Greenwood Press, 2000
xiii + 274 pp.
Hardcover. $59.95
ISBN 0-313-30530-7
ISSN 0193-6875

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About the Authors

In English

• Edith L. Crowe,
Mythprint 37

• Christopher Kreuzer,
Amon Hen 164 & 165

• Grey Walker,

• Readers at

• Readers at

En Français

• Michaël Devaux,
Université de Caen


Essays on The History of Middle-earth

Edited by
Verlyn Flieger & Carl F. Hostetter

Winner of The Mythopoeic Society's
2002 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inklings Studies

As a scholar of medieval languages and literature, J.R.R. Tolkien brought to his fiction an intense interest in myth and legend. When he died in 1973, he left behind a vast body of unpublished material related to his fictive mythology. Now edited and published as The History of Middle-earth by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, these 12 volumes provide a record of the growth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology from its beginnings in 1917 to the time of his death more than 50 years later. The material in these volumes offers an unparalleled insight into Tolkien’s process of myth-making and is a guide to the world of his literary works. This book is the first comprehensive critical examination of Christopher Tolkien’s compilation of his father’s Middle-earth legends.

Part I — The History

Rayner Unwin — Early Days of Elder Days

“After Unfinished Tales I did not believe that much more would come from the box files via the literary executor. I was quite wrong. Christopher, and probably only Christopher, knew what they contained, and believed that a true vision of Middle-earth was incomplete if the serious pilgrim could not be guided along all the paths, and variants, and blind ends of his father’s creation. It would obviously not make easy reading, though there were always flashes of greatness, but an unflinchingly scholarly treatment of the palimpsests in the box files would, ultimately, provide a much closer understanding of the totality of his father’s vision.”

Christina Scull — The Development of Tolkien’s Legendarium: Some Threads in the Tapestry of Middle-earth

“One of the most valuable features of The History of Middle-earth is the view it gives us of Tolkien’s method of writing: as if we were watching over the author’s shoulder, with expert commentary. By ‘method of writing’ I mean especially the way in which Tolkien tended to begin his texts and to revise them, but rarely to finish them—at least, in the usual sense of ‘finished.’ Practically speaking, of course, none of the Matter of Middle-earth was ‘finished’ but continued to evolve, and was open to second thoughts, while Tolkien lived.”

Wayne G. Hammond — “A Continuing and Evolving Creation”: Distractions in the Later History of Middle-earth

“It is now clear that Tolkien did not write according to (in T.A. Shippey’s words) a Grand Design or guiding star, excepting broad elements of plot such as the motive in The Lord of the Rings that the Ring had to be destroyed. Rather, he tended to feel his way, working out through trial and error the ‘true’ story among different versions that came to mind. Indeed he sometimes felt that he was not so much writing stories as discovering something already written. Through this process Tolkien at last ‘discovered’ the importance of the Silmarils, and the nature of the One Ring, and that the mysterious figure at the inn at Bree was not after all a hobbit named Trotter but a man, Aragorn, who would become the King Elessar—many, in fact, of the myriad details of character and plot, landscape and language, that contribute to the success of Tolkien’s writings as works of art.”

Charles Noad — On the Construction of ‘The Silmarillion

“‘The Silmarillion’—the saga of the three great Jewels wrought by Fëanor in ancient time, the epic of the First Age of the World, the mighty matter of the Elder Days—was the main current of J.R.R. Tolkien’s creative endeavours during a long life. He began it as a young man during the Great War, and was still working on it, leaving it in an incomplete and, as we now know, fairly inchoate state, when he died. I propose to look at one aspect of the matter: that of the textual subunits of which the book might have been composed had Tolkien ever brought it to completion.”

David Bratman — The Literary Value of The History of Middle-earth

“The structure of The History of Middle-earth is not the primary subject of this article. What I hope to present is an overview of the series as a set of books to read. Forget their historical significance and the scholarly apparatus for now. What is worthwhile about sitting down and reading these books for pleasure? What does reading them add to the experience of reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion?”

Part II — The Languages

Christopher GilsonGnomish Is Sindarin: The Conceptual Evolution of an Elvish Language

“Gnomish was the native language of the Noldor, which diverged from Elfin because of their long wandering about the earth and the black ages of their thraldom under Melko (as Rúmil expresses it), whereas Sindarin is the language of the Grey-elves, which was adopted by the Noldor during their exile in Middle-earth. ‘Nonetheless,’ Christopher Tolkien adds, ‘Gnomish is Sindarin, in the sense that Gnomish is the actual language that ultimately, as the whole conception evolved, became that of the Grey-elves of Beleriand.’ In this essay I examine the nature of this identity by outlining those aspects of Gnomish, as an actual language, that survive in Sindarin and in some sense define the conceptual evolution of the language as a historical feature of Tolkien’s fictional world.”

Arden R. SmithCerthas, Skirditaila, Futhark: A Feigned History of Runic Origins

“The primary meaning of the word rune appears to have been ‘mystery,secret’. The origins of the angular Germanic letters known as runes are certainly that: a mystery. Numerous theories on the source or sources from which the Germanic tribes obtained or adapted these characters have been put forward, but no definitive answer has yet been found. It is precisely this sort of mystery that would have intrigued J.R.R. Tolkien. As T.A. Shippey writes, ‘the thing which attracted Tolkien most was darkness: the blank spaces, much bigger than most people realise, on the literary and historical map.’”

Patrick Wynne and Carl F. Hostetter — Three Elvish Verse Modes: Ann-thennath, Minlamad thent / estent, and Linnod

“In addition to the artistic content of his Elvish poems, Tolkien also gave much thought to the underlying technical aspects of Elvish prosody, as is amply demonstrated by his detailed notes to Namárië and A Elbereth Gilthoniel in The Road Goes Ever On. This attention to technical details included the invention of Elvish names for three modes of Sindarin verse: ann-thennath, Minlamad thent /estent, and linnod. In the pages that follow we discuss each of these three modes in detail, determining the meaning and etymology of their Sindarin names, as well as explaining how these names describe defining characteristics of the verse modes to which they refer.”

Part III — The Cauldron and the Cook

Joe R. Christopher — Tolkien’s Lyric Poetry

“In what follows I should like to discuss four of the poems that appear in The History of Middle-earth, one of them for the first time, two others in forms other than have been previously published, and only one of them included (in a different form) in one of the three titles mentioned above. I will seem perverse to some readers since I do not consider their relationship to Tolkien’s legendarium, but Christopher Tolkien has already done that. My concern is with them, insofar as space permits, as poetry.”

Paul Edmund Thomas — Some of Tolkien’s Narrators

“This essay examines the ways in which the narrator of The Lord of the Rings developed from the narrator of The Hobbit. This examination requires an analysis of the narrator of The Hobbit; a survey of Tolkien’s letters concerning the early drafting of The Lord of the Rings; an analysis of the narrators of the drafts of ‘A Long-expected Party’ published in The Return of the Shadow; and a look at the opening of The Lord of the Rings.”

Verlyn Flieger — The Footsteps of Ælfwine

“The name Ælfwine, a compound combining the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘elf’ with the word for ‘friend,’ must, as Ramer suggests, have originally had a literal meaning, describing or alluding to one who was in actuality an elf-friend. Although Ælfwine continued to be a proper name long after belief in elves had dwindled to folk superstition, the word itself no longer conveys the old meaning or indeed any meaning at all except to a student of onomastics. It has no literal reference, nor even a metaphoric one. In its modern appearance it is now a mere fossil, one of the myriad words in English or any language whose bones are preserved as shape and sound, but whose living embodiment has decayed and fallen away. This is not the case, however, in the fictive world of Tolkien’s mythology, wherein Elves are a viable species inhabiting Middle-earth, and in which the original meaning of the name is restored. Tolkien has reimagined the concept of elf-friend, created a world in which such a figure could live and move, and bestowed the name or epithet on some of his most memorable characters.”

John RateliffThe Lost Road, The Dark Tower, and The Notion Club Papers: Tolkien and Lewis’s Time Travel Triad

“This essay examines the relationship among the three attempts by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to write a time-travel story, and the way in which all three grew out of their bargain for each to write a thriller in the form of a space- or time-travel story. I believe that in their genesis these stories are inextricably linked; therefore we will take a close look into their origin in the bargain, a review of the events leading up to it, evidence for their dates of composition, and the strikingly different ways these works deal with common themes. Finally, I will offer reasons why these stories remained unfinished and almost unknown until the efforts of Christopher Tolkien and Walter Hooper made them available at last, decades after their authors had moved on to other works.”

Marjorie Burns — Gandalf and Odin

“We know that Tolkien drew heavily from other mythologies, from the Celtic and Norse in particular, but the ways in which he did this are not always clear. In The Lord of the Rings, mythological borrowings are often more implied than manifest. The reader catches hints of their influence in setting, characterization, and repeated images; but overall patterns (as well as Tolkien’s purposes) are likely to remain obscure. This is not the case in the books brought out by and edited by Christopher Tolkien after his father’s death. In these History books (to speak of them collectively), mythological echoes are altogether more evident, more imitative, and more easily understood. When we see how closely Tolkien’s early accounts of the Valar gods and goddesses parallel those in other mythologies, when we see, for example, how much Manwë—with his high-placed hall, his news-bearing eagles, and his gift of poesy—is based on the primary Norse god, Odin, certain connections that are discernible but less obvious in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings gain a firm interpretive boost.”

Richard C. West — Túrin’s Ofermod: An Old English Theme in the Development of the Story of Túrin

“The early version in ‘Turambar’ does not have this wholesale slaughter (only Brodda himself and one defender are killed), nor Aerin’s self-immolation (rather she gets her nephew safely away), nor faithful old Sador (instead it is a stranger who directs Túrin to the hall), nor the detailed development of the homeland of the family of Húrin. Tolkien has gradually added all of that, the better to exemplify Túrin’s pride and wrath, and honor, and their consequences. The story of Túrin is replete with this musing of Tolkien on the pros and cons of the heroic ethos. A hero’s valiant deeds are never without human cost even when they also benefit people, and may not do even that if undertaken rashly and without thought.”


Douglas A. Anderson — Christopher Tolkien: A Bibliography

“The aim of this list is to emphasize items that pertain to J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. Also, I hope to bring attention to the small body of works by Christopher Tolkien that are unrelated to his father’s writings. These are too little known, undeservedly neglected, and worth the effort of searching out.”

“After a time Niggle turned towards the Forest. Not because he was tired of the Tree, but he seemed to have got it all clear in his mind now, and was aware of it, and of its growth, even when he was not looking at it. As he walked away, he discovered an odd thing: the Forest, of course, was a distant Forest, yet he could approach it, even enter it, without its losing that particular charm. He had never before been able to walk into the distance without it turning into mere surroundings. It really added a considerable attraction to walking in the country, because, as you walked, new distances opened out; so that you now had double, treble, and quadruple distances, doubly, trebly, and quadruply enchanting. You could go on and on, and have a whole country in a garden, or in a picture (if you preferred to call it that). You could go on and on, but not perhaps forever. There were the Mountains in the background. They did get nearer, very slowly. They did not seem to belong to the picture, or only as a link to something else, a glimpse through the trees of something different, a further stage: another picture.

“Niggle walked about, but he was not merely pottering. He was looking round carefully. The Tree was finished, though not finished with—‘Just the other way about to what it used to be,’ he thought.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Leaf by Niggle

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