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on 6 December 2008
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 detailed, day-by-day chronology Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings

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 10 January 2012
Be warned: it is not advisable to read this unless you have read the Silmarillion and understood it.

That aside, this book and the next are fantastic. For all those interested in how the concept of Middle-earth grew in our hero the Great Tolkien, this book is perfect. It recounts many of the tales of the Silmarillion in their original versions. It also contains many that were abandoned by Tolkien as concepts not worth persuing. These include the unique history of Tol Eressëa, an island visited by Aelfwine, which was destined to become England. This was quickly given up in Tolkien's legendarium and the story can only be found here.

The novel is dotted with commentaries and notes from the equal genius of Christopher Tolkien. These are informative and only occasionally overlong. Many things were fantastic in origin, such as the Fall of Gondolin, and decreased in their awe in later publications.

So, this book is well worth reading, if you, like me, are an inhabitant of Middle-earth and not just a passerby.

Please enjoy.
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on 30 December 2001
All the Christopher Tolkien books are of value to the reader facinated by The Hobbit and LOTR and wanting to know more about what JRR Tolkein wrote on the subject. He wrote a great deal (and abandoned rather than published much of it) as he tried to link across Middle Earth and its histories into a real European myth.
In this book the reader is guided through this difficult process so that you will be able to get some insight into how "the whole" may once have meant to have hung together; English and European prehistory/mythology, The Silmarillion and the races decribed in the Tolkien books. Other books in this excellent series add more pieces to this virtual jigsaw.
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VINE VOICEon 23 May 2003
This book continues straight on from the first volume of early versions of the Silmarillion stories.
While the first volume was mostly concerned with the gods of Valinor, here the emphasis is on a more human scale with tales of Turamber, the fall of Gondolin etc… Unfortunately this book is if anything even more inaccessible than its predecessor, due to the increasingly fractured nature of the surviving material (the last two of which consist of little more than fragments) and the editors increasing obsession with the minutiae of these drafts. There really is no need to be informed of every single deviation between drafts unless it is a change of substance – (for example, what benefit is it for us to know that the phrase “ man of greater stature” was originally “a man of great size”?) – and this slows the books reading down to a crawl.
Despite this there is still some very illuminating material here that was greatly compressed in the Silmarillion, so despite the stilted tone this is still worth wading through.
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on 13 April 2015
I haven't read it all but it is the imagination and knowledge of JRR Tolkien. What is not to like? The Cottage of Lost Play is a wonderful first chapter and such a beautiful idea it made me cry! Everything you need to know about the origins of Middle Earth is all here. It is a commitment though. The style is more Silmarillion than Lord Of The Rings, and this is just book one of the three books that make up the History Of Middle Earth. There is a lot of accompanying explanatory text from Christopher Tolkien which is very illuminating also. If you can't get enough Tolkien there is plenty here to immerse yourself in. Astonishing that all of this came out of the brain of one man.
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on 14 November 2014
This is a must for those of us who are looking to delve deeper into Middle Earth than the 3rd Age. I enjoyed all of these tales, it is frustrating none of them were ever finished. Imagine what a cannon would have been left by Tolkien if he had. That said these tales elaborate on this mentioned off hand in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and give the reader a much more rounded picture and understanding of all three ages of middle earth.

Thank goodness his son published these for us all to enjoy.

The writing style is like a Norse saga and can be heavy going until one adjusts to it but persevere as delights await those who do.
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on 27 September 2014
If you know & are enthral led by 'Lord of the Rings' you will develop a thirst for more detail & background. Here it is skilfully worked up by JRR's son Christopher. Read the Rings first, then tackle 'Silmarillion' & Morgoth's Ring. We need more like this.
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on 13 May 2014
Unless you have read the entire collection of LOTR you can then read the parts in this book associated to the relevant books and get an overall picture. Although I love the books for novices reading this it may prove a little difficult.
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on 27 January 2015
I bought this book for my son for Christmas. It was on his wish list as he is a big JRR Tolkien fan. He was delighted with it. The packaging was very appropriate and despatch was prompt. Complete satisfaction with this purchase.
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on 5 January 2015
I had to write a comment to enter my rating.
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