Sunday, February 01, 2009

2009 Tolkien Readstravaganza: The History of Middle-Earth Vol. VIII: TheWar of the Ring

The next volume of the History of Middle-Earth dealing with The Lord of The Rings is The War of the Ring. Following the same pattern as the last two volumes, this one takes us from the Battle at Helm's Deep nearly all the way to the end. It leaves us hanging right as the forces of Middle-Earth assemble outside of the Black Gate of Mordor.

One of the most striking things to me of the whole book was the relationship between Denathor and Faramir. In the final text, Denathor shows so much disdain for the choices of Faramir (before loosing it completely and then showing some actual affection towards his injured son while attempting to burn him alive- you know paternal love at its height!). At first however, it seemed that Tolkien wanted to have Denathor be a lot more sympathetic towards Faramir. Actually, in general, the initial picture we get of Denathor from this, is a much less disturbing one. I think that once Tolkien moved in the direction of the flaming suicide he started to consider Denathor as a much more volatile character. Another example of this is in how Denathor originally knew that Aragorn was returning as the King. Whereas in the LOTR, Denathor chooses death out of despair, and seeing the corsair ships coming was one thing which tipped him over into crazyland, in these texts, he was initially driven to suicide as the alternative to relinquishing his power as the Steward of Gondor.

Another point of interest are the various sketches of Minas Tirith and Orthanc. While Minas Tirith comes across pretty much as the final description, Orthanc went through a variety of forms before the one we find in the LOTR. The story of Gandalf's capture had been settled upon long ago though, so all of them do share the tapering tower topped off by a small platform.

Overall, this volume also was without a lot of shock or surprising developments. There were of course many differences with the final text, but not many that would reshape the writing process as dramatically as the ones in volume VI.