Completion Date: May 13, 2011
Reason for Reading: Non-fiction for Once Upon a Time V
In this sixth volume of The History of Middle-earth the story reaches The Lord of the Rings. In The Return of the Shadow (an abandoned title for the first volume) Christopher Tolkien describes, with full citation of the earliest notes, outline plans, and narrative drafts, the intricate evolution of The Fellowship of the Ring and the gradual emergence of the conceptions that transformed what J.R.R. Tolkien for long believed would be a far shorter book, 'a sequel to The Hobbit'. The enlargement of Bilbo's 'magic ring' into the supremely potent and dangerous Ruling Ring of the Dark Lord is traced and the precise moment is seen when, in an astonishing and unforeseen leap in the earliest narrative, a Black Rider first rode into the Shire, his significance still unknown. The character of the hobbit called Trotter (afterwards Strider or Aragorn) is developed while his indentity remains an absolute puzzle, and the suspicion only very slowly becomes certainty that he must after all be a Man. The hobbits, Frodo's companions, undergo intricate permutations of name and personality, and other major figures appear in strange modes: a sinister Treebeard, in league with the Enemy, a ferocious and malevolent Farmer Maggot. The story in this book ends at the point where J.R.R. Tolkien halted in the story for a long time, as the Company of the Ring, still lacking Legolas and Gimli, stood before the tomb of Balin in the Mines of Moria. The Return of the Shadow is illustrated with reproductions of the first maps and notable pages from the earliest manuscripts.I have owned this book forever, so I was excited that I finally managed to finish it. I have started it a couple times, but it was never the right time. I included it on my list for the Once Upon a Time challenge this year, so I joined the non-fiction portion of the challenge to be able to count this book towards it. It was a really interesting read and before I was finished I bought the next book in the series. It's a bit confusing, though. Technically, this is book 6 in the series, but it is the first book that looks at the history of The Lord of the Rings. I know that some people are very particular about series order, but this book is marketed both as book 1 and book 6.
This book looks at the evolution of the books that would gain popularity in later years. It shows the progression that these books went through. There were a lot of changes. For example, Frodo used to be called Bingo. I am so glad that was changed! I don't think I could get used to that name. Then, there was no Pippin and Merry. I love the way those two play off each other, so I am also happy that was changed. Aragorn was originally a hobbit that wore wooden shoes. While very funny, that is another thing that I am not sure would entirely work for the story. Christopher Tolkien took all of his fathers notes and extensively researched everything. Some chapters there were many changes before it became the book we know and love. Other chapters were written almost entirely as they would later show in the later edition of the book.
I really enjoyed this book, but I have to admit that I have seen the movies more recently than I have read the books, so there were some details that I have forgotten. I need to reread this series after a bit in order to pick up on everything that happened during the course of the rewrites. The footnotes helped refresh my memory, but I am not sure I picked up on everything. I am looking forward to reading the second part. In many ways it is also a book about the writing process and I have always found that really interesting. I also should point out that the title of this book was the original title for The Fellowship of the Ring. I am not sure which I like better, but I think the title they wound up with is more descriptive of what the book is about.