though I’ve been a big fanboy of these books, this one nearly had me stopped in my tracks.
The Tolkien Professor is Corey Olsen, founder of Mythgard Institute and Signum University which is on its way to becoming an accredited on-line institution of learning of Tolkien studies, Anglo-Saxon and Norse studies, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. His excitement for and knowledge of these HoME books made the reading of this book much more tolerable. He does textual analysis of these books as well as other science fiction and fantasy novels as part of his free Mythgard Academy. The podcasts are also available on youtube or you can login to his live shows and follow along each week. These podcasts have made reading the HoME series very enjoyable.
The first part of this book was the last of the History of The Lord of the Rings. You can tell it was the ending because most of the documents were very similar to the published LOTR. There were only some minor differences. I found the most interesting part to be an epilogue which was never published. It features Sam with his children, finishing the red book and recapping everyone’s lives up to that point. It’s a very sweet story and would have been an interesting though not quite as dramatic conclusion to LOTR.
The next section is the Norton Club Papers. It is a thinly disguised take on the Inklings, the little society of Oxford professors which included Tolkien and CS Lewis, who met and read each other’s writings and offered support and academic criticism. This Club first has a conversation about Lewis’ Space series, particularly the second book, Perelandra, and the problems with space travel. The conversation then moves into time travel through dreams and the strange communications members of the group seem to be receiving from a distant past. This past concerns Numenor, the island where Men lived between Middle Earth and the undying lands. The group members are getting information as well as language details.
The last section of the book reviews the fall of Numenor, which is an extension of the Norton Club Papers. It begins with the creation of Numenor, the emigration of Men to it, the coming of Sauron to taint the goodness of the place, followed by its Atlantean destruction. It’s very interesting at first, but Christopher Tolkien gives three different texts of the story, each with more detail, followed by a fourth which just contains lines in the third text that were changed. It’s then followed by analysis of the documents and lastly, one member of the Norton Club’s writings of the languages of Numenor he received in his dreams. This was the part of the book where I stopped reading. The writings about the languages were simply too dry and complicated for me to follow with any semblance of understanding. I am looking forward to Corey Olsen’s lectures on that section to better appreciate it. As much as I love learning about languages, this section was the driest of the book.
I give this book only three stars out of five. It’s jam-packed with information, but I found it not as interesting as the first eight. The section concluding the LOTR did not have the magic of the first books, where Frodo was named Bingo and Aragorn was a wooden shoe wearing Hobbit named Trotter. I found the Norton Club Papers to be very complex, with too many professors to really follow the conversation well. A literary mystery examined by a group of Oxford dons may sound like fun, but I found it simply to be very tough to follow. And lastly, the multiple drafts of the Numenorean story became boring quickly. I still have three more books to go in the HoME series and I hope that they are more interesting than this one was.