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J. R. R. Tolkien - The Book of Lost Tales I | Review
on 4 December 2013
The Book of Lost Tales is an eclectic collection of the early work of J. R. R. Tolkien - in many ways, it's the precursor to the Silmarillion, the infamous book of lore which no casual reader has ever struggled through. I haven't even dared to start it, although I am looking forward to it.
Edited by Christopher Tolkien, the youngest son (now 89) of the great writer, it's a fascinating insight in to the earlier thought processes and plot-lines that Tolkien documented as far back as the 1920s, but it's only for hardcore readers - in all honesty, you should only really read it if you've already read the Silmarillion and you want to dig even deeper. In fact, it's the first in a series of twelve books which Tolkien Jr. edited and published as The History of Middle-Earth.
And his father's writing is excellent - even though it's a little archaic, it's understandable and interesting. The nuances might be lost, but you get the gist of the story-line and his descriptive prose is a wonder to behold. But then Christopher follows each tale with an essay in which every single nuance is pointed out and analysed to such a degree that the essays are often twice as long as the stories.
I know you can skip them, but that always feels like cheating - if you include notes and appendices then expect people to read them. If you expect people to read them, make them readable. My warning to you would be, 'If you're going to read it then don't read the commentary - just lose yourself in Tolkien Snr.'s early, wonderful words.'