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A glimpse into Tolkiens mind.
on 8 November 2001
The Lost Road is the 5th volume of Christopher Tolkiens 12-volume "History of Middle-Earth". It contains the works of J.R.R. Tolkien immediately before starting "The Lord of the Rings". It is edited carefully by his son Christopher, who uses all his knowledge of editing ancient texts (he edited several in his working life as an Oxford scholar) in working with his father's pseudo-ancient text.
The present volume contains a relatively finished version of Tolkien's mythology of the Elder Days, mainly in annalistic form or as comparatively short resumes of the mythology. These are interesting enough in their own right as the give an overview of the very complex mythology at the end of the 1930'ies.
But the part that makes the book valuable even to the less scholarly interested Tolkien-fans is the title-story "The Lost Road". There's not much of it; only four short chapters, but they show the beginning of what might have been another Tolkien-novel.
It is linked thematically with the initial story, a short telling of the fall of Númenor. This is the first version of Tolkiens Atlantis-legend, familiar to readers of the Silmarillion. The story of the greatness and fall of the Númenorean empire ends with the changing of the world. The formerly flat world becomes rounded and the blessed realm of the Valar is placed outside the sphere of Arda, the Earth.
This is the background for the unfinished story of "The Lost Road" which basically is about the longing for a road back to the earthly paradise, the blessed realm, which is beyond the reach of mortal humans. The characters are a father and a son, both with a remarkable likeness to Tolkien himself. Through linguistic and historical riddles we get a dreamlike travel to other times and places. Or rather we get the beginning of such travels, for the fragment ends to soon for the plot to develop.
The fascinating element is not only how the story could have developed, but also the insight it gives into the workings of Tolkiens mind. The key elements in the characters travels backwards and beyond the present-day realities are philology and a vision of images. There can be little doubt that Tolkien's stories were written the same way.
This is the main reason that I would give the book five stars, even though it certainly does not live up standard novelistic criteria. The central concepts of philology and imagination are relevant for all who wish to understand Tolkien's work, including of course "The Lord of the Rings".