In Review: The Book of Lost Tales, Part II

The book of Lost Tales, Part II includes further tales of the First Age of Middle Earth including: The Tale of Tinuviel (Beren and Luthien), the tale of Turambar (the children of Hurin), the fall of Gondolin, the Nauglafring, sketches of the tale of Earendel and further development of the framing device (ie. Eriol versus Ælfwine of England).

As with the Music of the Ainur in the first volume, what struck me most about this volume was not necessarily where the tales diverged, but how close they were to their ultimate form. Some tales, specifically The Tale of the Fall of Gondolin, were never fully rewritten, only compressed. There are some odd differences, but in these choices we the reader have full hindsight and can begin to place the progression of the final tales. It is this process in reading that I found most fascinating.

For myself, the clear standouts of this volume are the Tale of Tinuviel and the Tale of the Fall of Gondolin. The Tale of Tinuviel is primarily of interest for its differences, most strikingly with regards to Beren. For much of the early composition in the Tale and later the Lay of Leithian, Beren is not a Man but an Elf! The implicit difficulties in this scheme are evident to anyone who has read the published Silmarillion. Here, in the Tales, the first union of man and elf is not Beren and Luthien, but that of Tuor and Idril in Gondolin. This makes some sense, given the importance Tolkien gave to their son Earendil.

Instead of using his mortality as reason for enmity and to deny Beren’s worthiness of Luthien’s hand, Thingol and the elves of Doriath are repulsed by the fact that Beren is one of the Noldoli, possibly a thrall of Morgoth and therefore not to be trusted or harbored.

The idea of the thralldom of the Noldoli is pervasive in the Tales. Based on my memory of the Silmarillion, it was never fully abrogated, but it is only hinted at and never given as strong a character as seen here in the tales. In the Tales, Morgoth enslaves the vast majority (so it seems) of the Noldoli, and lays over them all a fog of despair and dread. Some elves he would release, but due to pall of fear he has set in their hearts, they unwittingly go on to do his will or act as his inadvertent spies.

Also of interest in the Tale of Tinuviel is Tevildo Prince of Cats, who in the narrative is the precursor of Sauron. In the Tale, Beren goes on to Angband and is captured by Morgoth. He persuades Morgoth of his loyalty and wish to serve and skills as a hunter. So Morgoth gives Beren into Tevildo’s keeping to work in his kitchens. This part of the tale only works because here Beren is an Elf, and believed to be in Morgoth’s thrall. As shown in this episode, the confrontations in the Tale tend to focus more on outwitting the opponent rather than contests of will. This strategy is used again to lure Tevildo out to fight Huan. And later to wrest control of the island from him.

One of my favorite parts of the Silmarillion is the story of the Fall of Gondolin. Here, in the Lost Tales, the story is greatly expanded and beautifully conceived. This tale, of all of them, is sure to take your breath away. The level of detail is extraordinary and while some elements of the plot are different, the main elements are already in place and the most striking (and pleasant) difference is the length. To my mind, this is the tale to read, even if you cannot bring yourself to read any other!

The tale of Turambar and the Nauglafring is interesting in its differences to The Children of Hurin, The Narn (Unfinished Tales) and the Silmarillion, but as this work is well published, I didn’t find it as enthralling. However, I did find the close mirroring of the Eddas/Vulsunga saga/Nibelungied fascinating, particularly for how closely at times the Tale follows it thematically and in plot at times. What is most interesting here is how this was woven into the tale more tightly and with increasing subtlety as the story of Turin developed towards its final form.

Christopher Tolkien’s commentary is very good, and really brings to light Tolkien’s struggles with the Tales as well as casting a light on his circumstances at the time of the composition. The commentary also attempts to explain the progression of the tales through their various drafts, which at times is confusing, but often very interesting to see how Tolkien’s thought developed.

The book of Lost Tales is definitely worth a try for anyone wishing to immerse themselves fully in Middle Earth.

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