September Books 20) The Return of the Shadow, by J.R.R. Tolkien
My decision to read the whole History of Middle Earth came as a result of getting a boxed set of this and the next couple of books in the series, which all deal with the writing of The Lord of the Rings, at a book fair a couple of years ago; but of course it is actually the sixth in the series, the first five dealing with what became The Silmarillion. Here we have three-ish drafts of The Lord of the Rings up to the exploration of Moria. It is striking how quickly Tolkien shifted tone from the young-reader-ish style of The Hobbit, which surivives in the very first draft of the first chapter, but really no further, to adopt a more mature voice. But it's also interesting to see the evolution of the character who became Strider, at first a mysterious hobbit called Trotter who turns out to be a long-lost cousin of Bilbo's called Peregrine. The names and characters of Frodo and his friends changed very substantially between rewrites (though the dialogue between them was surprisingly constant). The original Fellowship includes the four hobbits from the Shire, Troter, Gandalf and Boromir but no dwarf or elf. At one point the editor quotes his father's marginal note "Christopher wants Odo kept" but admits that he is unable now to remember why (Odo ends up party Frodo and partly Pippin). The geography and distances between Bree and Rivendell are chopped about a bit, leaving some inconsistency in the published book. It's a fascinating insight into how revising a text can make it stronger, and how sometimes bits in the middle come right almost immediately while you are still tinkering with the beginning.