Literature: The History of Middle-earth aka: The Book Of Lost Tales
J. R. R. Tolkien was subject to Attention Deficit Creator Disorder and perfectionism, with the result that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are rare among his works in that he actually finished them — though even then continually making notes for revised second editions. The vast majority of his works were in a disorganised array of disparate parts written across more than 50 years when he died in 1973. His son Christopher Tolkien put together the published version of The Silmarillion in 1977 using some of these parts, but later decided to present more of the source materials as he found it — with commentary — to demonstrate how the conception of Middle-earth had evolved across the years.The result was The History of Middle-earth, 12 volumes covering the evolution of Tolkien's legendarium from 1914 to 1973. The content ranges from earlier forms of the Silmarillion legends and early drafts of The Lord of the Rings, to otherwise unknown narrative texts (some more complete, some less), to essays about the history of the world Arda, its cultures, languages, cosmology, theology, and more. Along the way, we are also introduced to previously unknown and interesting offshoots of the legendarium, such as Eriol the Mariner of The Book of Lost Tales, Alboin and Audoin of The Lost Road, the cast of "The Notion Club Papers" and many more.Volumes I and II of The History of Middle-earth are also known as The Book of Lost Tales. These were initially published on their own, and only after the conception of The History of Middle-earth were they were re-published as the first two instalments of that series.Not for the faint-hearted by any means, but a must for anyone who wants to really understand Middle-earth inside and out.A precursor to the series is Unfinished Tales, published 1980, which is edited and presented in the same style but is arranged according to in-universe chronology, unlike The History proper.The volumes of this work are:
Volume I: The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, published 1983
Volume II: The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, published 1984
Volume III: The Lays of Beleriand, published 1985
Volume IV: The Shaping of Middle-earth, published 1986
Volume V: The Lost Road and Other Writings, published 1987
Volume VI: The Return of the Shadow, published 1988 (also published as History of the Lord of the Rings, volume 1)
Volume VII: The Treason of Isengard, published 1989 (also published as History of the Lord of the Rings, volume 2)
Volume VIII: The War of the Ring, published 1990 (also published as History of the Lord of the Rings, volume 3)
Volume IX: Sauron Defeated, published 1992 (The "End of the Third Age" section is also published as History of the Lord of the Rings, volume 4)
Volume X: Morgoth's Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One, published 1993
Volume XI: The War of the Jewels: The Later Silmarillion, Part Two, published 1994
Volume XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth, published 1996 (including the history of the Lord of the Rings appendices)
Action Girl: Idril Celebrindal fights in the Lost Tales account of Gondolin's fall.
All Myths Are True: In particular with The Book of Lost Tales and still to a lesser extent later. As Tolkien's friend C. S. Lewis would go on to do with Narnia, the works reconcile the idea of pagan gods with Christian theology, and include stories based on those from Norse Mythology. The short explanation is that the gods are actually angelic beings delegated by God to build and maintain the world, and to oppose Satan.
Animal Jingoism: The original "Tale of Tinúviel" is a mythological origin for Cats vs. Dogs — in that version, Huan fights great cats rather than wolves (except for Karkaras/Carcharoth).
Astral Projection: Used as a means of space travel by Arundel Lowdham in The Notion Club Papers. The story is partly written as a commentary on and criticism of Tolkien's friend C. S. Lewis' The Space Trilogy novels, and Tolkien - who disliked the idea of spaceships - was using this to suggest an alternative for how such an adventure could take place.
Badass Creed: The Oath of Fëanor, as expressed in The Lays of Beleriand:
Be he foe or friend, be he foul or clean
Brood of Morgoth or bright Vala,
Elda or Maia or Aftercomer,
Man yet unborn upon Middle-Earth,
Neither law, nor love, nor league of swords,
Dread nor danger, not Doom itself
Shall defend him from Fëanáro, and Fëanáro’s kin,
Whoso hideth or hoardeth, or in hand taketh,
Finding keepeth or afar casteth
A Silmaril. This swear we all…
Death we will deal him ere Day’s ending,
Woe unto world’s end! Our word hear thou,
Eru Allfather! To the everlasting
Darkness doom us if our deed faileth…
On the holy mountain hear in witness
and our vow remember,
Manwë and Varda!
Canis Major: Huan and Karkaras Knife-fang (the later Carcharoth) are HUGE.
Cats Are Mean: Actually mythologically justified in the Lost Tales:
Indeed afterward Melko heard all and he cursed Tevildo and his folk and banished them, nor have they since that day had lord or master or any friend, and their voices wail and screech for their hearts are very lonely and bitter and full of loss, yet there is only darkness within and no kindliness.
Composite Character: Sauron grew from a combination of three characters from the Lost Tales - he has the name of the wizard Tu (Tu -> Thu -> Thaur -> Thauron -> Sauron), the position of Fankil/Fangli (The Dragon to Melko), and the narrative role of Tevildo Prince of Cats in "The Tale of Tinuviel."
Finwë. Originally, when Fëanor was not his son, he did not die in Valinor, and led the Noldoli (Noldor) at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. When this was changed so he died early on, Tolkien split his roles between different descendants — hence why so many characters in The Silmarillion have Fin- names, such as Fingolfin and Fingon.
Herendil was Elendil's only son in The Lost Road. The Lord of the Rings gave Elendil two sons, Isildur and Anárion; Herendil seems most like Isildur, with a fiery and somewhat rebellious spirit and a fascination with Sur (Sauron).
King Finrod Felagund and Celegorm, his nemesis in The Silmarillion, originated as a single character with very mixed motivations concerning the Quest of the Silmaril. He swore the Oath of Fëanor and the oath to aid Barahir's family.
Demoted to Extra: Those familiar with The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings will recognise throwaway names in those works who originally had much greater roles. For example, Rúmil is mentioned as a creator of alphabets in those books, but is an important character in The Book of Lost Tales.
Elves VS Dwarves: The Lost Tales present the origins of the conflict, as in The Silmarillion, but the Dwarves are presented as another evil race comparable to Orcs (the influence of Norse Mythology being obvious). It wouldn't be until The Hobbit (originally not part of Middle-Earth at all) that they got to be sympathetic characters — and indeed given the Wood-elves of that book were essentially a recycled version of Tinwelint's folk from the Lost Tales, it can even be considered a Perspective Flip.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: In "The Shibboleth of Fëanor," Fëanor came to think that the shift from using "þ" (in modern letters, "th") to "s" in Quenya was a conspiracy against himself and his mother. "Míriel þerindë" became "Míriel Serindë." Fëanor told his sons to ignore the use of "s" by his half-brothers and their houses: "We speak as is right, and as King Finwë himself did before he was led astray." This further widened the division between Fëanor and his half-brothers.
Expy and Self-Insert Fic: "The Notion Club Papers" is Tolkien parodying his own meetings with the Inklings —- "Notion Club" being a pun on that name -— and a way for him to criticise C.S. Lewis' ideas in his Space Trilogy by having characters discuss it. It later evolved into a story about characters having ancestral memories of Númenor.
Even some of the names of the Notion Club members are references to Tolkien's own life. One of them is named John Jethro Rashbold (Tolkien's own first name was John; Jethro is a name closely associated in the Old Testament with Tolkien's middle name Reuel; and "Rashbold" is a calque on the name Tolkien, which comes from the German Tollkühn, meaning 'foolhardy'), and another is named Ramer, an old dialectal word for "raving madman" — JRRT had written a poem called "Looney" not too many years before. Alvin Arundel Lowdham has two names that connect to Tolkien's mythology: Alvin comes from the Old English Ælfwine, "Elf-friend", and it's implied he's the "reincarnation" of another Tolkien character by that name; Arundel is the modern-English form of Earendel, the name that inspired Tolkien's first poems about Middle-Earth and eventually emerged as Eárendil in The Silmarillion.
The Fair Folk: Subverted; elves don't experience life the way we do, but they're mostly human and certainly comprehend our moral concepts.
The Lost Tales say that the Celtic notion of evil elves is due to conflicts and misunderstanding, and that the more positive English view is correct. To take one example, Tolkien plays with the idea that eating fairy food traps you in their land forever — the Elves of Tol Eressëa drink something called limpë, but warn the human traveller Eriol against drinking it, for his heart will forever be filled with their own sadness and he will be compelled to fight for their causes against his own kindred.
Played with in Morgoth's Ring. Ælfwine, the Anglo-Saxon seaman who finds Eressëa, is told that today there are two groups of Elves still remaining in Middle-Earth, the Lingerers and the Unbodied. The Lingerers are simply Elves that stayed until their souls burnt up their bodies and live in an aethereal form. The Unbodied are those that refused the summons to be judged by Mandos when they died. Lingerers tend to be gentle and harmless but flawed creatures that hang around wild lands as Genius Loci, but sometimes visit mortals in dreams. Unbodied are actual ghosts and are not only likely to deceive mortals maliciously, but try to steal their bodies. In a way Lingerers are like "Seelie" and Unbodied like "Unseelie".
Framing Device: The Book of Lost Tales is presented as a series of stories told to a mariner (Eriol or Ælfwine), who stumbles upon the island of Tol Eressëa and learns the Elves' history, which he then brings back to his human kindred. This doubles as a Literary Agent Hypothesis frequently repeated throughout the Middle-Earth stories.
God: Ilúvatar. Interestingly treated in The Lost Tales, which uses "Gods" in a pagan sense to describe the Valar:
Eriol: Who was Ilúvatar? Was he of the Gods?
Rúmil: Nay, that he was not, for he made them. Ilúvatar is the Lord for Always who dwells beyond the world; who made it and is not in it or of it, but loves it.
Heel-Face Turn: Figuratively speaking, some characters in early drafts of The Lord of the Rings started out evil but were then reworked into different, good characters. Farmer Maggot was originally an antagonist who was even responsible for setting the Black Riders onto Frodo's trail, while Treebeard was originally an evil giant who had the same role as Saruman in the final book, imprisoning Gandalf.
Hidden Depths: Revealed for some characters who may have seemed one-dimensional in the published Silmarillion, such as the more antagonistic of the Sons of Fëanor.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Just barely subverted with Ungoliant in Morgoth's Ring, who, prior to her meeting with Melkor, was starving to death in her lair, due to her own webs of darkness blocking off any light from entering her lair for her to devour.
Humans Through Alien Eyes: Done in "The Notion Club Papers," when a character travels through space in his dreams by astral projection, observes various alien worlds, and eventually comes across a planet where he sees what looks like a great heaving anthill come into existence, despoiling a landscape. It's a shock to him when he realises that what he is actually looking at is the history of his own home city of Oxford, sped up to a great pace.
Immortality Begins at Twenty: Averted with the Númenóreans in The Lost Road, who age in proportion to their long lifespan, for example Herendil being considered an adolescent when he's in his forties. It's unclear to what extent this idea survived in later stories.
Intangible Time Travel: Having agreed with C. S. Lewis that the two would write companion space-travel and time-travel stories, JRRT twice tried to start a story revolving around this trope, but never finished. The first attempt is "The Lost Road" that gives its name to vol. V. The second is "The Notion Club Papers" in vol. IX. Both versions of the story tell of a father-son pair in England who experience repeated intangible Time-Travel dreams/visions, taking them back to past father-son pairs with the same names in older languages, who experience the same dreams/visions, recursively going back until reaching the original Elendil and son in Númenor and witnessing its downfall. It was going to involve around a half-dozen pairs of guys, numerous European myths, speaking in tongues, deciphering the Númenórean language, and possibly watching Ælfwine see or even travel the Strait Road to Eressëa. JRRT even considered including (pessimistic) references to his own unfinished Silmarillion manuscripts being uncovered.
Besides the ones already present in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" (in Morgoth's Ring) adds a failed one between the elf Aegnor and the mortal woman Andreth, noteworthy because all the others Tolkien wrote about were between a mortal man and an elven woman.
Beren and Lúthien were originally written as two elves, albeit from different kindreds, and the idea of their Interspecies Romance was added later.
Jesus: Implied in a prophecy of Men mentioned in the "Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth." Tolkien, after writing it, thought it was a bit too explicit and seemed like "a parody of Christianity," so he dropped it.
They say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end.
In the oldest draft, the history of the Elves supposedly came to us through Eriol, a sea-farer from 5th century Jutland; in the second draft Eriol was replaced by Ælfwine, a 10th century Anglo-Saxon mariner who stumbled upon Tol Eressëa.
When Tolkien sent the original version of "The Lay of Leithian" to his friend C. S. Lewis for critique, Lewis treated it as though it was an actual piece of mediaeval literature that had been rediscovered. Lines that seemed weak to Lewis, for example, he dismissed as clearly interpolations by a later copyist, and gave his own interpretation as to how the lines "originally" must have read. His whole critique's even feigned to be written by four mediaevalist scholars. Tolkien didn't use any of Lewis' suggestions, but he did eventually rewrite all the sections Lewis had pointed out faults in.
The introduction to "The Notion Club Papers" has the eponymous papers supposedly being discovered in 2012, being a record of a club that met in the late 1980s (the story itself was written in 1944).
The elves build a ship of "mithril and elven-glass" that can travel not just in the sky but also the Outer Void (outer space).
Morgoth's attack on Gondolin is made possible by giant metal machines with fire in their bellies (probably Tolkien's way of describing engines) that can travel across the mountains, serving as both AP Cs to transport Orcs and siege weapons that can knock down towers.
MacGuffin: The Silmarils in The Book of Lost Tales. Tolkien rewrote it because he realised that there was nothing to justify their importance in driving the later story, resulting in the idea that they preserve the light of the Two Trees.
According to Morgoth's Ring, Morgoth spread his evil essence into all the physical matter of Middle-Earth, thus becoming a shadow of his former self. Fortunately the evil in Arda's matter normally stays dormant, unless aroused by malice.
In the earliest versions of the Middle-Earth stories, before JRRT decided that evil beings like Morgoth cannot create new life from nowhere, the Orcs were made of stone, with hearts made of pure hate. Thû (a predecessor to Sauron) was apparently just made of hate.
Name's the Same: Tolkien changed names of characters and locations at least once with every draft or linguistic revision, and also recycled old ones. Names that would later be applied to well-known characters in The Lord of the Rings show up many years before that book was conceived, attached to completely unrelated characters.
For example, one Gimli first appears in the "Tale of Tinuviel" (written in 1918-1920) as a "Gnome"note which, strangely enough, at this stage was a synonym for Noldorin Elf and fellow prisoner of Beren in Tevildo's kitchens.
Legolas was first the name of an elf leading the flying people of Gondolin over the plains of Tumladen and over the pass of the Cirith Thoronarth.
Even within the Silmarillion part of the legendarium, names sometimes switch places bizarrely. For a short time Beren was named Maglor.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In The Book of Lost Tales: Part 1, a Gnome named Daurin rushes up to attack Ungoliant as she drains the Two Trees of their sap. Although he manages to wound one of her legs with his sword, its blade becomes stained with her Black Blood, turning it into a poisonous weapon. This doesn't work so well in the end, since he ended up being disarmed by Ungoliant, and killed by Melkor, who then used the tainted weapon to kill the remaining Tree.
Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Balrogs Riding Robotic Dragon-shaped Troop Carriers, like they do to invade Gondolin according to The Book of Lost Tales. Tolkien did it first.
Legions of Balrogs riding robotic dragon-shaped troop carriers to invade Gondolin in the earliest manuscripts, a scene never elaborated on.
The whole concept of Elvenhome (the island-ferry used to transport the Elves to Valinor) becoming England, the Elves being displaced by Eriol/Ælfwine's Anglo-Saxon cousins, and Avallone (capital of the exiled Noldor) becoming Warwick.
Omniglot: Omar the Vala, who knows all tongues. Didn't survive to the final Silmarillion.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Dwarves were originally just another evil race similar to Orcs, derived closely from Norse Mythology. It wasn't until The Hobbit that they became a primarily 'good' and sympathetic race — and that version of them wasn't originally intended to be part of Middle-Earth at all.
Our Elves Are Better: The evolution of the Elves is shown from the Lost Tales (in which they are still closer to a Victorian conception and referred to as Fairies and, in the case of the Noldor, Gnomes) to the final high and mythic result from The Silmarillion.
Our Orcs Are Different: Orcs and goblins were pulled out of nowhere in the Lost Tales because Melko needed some Mooks. Much later on, Tolkien fleshed them out and there are essays written in which he considers the moral implications of the Always Chaotic Evil trope, and whether Orcs are soulless automatons or have free will and choice and could potentially be redeemed. The 1977 Silmarillion has Orcs as ruined Elves, but Tolkien considered changing it to ruined Men (even though that doesn't fit the timeline). He also considered changing their origin to Uplifted Animals and/or (at least for some individuals) constructs with no 'real' life or will, or very minor fallen Maiar. The origin-of-Orcs question is possibly the messiest in the whole legendarium.
Prophecies Are Always Right: The original form of the Doom of Mandos is "Great is the Fall of Gondolin," uttered years before the founding of that city (though no-one seems to remember the words when the city gets named...)
The Quisling: Ufedhin, the Gnome who helps the Dwarves kill Tinwelint/Thingol in "The Nauglafring." He bears a great deal of resemblance to Meglin/Maeglin from "The Fall of Gondolin."
Really Big Cat: Tevildo Prince of Cats from the Lost Tales. He's the original character who became Sauron.
Reincarnation: The earliest versions of the myths are explicit about elvish reincarnation, saying that elves are reborn as the children of their own descendants. But long after writing The Lord of the Rings Tolkien decided literal rebirth was impossible for metaphysical reasons, and instead wrote that the Valar create brand new, adult bodies when returning elves to life. These bodies resemble the original in every way, though presumably without whatever injuries they got before or during death. The "re-housed" also get their full memories back — death is unnatural for elves, so the Valar expect them to pick up their lives right where they left off.
Reincarnation Romance: Since Tolkien was a devout Catholic, he believed that marriage is "for life." As described in "The Laws and Customs of the Eldar" (Morgoth's Ring), elves' lives are meant to last until the end of Arda, and so are their marriages. Unlike many humans, they actually do mate for life. Reincarnated elves inevitably desire to reunite with whomever they had married before they died. This really, really sucks for those who lived in Middle-Earth, since the Valar don't send anyone back there after "re-housing."note Glorfindel, Beren, and Lúthien were the only exceptions, because they're special and awesome. Except in some versions where the Valar commonly sent the rehoused back to wherever they had lived. It can also be a serious downer for the bereaved spouse if a married elf refuses reincarnation — just look at what happened to Míriel's family!
Satan: Morgoth (Melko, Melkor). The "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" and some of JRRT's letters explicitly identify the two, though most narratives don't.
Sdrawkcab Alias: Beren and Finrod Felagund, while masquerading as Orcs in some of the earliest versions "The Lay of Leithian." Felagund gives his own name as Dungalef and Beren's as Nereb when they're captured by Sauron. That seems to work, but they still get found out. It's hard to understand why an Elf over 1000 years old would come up with such transparent pseudonyms (both characters are famous), let alone why a Maia older than the universe would fall for it.
Shoo Out the Clowns: In The Book of Lost Tales, Sauron is a giant talking cat (who tests Beren's skills as a trapper by having him catch three mice, because his castle is positively overrun with them), Morgoth has a wife and kids, an Elvish defector invents tanks, Elves gradually turn into miniature fairies, the most famous elven musician is named "Tinfang Warble," and Morgoth is banished from the world when he climbs up a gigantic pine-tree to escape the Valar and they cut it down under him. But by the early 1930s, The Silmarillion was much closer to its 1977 form, and much less whimsical.
Shoot the Messenger: In The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, Melkor attempts to persuade the Valar to allow him and his companions to leave Valinor, but the messenger he sends to announce his demands is denounced as a "rogue" and a "traitor," and promptly executed. This actually made the Dark Lord upset, considering he had just Averted this trope earlier, when an Eagle was sent by the Valar to deliver a message to him, and would have expected his own messengers to be treated in kind by the Gods.
Shout-Out: The original "Tale of Turambar" includes one to Sigurd from Norse Mythology, in which the teller of the story mentions that men think that eating the heart of a dragon allows you to understand all tongues, but this is a false belief because the blood of a dragon is poisonous.
Speech-Centric Work: "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" in Morgoth's Ring is a 19-page conversation between Finrod and a mortal women about mortality, theology, and the cause and nature of the differences between Elves and Mortals. Except at the beginning and end, there's hardly a word of narration.
Spell My Name with an S: Fëanor is very displeased that the dialect of Quenya spoken by his fellow Noldor is replacing their th sound with their s sound. He considers it an insult to the memory of his dead mother Míriel, and even a "conspiracy" against him. He raises this completely trivial change to the status of a political issue, demanding that everybody who sides with him in the family feud must speak the old way, and judging people's "loyalty" by their accents. Note that this isn't actually a spelling trope; even though the change of pronunciation is reflected in the book's English text, the Noldor still write their Tengwar with the letter for th but pronounce it s.
Númenor under Sauron's tutelage in The Lost Road has steam-powered ironclad ships, some form of aircraft and what sound from the description like some kind of guided missiles. In an example of Schizo Tech, however, they also still fight with swords, bows, and armour.
In The Book of Lost Tales part 2, Morgoth attacks Gondolin with mechanic dragons.
Tom: Eh, what? I am an Aborigine, that's what I am, the Aborigine of this land. I have spoken a mort of languages and called myself by many names. Mark my words, my merry friends: Tom was here before the River or the Trees. Tom remembers the first acorn and the first rain-drop. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the Little People arriving. He was here before the kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward Tom was here already — before the seas were bent. He saw the Sun rise in the West and the Moon following, before the new order of days was made. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside.
Also in an earlier draft, Treebeard mentions that Tom Bombadil has the longest name in the world. He also says that Ents give people or things names that are longer the older they have existed.
The Watson: Ælfwine/Eriol. In the Framing Device of The Book of Lost Tales he serves as the Audience Surrogate to whom the elves of the Lonely Isle relate the history of the Elder Days. Ælfwine's role continues, though far less emphasized, in later versions of the legendarium.
The group of rogue Maiar that accompany Melkor and Ungoliant in an early account of the Darkening of Valinor. After assisting Melkor in the theft of the Silmarils and accompanying him when he meets with Ungoliant, they all flee after the destruction of the Two Trees, and never appear again. Although it is mentioned that the Valar found many of these rogues in the Northern regions of Valinor, and slew them, they are mostly forgotten by the time the next part of the story sets in.
Several characters, both major and minor, also suffer from this throughout the various drafts of the stories. With most stories unfinished, it's no surprise that numerous loose ends and characters' fates were never wrapped up.
The "Ambarkanta" in The Shaping of Middle-Earth has a detailed description of the cosmology of the flat world (before the drowning of Númenor), as well as "before" and "after" diagrams. Sadly, Tolkien never updated this to fit with his somewhat different later versions of the "flat-world" cosmology.
Instead, he decided that since the geocentric "flat-world" cosmology can't be reconciled with the real world, that it was a bad way to write a fantasy. Morgoth's Ring contains the various unfinished alternative creation myths and changes Tolkien wrote to flip everything to a heliocentric planet that was always round, in which the Two Trees were created after the sun and moon. He never explained how Eärendil's Silmaril being Venus would fit into that.
Write What You Know: "The Fall of Gondolin" from The Book of Lost Tales part 2 is clearly inspired by Tolkien's then-recent experiences in World War One, down to Morgoth's mechanical dragons evoking the early tanks used in the war.
alternative title(s): The History Of Middle Earth; History Of Middle Earth; The Book Of Lost Tales; The Book Of Lost Tales; Book Of Lost Tales; The Lays Of Beleriand; The Shaping Of Middle Earth; The Lost Road; The Return Of The Shadow; The Treason Of Isengard; The War Of The Ring; Sauron Defeated; Morgoths Ring; The War Of The Jewels; The Peoples Of Middle Earth; History Of The Lord Of The Rings