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The Book of Lost Tales Part I by Christopher…

The Book of Lost Tales Part I (original 1983; edition 1994)

by Christopher Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien (Original Author)

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3,599141,464 (3.63)36
Title:The Book of Lost Tales Part I
Authors:Christopher Tolkien
Other authors:J. R. R. Tolkien (Original Author)
Info:HarperCollins (2002), Edition: (Reissue), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1 by J. R. R. Tolkien (1983)


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These Lost Tales are part of the "History of Middle-Earth," i.e. Christopher Tolkien's exhaustive multivolume autopsy of his father's creative process in generating the mythology that underlies the world of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The contents of this book were recovered from old manuscript notebooks, and mostly constitute variant tellings of episodes later reworked in The Silmarillion, concerning the doings of gods and elves prior to the "awakening of men." They are set in a frame-story according to which various elves of the Lonely Island (Tol Eressea) recount these legends to a human traveler Eriol.

Although the tales themselves are buttressed with copious notes on the source texts and their relationships to the Middle-Earth Tolkien canon, I admit I read little of that material. Instead, I offered the stories themselves aloud to my Other Reader as occasional bedtime reading. We both found the book enjoyable and satisfying that way. (On points where I had particular curiosity, I did read in the editorial apparatus that constitutes nearly half of the book.)

The content and imagery of these stories is very Dunsanian, reminiscent of stories like "The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth" and The King of Elfland's Daughter. But instead of Dunsany's lucid-if-ornate prose, we get the affected archaicisms of the aspiring English philologist. That certainly made this material a challenge to read aloud, but it was fun nevertheless. (I'm sure it didn't hurt that I've studied Middle English verse and enjoyed reading those texts aloud.) Reading this material as its own story, rather than a draft of what Tolkien was later to produce, is a pleasant enough experience. It may even be better than reading it with the hope of profound insights into the secrets of The Lord of the Rings, despite all of the younger Tolkien's efforts to facilitate such discoveries.
6 vote paradoxosalpha | Jun 16, 2013 |
3.5 stars

My first attempt to read _The Book of Lost Tales_ was made way too early in my life and made certain that my response was to put it on the shelf and decide that all of this background stuff, especially taken from this early phase in Tolkien’s life as a writer, was way too different from the Middle-Earth stories that I loved for me to waste any time on it. Looking at where the book mark from my first attempt still sat when I picked it up again, I noticed that I didn’t even get much beyond the first several pages of the introductory chapter “The Cottage of Lost Play”. I remember thinking that it was just altogether too twee for me, what with the Eldar of Middle-Earth still being referred to as ‘faeries’ and the, to me, bizarre structure of a wanderer coming to a tiny cottage (bigger on the inside than the outside) peopled by dancing and singing children and adults who primarily sat around telling tales and reciting pretty mediocre poetry. It wasn’t really Middle-Earth now was it? Well, at the time I put down the volume and decided that I’d stick with the ‘real’ stuff of LotR, [b:The Hobbit|5907|The Hobbit|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328953407s/5907.jpg|1540236] and [b:The Silmarillion|953403|The Silmarillion|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1281878908s/953403.jpg|4733799] and that, as they say, was that for probably about two and a half decades. Then it came about that I discovered my greatest love vis a vis Tolkien’s work was growing to be the posthumously published [b:The Silmarillion|953403|The Silmarillion|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1281878908s/953403.jpg|4733799] and [b:Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth|7329|Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1165611104s/7329.jpg|2961645], both of which contained some of the most beautiful and powerful of Tolkien’s writing. I looked at the corpus of ‘The History of Middle Earth’ with something of a new eye and decided that I might just dip into it and see what it was like. I consciously chose to first read those volumes that dealt with the matter of the First and Second ages of Middle-Earth and were latest in the chronology of composition thus presumably assuring that I was coming across ideas and stories that were closer in tone and content to the ones with which I was so familiar and that thrilled me with their mythic reverberations. I ended up loving what I found in [b:Morgoth's Ring|214173|Morgoth's Ring (The History of Middle-Earth, #10)|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1308532389s/214173.jpg|4992849] and [b:The War of the Jewels|214166|The War of the Jewels (The History of Middle-Earth, #11)|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1308532544s/214166.jpg|6561935] and decided that maybe this huge work undertaken by Christopher Tolkien to present the works of his father in toto wasn’t an altogether bad idea after all (especially given my hunger for more material regarding the tales as told in [b:The Silmarillion|953403|The Silmarillion|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1281878908s/953403.jpg|4733799]).

So now I find myself re-embarking on the journey from the beginning and tackling the very Book of Lost Tales (part one) that defeated me in my youth. I’m glad I came back. Pushing through past the point in the first chapter beyond which I never made it before I actually found a fair bit to like, even though it wasn’t the undiluted Middle-Earth vintage I had initially wanted. I was actually reminded a bit of William Morris’ medieval romances that so influenced Tolkien as I read about the journey of Eriol the mariner upon the Isle of Tol Eressëa and once the tales themselves began to be told I saw that there was a surprising amount of coherence between these earliest versions of the myths of Middle-Earth with what eventually came to be published in The Sil. The differences themselves were intriguing and I found as the chapters sped on the framing device didn’t bother me half as much as once it had. I will readily admit that much of the poetry in this volume leaves something to be desired. I am not one of those readers of Tolkien that skips over the poems, and I think that many of them are quite beautiful (esp. Bilbo’s poem of Eärendil sung in Rivendell), but the early ones showcased in this volume are not really my cup of tea (though one can certainly see Tolkien’s word-craft in them improving as time went on). The Cottage of Lost Play itself took on greater interest as well as I started to see some parallels between it and the ultimate development of Elrond’s house of Rivendell as “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all’. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”

Eriol the mariner, a man from medieval England who has found his way to the magical isles of the west, sits in this pleasant house and has recounted to him many of the tales of the elder days when the Elves were alone in Middle-Earth, or mankind just arising from their ages long slumber. All of these tales are ones that a reader of [b:The Silmarillion|953403|The Silmarillion|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1281878908s/953403.jpg|4733799] will already be familiar with: the creation myth of the Music of the Ainur, the building of Valinor and creation of the Two Trees of Light, the battles against Melkor (here named Melko) and his initial imprisonment, the coming of the Elves to the blessed lands and their ultimate rebellion and return to Middle-Earth in pursuit of Melko, and the myth of the creation of the sun and moon upon the death of the two trees. Some of these are not very far from the more final versions that were presented in [b:The Silmarillion|953403|The Silmarillion|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1281878908s/953403.jpg|4733799], while others display drastic differences (such as the expanded legend of the sun and moon, the extensive bits that deal with cosmology and the make-up of the world, and the inclusion of Valar who mate and even include in their number some gods of war), but it is very safe to say that unless you have a deep and abiding love for Middle-Earth, and especially tales of the elder days, you probably won’t get much out of this book. I would agree with those who claim this is really only for aficionados of Tolkien’s tales who want more and who are interested in seeing the development of his mythology. It is indeed a fascinating peek over the shoulder of Tolkien as he writes his tales and we finally start to get a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the effort that his son expended simply in producing from the jumble of inter-related texts about the legends of the Elves a volume as slim and relatively cohesive as [b:The Silmarillion|953403|The Silmarillion|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1281878908s/953403.jpg|4733799].

I’m looking forward to tackling Book II of the lost tales and proceeding with the history of Middle-Earth texts at least up to volume 5 to continue to get my fix and maybe even get a taste of some legends of the elder days that I haven’t already experienced in another form. Recommended for hard-core Tolkien fans who don’t mind critical apparatus and multiple versions of tales. ( )
1 vote dulac3 | Apr 2, 2013 |
Many of the "lost tales" are early versions of portions of the Silmarillion. I would definitely recommend that the aspiring writer read this to see how Tolkien wrote and rewote and in some cases totally discarded ideas. Otherwise this book is not for the casual Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fan. ( )
  Hedgepeth | May 1, 2012 |

The Book of Lost Tales was published in 1983, interpreted from a series of longhand notebooks started by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1917, as later interpreted by his son Christopher. Tolkien's series of linked short stories were written in his spare time from his academic career and family obligations; once he decided to abandon the Lost Tales and start over, he probably did not expect that they would ever see the light of day - this is essentially a private set of thoughts whose author did not deem them ready for publication.

The book offers insights into the process of writing, crafting and drafting, trying to get it right, over the decades which led to Tolkien's great works. Occasionally one can trace particular elements to the outside world: Tolkien's town of Kortirion is very explicitly modelled on Warwick. But more often the writers are drawing on their own emotional resources and imagination, trying as it were to find the story that is trying to get out - the Tolkien drafts show constant refining to get a better result.

The Book of Lost Tales is of interest more because of what it eventually led to, and also to an extent because of what fed into it, than because of the content. Of course Tolkien drew on the ancient literature with which he was very familiar in crafting his own work; but the style seemed to me to have strong links with Lord Dunsany and with the earlier and less weird Lovecraft. Dunsany's The Gods of Pegāna had of course been published in 1905, but I see that Lovecraft only started publishing horror in 1919, so I guess it is a case of two contemporaries drawing from a common well.

I couldn't really recommend The Book of Lost Tales to anyone but a Tolkien enthusiast (and I have been one for most of my life, but have only now got around to reading it 27 years after it was published). ( )
3 vote nwhyte | Nov 28, 2010 |
The Book of Lost Tales is aptly named. These stories — J. R. R. Tolkien's earliest writings about the world that would become Middle-earth — were tossed into boxes and packed away for years, only coming to light as part of Christopher Tolkien's work of retracing his father's mythology. The Lost Tales were first published in 1983–4, nearly seventy years after the date of the earliest known poem. Many of the stories and fragments related here later became the bulk of The Silmarillion; some were abandoned. But the one thing they share with all Tolkien's works is a sense of stately beauty, rich archaic language, and yearning for "great and sad things" (16).

Tolkien dreamed of writing a mythology for England (in his view, Arthur doesn't count). In his Letters, Tolkien says he was distressed as a young man because "there was nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff" in the English mythological tradition (144). So he set out to change that. All the events that happen in the Third Age, the destruction of the Ring and the passing of the Elves and all of it, are supposed to be pre-historical legends that connect to the real England that Tolkien loved (though by 1951 he had shelved the idea as overly ambitious). I had read of this intention before and had wondered how Middle-earth would be tied in with the misty beginnings of recorded history on the British isle... well, in the Lost Tales we have the faintest sketches of Tolkien's early vision. There is a complex outline of the Eriol story (that was no doubt a nightmare to put together from the scattered notes and scribblings of Tolkien's fast writing), rough and clearly in the beginning stages of conception. But it does give us a vague image of how Tolkien envisioned Middle-earth eventually becoming our earth. It's interesting stuff.

But the fact that these are such rough drafts (many of which were extensively rewritten later or entirely abandoned) calls into question the ethical premise for Christopher Tolkien's entire twelve-volume Histories of Middle-earth, of which The Book of Lost Tales comprises the first two volumes. Is it right to unveil Tolkien's roughest, most unpolished imaginings to the world at large? Christopher Tolkien seems to anticipate this question near the end of Part Two, where he writes, "Much in this chapter is necessarily inconclusive and uncertain; but I believe that these very early notes and projections are rightly disinterred. Although, as 'plots', abandoned and doubtless forgotten, they bear witness to truths of my father's heart and mind that he never abandoned" (327). Maybe that's so, but it doesn't necessarily follow that he wanted those unfinished "truths" published. But... I'm torn.

(review continued here on LibraryThing) ( )
6 vote wisewoman | Oct 21, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tolkien, J. R. R.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tolkien, ChristopherEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adlerberth, RolandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howe, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pieruccini, CinziaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the cover of one of the now very battered 'High School Exercise Books' in which some of the Lost Tales were composed my father wrote: The Cottage of Lost Play, which introduceth [the] Book of Lost Tales; an on the cover is written, in my mother's hand, her initials,l E.M.T., and a date, Feb. 12th 1917.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345375211, Mass Market Paperback)

THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, I, stands at the beginning of the entire conception of Middle-earth and Valinor. Here is the whole, glorious history of Middle-earth that J.R.R. Tolkien brought to mythic and dramatic life with his classic fantasy novels of the Ring Cycle.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:38 -0400)

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The Book of Lost Tales stands at the beginning of the entire conception of Middle-Earth and Valinor, for the Tales were the first form of the myths and legends that came to be called The Simarillion. The second part of The Book of Lost Tales includes the tale of Beren and Luthien, Turin and the Dragon, and the only full narratives of the Necklace of the Dwarves and the Fall of Gondolin.… (more)

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