September 2, 2014

Tolkien Spotlight: Fall Reading

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how I associate fall reading with fantasy (especially with Tolkien and Harry Potter.). It was thanks to both Tolkien and Harper Collins (for putting various editions of his works) that got me into books. Not "reading" but "book buying" (different than 'collecting'...somewhat).

So make sure you read up on some Tolkien now that school is back in session, and it is now the beginning of the ideal reading season. 

 This post is a brief run-down of Tolkien's works, as well as some quality cost-effective editions worth checking out.

Here is Professor Tolkien's best work, some of which you may have heard of. Because it's 'Back to School' and Christmas expenses loom over the horizon, the ISBNs for the paperback editions I list here are an excellent cost-effective way to purchase the books; be it if you are not fond of hardback, unsure if you'll even like the title, or want to spend less per book so that you may be be able to buy more of these books. These editions are well printed and are of good quality.


The first big major Tolkien book that came out was The Hobbit but that is not the beginning of what he was is how we as readers and the public got to know about him or hear about him for the most part. Intended for children (but enjoyed by all) this 'quest for the treasure' has been a classic ever since it was published.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End.

But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of thirteen dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an unexpected journey ‘there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon…

The Hobbit has sold many millions of copies since its publication in 1937, establishing itself as one of the most beloved and influential books of the twentieth century.
The ISBN for the edition pictured is 9780261103344.


"The tale grew in the telling..." The Lord of the Rings is a single novel with six books and appendices. It is sometimes published in 3 volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King) and people erroneously call it a trilogy. It being published as a trilogy of books was economic reasons. Tolkien wrote it as one book, therefore wanted it as one book. It could have been published in six, rather than three. [I do find it somewhat funny that today, The Lord of the Rings is still published as three books. Other large stories (Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo...) are sold as one large book today, rather than their small installments]. Tolkien wrote is as one book, which is one of the reasons why it took so long to come out. That, and his publishers initially wanted a sequel to The Hobbit. Indeed, it begun that way but as Tolkien wrote it, the tale grew and evolved into something so much more. 

Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power – the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

The ISBN for edition pictured is: 9780261103573


Frodo and the Companions of the Ring have been beset by danger during their quest to prevent the Ruling Ring from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord by destroying it in the Cracks of Doom. They have lost the wizard, Gandalf, in the battle with an evil spirit in the Mines of Moria; and at the Falls of Rauros, Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tried to seize it by force. While Frodo and Sam made their escape the rest of the company were attacked by Orcs.

Now they continue their journey alone down the great River Anduin – alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go.

The ISBN for the edition pictured is 9780261103580.


The Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures as the quest continues. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and took part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by orcs, escaped into Fangorn Forest and there encountered the Ents.

Gandalf returned, miraculously, and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman. Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo progressed towards Mordor to destroy the Ring, accompanied by Sméagol – Gollum, still obsessed by his ‘preciouss’. After a battle with the giant spider, Shelob, Sam left his master for dead; but Frodo is still alive – in the hands of the orcs. And all the time the armies of the Dark Lord are massing.

The ISBN for the edition pictured is 9780261103597.  


(posthumous release) The Silmarillion is the core work of the Middle-earth canon. It is in this dense and often neglected masterpiece that the entire cosmology for the background for The Hobbit and, particularly, The Lord of the Rings is documented. These tales of Middle-earth were published posthumously in 1977. Tolkien worked on The Silmarillion all his life – long before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings – and his son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien edited the material he left behind into its current form. The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be the second volume of a two-volume set, the other volume was to be The Lord of the Rings in single-volume form. One would think The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings go together because of their connection to the One Ring, but really, it is The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion which should go together instead.

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor.

Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindale is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabeth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated in The Lord of the Rings.

This pivotal work features the revised, corrected text and includes, by way of an introduction, a fascinating letter written by Tolkien in 1951 in which he gives a full explanation of how he conceived the early Ages of Middle-earth.

The ISBN for the edition pictured is 9780007523221. 


(posthumous release) Unfinished Tales is for the most part a collection of stories and essays that Tolkien - surprise - was unable to complete. They complement the Appendices in The Lord of The Rings, as well as sections of The Silmarillion quite well.  Ultimately you will find things that he wished to elaborate or expand upon further in either The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion but he either had either priorities with their publications, he could not make them 'fit' (in the flow of the story) or because the book would become too long. There is lots of background and additional information to be found. 

Unfinished Tales is a collection of narratives ranging in time from the Elder Days of Middle-earth to the end of the War of the Ring, and provides those who have read The Lord of the Rings with a whole collection of background and new stories from the twentieth century’s most acclaimed popular author.

The book concentrates on the realm of Middle-earth and comprises such elements as Gandalf’s lively account of how it was that he came to send the Dwarves to the celebrated party at Bag-End, the emergence of the sea-god Ulmo before the eyes of Tuor on the coast of Beleriand, and an exact description of the military organization of the Riders of Rohan.

Unfinished Tales also contains the only story about the long ages of Numenor before its downfall, and all that is known about such matters as the Five Wizards, the Palantiri and the legend of Amroth. The tales were collated and edited by JRR Tolkien’s son and literary heir, Christopher Tolkien, who provides a short commentary on each story, helping the reader to fill in the gaps and put each story into the context of the rest of his father’s writings.

The ISBN for this edition is 9780261102163.


(posthumous release) This could very well be Tolkien's final 'new' piece of his stories about Middle-earth / Beleriand. This is a tale that takes place during the First Age, but is more narrative in style than The Silmarillion. Many have stated that this is Tolkien's 'Greek tragedy'.

It is a legendary time long before The Lord of the Rings, and Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwells in the vast fortress of Angband in the North; and within the shadow of the fear of Angband, and the war waged by Morgoth against the Elves, the fates of Túrin and his sister Niënor will be tragically entwined.

Their brief and passionate lives are dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bears them as the children of Húrin, the man who dared to defy him to his face. Against them Morgoth sends his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire, in an attempt to fulfil the curse of Morgoth, and destroy the children of Húrin.

Begun by J.R.R. Tolkien at the end of the First World War, The Children of Húrin became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.

The ISBN for this edition is 9780007597338. This edition of the book is not yet published. 

Those are the tales that he himself wrote, and the world in which he created. Tolkien was also a great lover of poetry (most notable Anglo Saxon, Old English and Icelandic, to name a few) and drew some inspiration from some mythological poems himself. He translated some poems himself, and here are the ones published thus far:



(posthumous release) The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is inspired by the legend of Sigurd and the fall of the Niflungs from Norse mythology. It is composed in a form of alliterative verse inpired by the traditional poetry of the Poetic Edda.

“Many years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien composed his own version, now published for the first time, of the great legend of Northern antiquity, in two closely related poems to which he gave the titles The New Lay of the Völsungs and The New Lay of Gudrún.

“In the Lay of the Völsungs is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fáfnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild who slept surrounded by a wall of fire, and of their betrothal; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress, mother of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness.

“In scenes of dramatic intensity, of confusion of identity, thwarted passion, jealousy and bitter strife, the tragedy of Sigurd and Brynhild, of Gunnar the Niflung and Gudrún his sister, mounts to its end in the murder of Sigurd at the hands of his blood-brothers, the suicide of Brynhild, and the despair of Gudrún. In the Lay of Gudrún her fate after the death of Sigurd is told, her marriage against her will to the mighty Atli, ruler of the Huns (the Attila of history), his murder of her brothers the Niflung lords, and her hideous revenge.

“Deriving his version primarily from his close study of the ancient poetry of Norway and Iceland known as the Poetic Edda (and where no old poetry exists, from the later prose work the Völsunga Saga), J.R.R. Tolkien employed a verse-form of short stanzas whose lines embody in English the exacting alliterative rhythms and the concentrated energy of the poems of the Edda.”
— Christopher Tolkien

The ISBN for this edition is 9780007317240


(posthumous release) The Fall of Arthur is an unfinished poem, alliterative in the fashion of Beowulf. After Tolkien's death, his Arthurian poem would come to be one of the longest-awaited unedited work of his.

The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur King of Britain, may well be regarded as his finest and most skilful achievement in the use of the Old English alliterative metre, in which he brought to his transforming perceptions of the old narratives a pervasive sense of the grave and fateful nature of all that is told: of Arthur’s expedition overseas into distant heathen lands, of Guinevere’s flight from Camelot, of the great sea-battle on Arthur’s return to Britain, in the portrait of the traitor Mordred, in the tormented doubts of Lancelot in his French castle.
Unhappily, The Fall of Arthur was one of several long narrative poems that he abandoned in that period. In this case he evidently began it in the earlier nineteen-thirties, and it was sufficiently advanced for him to send it to a very perceptive friend who read it with great enthusiasm at the end of 1934 and urgently pressed him ‘You simply must finish it!’ But in vain: he abandoned it, at some date unknown, though there is some evidence that it may have been in 1937, the year of the publication of The Hobbit and the first stirrings of The Lord of the Rings. Years later, in a letter of 1955, he said that ‘he hoped to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur’; but that day never came.
Associated with the text of the poem, however, are many manuscript pages: a great quantity of drafting and experimentation in verse, in which the strange evolution of the poem’s structure is revealed, together with narrative synopses and very significant if tantalising notes. In these latter can be discerned clear if mysterious associations of the Arthurian conclusion with The Silmarillion, and the bitter ending of the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, which was never written.
The ISBN for this edition is 9780007489961


(posthumous release) This is a prose translation of the poem Beowulf from Old English into modern English. The translation is followed by a commentary on the poem that became the base for Tolkien's acclaimed 1936 lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. Furthermore, the book includes the previously unpublished "Sellic Spell" and two versions of "The Lay of Beowulf". The former is a fantasy piece on Beowulf's biographical background while the latter is a poem on the Beowulf theme.

 This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.

From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision. It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.

But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf ‘snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup’; but he rebuts the notion that this is ‘a mere treasure story’, ‘just another dragon tale’. He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is ‘the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history’ that raises it to another level. ‘The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The “treasure” is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.’

Sellic Spell, a ‘marvellous tale’, is a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the ‘historical legends’ of the Northern kingdoms.

The ISBN for this edition is 9780007590094. This edition of the book has not yet been published. 

You should definitely look into any and all of these titles. As you can see, there was a lot more to Tolkien than just The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings which is what most often renowned and recognized for.      


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