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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Histories of Middle Earth, Volumes 1-5
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769 of 781 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Lord of the Rings" was the climax. Silmarillion was the Bible. And the Histories of Middle-Earth series is the big stack of history books. Author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a vast fictional history of Middle-Earth, and the first five volumes of the Histories are compiled here.
The evolving backdrop of stories about Elves, Men, and the rich tapestry of fictional history is shown here, such as earlier versions of the legendary romance of Beren and Luthien, or the history of the Valar. Not the finished product of "Silmarillion," but older drafts riddled with footnotes and commentary from Tolkien's son Christopher. What's more, it includes linguistic evolution, exquisite poetry, and a time travel story that evolved into something much greater.
It takes a certain amount of geeky dedication to read these books. They are not light reading, and it takes knowledge of the final material to understand their significance. In many of the stories, there is greater detail than is found in the Silmarillion. And in many cases, there are huge differences, such as the mortal Beren originally being an Elf. (Which changes the whole story of Beren and Luthien, and also how we see their distant descendants, Aragorn and Arwen)
Fans of "Lord of the Rings" and "Silmarillion" will undoubtedly enjoy seeing how the unrivalled fantasy stories came to be. Not for newbies, but fascinating for major fans and anyone who likes seeing how Tolkien's writing evolved.
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483 of 494 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
With this compilation of the mammoth HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, we get the literary backstory, so to say, of J. R. R. Tolkien's turmoil and travails of the composition of one of the most complex fantasies every constructed. Admittedly difficult reading, you must have a deep, abiding interest in mythology and Tolkien's desire to create one to get through this, and you need a working knowledge of Tolkien's work to really understand the HISTORY. Do not buy this expecting anything as nearly accessible The Lord of the Rings or The Annotated Hobbit. The real meat, to literary historians who are not specialized in Tolkien and to the causal fan, is the volumes VI-IX, which deal with the creation of "The Lord of the Rings", one of the most significant volumes ever released the world, online with Homer, Virgil, and Dante. This is a graduate level look at what goes in the making of a literary masterpiece. These four volumes are The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part One (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 6),The Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 7),The War of the Ring: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Three (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 8), and SAURON DEFEATED Sauron Defeated: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Four (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 9), also available in its own set The History of the Lord of the Rings. The HISTORY operates as a chronicle of the evolutionary processes of one of the most ambitious literary projects of the 20th century.

Gathering the first five volumes, this box set covers Tolkien's mythology from the earliest written texts (the first two volumes) to the mid 1930s, before Tolkien set aside THE SILMARILLION to begin work on his epic novel, THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The first two volumes deal with the earliest form of THE SILMARILLION. In many ways, startlingly different than the forms the legends finally found themselves in the published work. The prose is work-man-like, and a far cry from the more accomplished writings of the later volumes. Most interesting is in the original form Beren was an elf, which totally changes a massive strand in the mythology. The next are the epic The Lays of Beleriand (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 3) First edition by Tolkien, J.R.R. published by Houghton Mifflin Hardcover that were never completed, and showing Tolkien was a poet of very accomplished calibre. By J.R.R. Tolkien: The Shaping of Middle-Earth: The Quenta, the Ambarkanta and the Annals (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 4) deals with the geography and physical history and includes some historical Annals. The Lost Road and Other Writings: Language and Legend before the Lord of the Rings shows us an unfinished novel and several other unearthed treasures, including invaluable philological material that shows how inseperable Tolkien's linguistics was from his creative writing.

This publication is for the serious student and lover of J. R. R. Tolkien's work. The causal fan will find this much too expensive and much too expansive. For those only marginally interested the volumes dealing with THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy novel should be looked at. But those who love Middle-earth and want to marvel at Tolkien's work, this is a must-have purchase. It's a very rare opportunity to see the creation of a work of such massive import to our international societies. Tolkien's commitment to this birthing process of a beautiful work of art truly stands out as one of the great efforts of Man to give homage to his God, as Tolkien saw it (read his essay on Faerie Stories), and I see it as well. Get it and become immersed - though beware this detailing the construction of this elaborate universe, which means these are rough drafts and various other things that didn't make it into publication in Tolkien's time, adding a huge amount of material to Tolkien's fandom to consider. Christopher's editorial notes are a must have. Thanks to the Tolkien family and to Christopher for their support of their father (who died in 1973) and of his son for the publication of this work. A very unique moment in literary history indeed.
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199 of 206 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I first feel the need to level a good-natured attack at the reviewer who claimed that Christopher Tolkien spent uncounted exhausted hours reviewing and annotating his father's mountains of notes and manuscripts to "line his pockets." The very notion is ludicrous. The publication of the Histories was a labor of love, nothing more, and I for one appreciate it immensely.
"The Histories of Middle-Earth" is an invaluable collection for anyone who would know the process behind the creation of a literary world as vast as Tolkien's. For someone who has read "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit," and "The Silmarillion" (I recommend also reading "The Unfinished Tales" first) and is interested in knowing more about the origins of Middle-Earth and Valinor, these volumes are fascinating. For someone who simply loves the story of LOTR and sees the greater history of Middle Earth as nothing more than a setting, these books probably aren't for you. Hence the four stars rather than five.
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78 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
These are excellent books which explore the writing of J. R. R. Tolkien which eventually led to the Silmarillion. Granted, these books are not for everyone. They are definately for the very dedicated fan who is willing to take the time to slave over the often difficult writing (these were rough drafts often)and the allusions to things that one has no capability of understanding without reading the rest of the book. Though at first I was very confused when reading The Book of Lost Tales 1, by the time I got to the end of it I understood it perfectly. It was a joy to read all of these books, and it really stinks that they weren't offered as a box set when I bought mine. One of the best books in this set is, The Lays of Beleriand. It is a book of essentially two very long epic poems and they are excellent. I didn't like fantasy until I read Tolkien and the same is true of poetry. The Tolkien devotee will get true enjoyment out of these tales of the ancient days of Middle Earth and will revel in the archaic language of the Ainur, elves and men of the first age of Middle Earth.
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99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I bought this set of the first five volumes of Tolkien's history of Middle Earth and while all the content is there, the quality of the publications is mass paperbook at its worst. Dry scratchy paper, type that is too small for my tired eyes to read and cheap bindings that were I to continually use would no doubt fall apart before the paper turned yellow. But then what do you expect for $20? As I became more interested in Tolkien and realized that I would use these books both for pleasure and reference and would doubtless return to them again and again, I decided to spring for the Harper Collins three volume set (published in 2002) that includes all twelve books of the histories in an attractive and efficient three volume set. It cost close to $200 for the set because I had to order them from AMAZON.UK but I'm happy when I see them on the shelf and pick one up to read. They are a substantial presence as befits the content. (I would also recommend buying the History of Middle Earth Index to go along with these books as it ties them all together with one common index rather than the the separate ones for each of the twelve volumes.)
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The first five volumes of the history of Middle Earth are great books and a must for Tolkien fans.If you are interested in reading these, I would suggest reading the Silmarillion first.If you thought that was too confusing don't bother picking these up.My favorite is the third book: The lays of Berliand. All of them are good books and I recommend reading them.(If you've read the Silmarillion,The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings)
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Now before I sing the praise of this series
A warning must be given,
You may find yourself hopelessly weary
If this is your first look at J.R.R. Tolkien.

These books were compiled by that great master's son
As a glimpse into his father's deep mind.
These tales never could claim being 'done',
And thus are a motley combine.

Yet for all of you who have read that master's works
And wish that more about Middle-Earth could be,
Behold! Here it is, down to the origin of Orcs
And the singing of the Ainu in sweet melody.

The great elves in battle against Morgoth and Sauron;
Men of the West in their earliest days.
Battles with dragons--like the mighty Glaurung.
A multitude of tales told in multiple ways

Many of these tales are in a more coherent book--
The Silmarillion is its name.
Yet though it is beautiful; more fluid to look,
It does not delve as deep, page upon page.

There is the Lay of Leithian
In its poetic might,
Unlike the version in the Silmarillion,
Which does not pierce the heart with a sword so bright.

And so you come to ask me,
'Why four stars, not five?'
I must give you my answer,
And be honest--not lie.

The Histories of Middle-Earth, I must confess--
As enjoyable as they may be--
It is, for the most part, an utter mess
That often confused and baffled me.

Tales told by the old, the young, and aged scribes
Each varying by telling;
Difficult on the mind,
Sending my head spinning, like the tide swelling,
Like the Earth rending, in fire and ice.
And yet still an entertaining
Legend-revealing device.

Post Poem Script:

Forgive my poor meter--
It's so very drear.
You can watch it peter
Out there and out here.

I am no Longfellow,
Nor Edgar A. Poe
Yet rhyme is like bellows
That makes the fires go.

Once I have started
I can't even think to quit.
I feel lighthearted,
Though my poems be poorly writ.

Ryan Robledo
Author of the Aelnathan:
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
When The Silmarillion was published in 1977, four years after J.R.R. Tolkien's death, his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, was often criticized for producing too much of a summary and not enough of the magic of his father's creation. A few years later Tolkien began to publish The History of Middle earth series in order to present the full range of his father's writings. The first five volumes in the series, which eventually reached 12, are presented here: The Book of Lost Tales Parts I and 11, The Lays of Beleriand, The Shaping of Middle Earth, and The Lost Road.

It is important to understand that these are not finished works by any means. Tolkien started and restarted his tales, not at first meaning to collect them into any kind of organized mythology, then as the tales grew and his imagination expanded they became a sort of new "mythology for England." Discerning readers who have studied The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion will recognize some elements which survived throughout Tolkien's career. Readers who are not that familiar with Tolkien should not start with this set, but should instead focus on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings first.

My favorite volume in this set is The Lost Road, an abandoned project for a science fiction novel Tolkien wrote in the 1930s. It contains elements of the story of Numenor, Tolkien's Atlantis, and contains some of Tolkien's best writings.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
These books provide insight into the development of the "legendarium" of Middle-earth - from the basic cosmology of Tolkien's invented universe to the plot development threads of the back story to Lord of the Rings, which include the Silmarillion and the Akallabeth (Downfall of Numenor). There are also tales attempting to link Middle-earth to European history, which illustrate Tolkien's desire to create "a mythology for England". Readers with an intense interest in Tolkien's works should find the material worthwhile. Those not so interested may be bored with the continual re-working and re-presentation of the stories as they (often practically imperceptively) evolved.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I started to read the Silmarillion, and then I read these. I had never liked poetry beforehand, I had actually rather detested it, but I loved the poetry in here. I many respects, I actually prefer these to the Silmarillion because these are longer and more in depth. However, if you don't feel like reading 50 pages of something with tons of footnotes and endnotes, you probably shouldn't read these.
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