Customer Reviews: The History of the Lord of the Rings
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on January 23, 2001
The advent of DVD technology increased what many of us expect to get out of a movie. When I buy a movie I love on DVD, I expect to get as much extra data as possible. I want to see the original drafts of the script, I want to hear the director and writer talking about the movie, I want to see a 'making of' documentary and all the deleted scenes that never made it to the final version.
This is *precisley* what you get with this compendium of Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth. Unlike the previous volumes that cover the actual internal history and chronology of Middle Earth in the same way the books of Lost Tales did, this series details the *writing* of the Lord of the Rings. We *see* Tolkien's thought processes as he figured out what happens next. We watch as Aragon shows up with the unlikely name of Trotter. We watch Frodo get moved around so much that, by the time he's recognizable to us as the character in the novel, he's had several names and other characters have had his name!
We see the *entire plotline* surrounding Saruman's defection from the Council, one of-if not *the*- major subplots of the novel arise out of Tokien's problems with the Nazgul. If the Nazgul are going to chase Frodo and Co. around on the way to Rivendell, Gandalf *can't be there*. Otherwise he'd just smack the Nazgul around. Ok, where can Gandalf be? Hmm. . .he'd have to be *captured* by someone if he couldn't make it to defend Frodo. And so the entire notion of Saruman takes form.
This is more than just a fascinating examination of the development of a famous novel; it's a lesson on how books are written. About the endless series of compromises that must be made to get the story into print.
Two points you should consider, though. This is not *fun* to read, it's not remotely entertaining. It's not *meant* as entertainment, it's mean as a scholarly examination of the development of a novel. Christopher Tolkien is occasionally casual; he'll say; "Then father wrote something I honestly can't figure out and doesn't make any sense to me." Fair enough, but that's about as engaging as this gets. If you pick this up, be prepared to read it like a textbook.
Secondly, Christopher Tolkien is necessarily bound by the things his father thought were important. Gargantuan volumes of text are devoted to following his father's obsession with working out the precise timeline, often down to the hour and minute, things occurred in the story. I don't think this is going to be interesting to anyone except another Tolkien scholar. I don't think the timeline is that important in the first place, so I can't honestly say that it was interesting watching its development.
But you shouldn't let these two things stop you. Some advice; skip the parts that are boring to you. Each book has a hell of an index. Start leafing through it, looking for interesting subjects. I was fascinated by the development of the Palantir. Much time is spent talking about the different drafts, but we don't need to know when the different drafts were written, or why, just that there *were* different drafts. I was able to learn a lot about the development of the Palantir just by reading that section, without understanding the nature of the different drafts of the story.
The whole series is filled with this stuff. It's worth it alone for the development of the poem Errantry, which Bilbo recites in the house of Elrond. Great stuff!!
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on June 4, 2004
Probably the most accessible volumes of the admittedly very dry HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series to the general reader, this box set covers the evolution of Tolkien's masterpiece, THE LORD OF THE RINGS. This is a graduate level look at what goes in the making of a literary masterpiece. As you read through this box set, you see Tolkien's imagination at work, toying with ideas, names, possible plot lines, and just the general struggle to get through the work. This is not a fun, entertaining read that you pick up; this is a scholarly look out the evolution of one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century, and an opportunity almost never granted to readers. The biggest weakness of this set is it does not include THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH, which details the evolution of the appendices, as well as giving the full text to THE LORD OF THE RING's aborted sequel, THE NEW SHADOW. A strange omission, especially since the last volume is so slim
Throughout the series, Christopher Tolkien illuminates how directionless his father truly was, and how little he actually knew when writing THE LORD OF THE RINGS. What is truly startling about these books (and the most encouraging) are how much was unknown when Tolkien begun the first chapter. Indeed, for the half of FELLOWSHIP, Tolkien was largely raiding his own, pre-existing larder, sending the hobbits through already exisiting situations that Tolkien had envisioned in his poetry (see Tom Shippey's AUTHOR OF THE CENTURY for more about this).
The changes are absolutely phenomenal. We see a great number of name-shifting throughout the original hobbits. We watch the evolution of Aragorn, originally a rustic hobbit of Bree, turn into the very heir of Isildur himself, come to reclaim the vacant throne of Gondor. We see Treebeard, a malignant, evil character originally, become one of the key players in winning the war of the ring. We watch Tolkien work through the problem of Gandalf's appearance as the hobbits set out from the Shire; Tolkien was just as puzzled at what happened to Gandalf as the hobbits were. His disappearance led to the birth of the treacherous Saruman.
The other three books (including the slim volume THE END OF THE THIRD AGE, ordinally published as the first part of SAURON DEFEATED) gives us further insight into the creative process at work. As new lands emerge (Lothlorian, Rohan, Fangorn), Tolkien's shifting conceptions and outlines often fall by the wayside when he writes that part of the story. No one appears more surprised at the Palantir crashing upon the feet of Orthanc than Tolkien, though he instantly knew what this mysterious seeing stone was. Faramir, Boromir's younger brother and one who beats back the desire of the Ruling Ring, succeeding where his brother failed, appears in Ilthilien, unknown and unannoucned. We see a very different Helm's Deep, as well as the evolution of the Paths of the Dead and the story of Denethor. The Shire's Scourging is also quite different, with Frodo taking a much more dominant role in the uprising to reclaim the hobbits' homeland. Christopher spends a lot of time on Tolkien's continual cross-checking of the internal chronology of the work, right down to the very phases of the moon. This effect cost Tolkien a lot of labour, and, like his actual constructions of his imaginary languages, have never been done so well in other fantasy works.
One of the biggest revelations comes during the last book, when we finally get to read the long lost epilogue about Sam and his family. Tolkien wisely cut this; the epilogue's presence would have destroyed the deeply meloncholy, emotionally charged departure at the Grey Havens and Sam coming home to Rosie with one of the book's best lines. "Well, I'm back," brings the entire quest back home, but we all know Sam, or any of us for that matter, can never truly come back after going through such harrowing and challenging experiences as he and the rest of the Fellowship went through. However, it is very refreshing to see Sam's large family a lot closer up than we get to in the finished work. Quite sentimental, it shows Tolkien had quite the soft spot for those hobbits of his.
Overall, a stunning, and almost never given, opportunity to watch one of this century's most important writers go through the creative process. This set gives the most encouragement to aspiring and struggling writers, for it shows, first and foremost, that writing is a process, not a finished product. Highly recommended for the serious Tolkien student and fan, and for writers interested in watching a master at work.
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on December 21, 2002
This three-book set (plus a small fourth book) is an amazing look at the thought processes of one of the greatest writers of this century. The reader sees how a loose jumble of ideas was molded into possibly the most complex cosmology of all time.
In the beginning of Tolkien's conceptions for the Lord of the Rings, it was to be just a sequel to the Hobbit. Frodo was named Bingo, the name Frodo was assigned to another character, and Aragorn and the Nazgul were nameless characters hovering on the edge of Tolkien's imagination.
However, these books are definitely not for those who have just watched the movie...and probably not for those who have only read the books once. Only a truly devoted Tolkien fan will find them anything but boring.
But if you have read the books a lot, are deeply interested in the chronology, geography, etc. as it developed, this is an enthralling insight into literary genius, as well as a manual for those of us interested in doing a little writing of our own.
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on October 8, 2000
Like the previous reviewer said, this series is not a "story", but rather an insiders look at the process that Tolkien went through to get THE LORD OF THE RINGS onto the page. Lots of Middle Earth lore is included, which many readers will definitely find interesting and enlightening.
I found the writer's process more interesting. There are story ideas, character's names that changed, and plot points that get rearranged.
The book can get laborious at points. But, again, this is not a story, but rather a backstage look at the detailed work Tolkien devoted to this marvelous trilogy.
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on August 16, 2001
If you like textbooks, or learning about the history of tolkien, this is for you. Also if you ever plan to write any papers on him, its also for you. If you're looking for stories, this is not for you.
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J.R.R. Tolkien worked until the end of his life on Middle-Earth, with its elves, hobbits, dwarves, human Men, and mythical kingdoms and lands. Of course, he produced the epic classics "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," and the posthumous "Silmarillion," but that was only after massive rewritings, notes and revisions.

After his death, his son Christopher Tolkien did the world an enormous favour. He scraped together all of Daddy's notes and letters, annotated them extensively, and published them as the History of Middle Earth. "The History of the Lord of the Rings" goes a little further -- it shows us how the classic story evolved, the characters changed, and how all those steps were needed.

The earlier drafts of "Lord of the Rings" were dramatically different from the book we know and love. Aragorn was once a hobbit called Trotter, Frodo was called Bingo and was once Bilbo's son rather than his cousin. Frodo ended the series as a reknowned warrior, and Treebeard was a bad guy. Things like the palantir were added into the storyline as it progressed. Scenes were changed, lines were crossed out, and subplots were added.

"The History of the Lord of the Rings" also lets readers in on something else: The process of book-writing. Many writers just let the story guide them, and Tolkien was one of those -- his story was practically alive, changing itself as he wrote it. As a result, he had to keep going back to change things, and inventing subplots to keep the main plot going. It might have driven a lesser writer crazy.

As outlined by Christopher Tolkien, we see J.R.R. Tolkien painstakingly revising, reworking, and adjusting his opus, until it finally worked out into the "Lord of the Rings" we know and love today. At times Christopher Tolkien takes it too far by rambling about his father's notes and revisions. But Tolkien's old notes speak for themselves.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this set is the slim "End of the Third Age," which contains the last revisions and notes for "Return of the King." At the end of it is the epilogue, which for some reason was cut out of the final book. In it, we get to see Sam and his loving family several years later, when peace and prosperity have returned to the Shire.

"The History of the Lord of the Rings" is a rewarding read for fans of the original book, and for those who want an inside look on the writing process. It's a necessity, to fully appreciate the plot of "Lord of the Rings."
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on December 5, 2009
This is a 4-volume set. The 4th volume comes in 2 different versions entitled "Sauron Defeated" and "The End of the Third Age". The latter version is substantially smaller than the former. However, the material that is missing is unrelated to the Lord of the Rings saga itself. Unfortunately the Item Description does not tell you which version you are buying, so be aware.
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on September 29, 2015
For those who are serious about discovering Tolkien's thoughts behind his work, this history includes some of his other drafts of this series of books and his thoughts behind the work. Though for the "advanced" it is quite fascinating for to give depth to the stories published. It is more an academic work by his son Christopher, who brought this material together from his voluminous writings, the essential "plot" is that of the Lord of the Rings.
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on September 27, 2000
The history of the lord of the rings is a great setof books that tells much more lore about the lord of the ringd that is left out in other books. It is great if you wish to expand yout knowledge of middle earth but if your looking for a traditional story this isn't really it ( they are acollection of the lore of middle earth).
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on July 25, 2013
Halfway through the first book about the Friendship of the Ring: this is a must for anyone who loved the Lord of the Rings and is curious to know how Tolkien arrived at the eventual storyline. Some parts can be glossed over, especially when his son Christopher talks about name changes or genealogies. But some fans will love that information also! My favorite is finding out how Tolkien developed the theme of how the one Ring controlled all the others and the development of Frodo from Bingo (yes his original name in the story) and of course, Strider.
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