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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 28 February 2003
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.
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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
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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.
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on 6 February 2002
Unlike the Silmarillion, this book is just a collection of notes by Tolkien - as suggested by his son, those who are expecting another story akin to LOTR should look elsewhere.
Just as others have said, if you have ever wanted to know more about what was behind the thinking of LOTR, then this is what you need. Gandalf, why he 'organised' the journey in the Hobbit, characters from the Silmarillion, etc. Tolkien's imagination is laid out before you...
As Morpheus says in the Matrix...
"You stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes..."
I enjoyed it. Fantastic!
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on 28 March 2012
"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.
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on 10 February 2007
Best included as an element in a complete read of all Tolkien's Middle-earth writings but if nothing else is worth the money simply for the tale of 'The Faithful Stone' which is perhaps the lovliest and most moving piece JRRT ever wrote.
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