The History of Middle-Earth

Volume Five: The Lost Road and Other Writings.

Which means I’ve still got quite a ways to go until I get to ‘The Children of Hurin’.

Now into Volume 6: The Treason of Isengard.

Congratulations … but you have a long way to go … still, it should keep you out of mischief for a while. :wink:

I have the whole lot … as a great Tolkien fan, I bought them as each came out and read them avidly, but of course it’s quite some years ago now. So one project for my retirement – in a year or so’s time – is to re-read the whole lot. I think, like many of my favourite books, they need to be read several times to really get to grips with them.

As for LotR itself, I’ve read it so many times I’ve lost count, but it’s a year or so since I re-read it last so maybe it’s time to do so again. Same with The Silmarillion.


I started ‘The War of the Ring’ a few days ago.

Good on you. I now have another reason for wanting to get back into it. I came across a statement somewhere that Tolkien’s work — that is the whole mythology, not LoTR as such — was considerably influenced by the stories of Lord Dunsany, in particular The Gods of Pegana and Time and the Gods. So I downloaded those and the other volumes by Dunsany from Feedbooks and read those two.

I’ve been too busy lately to read the others, but apart from the fact that Dunsany was writing a decade or so earlier than Tolkien and the supposition that T. may have read them as a school-child, I can not see any resemblance or connection. Nor can I find any urgency in myself to read more of Dunsany.

With Tolkien’s extensive and early knowledge of Greek, Roman, Germanic mythologies and languages, combined with his devout Catholicism, I cannot imagine that he needed Dunsany’s heavy ‘orientalising’, post-Arabian Nights, pseudo-mythologising to inspire his creation. That Dunsany was an inspiration also goes against all my understanding of T.'s motivations, so it sounds to me like a typical modern attempt to debunk T. as an original creator, to say that he was just following a trend set up by Dunsany.

So I want to go back to The History of Middle Earth to see if I can detect any influence.



What you have described about Dunsany does not make me think of Tolkien at all. But please let us know of your findings.

I’m a week away from returning to London for a couple of months summer holiday, so I’ll put some time into it then; but no, Dunsany does not make me think of Tolkein either. Dunsany has a single grand-creator god “MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI” (Always written in upper-case) who creates the other gods of Pegana, and a drummer god “Skarl” whose drumming puts MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI to sleep and spurs the lesser gods of Pegana to do their work of creation, etc. And to me, that’s about as far as the relationship goes.
But Tolkien, with his beliefs and background, wouldn’t have needed Dunsany’s MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI to give him the idea of a single creator god in Eru/Iluvatar, and the Valar and Maiar aren’t gods; and they do their work through music at the behest of Iluvatar, which is not the function of Skarl. Poetry, and the music of poetry was such an important aspect of Tolkien’s academic work that I don’t think he would need the idea of a drumming thaumaturge to find music for the creative force behind his universe.
Anyway, as I say, I’ll look into it all as much as I can when I’m back in the UK.

Finished ‘War of the Ring’. A friend sent me a copy of ‘Going Postal’ by Terry Pratchett. Read it in two days because 1) I had 2 days off in a row. and 2) I couldn’t put it down.

Today I cracked the brand-new cover of ‘Sauron Defeated’.

I work nights now, so reading more than a couple of pages a day of anything is an amazing feat.

For those who’re interesting in exploring the series but are uncertain where to start, here’s a description I posted on Amazon with the Amazon US links.

–Michael W. Perry

Collections of an author’s work are often confusing, particularly when what the author has created is as complex as Tolkien’s writings. Here’s an overview of the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth, which was edited by his son Christopher Tolkien. Hopefully, it will help you select which book or books to buy.

Keep something in mind. In the U.S. Houghton Mifflin publishes Tolkien’s authorized works in hardback and trade paperback editions, while Ballantine Books publishes them as cheaper mass-market paperbacks. Ballantine doesn’t always make it clear that some of their titles are part of the same History of Middle-earth series as those published by Houghton Mifflin. If the title is the same, the content is the same. Which you buy depends on your taste in books and finances. I have copies of both.


These five volumes deal primarily with Tolkien’s writings before the publication of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). In them, Tolkien was struggling as a still unknown author to create his first history of Middle-earth.

Vol 1 & 2, The Book of Lost Tales Part 1 ( 1983) & 2 (1984). The Book of Lost Tales was written during the 1910s and 1920s. Wikipedia describes it this way: “The framework for the book is that a mortal Man visits the Isle of Tol Eressëa where the Elves live. In the earlier versions of the `Lost Tales’ this man is named Eriol, of some vague north European origin, but in later versions he becomes Ælfwine, an Englishman of the Middle-ages.”

Vol. 3, The Lays of Beleriand (1985). These are collections of poems, many of them incomplete, written between the 1920s and the late 1940s.

Vol 4, The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986). As you might guess by the title, in this book Christopher describes how his father shaped his vision of Middle-earth from the primitive The Book of Lost Tales to early versions of The Silmarillion. This theme is taken up again in volumes 10 and 11.

Vol 5. The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987). Along with other writings this volume includes Tolkien’s drafts of a tale about time travel. Wikipedia describes it this way: “The Lost Road itself is a fragmentary beginning of a tale, including a rough structure and several intiguing chunks of narrative, including four entire chapters dealing with modern England and Numenor, from which the entire story as it should have been can be glimpsed. The scheme was of time-travel by means of ‘vision’ or being mentally inserted into what had been, so as to actually re-experience that which had happened. In this way the tale links first to Saxon England of Alfred the Great, then to the Lombard Alboin of St. Benedict’s time, the Baltic Sea in Old Norse days, Ireland at the time of the Tuatha’s coming (600 years after the Flood), prehistoric North in the Ice Age, a ‘Galdor story’ of Third-Age Middle-Earth, and finally the Fall of Gil-Galad, before recounting the prime legend of the Downfall of Numenor/Atlantis and the Bending of the World. It harps on the theme of a ‘straight road’ into the West, now only in memory because the world is round.”


If you or the friend you’re buying for is primarily interested in the LOTR, then these four volumes are the books to have. Just keep in mind that you’ll find in them many unfinished plots that may or may not fit well into LOTR. Tolkien was a perfectionist, always trying to improve plots and fill in details. These are his drafts.

Vol. 6, The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings v. 1, 1988). Describes the initial stages of writing LOTR and covers the first three-fourths of The Fellowship of the Ring (until the Mines of Moria).

Vol. 7, The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings, v. 2, 1989). Covers from the Mines of Moria until Gandalf meets Théoden about one-fourth of the way into The Two Towers.

Vol. 8, The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings, v. 3, 1990). Continues the tale up to the opening of the Black Gate not quite three-quarters of the way through The Two Towers.

Vol. 9, Sauron Defeated (The History of The Lord of the Rings, v. 4, 1992). Completes the tale and includes an alternate ending in which Sam answers questions from his children. There is also a much shortened version of Vol. 9 called The End of the Third Age, which leaves out material that isn’t related to LOTR.


Just as The Hobbit created a public demand for more tales about hobbits, The Lord of the Rings created a demand for more tales about Middle-earth. To meet that demand, Tolkien struggled to reconcile and adapt many of his earlier tales to the historical framework made well-known by his two published works. He never completed those labors, so it was left after his death to his son Christopher to do so in The Silmarillion (1977). If you or a friend is interested in knowing more about The Silmarillion, these two volumes may be of interest.

Vol 10, Morgoth’s Ring (The Later Silmarillion, v. 1, 1993). Contains material from earlier (1951 and later) drafts of The Silmarillion. Wikipedia notes that: “The title of this volume comes from a statement from one of the essays: ‘Just as Sauron concentrated his power in the One Ring, Morgoth dispersed his power into the very matter of Arda, thus the whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth’s Ring.’”

Vol. 11, The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion v. 2, 1994). Addition material about the earlier drafts of The Silmarillion. Includes information about the origin of the Ents and Great Eagles.


Vol. 12, The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996). Contains material that did not fit into the other volumes. The most interesting include additional appendices like those at the back of LOTR, essays on the races of Middle-earth, and about 30 pages of a sequel to the LOTR called The New Shadow. It was set a century after the LOTR. Tolkien abandoned the tale as too “sinister and depressing.”

The History of Middle-earth Index (2002) is an index of all twelve volumes.

Keep in mind that books in The History of Middle-earth are nothing like reading The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. What J. R. R. Tolkien wrote is often fragmentary and unpolished rough drafts, while what Christopher wrote is literary scholarship, concerned more with sources and texts than plots. If you or the friend you are buying for is more interested in understanding LOTR better, you might be happier with a reference works such as:

Karen Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Revised Edition) … 618126996/

Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth … 0345465296

Or my own book-length, detailed, day-by-day chronology of The Lord of the Rings,

Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings … 1587420198

Places, terms and dates, together all three will give you a richer, deeper understanding of LOTR.

If you’re interested in reading books with the same flavor as Tolkien, you might consider reading William Morris, a once well-known writer who influenced Tolkien. For tales like the warriors of Rohan, see his The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains. For arduous quest journeys much like Frodo and Sam’s quest to be rid of the Ring, read his The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World’s End. The four tales have been collected into two inexpensive volumes:

More to William Morris: Two Books that Inspired J. R. R. Tolkien-The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains … 1587420236

On the Lines of Morris’ Romances: Two Books That Inspired J. R. R. Tolkien-The Wood Beyond the World and the Well at the World’s End … 1587420244

I hope this helps you to select wisely based on your own interests. You can save some money by buying collections of The History of Middle-earth in multi-volume sets. You can also save by buying the Ballantine mass-market paperback instead of the Houghton Mifflin trade paperback edition, although the former may have smaller type and you may need to use both hands to keep it open while you read.

On to Morgoth’s Ring.

Nice!! Deep down, we all wish someone could rock us to sleep with bedtime stories. Unfortunately, the Arabic stories we have to offer won’t let you get a wink of sleep.