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The Book of Lost Tales 1(The History of…

The Book of Lost Tales 1(The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 1) (edition 1992)

by J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (Editor)

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Title:The Book of Lost Tales 1(The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 1)
Authors:J.R.R. Tolkien
Other authors:Christopher Tolkien (Editor)
Info:Del Ray/Balantine Books (1992), Mass Market Paperback, 344 pages
Collections:Your library

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


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For serious Tolkien fans, this is a must-read. For those who only liked the movies, this is not the book for you! Christopher Tolkien's scholarly approach is sometimes meticulous to the point of tedious, but I'm sure we all appreciate his care to present his father's work accurately and in context. I was left in even greater awe of Tolkien's genius and immediately began reading The Book of Lost Tales Vol. II. ( )
  aurelas | Dec 23, 2016 |
I have started this book a couple of times and always the deep language has stymied my efforts. I need to re-read it with a more scholarly hat on my head to make my way through it, and see the roots from which my beloved books emerged. ( )
  threadnsong | Jun 18, 2016 |
What IS The Book of Lost Tales? It’s a collection of Tolkien’s unpublished and unfinished writings, brought together and annotated by his son Christopher Tolkien. It includes rejected ideas, drafts, outlines, and variations as well as comparisons and notes on the evolution of the texts. Ever wanted to know how Tolkien developed his iconic elves, what Melian was originally named, or a more detailed account of Gondolin? BoLT is your book. No idea what I’m talking about? Read The Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion first.

The BoLT blew my mind, especially Part I. These are Tolkien’s very early writings, before his concept of the world was fully developed. And wow, I’m very glad that he did develop it further. His elves were once decidedly closer to fairies and gnomes. He had an entirely different framework for telling these tales, one which he eventually (and in my opinion, rightly) discarded. Some of the concepts and ideas were very whimsical and childish (like “the cottage of lost play”) and don’t seem to fit Tolkien’s high-fantasy world.

Part II and the later sections of Part I are much closer to Tolkien’s finalized world. There are all sorts of familiar stories, not always “accurate” to published canon, but often with much more detail; most of these stories were revised and shortened before being added to the Silmarillion. The tales were not yet sewn together by the story of the Silmarils; the jewels were a side-story at best, and the Sons of Fëanor were not fully realized. I don’t think I appreciated how intricately Tolkien wove the Silmarillion together until I read BoLT.

Favorites: Glorfindel! He’s a side character at best, but one of my favorites. The BoLT contains the full narrative of the Fall of Gondolin, which is only summarized in the Silmarillion. Gondolin itself, while not a “character,” is one of my favorite sections, especially Tuor and Idril. I won’t lie; I broke out the sticky notes to mark Gondolin sections. The detailed variations on the creation story, the sun and moon, the trees, etc., were also wonderful. It was fascinating to watch the Silmaril narrative develop.

Least favorites: Oh god, Ælfwine. The original framework was the story of Ælfwine, an Englishman who journeys to an elven land and hears tales of elvish history. It ties the story together and embeds it into English history… but the entire thing is just too whimsical and fairytale-like. I love the sort of nonsense whimsy you find in children’s bedtime stories, but it just isn’t right for Tolkien’s world.

Writing style: Tolkien paints a wonderfully full, detailed, high-fantasy world, full of fantastic characters and beautiful scenery. Lots of repeated themes: betrayal, greed, love, oaths, etc. Many of the stories seemed darker than in the Silmarillion, which I very much appreciated.

I recently had a friend (a reader and a fantasy fan) complain that Tolkien “interrupts” his story too often. I can see where she’s coming from; but to insist that side stories like the Entwives were interruptions and just bad writing, not world-building? This is what happens when you speed read through everything, children. ಠ_ಠ

Finally, you can’t tackle BoLT without warning: CHRISTOPHER TOLKIEN IS SUPER PEDANTIC. No criticism is intended; it’s just that he has taken great pains to present and interpret his father’s drafts, notes, corrections, re-writes, name changes, etc. etc. as accurately as possible. So be prepared to read (or skip through) his analysis and explanations for every section. ( )
1 vote Andibook | Jun 14, 2016 |
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 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

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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