on 26 October 2012
The Peoples of Middle-earth, the final volume in the twelve volume series THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, brings Christopher Tolkien's exhaustive exhumation of his father's corpus of unpublished rights to a close*. This book, like the preceeding eleven volumes, are highly detailed, filled with editorial commemtary, and not always the easiest of reading, especially for casual Tolkien fans.
In this volume there are several points of interest. When Tolkien said he could have had a fourth volume in LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN dedicated to the Appendices, this book proves him correct. This volume contains extra material on all of the various appendices, including "The Prolgoue, The Appendix on Languages, The Gamly Trees, The Callendears, The History of the Akallabeth, Th Tale of Years of the Second Age, Th Heirs of Elendi, The Tale of Years of the Third Age, and "The Making of Appendix A". Even when Tolkien was in the middle of composing THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the late 1930s and 1940s he actually did quite a bit of work on THE PROLOGUE.
Part II contains Of Dwarves and Men, The Shibboleth of Fëanor, The Problem of Ros, and Fglorfindel, along with segments of two different unpublished essays regarding Dwarven afterlife. The Shibboleth of Fëanor, written in either 1968 or later, deals with The Nolder's transition from þ to S in their language. Fëanor resisted this change due to the death of his late mother and resentment of his father's second wife. There is also information regarding Galadriel in this unfinished essay, detailing her relation with Fëanor and how she refused to accept the pardon of the Valar as the First Age drew to a close. In "The Problem of Ros" Tolkien seeks to explain how the ending suffix "Ros" developed in the Elven languages. "Of Dwarves and Men" details the two races' relationships to each other. Much of the history found in this work cannot be found elsewhere. The work is divided into three sections: I - Relations of the Longbeard Dwarves and Men, II - The Atani and their Langues - III - The Drueedain (Pukel Men), and then a fourth, untitled section that deals with what Faramir meant when in THE LORD OF THE RINGS when he was discussing the Men of Darkness, the High Men, and the Middle men.
Part III features two works from the 1950s - Of Lembas and Dangweth Pengoloð. Dangwerth Pengoloð deals with the linguist nature of the Elven tribes and is a meditation on language. Of Lembas deals with how Lembas is made, where it is grown. Originally Yavanna send Lembas with the Elves on their journey, and the Elves learned to make it themselves from a special type of corn. Only certain Elven women (these were called Yavannah maidens) were allowed to make the Lembas.
Part IV contains what is among the most interesting of Tolkien's unfinished projects - THE NEW SHADOW (a SEQUEL!!! to THE LORD OF THE RINGS) and TAL-ELMAR. THE NEW SHADOW opens after Aragon has died and a secret cult has shown up where boys are playing at being Orcs. Tolkien said he could have written about the discovery and overthrow of this cult but it would have been just a thriller and not worth doing. TAL-ELMAR deals with the Western men arriving in Numenor from the point of view of the Wild Men, and is unique in Tolkien's writings for viewing Numernor through the Wild Men's eyes.
The most valuable thing about the book is all the extra information we get regarding the Appendices and The Prologue, and finally given the chance to read Tolkien's aborted sequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE NEW SHADOW. Overall, a fitting swan song to Tolkien and a quite suitable ending to THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH. However, looking at the series, THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT (published in 2007 by John Ratcliffe with Christopher's blessing) always struck me as quite the strange omission from the series.
*Although there were still miscellaneous pieces, and still are in fact, that are unpublished, like the 1924 story THE OROGAG, the 1940s SELLIC SPELL, the prose translation of BEOWULF, and numerous poetry including the BIMBLE BAY texts, and an estimated three thousand pages of linguistic material.