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on 26 February 2003
This somewhat bulky book is comprised of the first four volumes of- "The Histories of Middle Earth" (twelve in total). Due to its size and rather overwhelming content it is only really suitable for the more devoted Tolkien reader. It is best read after reading "The Silmirillion" as the stories are all mainly based around the events therein. It takes a lot of time and effort to get involved in, with the earlier chapters being somewhat dry and uneventful, but after four-to-five days of solid reading it is thoroughly enjoyable. Since it is the product of four volumes I will review each of the volumes in turn.
Volume 1: The book of lost tales, part I
This first volume covers the first half of the Book of Lost Tales, introducing the mariner Eriol (of the race of men) who discovers the Lonely Isle (Tol Erresea) of the Elves and there is told the tales of their ancient history. It begins with the theory of creation, supposedly through the mantra of angelic beings (later called the valar) and continues through to the destruction of the bliss of Aman by Melkor (later called Morgorth), one of the valar, corrupted by greed and selfish desire. It tells also of the Noldor's (high-elves) revolt against the valar and their departure from Aman.
Volume 2: The book of lost tales, part II
This volume of the Book of Lost Tales narrates the fundamental tales of the Quenta Silmarillion. It includes the basic stories of Beren and Luthien, of Turin, and of the fall of Gondolin. It tells of the events and deeds of the banished Noldor and the decay and mortification of the world at the hands of Morgorth and his foul creatures. The volume concludes with the final battle between Morgoth and the Valar. It includes vast amounts of information on Elvish languages (mainly Quenya and Sindarin), which is sure to please scholars of his articulately constructed languages.
Volume 3: The lays of Beleriand
This volume comprises of some of the tales from the Quenta Silmirillion in poetic form; written by the elves of Beleriand before the battle between Morgorth and the Valar. The two most fully developed are the Lay of Lethian (the story of Beren and Luthien) and The tale of Turin Turambar. There is also a extensive evaluation of the Lay of Lethian, written by C.S. Lewis, which provides and in-depth look at some of the flaws and wonderful interpretations of the text.
Volume 4: The shaping of Middle Earth
It includes various prose fragments following the Lost Tales, which provide further insight into the "Sketch of the Mythology". It also includes The Annals of Valinor and of Beleriand which are a sort of parallel telling of the events. In their beginning they appear to be little more than a chronology, but they gather momentum as you continue, to reach a comprehensive narrative, which is indeed a real joy to read.
This is a wonderfully constructed book, and i recommend every avid Tolkien fan out there to read it, after all there is no better way to understand Tolkien's fantastic Middle Earth.
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on 4 June 2004
With this mammoth release, we get the literary backstory, so to say, of J. R. R. Tolkien's turmoil and travails of the composition of one of the most complex fantasies every constructed. Gather all twelve previously published volumes into three huge books, these tell the final story of Tolkien's world, in all its grandeur and heart breaking beauty. The hefty price tag that is attached is to be expected, seeing it covers twelve expensive single volumes. The first two volumes deal with the earliest form of THE SILMARILLION, the next are the epic LAYS that were never completed, and showing Tolkien was a poet of very accomplished calibre. THE SHAPING deals with the geography and physical history, while THE LOST ROAD shows us an unfinished novel and several other unearthed treasures. The real meat, to literary historians who are not specialized in Tolkien and to the causal fan, is the volumes VI-IX, which deal with the creation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, one of the most significant volumes ever released the world, online with Homer, Virgil, and Dante. This is a graduate level look at what goes in the making of a literary masterpiece. The last of the volumes deal with Tolkien's attempt to recast THE SILMARILLION in sometimes radical departures from the accepted structure. The last volume is THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH, which are the appendices of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and several interesting tidbits, included a Numenor story and THE NEW SHADOW, the aborted sequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
This publication is for the serious student and lover of J. R. R. Tolkien's work. The causal fan will find this much too expensive. For those only marginally interested the volumes dealing with THE LORD OF THE RINGS should be looked at. But those who love Middle-earth and want to marvel at Tolkien's work, this is a must-have purchase. It's a very rare opportunity to see the creation of a work of such massive import to our international societies. Tolkien's commitment to this birthing process of a beautiful work of art truly stands out as one of the great efforts of Man to give homage to his God, as Tolkien saw it (read his essay on Faerie Stories), and I see it as well. Get it and become immersed - though beware this detailing the construction of this elaborate universe, which means these are rough drafts and various other things that didn't make it into publication in Tolkien's time, adding a huge amount of material to Tolkien's fandom to consider. Christopher's editorial notes are a must have. Thanks to the Tolkien family and to Christopher for their support of their father (who died in 1973) and of his son for the publication of this work. A very unique moment in literary history indeed.
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on 28 October 2000
This huge book is a compendium of the first five volumes of The History of Middle-earth, compiled and edited in a scholarly tour de force by the author's son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien. The remaining volumes six to twelve will comprise parts 2 and 3 of this compendium series.
It never ceases to amaze me, since Volume One of the History of Middle-earth (The Book of Lost Tales - Part 1) appeared in 1983, how one man, alone, and with little or no encouragement, could labour to produce such a wealth of material. Detailed histories spanning thousands of years, complex genealogies, fully developed languages (together with their historical development)all infused with a love of Myth and Language never before seen.
These Histories reveal the meticulous attention to detail for which Tolkien was notorious. It is from this wealth of material that he drew the 'background tapestries' of The Lord of the Rings.
My favorite would have to be The Book of Lost Tales. This was the 'pro-genitor' of The Silmarillion and was written down in exercise books over eighty years ago. They stand on their own and can be read as such. It is fascinating to see the enormous differences between it and what was to become the Silmarillion.
The Histories are not for those looking to re-live their experiences with The Lord of the Rings, or even The Silmarillion. They are definitely for the avid Tolkien scholars or collectors of his books. But if obscure details such as the fact that the Elves were originally called 'gnomes', that Beren was originally an Elf or that there was a personage named 'Tevildo Prince of Cats' then you will find much to enthrall you in these books.
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on 4 July 2010
NOTE: The individual volumes in the 12-volume History of Middle-Earth series are also published in three large 'Parts' in a series inconsistently titled either The Complete History of Middle-earth and The History of Middle-earth

Part 1 contains volumes I-V from the single-volume series.
Part 2 contains volumes VI to IX from the single-volume series.
Part 3 contains volumes X-XII from the single-volume series.

Which you might buy depends on your taste and how you plan to use the books. Would you rather have three bulky volumes of about 1500 pages each or twelve volumes that are typically 450 pages long?


Collections of an author's work are often confusing, particularly when what the author has created is as complex as Tolkien's writings. Here's an overview of the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth, which was edited by his son Christopher Tolkien. Hopefully, it will help you select which book or books to buy.

Keep something in mind. In the U.S. Houghton Mifflin publishes Tolkien's authorized works in hardback and trade paperback editions, while Ballantine Books publishes them as cheaper mass-market paperbacks. For some reason, Ballantine doesn't always make it clear that some of their titles are part of the same History of Middle-earth series as those published by Houghton Mifflin. If the title is the same, the content is the same. Which you buy depends on your taste in books and finances. I have copies of both.


These five volumes deal primarily with Tolkien's writings before the publication of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). In them, Tolkien was struggling as a still unknown author to create his first history of Middle-earth.

Vol 1 & 2, The Book of Lost Tales Part 1 ( 1983) & 2 (1984). The Book of Lost Tales was written during the 1910s and 1920s. Wikipedia describes it this way: "The framework for the book is that a mortal Man visits the Isle of Tol Eressëa where the Elves live. In the earlier versions of the `Lost Tales' this man is named Eriol, of some vague north European origin, but in later versions he becomes Ælfwine, an Englishman of the Middle-ages."

Vol. 3, The Lays of Beleriand (1985). These are collections of poems, many of them incomplete, written between the 1920s and the late 1940s.

Vol 4, The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986). As you might guess by the title, in this book Christopher describes how his father shaped his vision of Middle-earth from the primitive The Book of Lost Tales to early versions of The Silmarillion. This theme is taken up again in volumes 10 and 11.

Vol 5. The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987). Along with other writings this volume includes Tolkien's drafts of a tale about time travel. Wikipedia describes it this way: "The Lost Road itself is a fragmentary beginning of a tale, including a rough structure and several intiguing chunks of narrative, including four entire chapters dealing with modern England and Numenor, from which the entire story as it should have been can be glimpsed. The scheme was of time-travel by means of 'vision' or being mentally inserted into what had been, so as to actually re-experience that which had happened. In this way the tale links first to Saxon England of Alfred the Great, then to the Lombard Alboin of St. Benedict's time, the Baltic Sea in Old Norse days, Ireland at the time of the Tuatha's coming (600 years after the Flood), prehistoric North in the Ice Age, a 'Galdor story' of Third-Age Middle-Earth, and finally the Fall of Gil-Galad, before recounting the prime legend of the Downfall of Numenor/Atlantis and the Bending of the World. It harps on the theme of a 'straight road' into the West, now only in memory because the world is round."


If you or the friend you're buying for is primarily interested in the LOTR, then these four volumes are the books to have. Just keep in mind that you'll find in them many unfinished plots that may or may not fit well into LOTR. Tolkien was a perfectionist, always trying to improve plots and fill in details. These are his drafts.

Vol. 6, The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings v. 1, 1988). Describes the initial stages of writing LOTR and covers the first three-fourths of The Fellowship of the Ring (until the Mines of Moria).

Vol. 7, The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings, v. 2, 1989). Covers from the Mines of Moria until Gandalf meets Théoden about one-fourth of the way into The Two Towers.

Vol. 8, The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings, v. 3, 1990). Continues the tale up to the opening of the Black Gate not quite three-quarters of the way through The Two Towers.

Vol. 9, Sauron Defeated (The History of The Lord of the Rings, v. 4, 1992). Completes the tale and includes an alternate ending in which Sam answers questions from his children. There is also a much shortened version of Vol. 9 called The End of the Third Age, which leaves out material that isn't related to LOTR.


Just as The Hobbit created a public demand for more tales about hobbits, The Lord of the Rings created a demand for more tales about Middle-earth. To meet that demand, Tolkien struggled to reconcile and adapt many of his earlier tales to the historical framework made well-known by his two published works. He never completed those labors, so it was left after his death to his son Christopher to do so in The Silmarillion (1977). If you or a friend is interested in knowing more about The Silmarillion, these two volumes may be of interest.

Vol 10, Morgoth's Ring (The Later Silmarillion, v. 1, 1993). Contains material from earlier (1951 and later) drafts of The Silmarillion. Wikipedia notes that: "The title of this volume comes from a statement from one of the essays: 'Just as Sauron concentrated his power in the One Ring, Morgoth dispersed his power into the very matter of Arda, thus the whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth's Ring.'"

Vol. 11, The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion v. 2, 1994). Addition material about the earlier drafts of The Silmarillion. Includes information about the origin of the Ents and Great Eagles.


Vol. 12, The People's of Middle-earth (1996). Contains material that did not fit into the other volumes. The most interesting include additional appendices like those at the back of LOTR, essays on the races of Middle-earth, and about 30 pages of a sequel to the LOTR called The New Shadow. It was set a century after the LOTR. Tolkien abandoned the tale as too "sinister and depressing."

The History of Middle-earth Index (2002) is an index of all twelve volumes.


Keep in mind that books in The History of Middle-earth are nothing like reading The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. What J. R. R. Tolkien wrote is often fragmentary and unpolished rough drafts, while what Christopher wrote is literary scholarship, concerned more with sources and texts than plots. If you or the friend you are buying for is more interested in understanding LOTR better, you might be happier with a reference works such as:

Karen Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Revised Edition)

Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth

Or my own book-length, detailed, day-by-day chronology of The Lord of the Rings, Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings

Places, terms and dates, together all three will give you a richer, deeper understanding of LOTR.


If you're interested in reading books with the same flavor as Tolkien, you might consider reading William Morris, a once well-known writer who influenced Tolkien. For tales like the warriors of Rohan, see his The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains. For arduous quest journeys much like Frodo and Sam's quest to be rid of the Ring, read his The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World's End. The four tales have been collected into two inexpensive volumes:

More to William Morris: Two Books that Inspired J. R. R. Tolkien-The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains

On the Lines of Morris' Romances: Two Books That Inspired J. R. R. Tolkien-The Wood Beyond the World and the Well at the World's End


I hope this helps you to select wisely based on your own interests. You can save some money by buying collections of The History of Middle-earth in multi-volume sets. You can also save by buying the Ballantine mass-market paperback instead of the Houghton Mifflin trade paperback edition, although the former may have smaller type and you may need to use both hands to keep it open while you read,
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on 30 July 2001
The first 5 volumes of Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth Series brought together into one Limited Edition Deluxe Hardcover! This book, published by HarperCollins Publishers, is limited to 1000 copies worldwide. The page edges are gilt with gold. The Tolkien emblem embossed in gold on the cover and spine. This book is a truly fantastic addition to any Tolkien fan's collection. Of course, you'll have to buy the next two volumes eventually. :)
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on 4 January 2002
This is an absolute must for any serious collector's library. The information completes many of the legends and gives you insight into the author's mind. I love all three of the volumes. My only complaint is that the pages are too thin for anything besides casual reading. Don't use them for repeated research. Use your old trusty paperbacks instead.
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on 2 February 2014
As a huge Tolkien fan I was eager to acquire all the history of Middle-earth books and this three-volume set is perfect. The books are beautiful, although the pages are very thin so be careful not to rip them! If you're new to Tolkien it's best to start at The Hobbit, then Lord of the Rings, then The Silmarillion and finally onto these! It's not a light read by any means, but I'm in awe at the world Tolkien has created and the sheer number of names involved. also, I have yet to read any other fantasy which comes close to the grandness of the Fall of Gondolin! It's the perfect fantasy and still overshadows any of today's fantasy novels - which are darker, full of crude words, sex and just not as good!
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on 3 January 2008
I was given this deluxe version of the book when it was released a number of years ago. I found it at the time to be very hard to read and as such gave up after the first book (was 15 at the time). Since then I have reread The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit many times and have re-read The Silmarillion a few times. I know feel that without reading The Silmarillion those extra times I would again not be able to read Part One of The Complete History of Middle-Earth as for me there was too many names which were difficult to remember and keep track of. I would then say that this is for serious Tolkien readers only and ones who (like myself) have a full understanding of The Silmarillion.

The edition itself is a very large version and so the paper is thin to keep it from being unreadable. Although this makes it of a size that is manageable and the cover looks beautiful, I find myself referring to this book quite a lot and so would like the pages to be thicker as I doubt they will last constant usage. However I imagine many will read this from cover to cover only a few times and so doesn't need to be that strong, however for the cost it really should.

With all that in question the book (bar the page thickness) such as the binding, and the page colour and text size, and clearness was all perfect and made a great book into a fabulous one. Recommend as a gift to any serious Tolkien fan and perhaps not the casual fan, or the younger reader.
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on 21 September 2013
Trying to find all twelve original volumes of "The History of Middle-Earth" is a though enterprise. If you are really interested in how a man could accomplished so much in his lifetime, you may want to treat yourself with this collection of three volumes that collects the complete 12-part monument. Part 1 was published in 2000 (reprinted in 2002) and contains Volume I: "The Book of Lost Tales, Part One" (1983), Volume II: "The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two" (1984), Volume III: "The Lays of Beleriand" (1985), Volume IV: "The Shaping of Middle Earth" (1986) and Volume V: "The Lost Road and Other Writings" (1987).
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on 26 October 2000
The ongoing and increasing interest in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien remain a mystery to the uninitiated, who consider "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Silmarillion" to be little more than childish fantasy on the order of Star Wars. But how does one explain the incredible durability of all things Tolkien, the ongoing and increasing devotion of his readers, the almost religious interest in every aspect of Middle-Earth?
The answer lies in the foundations of the work, a complex, carefully conceived back-story created by an Oxford scholar over a lifetime of labor. In this massive undertaking, Christopher Tolkien, the son of the famous author and himself a first-rate scholar, goes back to the story's roots, revealing step-by-step the torturous creative development of a modern masterpiece.
As professor of Anglo-Saxon, J.R.R. Tolkien's mind was steeped in archaic language, epic poetry, Arthurian legend and European myth. Middle-Earth is a potent concoction combining all these elements into a single cosmology that forms the basis for Tolkien's works. But getting there wasn't easy. Christopher Tolkien takes us through the laborious creative process, revealed within dusty notebooks and scraps of paper piled up over 30 years. Late night musings, writer's block, revelations, inconsistencies, revisions, it's here for all to see.
"The History of Middle Earth" is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely academic and often exhausting. It will frustrate and confuse even the most dedicated reader. But, ultimately, it is a revelation, a loving homage to dedication and itself an example of devotion to craftsmanship.
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