This book is hard going. Compare the writing here with Tolkien's masterpiece "The Lord of the Rings" or with his wonderfully accessible "The Hobbit" and you will be very disappointed. This is not surprising as this is not a book Tolkien published. Instead, as detailed in the preface, the book has been brought together from Tolkiens noted with a minimum of editorial input, rewriting etc. long after the author's death. This hands off approach was clearly adopted after the complaints over the editorial input into the tales of the equally impenetrable "Silmarillion". But the problem here is that whilst the tale is clearly Tolkien's, it is not at all clear that this was a tale he would ever have published in this form - and had he done so, it would not have read like this.
Tolkien fans will care not a wit though. This is still a wonderfully imagined tale based on some folk literature that the author acknowledges. It reads like an epic tragedy - and that is exactly what it is, but set in the mythology that Tolkien was creating for his Middle Earth.
Set 6,500 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, this book provides some wonderful insights and background material - and it is an essential book for Tolkien completists.
But that will be the only group who should read this. It is not an entry point into the Lord of the Rings. It is not the book you would buy first - it is the one you would buy last after reading the others.
read as a standalone story I feel it is stilted, unpolished, long and pondering on places and not by any means the best example of Tolkien's work. Still, for its imagination, background material, and the very different character of story which - being based on actual mythologies from several cultures - is intellectually stimulating, I feel I can in good conscience give it three stars.
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