Saturday, September 4, 2010
No Word Had Reached My Mortal Ears
Many fans of Tolkien's works are familiar with the twelve volume History of Middle-Earth series, which traces the development of Tolkien's works--including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion-- from the very earliest scribblings during World War I to the full-bodied tale of the Ring and beyond.
I had already read volumes I through V, with the exception of volume IV, The Shaping of Middle-Earth, and therefore was eager to pick up volume VI, The Return of the Shadow. While the earlier volumes trace the legands that became The Silmarillion, volume VI discusses early drafts of The Lord of the Rings.
The title of this post comes from a letter in which Tolkien was discussing the development of the Lord of the Rings.
So the essential Quest started at once. But I met a lot of things along the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner of the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than Frodo did. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlorien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there
In modern terms, Tolkien was a 'seat-of-the-pants" writer. He didn't start with an outline or ages of planning (although much deliberation sunk the Silmarillion in various accounts.) As an example, he began the first chapter, "A Long-Expected Party," with Bilbo Baggins hoasting his 71st birthday and simply vanishing--with no connection to Gandalf, Frodo, or the Ring. Later in the work, when the hobbits (then named Bingo, Merry, Ondo, and Frodo--with Bingo as the Ringbearer) reach Bree, they are met not by Strider, but by a hobbit named Trotter who wears wooden shoes!
Those who care more about the result than the process wouldn't find much of interest in these books. But curious readers--especiallly those who are also writers--will certianly enjoy tracing the threads of Tolkien's mind through many devolopments.