5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and varied collection, but should have been revised rather than just re-issued,
This review is from: Unfinished Tales: (Hardcover)
"Unfinished Tales" now represents something of a publishing problem, since the centrepiece of the book, the broken sequence of fragments and drafts from the projected 'great tale' of the children of Húrin (told only in abbreviated form in "The Silmarillion"), has now been superseded by a separate book, "The Children of Húrin" (see The Children of Húrin). With new manuscript discoveries and a reconsideration of the relationship between the fragments it was possible to form a complete narrative, and one which differs in many details from that in "Unfinished Tales". The rest of the book contains much that is fascinating, but it is just too thin in quality, or too 'technical', to sustain the book on its own. There is only one piece that matches 'The Children of Húrin' in stature, and that is the shorter fragment 'Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin', being what survives of a final, mature attempt to tell this story in a full form - another of the three 'great tales' Tolkien planned to produce. (As a narrative it is perhaps rather static, but for me it is the most haunting work in the book.)
For a new reader it could hardly be recommended to ignore the new work and just read 'The Children of Húrin' in its 'Unfinished Tales' form (the cat's out of the bag). But the other material in the book still needs to be preserved, and shown off to best advantage, as it was originally by association with the two fragmentary 'great tales'. Perhaps there is more high quality material that could be rescued from the massive "History of Middle Earth" and promoted to "Unfinished Tales"? After all, this book is by default a kind of highlights volume.
Or maybe there IS still a place for a REVISED version of the more technical style of presentation of 'The Children of Húrin' used in "Unfinished Tales", to complement the new book - with the new fragments added, as well as the new ideas for how they fit together. Certainly it's hard to imagine the book without this work at its heart. (And I must say that on balance I prefer the more 'honest' "Unfinished Tales" mode. Maybe because that's how I first read it! But the new book's illusion of a finished work sometimes clashes with passages that lack final polish.)
A new edition would also be handy for some of the technical pieces in the book. The 'Hunt for the Ring' chapter, in particular, seems to need heavy revision in the light of new discoveries.