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on January 20, 2003
Unfinished Tales is some of Tolkien's unpublished writings. These writings includes the stories of Tour, Turin, Galadriel, the Stewards, Eorl and Rohan, the wizards and other aspects of middle earth. Christopher Tolkien also provides many footnotes that go into detail about the languages used by Tolkien. I have read six novels by Tolkien, and consider this to be weakest, but I still gave it five stars. Unfinished Tales contains information that could not included in the Silmarillion. Many of the stories add detail to those began in the Silmarillion.
If you are considering buying this book, you should know this is not like Tolkien's other books about middle earth. This is a collection of many stories and legends that do not neccessarily involve each other. In this work, there is no overall plot. If you, as I, love Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion, then Unfinished Tales provides more information and depth. If you are looking for a novel about another period in middle earth, then you might be disappointed. Additionally, the second story concerning Turin requires that you have read the Silmarillion.
However, this novel gives fans of Tolkien another chance to marvel in his genius and be amazed at his vast creation. I have just finished reading Unfinished Tales for a third time, and encourage anyone who enjoyed the Silmarillion to buy this book because more likely than not, you will also read it again.
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on December 22, 1998
The best thing about Tolkien is that he's written stories for every possible human mood. Want some light entertainment? Read The Hobbit. Want a great, dark and overwhelming epic? Well, LotR is your choice. And so on. You can't say "LotR is Tolkien's greatest work" or "Silmarillion is his finest achievement", because they're both just parts of the great perfectness. Simply, Middle-Earth is his best work and greatest achievement, everything it contains and everything you imagine it to contain.
That's why I've grown to adore Unfinished Tales more and more with every reading. Of all books published under Tolkien's name, it paints maybe the clearest picture of Middle-Earth's different aspects. There are Old Testament-style myths, exciting adventure stories, intelligent and interesting essays, more romance and human feelings than in his other works. I guess for an ordinary reader it can be a bit confusing that so few of these Tales are ready and whole. Christopher Tolkien has had to explain much, but for a die-hard fan like me that makes it all more interesting. Between the lines you can easily read facts about the way Tolkien handled his world, and that way is unique in litetarure. A very, very essential book.
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on April 3, 2003
UNFISHED TALES OF NUMENOR AND MIDDLE-EARTH is a collection of stories by JRR Tolkien. The book is divided into four parts: the first part is titled "The First Age" and the stories that are in it are "Of Tour and his Coming to Gondolin" and "Narn I Hin Hurin" which is the story of Turin. So, Part One is about the two cousins. Part Two is named "The Second Age" and contains "Descriptions of the Island of Numenor", "Aldarion and Erendis", The Line of Elros: Kings of Numenor", and The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and Amroth King of Lorien". Part three, which of course is named "The Third Age" and has "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", Cirion adn Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan", "The Quest of Erebor", The Hunt for the Ring", and "The Battle of the Fords of Isen". Part Four is, no, not named "The Fourth Age" but instead, just simply "Part Four". Part Four is for background reading and information with "The Druedain", "The Istari", and "The Palantiri".
But as good as the book is by itself, I would sugest you read "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" before reading UNFINISHED TALES OF HUNEMOR AND MIDDLE-EARTH. maybe you should even read "The Simarillion" before it, even though I'm sure you will understand the contents without reading "The Simarillion".
There are many stories and characters in this book, so it's hard to have a favorite character. But one of the best things about the book is the fact that JRR Tolkien paints the pictures so vividly in your mind. You can imagine the sea, the forests, and the people when you read it.
If this book could have been improved, then many of the important and best parts would be lost and gone. The only warning that I give is that, unlike "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings", UNFINISHED TALES is written in a text-book, bible sort of way. For people who hate to read this kind of writing, I suggest that you read the first few stories and then see if you like it or not.
I would reccommend this book to readers of JRR Tolkien(Duh!), C.S. Lewis, Brian Jacques, or any other fantasy reader. I'm sure that this book will intrest historians and geographers, too. The fantasy world of Middle Earth is so full of suprises and wonders that you're never sure if you'll like it or not- but I'm sure you will.
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on July 23, 2004
Next to The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales is probably your best resource for learning more about the history and behind-the-scenes events that took place during, and before the War of the Ring.

The book begins with a summery and overview by editor Christopher Tolkien, who as you may have figured out, is John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's son. There's also an introduction, explaining why Christopher Tolkien left some texts unaltered, or why he altered, or did not give altered versions, or definitions and clarifications between differing versions of similar stories...it's all a little long-winded and not entirely necessary in my humble opinion. But perhaps it is important to some. Unfinished Tales is, after all, a large compilation of the scraps and tidbits of information that Professor Tolkien scrawled out in spare time, put together and alongside entire revisions of different stories. I can't imagine the sticky process it took to put this all together.

The book is divided into four sections.

The First Age section entails the story of Tuor, the escaped slave of Morgoth, warned by the "god" of waters, Ulmo, of the impending danger to the bulwark fortress of Gondolin. Tuor journeys with the aid and guidance of a sea-faring Elf, Voronwë, to the stronghold of Gondolin, and offers his message at last to its great king. Since the tale ends here (with only cursory description of the events that followed), I recommend reading The Silmarillion first, if you haven't already, to find out how it turns out. I have, but some of the details were difficult to recall.

Following is the incredibly tragic (and in this rendition, long!) tale of Turin, or rather, Narn I Hîn Húrin, the tale of the children of Húrin. I read it because I didn't want to leave anything skipped, but it's only a more detailed retelling of the same story found again in The Silmarillion. It's such a sad, sordid tale that I don't think I would have lost anything by skipping over it.

The Second Age section tells the story of Aldarion, a future king of Númenór, whose love for the sea is threatened by his love for the maid Erendis, vice-versa. I thought the story was woven incredibly well, except for the fact that it ends abruptly. (I was upset, until I closed the book and remembered that -- duh -- they're UNFINISHED Tales!) From all indications, the ending wasn't too happy anyway. But the story is still of high value for its descriptions of the island of Númenór.

There is a brief recounting of genealogies of the line of Elros, the first king of Númenór, and then a scattered gathering of information about Galadriel and her relationship to Celeborn. Various different versions are compared, very little is concretely presented.

The Third Age is probably my favorite section. It would appear that interest, at least in my case, grows stronger as the time draws closer to the War of the Ring. The first story, The Disaster of the Gladden Fields, is virtually all-new material regarding the march of Isildur after he cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand, how Isildur's army was overtaken by orcs, and how Isildur found his end. There's even a little information about what King Elessar (Aragorn, of course) found in the tower of Orthanc following Saruman's demise!

Then there is the tale of the great grandsire of the Rohirrim, Eorl, and his assistance that he provided to Cirion, the steward of Gondor, in his greatest need, much as Théoden later did. Unfortunately, this tale tells of how Eorl led his troops forth, and all kinds of details about his journey -- and cuts short just as the battle begins. Don't blame Christopher Tolkien though...it's one of the Unfinished elements. We're also told of the pledge between Gondor and Rohan, and of the gift of the land of Rohan to the Eorlingas.

Then we get some more, extra information about the Quest of Erebor, where Bilbo Baggins of the Shire was first persuaded to join thirteen dwarves on an impossible mission to reclaim the great dwarf treasure hoard which was stolen by the dragon Smaug. It is told from Gandalf's perspective to the hobbits inside Minas Tirith following the coronation of Aragorn, which gives it an added bonus, much like seeing extended material on the special extended DVD of the movie.

There are also stories that fill in what happened during the Hunt for the Ring, including a confrontation between the Nazgûl and Grima Wormtongue, and the other goings about that the Dark Riders conducted.

The Battle for the Fords of Isen is background, merging with the story in The Two Towers just as Théoden and his troops arrive at Helm's Deep. It also deals with Théodred's death, and the valor that he, Elfhelm, Grimbold, Erkenbrand, and Éomer and other generals showed during the decline of Rohan's kingdom.

Part four deals quickly with three things: The Drúedain (the forest-dwellers briefly seen in Return of the King book, and also the originators of the Púkal-men), the Istari, and the Palantiri. All three fill a mere forty pages, but still provide many interesting and awesome facts about the Seeing-stones, Gandalf's arrival upon the shores of Middle-Earth, etc.

There's also a large index of names and places in the back.

This book is fundamental for hard-core, book-reading fans of Tolkien. You can learn all sorts of behind-the-scenes events that took place in Middle-Earth, and then shock (or repulse) your friends, or just fill out your knowledge of Tolkienology with peripheral information. It's not quite as enjoyable to read as the linear, completed works like the trilogy, the Hobbit, or even the Silmarillion provide, but still very useful. Most likely the fact that you're looking this book up means you should buy it, and I recommend you do.
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on March 28, 2012
"Unfinished Tales" now represents something of a publishing problem, since the centrepiece of the book, the broken sequence of fragments and drafts of the projected 'great tale' of the children of Húrin (told only in abbreviated form in "The Silmarillion"), has recently been superseded by "The Children of Húrin" (see Narn I Chin Hurin: The Tale of the Children of Hurin). With new manuscript discoveries and a reconsideration of the relationship between the fragments it was possible to form a complete narrative, and one which differs in many details from that in "Unfinished Tales". The rest of the book contains much that is fascinating, but it is just too thin in quality, or too 'technical', to sustain the book on its own. There is only one piece that matches 'The Children of Húrin' in stature, and that is the fragment 'Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin', being what survives of a final, mature attempt to tell this story in a full form - another of the three 'great tales' Tolkien planned to produce. (As a narrative it is perhaps rather static; but for me it is the most haunting work in the book, even if the 'Narn' is greater.)

For a new reader it could hardly be recommended to ignore the new book and just read 'The Children of Húrin' in its "Unfinished Tales" form (the cat's out of the bag). But the other material in the book still needs to be preserved, and shown off to best advantage, as it was originally by association with the 'great tales'. Perhaps there is more high quality material that could be rescued from the massive "History of Middle Earth" and promoted to "Unfinished Tales"? After all, this book is by default a kind of highlights volume.

Or maybe there IS still a place for a REVISED version of the more technical style of presentation of 'The Children of Húrin' used in "Unfinished Tales", to complement the new book - with the new fragments added, as well as the new ideas for how they fit together. Certainly it's hard to imagine the book without this work at its heart. (And I must say that on balance I prefer the story in its more 'honest' "Unfinished Tales" presentation. Maybe because that's how I first read it! But in the new book the illusion of a finished work sometimes clashes with passages that lack final polish.)

A new edition would also be handy for some of the technical pieces in the book. The 'Hunt for the Ring' chapter, in particular, seems to need heavy revision in the light of new discoveries.
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on January 11, 2002
Like The Silmarillion but even more so, this book is an unusual form of fiction. The pieces in this book range from short philological essays to full narratives, and range in completeness from scattered fragments that conflict with one another, through polished tales that end abruptly, to more complete works. But if the appendices to The Lord of the Rings were your favorite part, and you want even more of the intricate backstory behind Tolkien's stunning narratives, buy this book immediately without fear of disappointment.
Unfinished Tales fleshes out in more detail what is only alluded to elsewhere. Here we get fully written stories, if incomplete, of Tuor and Túrin, whereas in The Silmarillion their tales received much briefer treatment. We learn more about Númenor: a map of the island, a chronology of its kings, and a story from early in its history. We find a well-written account of the ambush of Isildur at the Gladden Fields, and get a hint of what the power of Númenor was before its waning. We learn more about the Rohirrim. More about what else happened during the War of the Ring. And most tantalizing, we get short (if fragmentary) essays on the Wizards, the Palantíri, and the Drúedain.
Remarkably consistent, most of these works appear to have been written late in Tolkien's life, by which I mean after The Lord of the Rings was published: he's filling in details rather than establishing the basic structure. (Even the empty lands of Enedwaith and Minhiriath get histories.) One exception is the conflicting histories of Galadriel, whose role, it seems, Tolkien was still trying to work out.
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on April 14, 2007
This book is for those folks who read the Lord of the Rings all of the way through, including the appendices. It collects several different stories that do not really fit into a narrative of their own. Yet they're in a more cohesive state than the Silmarillion, which was also released posthumously. If you like to read all that you can of J.R.R. Tolkiens creation you'll want this book. It adds extra depth to the underlying themes in the Lord of the Rings.
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J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth weren't restricted just to fantasy epic "Lord of the Rings." His life's work was spread over hundreds of stories and invented legends -- some were compiled into "The Silmarillion." But some were left over, little odd bits that make up "Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth."
Tolkien presents stories spanning Middle-Earth's history, with dragons and mythical heroes like Turin, background information on Elf queen Galadriel and her husband Celeborn, and different accounts of searches for the One Ring, including more exposition about the wizard-turned-bad Saruman and the other Istari. There are also essays about palantiri, wizards, and the family line of Elrond's mortal brother Elros. Best among these is a "lost chapter" where Gandalf talks to Frodo about the Dwarves.
This isn't a novel, or even a sort of pseudo-history like "Silmarillion." It's more like a patchwork quilt of little odd bits that don't belong anywhere else. Anybody who hasn't read "Silmarillion," "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" will be hopelessly lost. But those who have read and understood those books will eat these right up -- there's plenty of info about favorite characters like Gandalf, Galadriel, and the heroes and villains from Tolkien's sprawling epics.
Tolkien's vivid writing is shown in its different states here -- there's the stately semi-mythic writing, and the more intimate conversational style of "Lord of the Rings." He even dabbles briefly in first-person storytelling through the eyes of Frodo Baggins. Lots of details and ethereally evocative descriptions make it all come alive.
"Unfinished Tales" is a fill-in-the-gaps sort of book, and Tolkien's storytelling genius still shines through in this disjointed collection of essays, bits and pieces. For those hungering for more Middle-Earth.
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on December 13, 2001
The interesting thing to me about any story is thinking about what else is going on. Characters do not live in a void where only their actions effect the outside world. While many of the stories have no definitive ending or resolution contained herein, the resolutions come from other sources, such as the Hobbit, the Rings Trilogy or the Silmarillion.
For example, the Battle of Isen Ford concerning the death of Theodred, Theoden's heir is excellent source material. It did not make sense in LOTR because we were not introduced to Theodred, because the Hobbits, who were the writers of the story, never met him - but he is referenced. Yet we know what happened after those events, and his burial place is noted as the companions make their way to Isengard.
Another good example is how Gandalf met Thorin, Thrain his father, and convinced the Dwarves to go from the Blue Mountains to Bag End on their way to visit Smaug. This is the prelude to There and Back Again (aka The Hobbit), and we know exactly what happened after the Dwarves arrived at Bag End, but where did Gandalf get that all important Map and Key?
The story of the Istari's arrival is interesting, as is that "Of Tuor" (if you're a Silmarillion fan). They are short stories in themselves, that are more fact based, with no endings or conclusions, but we know what happens in the end because it's already written elsewhere.
Next to the Lays of Belerand, this is perhaps the best companion to the major works - although I haven't gotten through the Peoples of Middle Earth yet, maybe after I see the movie next week! I do not view the stories in Unfinished tales as unfinished, but rather as pieces to be plugged into the greater story.
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on December 20, 2011
Upon his death in 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien left behind a vast collection of writings about Middle-earth. His third son and literary executor, Christopher, assembled some of these into The Silmarillion, published in 1977, but the question about what to do with the other reams of material was unclear. Aware that fans of Middle-earth would be eager for more material, even unfinished or existing only in rough drafts, he assembled Unfinished Tales and published it in 1980. Its success inspired him to proceed with the far more ambitious, twelve-volume History of Middle-earth project.

Unfinished Tales occupies an awkward place in the Tolkien canon. Unlike the History series, which consists of almost exclusively non-canon material (early drafts and rough notes of material that was eventually finalised and published), the material in Unfinished Tales was specifically written by Tolkien to flesh out other parts of his mythos that were not explored in the books themselves. In particular, the writings include a series of essays which were designed to answer a wide number of issues brought up by readers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in correspondence. Some of these essays were written very late in Tolkien's life and represent his last - and often only - word on subjects such as the origins of Gandalf and his fellow wizards, the backstory of Galadriel and the history of Numenor during the Second Age. As a result some fans hold Unfinished Tales to be the fourth Middle-earth book, only marginally less important than The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Others choose to disregard it as anything more than a curiosity, since as Christopher Tolkien himself notes it's unlikely J.R.R. would have permitted even the completed writings in the book to be published without more polish.

Unlike The Silmarillion, which was presented as a single narrative, Unfinished Tales is a collection of stories and fragments intermingled with Christopher Tolkien's editorial notes. These are kept to a minimum in some of the stories and essays, but in others are much more prevalent (something he apologises for, but regards as necessary in the case of works where his father was working on several drafts simultaneously, risking confusion to the reader). Christopher's notes are fascinating, well-written with a clear eye for detail and minimising confusion. He assumes the reader is already familiar with the Middle-earth mythos (since they're unlikely to be reading this book otherwise) and is able to delve into various topics in depth. Whilst he clearly loves and respects his father immensely, it is also amusing to detect the vague frustrations that creep into his notes, most notably when trying to fathom why Tolkien abandoned particular narratives at key points (feelings the reader may share as the book unfolds).

The first story is 'Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin'. The story of Tuor's arrival in Gondolin and the events leading to the fall of that city in the War of the Jewels was the first story Tolkien ever wrote set in Middle-earth, and is still one of his most memorable narratives. However, the version in Unfinished Tales was written much later, in 1951 (the much more complete original can be found in The History series), featuring a more conventional prose style than the archaic original. It's stirring, epic stuff, featuring some great imagery as Tuor is confronted by the Vala Ulmo, Lord of Waters, and has a great destiny laid before him. The story proceeds with power and momentum until it abruptly halts just as Tuor reaches Gondolin itself. Even with the earlier version available and a much more compressed account of events readable in The Silmarillion, this is still a frustrating moment.

The second story is 'The Tale of the Children of Hurin', a much longer story (almost a hundred pages, taking up a quarter of the book) featuring the adventures of the doomed, tragic Turin. Unlike the story of Tuor, this tale is more or less complete, though somewhat complex due to competing drafts and different versions existing. Many years later Christopher used this material (along with some other, later unearthed manuscripts) to form the basis of The Children of Hurin, so if you already have that book be aware that you will find much of this material familiar. But still, it's a powerful story, the darkest thing Tolkien wrote set in Middle-earth, featuring lust, incest (though unwitting), war and the 'hero' bringing death and ruin to all those around him.

The next section of the book moves into the Second Age of Middle-earth, which Tolkien left somewhat vague and under-developed compared to the First Age (covered in The Silmarillion) and the Third (the setting for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings). We start off with 'A Description of the Island of Numenor'. For fans of worldbuilding, Tolkien's description of the island empire and the accompanying map will be fascinating. However, it's the following story, 'Aldarion and Erendis', which is more intriguing. It depicts the marriage of the noble lady Erendis to Aldarion, later King of Numenor, and touches on larger aspects (such as Aldarion's re-opening of relations between Numenor and the elves of Middle-earth), but for the most part it's a strong character piece. For those who claim Tolkien is overly-romantic, this account of a failing relationship due to outside pressures (Aldarion's lengthy absences from home) is surprisingly realistic. The story breaks off towards the end, although this is more of a relationship study than a tense narrative, so is less grievous a loss than some of the other texts in the book.

Tolkien follows this up with an account of the Kings of Numenor and the major events of their reigns. This is again primarily of interest to worldbuilders, but Tolkien manages to put in some great details and elements that could have been mined to produce further stories, but sadly it was not to be. This is then succeeded by an account of the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, something that Lord of the Rings fans will be more interested in, but frustratingly is also the most 'unfinished' of all the works in the book. Tolkien conceived of several competing, but radically different possibilities for the couple's backstory and reached no firm conclusions before his death, leaving several versions which are mutually contradictory. Christopher Tolkien suggests appreciating these contradictions as part of the literary effect of having a fictional history and mythology, which may be the best approach. Even in their differences, these versions reveal more fascinating information on Sauron's activities in the Second Age and characters briefly mentioned in Lord of the Rings, such as Celebrimbor, Nimrodel and Amroth.

The final sections of the book deals with the Third Age and consists mainly of finished essays and narratives, though in some cases with competing drafts which the editor takes pains to clarify. This section begins with an account of the Battle of the Gladden Fields (the engagement where Isildur lost the Ring), here revealed to be a much larger conflict than the brief skirmish suggested by Lord of the Rings and depicted as such in the films (by necessity, since Peter Jackson did not have the film rights to Unfinished Tales he could not use the account of the conflict here). He follows this up with the history of the Rohirrim, the development of the relationship between the Rohirrim and people of Gondor, and the founding of Rohan itself, again depicting worldbuilding information through a story (here the friendship of King Cirion of Gondor and Eorl, founder of Rohan).

This is followed by sections fleshing out The Lord of the Rings. 'The Quest of Erebor' explains how Gandalf came to join forces with Thorin and the dwarves and how he convinced them to recruit Bilbo Baggins to join their quest. This was actually a chapter from The Lord of the Rings, written as part of Tolkien's attempts to better-connect The Hobbit and the later work, but was wisely exorcised for killing the pace of the novel (it was supposed to be a discussion between Gandalf and Frodo between the victory over Sauron and the Scouring of the Shire, where it would have been ill-suited). However, as a stand-alone narrative it's a valuable - and enjoyable - asset in clarifying the relationship between the two books. This is followed up by 'The Hunt for the Ring', a detailed account of how the Ringwraiths set out in search of the Ring after losing track of Gollum (who had been captured by Aragorn). Though rather brief, this short piece does feature a memorable confrontation between Saruman and the Witch-King of Angmar. Rounding off this section is 'The Battles of the Fords of Isen', revealing in detail the battles fought by Rohan against Isengard on the Isen (alluded to but unseen in The Lord of the Rings). Again, it's not essential but does help flesh out a side-element of The Lord of the Rings.

Rounding off the book are three complete essays on three separate topics. The first expands on the Druedain or Woses, the wood-men who help the Rohirrim bypass Sauron's armies to reach the Pelennor Fields. Tolkien reveals in this essay that he was considering giving the Druedain a much bigger role in the backstory of Middle-earth, and even have them playing a role in The Silmarillion, but passed away before this idea could be fully fleshed-out. The second discusses the Istari, or the order of wizards that Gandalf, Radagast and Saruman belong to. We learn the names of the other two wizards who vanished into the east (Alatar and Pallando) and some interesting backstory emerges here. The third and final essay delves into the Palantiri, the magical seeing-stones which play a major role in The Lord of the Rings. This is atypical Tolkien, since normally he preferred to leave the magical elements of his world vague and mysterious, but here he delves into the capabilities of each palantir with the kind of magic system-building enthusiasm we now see with writers such as Brandon Sanderson.

Unfinished Tales (*****) is a fascinating book, representing a collection of writings by the most influential fantasist of all time extending over thirty years. Many of the individual stories and essays are excellent, certainly all are interesting and the only complaint that can be made is that several break off with no resolution. But then the book does tell you that on the cover, so it's hard to hold that against it. Unfinished Tales is available now, in numerous editions, in the UK and USA.
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