Completed 12/18/2020, Reviewed 12/18/2020
This is the final book in the History of Middle Earth (HoME) series. It was also one of the more interesting. It covers the appendices from The Lord of the Rings, etymological and phonological changes to names throughout the legendarium, contemplation of logical problems with names and people, and lastly includes two unfinished stories. I have to admit, the language section was a bit of a slog, giving the development of names and the two elvish language (Quenya and Sindar) versions of the names. One might argue that most of the HoME series dealt in the development of names, which wouldn’t be a lie, as Tolkien continually changed names and dates as his legendarium developed from 1917 until his death in 1973. But the rest was more interesting than usual.
I’ve read the appendices to the Lord of the Rings several times. They’ve always seemed like just an afterthought to LOTR and definitely a downbeat after the emotional rollercoater of the trilogy. But really, they are the first taste of the detail of the Tolkien legendarium. I got a new perspective of them after reading the revisions presented in this volume. I haven’t read LOTR since reading The Silmarillion and the HoME series, so I wonder if I’d get more out of the appendices now that I have this new insight into the First and Second Ages.
For example, Arwen is the coming together of two lines of half-human, half-elves. Her relationship with Aragorn echoes the relationship of Beren and Luthien, who feature so prominently in the First Age. There’s more history of the presumed evolution of the hobbits, Deagol and Smeagol being members of one of the clans that moved into the Shire during the Third Age. And there’s more history of the Dwarves and their lineage, from their creation by one of the Valar who couldn’t wait for the Iluvatar’s children to awaken to Thorin Oakenshield and Gimli.
There’s more about Galadriel. She was created specifically for LOTR. She proved to be so popular and profound, not just with fans but with Tolkien himself, that he worked her into the legendarium afterward. She is Arwen’s grandmother and fostered her for a while after Arwen’s mother is attacked by Orcs and dies. Tolkien also addresses the conundrum of Glorfindels. He used the name for a character in The Fall of Gondolin as well as in LOTR. He spent much time debating whether or not they were the same person, as no two elves have the same name.
Almost all of the writings in this volume are essays which Tolkien produced to further analyze and explain, to himself at least, how everyone and everything fits together in his universe. In volumes 10 and 11, it was rather tedious. Here it’s makes much more sense and is much more interesting.
The last two pieces in the book are starts to stories that Tolkien never developed. The first is called “The New Shadow” and takes place after Aragorn dies, a hundred years into the Fourth Age. There is a new evil, but we only get a very brief hint of it. Tolkien felt that the story was too dark, and might be anti-climactic after the epic scale of the fall of Sauron. The second is called Tal-Elmar and gives a perspective of the Numenorians from the point of view of the Wild Men. Tolkien didn’t know how he could work this into LOTR and gave up on it.
I give this book four stars out of five. I would have given this book five stars if the etymological section wasn’t so dry. The rest of the book I found more engaging than the most of the HoME series. Having read the whole series, I have to say I’m glad I did, but I’m glad it’s done. It’s more than the average person would find interesting. It’s really a huge academic work, not for casual reading. But I did enjoy seeing the processes Tolkien went through creating his universe. And it’s the closest one can get to reading everything he ever wrote. Now all I have left are his translation of Beowulf, a few other non-Middle-Earth books, his compilation of letters, and a book on the Inklings I got for free. Those will wait until next year.