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The Return of the Shadow (The History of Middle-earth, Book 6) Paperback – 4 Feb 2002
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In this sixth volume of "The History of Middle-Earth", Bilbo's "magic ring" becomes evolved into the dangerous Ruling Ring of the Dark Lord and a Black Rider first rides into the Shire. The book comes complete with reproductions of the first maps and facsimile pages from the earliest manuscripts.
From the Back Cover
'The Return of the Shadow' is the first part of the history of the creation of 'The Lord of the Rings', a fascinating study of Tolkien's great masterpiece, from its inception to the end of the first volume, 'The Fellowship of the Ring'.
In 'The Return of the Shadow' (the abandoned title of the first volume of 'The Lord of the Rings') we see how Bilbo's 'magic' ring evolved into the supremely dangerous Ruling Ring of the Dark Lord; and the precise, and astonishingly unforeseen, moment when a Black Rider first rode into the Shire. The character of the hobbit called Trotter (afterwards Strider or Aragorn) is developed, though his true identity seems to be an insoluble problem. Frodo's companions undergo many changes of name and personality; and other major figures appear in unfamiliar guises: a sinister Treebeard, in league with the Enemy, and a ferocious, malevolent Farmer Maggot.
This book comes complete with reproductions of the first maps and facsimile pages from the earlier manuscripts.
”The pure imaginative power of J.R.R.Tolkien shines through…an excellent example of the creative imagination at work.”
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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.
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.