Sunday, October 02, 2022

Fortnightly Book, October 2

 J. R. R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales is the next fortnightly book. (I've already done The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.) Christopher Tolkien had published The Silmarillion after his father's death, but was never very easy about how he had pulled it together. Parts of the work were developed, but other parts were very early drafts that had not been revised since well before the published works. Thus Christopher Tolkien edited what he had in order to make it into a continuous, coherent narrative that did more or less what his father intended the work eventually to do. This meant a lot of cutting and changing, however, and Christopher Tolkien eventually decided that this was not the appropriate way to approach the mass of material left by his father. So as he was studying those materials and working out what to do about them, he decided to pull together some material that was fairly substantive even though it never reached a form in which J. R. R. Tolkien thought it worth trying to get published. Thus Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth was born. It was a commercial success, and had given Christopher Tolkien room to experiment a bit about the best way to present the materials in the archive, so it gave him the encouragement to pull together the multi-volume History of Middle Earth, which does on a far greater scale (and on some things more accurately) what Unfinished Tales pioneered.

As Christopher Tolkien notes in his introduction, the tales are unfinished in very different senses. Some are finished in a sense but not stand-alone -- they supplement other tales. Some are complete drafts of important works that were never given final form. Some are partial drafts or fragments. Some are self-standing but cover matters that J. R. R. Tolkien was still in the process of working out. Some are not strictly works but the picture that emerges about events or characters from different sources. The work is broken into four parts, with the first three being devoted to major happenings of the First, Second, and Third Ages respectively, and the fourth being concerned with particular items of interest, like the history of the Wizards or of the Seeing Stones. Throughout there is an interplay and almost a dialogue between J. R. R. Tolkien's works and Christopher Tolkien's editorial commentary on them.