Saturday, January 31, 2009

2009 Tolkien Readstravaganza: The History of Middle-Earth Vol. VII: TheTreason of Isengard

The next stop on the Readstravaganza is The Treason of Isengard. While the Return of the Shadow left off at the Tomb of Balin, Treason does not continue from this point. In fact, Christopher Tolkien takes us back almost to the beginning, and we are walked through the fourth phase of writing.

This is a much quicker trek from Hobbiton to Moria than before, but in it we see how Tolkien was struggling with the chronology of events. In fact this is one thing which would consume him throughout the entire writing process. So much so that in the next volume, Christopher added a section entitled 'Notes on Chronology' to almost every chapter just to address the issue. Everytime Tolkien shifted the story the slightest bit it would mean having to go back and revise many other timelines. For instance the question of what delayed Gandalf from meeting Frodo early on in the books was revised many times, and Christopher includes a chart so that readers can see 4 variants on that particular timeline. None of this is terribly surprising. If one is going to write a book, it makes sense to know where particular players were at any given time, but Tolkien went into such depth that he saught to line up not only dates but phases of the moon!

From there, this volume takes us through the rest of Moria, on to Lothlorien, and down the Anduin and the breaking of the Fellowship. As compared to the initial drafts found in the last volume, most of the story comes within a reconizable range of what we know as LOTR. Going further, the book end as Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf the White reach the Golden Hall.

One exception to the recognizable nature mentioned above is a narrative dealing with Frodo in the tower within Mordor. It is found within notes on "The Story Forseen from Lorien" This was long before Shelob was brought into the story, but spiders still sting Frodo before he is taken by orcs. The fight between orc-factions is not present and Sam and Frodo escape by going out at the guard room to Minas Morgul, where Frodo is cloaked and sam, dressed as an Orc, must muster up some 'swagger' to get by, but ends up having to fight. There even follows some note on the final hike up Mount Doom.

Finally, this volume has a couple of extra chapters thrown in which don't deal directly with the shaping of the narrative, but with two other very important pieces to the puzzle. The first is a chapter on the "First Map" and comes with some reproductions of that map as done by Christopher Tolkien. Christopher had been utilized throughout the course of the writing of LOTR to help out with the maps, and so this is a very thorough of the revisions that the first map went through. The second chapter of interest is actually the appendix. It deals with languages of middle earth, particularly the development of the rune systems that Tolkien devised. Again, this comes with reproductions of various charts JRRT had made, but more legible and in the hand of Christopher!