Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

February Books 11) The Book of Lost Tales Part II, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The second of the History of Middle Earth series edited by Christopher Tolkien. Here we are looking at two of the core stories of The Silmarillion, and several other narratives which were largely or completely set aside as Tolkien's work developed. I found the very first story, "The Tale of Tinúviel", particularly interesting. For the first time I was struck that it is a tale of love between one character with a short name starting with B and another with a longer name starting with T, whose father opposes the romance just as Tolkien's own guardian opposed his relationship with Edith Bratt. Beren goes off to prove himself in battle and returns maimed, as Tolkien returned with trench fever from the Great War (though after his marriage rather than before). And of course Tolkien was himself always explicit that Tinúviel's dancing in the forest was inspired by Edith dancing for him one day in 1917 when they were out in the woods near his base. His personal identification with this particular story can be seen on his tombstone. I was always a bit disappointed that the version in The Silmarillion doesn't convey much emotional freight, but The Book of Lost Tales is worth getting for this chapter alone.

(We also meet the earliest version of Sauron, as Tivaldo the evil king of cats and servant of Melko, a counterpart to Beren's heroic dog.)

The other story treated in depth here is "Turambar and the Foalókë", which however has since been published in a pretty definitive format as The Children of Húrin; I found the joins between Beowulf, Kullervo and Tolkien's own imagination much more visible here.

The most interesting of the other chapters is "The Tale of Eärendel", another story which is curiously flat in The Silmarillion, a lost tale that underlies a fair bit of Middle Earth mythology but never seems to have found a definite written form; one almost senses Tolkien feeling more comfortable with it inside his head, so that Bilbo and Aragorn could make in-jokes about it in Rivendell, rather than spoiling it by putting too much down on paper.

(Also a shout out for "The Fall of Gondolin", with its gripping account of hand-to-hand combat as the city is taken.)

Despite the density of the prose I have found both Lost Tales volumes fairly quick reading, Tolkien's prose being as fluent in his twenties as it was later in his life, and Christopher Tolkien's annotations being complete enough to satisfy curiosity without being overwhelming. I'm glad to have got back into this series of books.

< Book of Lost Tales I ¦ Book of Lost Tales II
Tags: bookblog 2011, writer: tolkien
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