on 26 October 2012
"I squandered so much on the original `Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world" (RotS pg. 44). Tolkien wrote this to Stanley Unwin in the late 1930s when Unwin had approached Tolkien to do a sequel, and when Tolkien was struggling with writing the first portion of what would be come his masterpiece.
The Return of the Shadow deals with the earliest extant texts of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, dealing exclusively with Book 1 and the first part of book II up to Balin's tomb in Moria.
Christopher Tolkien divides this writing up into three phases, with the first phase taking Bingo (who would later become Frodo) and company to Rivendell. There are no less than SIX versions of the opening chapter, with only a few notes regarding the Ring. It was not until the introduction of the Black Riders (who in the first draft written was actually Gandalf surprising the four journeying hobbits) and Gollum's back story did the story take on more of its more familiar, canonized versions. The first phase stopped when Tolkien got to Rivendell.
The second phase is Tolkien rewriting and redrafting the material and even the introduction of a new chapter. It is basically Tolkien going back to the earlier material and incorporating all the different changes that had came long.
The third phase is Tolkien reordering the rather chaotic body of manuscripts that had accumulated into a fair working copy. At one point during this phrase Tolkien even considered abandoning the work already completed and making Bilbo the main character again.
There are also various fascimile productions of a map of the lands south of Wilderland in THE Hobbit, a colour reproduction of The Shire, inscriptison, a plan of how Bree is laid out, and some photos of manuscripts. The work in this book was all written between 1937 to the end of 1939, in Christopher Tolkien's estimation.
That is a pretty fair assesment of what's actually in the book. Now, should you purchase this? That depends on a couple of quantifying factors.
First, this, and the subsequent three volumes in THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH are indepth studies of how Tolkien developed his masterpiece. They are previously unpublished drafts, outlines, and thoughts. Literally reading these books is like you are looking over Tolkien's shoulder as he is writing. There are quite a few fascinating tidbits, like encountering Aragon as he was originally envisoned (a hobbit named Trotter with wooden shoes. A vestiage of Trotter survived in the final work when Aragorn named his house Tel which means Trotter in).
Like the rest of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW is not EASY reading, but if you are interested in either Tolkien or the creative process in general or (better yet) both, then this is a great purchase and fascinating book overall.
Ultimately, the four volumes of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH (6, 7, 8, and 9) that deal with THE LORD OF THE RINGS are the most generally accessible for more casual fans. If you like these and UNFINISHED TALES, then I would recommend picking up the other books in the series.
on 31 May 2001
I knew that I had hit upon something special when I first read 'The Lord of the Rings'. 'The Return of the Shadow' allows the reader to explore the background to Tolkien's writing and the development of his epic, and it makes fascinating reading. To see how the charcters of Frodo, Sam and most notably, Strider unfold, helps one appreciate the labour that went into Tolkien's masterpiece. The false starts and revisions enable the reader to see how the story might have progressed were it not for the authors care in delivering a story that both follows on from 'The Hobbit' but also builds a more complete story which ties in with his privately developing 'Silmarillion', covering the earlier times in middle earth. Christopher Tolkien, as editor and recipient of many letters during the writng of LOTR has researched his father's work expertly. It is necessary to continue with the other volumes of the 'History of Middle Earth' series, but it is rewarding and well worth the effort. This book is a fascinating insight into the development of the greatest book of the 20th century (allegedly), and why it took nearly 2 decades to complete.
on 30 January 2011
The books in the Making of the Lord of the Rings series, are for die hard fans of the trilogy and of J R R Tolkien. They are for you if you need to go beyond the story and want to know how where it came from and how it all came together. The level of detail in this book is amazing. It charts the changing versions of each chapter- who knew the first chapter in the Fellowship of the Ring (A Long Expected Party) was written so many times with Tolkien changing his mind constantly about Bilbo's age and the names of all his relatives?!
Only a true blue fan would appreciate this, for anyone else the detail is too intense.
Buy this book if you would like to study the history of the Lord of the Rings, and are interested in the thought processes of the author, if you have the tenacity and the passion to read and re-read each chapter as the various drafts finally come together in the version you end up reading in the published format.
on 4 June 2001
I read tjhe Lord of the rings the first time almost 15 years ago, and since then I have read it over and over again. But there was always the question : "How did he write it ?" Christopher Tolkien gives a perfect explanation about how his father starts writing the Lord of the Rings - You can read a lot of different versions of the farewell party for Bilbo - seeing how the story evolves and how the names were invented and choosen. So for a real fan who wants to know how hard it is to write a book - to write this book - its a pleasure to walk with Tolkien on his journey from the Shire to Bree and Rivendell ...and the road goes ever on and on.