49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2002
In the forward of the Return of the Shadow, Christopher Tolkien writes "My father bestowed immense pains on the creation of The Lord of the Rings, and my intention has been that this record of his first years of work on it should reflect those pains." Well he has succeeded immeasurably. By taking the time to sift through all the old manuscripts, some only half finished and written in fading pencil, and putting them into a coherent order Christopher not only tells the story of how the Lord of the Rings came to be, but he provides aspiring writers like myself with a textbook, if you will, on how great books are written. As the quote above implies, writing a story can be like an intellectual child birthing during which the writer experiences great pains and frustrations to achieve what he hopes will become a wonderful new creation that others will enjoy. Perhaps the realization that a master storyteller and obvious genius like J.R.R. Tolkien first put pen to paper without even knowing what the story would be about, or where it would go, and then suffered through hundreds of revisions, alterations, and conflicting ideas to produce his masterpiece of literature should not be surprising. But it is, and therefore, such knowledge is a great encouragement for some who is currently going through the same process. Thank You very much Christopher Tolkien for this wonderful work.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2000
For a Tolkien enthusiast, I think this is an extremely interesting work. Much like the relationship between The Silmarillion and the Books of Lost Tales, The Return of the Shadow is an in depth exploration of the development of The Fellowship of the Ring. The book gives an account of each chapter in the Fellowship of the Ring, from the Long-Expected Party to the Mines of Moria. Each section includes the various versions of the chapter that Professor Tolkien wrote and rejected. Notes and comments are included for each chapter. I was impressed by the research that went into compiling this book, as every stage of development was discussed in detail. While the Return of the Shadow is similar in format to the Books of Lost Tales I and II, one should not expect the dramatic differences between the Silmarillion and its embryonic tales. The early versions of the Fellowship of the Ring are not completely alien to the product that was produced. However, the development of characters and elements of the tale prove most interesting indeed. For someone who is unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings, this book would most certainly be a poor choice to read. But for those who cherish the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of The Shadow is a wealth of information which I would recomment as being indispensable.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
. . .for anyone who wants to understand the thought processes behind the greatest exercise in fantasy fiction of all time.
In preparing this volume (and the others in the series) Christopher Tolkien has permitted us access to the inner workings of his father's thought, as the story which ultimately became "The Lord of the Rings" gradually evolved and took shape.
Any aficionado of "The Lord of the Rings" will delight at the early character portrayls of characters like Farmer Maggot and Treebeard (and not the least, Trotter the hobbit whose character ultimately morphs into that of Aragorn).
This book is also highly recommend for any student of language and literature and any budding novelist.
Thank you, Christopher, for your labor of love on behalf of your father.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 1998
In the sixth volume of The History of Middle Earth, Christopher Tolkien begins to show us the developement of The Lord of the Rings. This volume reaches the point where Tolkien himself stopped his writing for a long time--the Mines of Moria. Although most of the basic themes remain the same throughout Tolkien's creation, one difference in the early version certainly stands out. Not only is there no mention of the Dunedain, but Aragorn himself is now a hobbit called Trotter whose real name is none other than Peregrin. Also, many of the hobbit names were different and continued to shift back and forth until the present names were finally accepted. I recommend this book to all Tolkien fans, but especially for those who loved LOTR.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
If you're not a Tolkien fan, you need not apply to the sprawling History of Middle Earth series. But if you're interested in seeing how the Professor developed the rich creation of Middle Earth, warts and all, this is a treasure trove of material.
The 12 volumes of the History of Middle Earth take a close look at the creation of Tolkien's greatest achievement - Middle Earth itself - through early drafts, unpublished texts, and dead end writings. For ardent Tolkien readers it is a fascinating look at one of the great literary creations of the 20th Century. For more casual fans, it's text better left unread.
"The Return of the Shadow" marks the first in the four volumes dealing with the history of the writing of "The Lord of the Rings." Like the other volumes in the series, it features unpublished writings by Tolkien, supplemented, explained, footnoted, annotated and expounded upon by his son, Christopher Tolkien.
Here we have the earliest versions of what would later become the most beloved fantasy epic in the world, detailing the extraordinary and convoluted history of the earliest chapters of "The Lord of the Rings." Some readers might be surprised to know just how different a book this was in its earliest stages, and just how much Tolkien was making it up as he went along in those early days.
The wealth of information is fantastic, and Christopher Tolkien goes to great lengths to examine each text, putting them in the context of the larger puzzle of his father's writings. The exploration of how "The Lord of the Rings" came about is fantastic - for those interested. Otherwise, it will bore. This is, after all, a series of unfinished draft chapters and essays on the text. I enjoyed it, but many won't.
Anybody wishing to do a study of Tolkien's craft, into "behind the scenes" writings, or just interested in finding a few snatches of new Middle Earth material (even if in unfinished form, there are some scattered throughout the series) will certainly find what they are looking for here. Christopher Tolkien's work here is appreciated by scores of ardent Tolkien fans.
Those looking for fresh new tales about hobbits and heroes, however, will be disappointed. This isn't new fiction, nor does it even feature finished works. Seek elsewhere if you are looking for more tales in the way of "The Lord of the Rings."
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
`The Return of the Shadow' is the first of a four volume series (`The History of the Lord of the Rings') within a series, (volume VI of `The History of Middle Earth') edited by Christopher Tolkien, from the unpublished writings of his father, J. R. R. Tolkien, most famous as the author of `The Hobbit' and `The Lord of the Rings'.
For those who have been slogging through the previous three volumes dealing with fragments from the composition of `The Silmarillion', this volume is a great pleasure, as it deals entirely with early drafts of what becomes the first two-thirds of `The Fellowship of the Ring' (FR), the first volume of the great `The Lord of the Rings' (LotR). It begins at the beginning of FR and ends as the fellowship stand in the mines of Moria over the grave marked `Balin Son of Burin, Lord of Moria' (The dramatic encounter between Gandalf and the Balrog will have to wait until the next volume).
For those of you who may have read `The Lord of the Rings' only once or twice, this and the next three volumes in this series are an enormous treat, as reading this is far more rewarding than a second or third reading of LotR, and will make that second or third reading even more interesting. For those of us who have read LotR for ten or twelve times, and have seen Peter Jackson's films of same more times than I care to count, the interest tends to wane just a bit, as the percentage of entirely new material is small compared to early versions of text which appeared in the final volumes.
What I really looked forward to in these volumes was some insight into my second most favorite character, after Gandalf, and this would be the perpetual Middle Earth hippie, Tom Bombadil and his consort, Goldberry. Unfortunately, this book does not through a lot of light on Bombadil's origins. Thankfully, it also does not violate any of my lengthily speculations on where Bombadil fits into the history of Middle Earth and the cosmology of the world in which Middle Earth is set. The heart of the matter is that Bombadil is one of the very few true natives of Middle Earth. The elves are clearly immigrants from the Far West. Dwarves and men seem to be creations of the Valar, and orcs and trolls are perversions of elves, men, and dwarves made by Melkor or Sauron. He is certainly not one of the Valar, as nothing said about his lack of interest in The Ring would be true of a Valar. Similarly, he is certainly not a wizard, one of Gandalf's clan, the Istari. The fact is, Tolkien senior simply added him in as a `deux ex machina', pinch hitting for Gandalf in a way, to get the wandering hobbits out of two jams with powers far greater than their own, so that they can safely reach Bree and the assistance of Strider. And, it turns out Tolkien simply wanted to include Bombadil and Goldberry since he had written of them in earlier publications!
One thing that does come out is the fact that the minor character, Farmer Maggot is potentially a far more interesting character than may appear on the surface. For example, Tom Bombadil seems to get most of his information about the outside world from Farmer Maggot and there is a suspicion in this narrative that Maggot is not entirely `hobbit' bred. This is not too unusual, as there has always been a suspicion that the three strains of hobbits are a result of a bit on interbreeding with elves and dwarves (but you didn't hear that from me!). One thing about Maggot which tickles my fancy is that his physical description here is a strong image of the Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonite farmers, which fits perfectly into the land around the Brandywine and the cultivation of mushrooms, both features of southeastern Pennsylvania, the home of the very same Pennsylvania Dutch. And yet, editor Christopher seems to make no mention of this obvious connection.
Being a true fanatic, even little things about these books will please me to no end. One thing, among others, which makes me think that Peter Jackson used these books in his writing the screenplay for the movies is the similarity between the picture of Bag End and the surrounding Shire and Bag End as it appeared in FR. I'm also thrilled by the additional original Tolkien maps, as well as the usually excellent index to the volume. I look forward to a composite index covering the whole four volumes of the `History of the Lord of the Rings' series.
The greatest impact of this volume comes from the smallest note in the beginning. After all the preparation done on the history of Middle Earth, Tolkien senior still had no notion of what he will find in Bree, who or what was Strider, or any notion of the design of Moria until he actually reached these characters and events in his writing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2012
"I squandered so much on the original `Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world" (RotS pg. 44). Tolkien wrote this to Stanley Unwin in the late 1930s when Unwin had approached Tolkien to do a sequel, and when Tolkien was struggling with writing the first portion of what would be come his masterpiece.
The Return of the Shadow deals with the earliest extant texts of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, dealing exclusively with Book 1 and the first part of book II up to Balin's tomb in Moria.
Christopher Tolkien divides this writing up into three phases, with the first phase taking Bingo (who would later become Frodo) and company to Rivendell. There are no less than SIX versions of the opening chapter, with only a few notes regarding the Ring. It was not until the introduction of the Black Riders (who in the first draft written was actually Gandalf surprising the four journeying hobbits) and Gollum's back story did the story take on more of its more familiar, canonized versions. The first phase stopped when Tolkien got to Rivendell.
The second phase is Tolkien rewriting and redrafting the material and even the introduction of a new chapter. It is basically Tolkien going back to the earlier material and incorporating all the different changes that had came long.
The third phase is Tolkien reordering the rather chaotic body of manuscripts that had accumulated into a fair working copy. At one point during this phrase Tolkien even considered abandoning the work already completed and making Bilbo the main character again.
There are also various fascimile productions of a map of the lands south of Wilderland in THE Hobbit, a colour reproduction of The Shire, inscriptison, a plan of how Bree is laid out, and some photos of manuscripts. The work in this book was all written between 1937 to the end of 1939, in Christopher Tolkien's estimation.
That is a pretty fair assesment of what's actually in the book. Now, should you purchase this? That depends on a couple of quantifying factors.
First, this, and the subsequent three volumes in THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH are indepth studies of how Tolkien developed his masterpiece. They are previously unpublished drafts, outlines, and thoughts. Literally reading these books is like you are looking over Tolkien's shoulder as he is writing. There are quite a few fascinating tidbits, like encountering Aragon as he was originally envisoned (a hobbit named Trotter with wooden shoes. A vestiage of Trotter survived in the final work when Aragorn named his house Tel which means Trotter in).
Like the rest of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW is not EASY reading, but if you are interested in either Tolkien or the creative process in general or (better yet) both, then this is a great purchase and fascinating book overall.
Ultimately, the four volumes of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH (6, 7, 8, and 9) that deal with THE LORD OF THE RINGS are the most generally accessible for more casual fans. If you like these and UNFINISHED TALES, then I would recommend picking up the other books in the series.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2003
Of the thrilling and informative History of Middle-Earth series, this is perhaps the most interesting part. Normal Tolkien fans will get the rare chance to see how the germ of an idea can explode into the most complex cosmology ever created. Although it may seem boring, as it is not a novel per se, it is an insightful analysis of a very beloved book. The Lord of the Rings was initially conceived as a sequel to the Hobbit, growing into something incomparably more vast. We see Bingo in the character of Frodo, the name Frodo applied to another character. Aragorn is named Trotter and the idea emerges that he might be a long lost Hobbit who has had many experiences on the road. Somehow, with many footnotes and comments in the margin, we see the evolution of these ideas into what we know today as LOTR. Fascinating and useful for the Tolkien scholar, the devoted Tolkien reader, or even an aspiring writer.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 1997
Tolkien describes the Lord of the Rings as "a tale that grew in the telling", and this is the volume that most clearly illuminates that process. If you are one of us who repeatedly immerse ourselves in Middle Earth, you will find this volume occasionally amazing, occasionally hilarious, and always fascinating. Much of the dialogue in LotR remained unchanged from its earliest drafts, but the characters speaking the words changed dramatically. For example, in his original incarnation, Strider was a road-worn, dark and dangerous hobbit! The meeting at Bree alone is worth the price of the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2014
How often do fans get to read draft versions of a favorite saga, glimpsing which elements were present from the beginning, how the story evolved, and various alternatives that were considered? For fans who relish such details, this is a book for you!
Tolkien did not know at the outset what his story would be, but just began writing. Although he made numerous revisions to people and events, he stayed within the same framework rather than create something entirely new. Hence, the protagonists remained hobbits, the story opened with the birthday party, the hobbits leave the Shire, they arrive in Bree and meet a helpful stranger, they are pursued, and arrive in Rivendell. Tolkien foresaw the journey to Orodruin, that Gollum would play a role, and that the Shire would suffer, but did not yet Lothlorien, Saruman, Rohan or Gondor. Treebeard was originally envisaged as an enemy and the character who would become Strider/Aragorn as a hobbit ranger named Trotter.
The bulk of Return of the Shadow follows the rewrites of various events from the Birthday party to the arrival in Rivendell. Some of the differences are minor, others more significant. The final two chapters focus on the failed attempt to cross the mountains and the entry into Moria. At this point, the party consisted of Gandalf, the shire hobbits, Trotter, and Boromir, although we see that Tolkien considered adding a dwarf and elf.
Throughout the book, Christopher Tolkien adds his comments about the drafts and the story. It’s amazing enough that Tolkien saved his original material, even those scribbled on scraps of paper, but Christopher’s painstaking work organizing the versions, trying to figure out the order of writing, and deciphering script that was barely legible (in some cases, pencil with a different version overwritten in ink) is truly herculean. He notes discrepancies in maps and chronology, clarifies statements and passages, even admits when he doesn’t know what his father was thinking. What he does not do is describe any philosophical outlook or response to life events that influenced his tale or Middle Earth. You will need to look elsewhere for such an analysis.
Parts of the book can be tedious if you’re not particularly interested in maps, coordinating dates, or reading three versions of a scene in a row. But if you are keen to observe the process of creation that resulted in Lord of the Rings, you will find this book fascinating.