Unfinished Tales by JRR Tolkien

So after reading The Silmarillion, I decided to go a bit further into Middle Earth, any further and I’d be reading the 12 volumes of the History of Middle Earth (which I may well one day do!). So this book is really a step up in the Tolkienite (Middle Earthian? Hobbit?) level. If the appendices weren’t your thing, and the Silmarillion wasn’t, then this book again won’t be your thing. It just contains even more information about Middle Earth, which can be fascinating for some, or boring for others. As the title suggests, these stories are actually unfinished, sometimes they end suddenly, other times they are scraps pulled together by Christopher, with large amounts of his editorial voice.

The book is split into four parts, the first three deal with each of the three ages respectively, and the last one has some additional information about a few other things.

In the first part we have a tale of how Tuor came to Gondolin, and a story of the Children of Húrin. Admittedly I skipped this latter section since I have a copy of the book Children of Húrin, which is just a little more expanded than the version within Unfinished Tales. And I thought I might as well wait and read the whole book, but I’ll definitely come back to this version to compare. Of course we already have some of the tale in The Silmarillion. But the tale of Tuor was quite interesting, it wasn’t as interesting as some of the other ones, but made for a pretty good read. Obviously as it says it details how he came to Gondolin, so it shows him journeying to the ocean, meeting Ulmo, and learning of the city of Gondolin. I found the passage at the end detailing the seven gates of Gondolin quite interesting, because they really seemed impenetrable. Of course Gondolin fell, but the tale of that was never completed, so it ends suddenly as Tuor enters Gondolin proper, and picks up later in The Silmarillion as they try to escape.

In the Second part we learn more about the Númenor with a description of the place, a map (the only one ever published), a list of the kings plus a story about a mariner. The story, Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife was fascinating, it is the only story from Númenor really, and it deals with a prince who basically sets up Númenor’s sailing, well the long distance sailing. He travels to Middle Earth and all across the world, much to the annoyance of his father, who doesn’t like that it leaves him heir-less. Then of course our prince gets a wife, but he doesn’t treat her too kindly with all the travel. We also get some more information about Galadariel and Celeborn, which was the most fragmented of all the tales. There were multiple versions of how they came to Lorien, and who knows which Tolkien would have chosen.

In part three we learn about how Ilsdur met his fate in the Gladden Fields, and why Gandalf came to get the dwarves to Hobbiton for the Quest of Erebor. It was indeed all part of his plan to help Thorin reclaim Erebor, not to get revenge upon Smaug, but to ensure that Sauron could not use the dragon for his own purposes. It was critical that they be successful, and something that escapes attention is that while the Battle of Pelennor was going on, there was a second great battle, The Battle of Dale, and if that was unsuccessful then Gondor would likely have fallen. So recapturing Erebor was important. We also get a very interesting tale about how Rohan and Gondor became allies with the story of Cirion and Eorl. We get more information about The Hunt for the Ring, and how Sauron was acting once he learnt of the ring’s reappearance from Gollum, so it provides a different perspective on a few things, which is interesting. The last section details the prior Battles of the Fords of Isen which Rohan were fighting, where Théodred was slain, it was a crucial aspect of the war between Rohan and Isengard.

In part four we learn all about the druedain, the istari and the palantiri. To be honest this may have been my favourite part. The druedain are the ‘puklemen’ who we meet only for a while in Return of the King as Rohan is heading to Gondor. They are definitely interesting beings. Then the istari are the wizards, so we get to learn about Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast and all that is known about the two blue wizards. This I found very fascinating to be honest, you can read the book yourself (or search online if you want) to find out about them, but it was pretty cool. And the palantiri were those orbs which let you communicate across vast distances, the one that Pippin touched. That too was pretty interesting.

So overall the book was fascinating for me. There were new tales, and heaps of new background information. As I said it’s not really for anyone other than those who want to go even further into Tolkien’s world. It can drag on a little with detail in some parts, and sometimes it’s exposition rather than a story, so, you need to be in it for the information rather than pure entertainment. I liked it, and it’s kept me interested in the world of Tolkien and Middle Earth. Sadly there isn’t all that much left to explore, apart from The Children of Hurin, and the mammoth (even for Tolkien) History of Middle Earth. But it’s been a good summer to explore further Middle Earth.

Somehow the index is even larger than in The Silmarillion! And once again you’ll spend a fair bit of time turning back there to find out who that person is, and where that is, and what’s that word mean again.

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