J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth weren't restricted just to fantasy epic "Lord of the Rings." His life's work was spread over hundreds of stories and invented legends -- some were compiled into "The Silmarillion."
But some were left over -- yes, there were even more stories that didn't make the cut. These little odd bits make up "Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth." The stories are not as interconnected as the Silmarillion was, but they are a solid and enjoyable read.
Tolkien presents stories spanning Middle-Earth's history, with dragons and mythical heroes like Turin, background information on Elf queen Galadriel and her husband Celeborn, and different accounts of searches for the One Ring, including more exposition about the wizard-turned-bad Saruman and the other Istari.
There are also essays about palantiri, wizards, and the family line of Elrond's mortal brother Elros. Best among these is a "lost chapter" where Gandalf talks to Frodo about the Dwarves, which wouldn't have quite fit into the final novel, but is a good read anyway.
This isn't a novel, or even a sort of pseudo-history like "Silmarillion." It's more like a patchwork quilt of little odd bits that don't belong anywhere else. Anybody who hasn't read "Silmarillion," "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" will be hopelessly lost. But those who have read and understood those books will eat these right up -- there's plenty of info about favorite characters like Gandalf, Galadriel, and the heroes and villains from Tolkien's sprawling epics.
Tolkien's vivid writing is shown in its different states here -- there's the stately semi-mythic writing, and the more intimate conversational style of "Lord of the Rings." He even dabbles briefly in first-person storytelling through the eyes of Frodo Baggins -- something which, obviously, didn't take. Lots of details and ethereally evocative descriptions make it all come alive.
"Unfinished Tales" is a fill-in-the-gaps sort of book, and Tolkien's storytelling genius still shines through in this disjointed collection of essays, bits and pieces. For those hungering for more Middle-Earth.
on 7 June 2006
As other reviewers have made clear, this is most assuredly not a book for Tolkien neophytes. Therefore I shall assume the prospective buyer has a basic knowledge of the Middle Earth saga.
Unfinished Tales is indeed "the one truly essential set of supplementary/outtake material", and Tolkien scholars are strongly advised to pick this up as soon as they finish reading The Silmarillion. For two reasons:
1. "The Sil" is hard work - its presentational style, half-Bible/half-history-textbook, renders it inaccessible to a lot of people. But if you manage to finish it you can reward yourself with Unfinished Tales, which deepens your enjoyment of "the Sil" by providing more detailed (more gripping, more compulsively re-readable!) accounts of the same events, even though they are fragmentary and at-variance-with-other-writings.
The first section of the book begins with the expanded account of Tuor's early life and his mission to Gondolin which, for some, is the greatest of all Tolkien's obscure writings. But the piece that follows it, "Narn i hin Hurin" (tale of the children of Hurin), is certainly another candidate for the title - an extensive recounting of the disaster-ridden lives of Turin and Nienor. Even with a large section of the story (including the whole of Turin's sojourn in Nargothrond) missing, it winds up being the most emotionally draining thing Tolkien ever wrote.
The third section gives a more detailed background to the events at the end of the Third Age (i.e The Lord Of The Rings). There are accounts of "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields" and of the past tribulations of Rohan, and its special relationship with Gondor. There is Gandalf's perspective on the background to "The Quest of Erebor" (i.e The Hobbit), and, perhaps of most interest, Saruman's "Hunt for the Ring", or how lucky Frodo and Sam were even to get out of Hobbiton and begin their quest.
The fourth section contains almost all the existing data on the origin of the Palantiri, the histories of the Druedain (aka the woses) and the Istari (aka the wizards).
And what of the second section? Well, for one thing, it collects assorted writings on the subject of Galadriel and Celeborn - Tolkien's view of them continually shifting, a congruent history never quite emerging, even though he fills in a few gaps in the history of the Third Age in the process. The second section also fleshes out the history of the island of Numenor. Which brings us to...
2. Most of these posthumously published "archaelogical" volumes contain at least one "revelation" - a complete one-off in amongst all the spot-the-difference first and second drafts. And in this instance it's the the tale of "Aldarion and Erendis". It interrupts a capsule history of Numenor (a description of the island and a brief history of its ruling dynasty), shifting the focus from affairs of state to affairs of the heart, specifically the doomed romance between the sixth king of Numenor and a woman from the lower classes (so to speak: her shorter life-expectancy becomes an issue here). Where to begin describing this great tale? Well, if I may step out of character and oversimplify, Aldarion and Erendis began like Tristan and Isolde and ended like Charles and Diana. Which means two things become apparent here: Tolkien's flair for romance and his deficient social politics. In the end, whether Tolkien intended this or not, it works as a parable against arranged marriages.
Summary: Unfinished, but definitely not Unnecessary.
on 8 January 2001
" Unfinished stories " is a collection of stories about Middle-earth that were never published before, and can not be found (in this version) in "The history of middle earth". They are brought together, edited and commented by Tolkiens' son Christopher. It must be said however that it assumes a rather good knowledge of the Lord of the rings and the Silmarillion. Most of the stories are (like the title implies) not completed. But for anyone who loves Tolkiens stories this can't be a obstacle, because it contains very enlarged versions of stories from the silmarillion, and even a fragment from LOTR that was left out of the book. Together with some other short essays and even a long love story this makes an unmissable item to the collection of every Tolkien - fan. If you don't really know Tolkien you should better start with reading his other books.
on 7 May 2002
As mentioned in other reviews of this book, don't expect a fantastic awe-inspiring narrarive from this one. Unfinished Tales simply fills in the gaps and elaborates on aspects of Middle Earth for those who wish to examine the addictive world that Tolkein created. Nevertheless, the book is still a fine piece of work and superbly edited/amended by Tolkein's son, Christopher. Many elements are covered in this book, from the adventures of Elves and Men of the First Age to the events that occured after those that transpired in the Lord of the Rings. It explores in depth many of the unknown characters who are important to understanding the history of Middle Earth, and also goes into tales concerning some now well-established characters (e.g. Elrond, Gandalf, Sauron and Galadriel).
I would reccomend this book to anyone who enjoys the world that Tolkien created and wishes to gain a better understanding of the characters and events that surround the epic War of the Ring. My only warning is to be prepared for many appendicies, footnotes and indexes that. Their inclusion is often with the intention of providing a clearer picture, but often have the opposite effect and you end up more confused than ever. But, then again, trying to solve the mysteries of Middle Earth adds to the enjoyment even more.
After reading the Silmarilion I was eager to start reading this one straight away, mainly because many of the tales were based around the second age Including a more detailed look at the happenings of Numeanor and of its importance, which was only slightly touched on in the Lord of the rings and gives you the big picture of just how important Numeanor was to the men of middle earth.
However after reading the first few stories I was amazed with how much detail had gone into some of the tales that were written as part of the Silmarilion, one of the big flaws of the Silmarilion was that it virtually breezed through the happenings in the first and second ages of middle earth but here you have a greater look into certain stories of the Silmarilion, giving you a much wider view and understanding, which was much apreciated as at times the silmarilion was tough to follow due to its amplified form in which it was written.
About half way through reading this book I realised that if I hadnt read the Silmarilion just how out of place much of what is written here in the Unfinished tales would have been, as they are so many references made to the Silmarilion, and my assumption is that you must read the silmarilion before attempting this, as now that I have read both books so much as now fallen into place.
Some of the later chapters are much more easier to follow for those that are new to the Tolkiens history of middle earth, mainly due to the fact that they bring together the Hobbit and the Lord of the rings, and explains so much about how the two tales are intertwined and why. Also you have in the later chapters about the coming of Gandalf and Saruman and why they set foot on middle earth and the theories of where they came from, this more than anything else makes for compelling reading, as Chris Tolkien who edited the book, gives you alternative versions of certain events and why they might have changed over time, as he delves deep into his fathers endless writings, essays and letters, telling you his own theories to why his father has written tales that have been altered over time.
All in all the Unfinished tales does make for good reading particularly for those who have read the Silmarilion before this as it widens the scope of just how widespread the imagination of JRR Tolkien really was.
on 13 January 2002
So what is there to say about this book. If you have just read or watched LotR and are scouring for something to read, this is not the best place to start. If you have read, LotR, the Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, go to this book before embarking on Christopher Tolkien's 10 part series. This is quite dryly written, rather like an old fashioned narrative history, but for those who thirst for information regarding Middle Earth, this contains a plethora of information and answers many questions that are left unanswered by the other 3 books. Want to know who exactly Gandalf is? Where he came from? How much power he actually has? Want to know more about Isildur and his taking or the Ring? Want to know how biased the Hobbit really was in favour of Bilbo, and what the dwarves really thought of him? This book tells all.
For those of you who just see the Lord of the Rings as a nice story and don't care about the subtle nuances of the tale, don't bother reading this, you'll just be let down. But for those of you who wonder how on Earth Tolkien created a whole world complete with peoples languages and god knows what else, please read this. You're life will be empty without it
on 6 February 2003
'Unfinished Tales', as the title aptly suggests, is a collection of Tolkien's 'expanded' Middle Earth stories (mostly longer versions of tales from the Silmarillion, but there are plenty of revealing LOTR moments featuring old faves Gandalf, Elrond, The Nazgul, Balrogs et al) edited into a single volume by the authors son, Christopher Tolkien. Unlike 'The Silmarillion'(which is universally recognised as a vital part of Tolkien's literary masterwork, but takes some effort to wade through the complexities of names, places, ages and references included in the earlier volume), 'Unfinished Tales' is suprisingly straightforward, by comparison; The style of writing is, for the most part, comparable to the tone of ROTK, including many (not to be missed) moments of classic Tolkien humour, some bitter-sweet obervations on the human condition with regard to affairs of the heart and the spirit, and last but not least - lashings of swashbuckling adventure. There is of course plenty of background detail and Tolkiens trademark descriptive passages read wonderfully well. There are two maps included with my edition, produced to a very high standard.
Highly Recommended, essential reading for the JRRT enthusiast - but do read the other works first.
on 8 January 2012
Did you read the Hobbit, love it and then storm through the Lord of the Rings? Then, coming to The Silmarillion, you were stumped, but upset, because you wanted more Middle-earth. The language was tricky, there were too many characters each with too many names and it was all too much!
This is the book for you, a perfect bridge between the The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The stories feature characters you may know, places you have been before (in Middle-earth) and legends you have heard of but not had fully explained. The language is of the same level as The Lord of the Rings and not as bad as The Silmarillion. Trust me, when you have read this, you'll know how to read The Silmarillion!
Upon his death in 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien left behind a vast collection of writings about Middle-earth. His third son and literary executor, Christopher, assembled some of these into The Silmarillion, published in 1977, but the question about what to do with the other reams of material was unclear. Aware that fans of Middle-earth would be eager for more material, even unfinished or existing only in rough drafts, he assembled Unfinished Tales and published it in 1980. Its success inspired him to proceed with the far more ambitious, twelve-volume History of Middle-earth project.
Unfinished Tales occupies an awkward place in the Tolkien canon. Unlike the History series, which consists of almost exclusively non-canon material (early drafts and rough notes of material that was eventually finalised and published), the material in Unfinished Tales was specifically written by Tolkien to flesh out other parts of his mythos that were not explored in the books themselves. In particular, the writings include a series of essays which were designed to answer a wide number of issues brought up by readers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in correspondence. Some of these essays were written very late in Tolkien's life and represent his last - and often only - word on subjects such as the origins of Gandalf and his fellow wizards, the backstory of Galadriel and the history of Numenor during the Second Age. As a result some fans hold Unfinished Tales to be the fourth Middle-earth book, only marginally less important than The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Others choose to disregard it as anything more than a curiosity, since as Christopher Tolkien himself notes it's unlikely J.R.R. would have permitted even the completed writings in the book to be published without more polish.
Unlike The Silmarillion, which was presented as a single narrative, Unfinished Tales is a collection of stories and fragments intermingled with Christopher Tolkien's editorial notes. These are kept to a minimum in some of the stories and essays, but in others are much more prevalent (something he apologises for, but regards as necessary in the case of works where his father was working on several drafts simultaneously, risking confusion to the reader). Christopher's notes are fascinating, well-written with a clear eye for detail and minimising confusion. He assumes the reader is already familiar with the Middle-earth mythos (since they're unlikely to be reading this book otherwise) and is able to delve into various topics in depth. Whilst he clearly loves and respects his father immensely, it is also amusing to detect the vague frustrations that creep into his notes, most notably when trying to fathom why Tolkien abandoned particular narratives at key points (feelings the reader may share as the book unfolds).
The first story is 'Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin'. The story of Tuor's arrival in Gondolin and the events leading to the fall of that city in the War of the Jewels was the first story Tolkien ever wrote set in Middle-earth, and is still one of his most memorable narratives. However, the version in Unfinished Tales was written much later, in 1951 (the much more complete original can be found in The History series), featuring a more conventional prose style than the archaic original. It's stirring, epic stuff, featuring some great imagery as Tuor is confronted by the Vala Ulmo, Lord of Waters, and has a great destiny laid before him. The story proceeds with power and momentum until it abruptly halts just as Tuor reaches Gondolin itself. Even with the earlier version available and a much more compressed account of events readable in The Silmarillion, this is still a frustrating moment.
The second story is 'The Tale of the Children of Hurin', a much longer story (almost a hundred pages, taking up a quarter of the book) featuring the adventures of the doomed, tragic Turin. Unlike the story of Tuor, this tale is more or less complete, though somewhat complex due to competing drafts and different versions existing. Many years later Christopher used this material (along with some other, later unearthed manuscripts) to form the basis of The Children of Hurin, so if you already have that book be aware that you will find much of this material familiar. But still, it's a powerful story, the darkest thing Tolkien wrote set in Middle-earth, featuring lust, incest (though unwitting), war and the 'hero' bringing death and ruin to all those around him.
The next section of the book moves into the Second Age of Middle-earth, which Tolkien left somewhat vague and under-developed compared to the First Age (covered in The Silmarillion) and the Third (the setting for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings). We start off with 'A Description of the Island of Numenor'. For fans of worldbuilding, Tolkien's description of the island empire and the accompanying map will be fascinating. However, it's the following story, 'Aldarion and Erendis', which is more intriguing. It depicts the marriage of the noble lady Erendis to Aldarion, later King of Numenor, and touches on larger aspects (such as Aldarion's re-opening of relations between Numenor and the elves of Middle-earth), but for the most part it's a strong character piece. For those who claim Tolkien is overly-romantic, this account of a failing relationship due to outside pressures (Aldarion's lengthy absences from home) is surprisingly realistic. The story breaks off towards the end, although this is more of a relationship study than a tense narrative, so is less grievous a loss than some of the other texts in the book.
Tolkien follows this up with an account of the Kings of Numenor and the major events of their reigns. This is again primarily of interest to worldbuilders, but Tolkien manages to put in some great details and elements that could have been mined to produce further stories, but sadly it was not to be. This is then succeeded by an account of the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, something that Lord of the Rings fans will be more interested in, but frustratingly is also the most 'unfinished' of all the works in the book. Tolkien conceived of several competing, but radically different possibilities for the couple's backstory and reached no firm conclusions before his death, leaving several versions which are mutually contradictory. Christopher Tolkien suggests appreciating these contradictions as part of the literary effect of having a fictional history and mythology, which may be the best approach. Even in their differences, these versions reveal more fascinating information on Sauron's activities in the Second Age and characters briefly mentioned in Lord of the Rings, such as Celebrimbor, Nimrodel and Amroth.
The final sections of the book deals with the Third Age and consists mainly of finished essays and narratives, though in some cases with competing drafts which the editor takes pains to clarify. This section begins with an account of the Battle of the Gladden Fields (the engagement where Isildur lost the Ring), here revealed to be a much larger conflict than the brief skirmish suggested by Lord of the Rings and depicted as such in the films (by necessity, since Peter Jackson did not have the film rights to Unfinished Tales he could not use the account of the conflict here). He follows this up with the history of the Rohirrim, the development of the relationship between the Rohirrim and people of Gondor, and the founding of Rohan itself, again depicting worldbuilding information through a story (here the friendship of King Cirion of Gondor and Eorl, founder of Rohan).
This is followed by sections fleshing out The Lord of the Rings. 'The Quest of Erebor' explains how Gandalf came to join forces with Thorin and the dwarves and how he convinced them to recruit Bilbo Baggins to join their quest. This was actually a chapter from The Lord of the Rings, written as part of Tolkien's attempts to better-connect The Hobbit and the later work, but was wisely exorcised for killing the pace of the novel (it was supposed to be a discussion between Gandalf and Frodo between the victory over Sauron and the Scouring of the Shire, where it would have been ill-suited). However, as a stand-alone narrative it's a valuable - and enjoyable - asset in clarifying the relationship between the two books. This is followed up by 'The Hunt for the Ring', a detailed account of how the Ringwraiths set out in search of the Ring after losing track of Gollum (who had been captured by Aragorn). Though rather brief, this short piece does feature a memorable confrontation between Saruman and the Witch-King of Angmar. Rounding off this section is 'The Battles of the Fords of Isen', revealing in detail the battles fought by Rohan against Isengard on the Isen (alluded to but unseen in The Lord of the Rings). Again, it's not essential but does help flesh out a side-element of The Lord of the Rings.
Rounding off the book are three complete essays on three separate topics. The first expands on the Druedain or Woses, the wood-men who help the Rohirrim bypass Sauron's armies to reach the Pelennor Fields. Tolkien reveals in this essay that he was considering giving the Druedain a much bigger role in the backstory of Middle-earth, and even have them playing a role in The Silmarillion, but passed away before this idea could be fully fleshed-out. The second discusses the Istari, or the order of wizards that Gandalf, Radagast and Saruman belong to. We learn the names of the other two wizards who vanished into the east (Alatar and Pallando) and some interesting backstory emerges here. The third and final essay delves into the Palantiri, the magical seeing-stones which play a major role in The Lord of the Rings. This is atypical Tolkien, since normally he preferred to leave the magical elements of his world vague and mysterious, but here he delves into the capabilities of each palantir with the kind of magic system-building enthusiasm we now see with writers such as Brandon Sanderson.
Unfinished Tales (*****) is a fascinating book, representing a collection of writings by the most influential fantasist of all time extending over thirty years. Many of the individual stories and essays are excellent, certainly all are interesting and the only complaint that can be made is that several break off with no resolution. But then the book does tell you that on the cover, so it's hard to hold that against it. Unfinished Tales is available now, in numerous editions, in the UK and USA.
on 13 May 2014
I really did try! I love the classic books, but this was a step too far. That's not to say that you can't find some interesting stuff here. You have to dig though. Approach with extreme caution because this could end up spoiling your enjoyment of the classic stories because of overexposure. Saying that, I enjoyed seeing parts of stories from an alternate view. I had to read some dull things to find the good stuff - be weary!