"The History of The Lord of the Rings": 2020 Discussion Group

I've now completed this volume.

Only further point of note for me:
p445: Wormtongue
"Yet it is interesting to observe that my father did not introduce him into Theoden's household with the conscious intent that he should play the role that he did in fact come to play."

I'm very pleased to have read these first two volumes of The History of the LOTR
Last edited:
It's time to take up The War of the Ring!

x, 3/ Christopher will be showing his father's way of composition. As we have seen already, it wasn't an orderly, schedule-bound method. Tolkien had, so far as I remember ever reading, receiving any advances from his publisher, so he was not thereby obligated to produce a book by a certain date.

His writing of the book was simultaneously two things. It was highly personal and idiosyncratic, coming out of the imagination of the whole man in his depth. It was also dependent on others, his son Christopher and the Inklings, with C. S. Lewis pre-eminent among them. By his own testimony it would not have been finished if not for them.

18/ "what really happened" -- Tolkien not knowing but "discovering" the narrative.
20/ After publication of LotR, Tolkien "began an analysis of all fragments of other languages (Quenya, Sindarin, Khuzdul, the Black Speech) found in the book, but unhappily before he had reached the end of [The Fellowship of the Ring] the notes, at the outset full and elaborate, had diminished to largely uninterpretable jottings." I wonder if some of this material has been published since The War of the Ring, in issues of Parma Eldalamberon or elsewhere. My impression is that it hasn't, but perhaps it will appear in that projected Nature of Middle-earth book.
21/ Tolkien originally though of the conflict with Sauron, in which Isildur got the Ring, as having occurred only a few hundred years before the time of LotR. Among the advantages of the later, much longer chronology, was that the greater time elapsed allows for the arrival of the Wizards in Middle-earth about a thousand years after the Ring disappeared when Isildur was killed, and the further lapse of two thousand additional years. This helps to explain, as noted here before, how it could be that it was decades after Bilbo's finding of the Ring that Gandalf realized what It was.

Beyond that -- I think one of the things that such fantasy speaks to in us is the desire to survey vast depths of time. This doesn't really come out in fairy-tales, with the exception perhaps of "The Juniper Tree."
44/ CJRT notes that a picture of Orthanc was "drawn on the back of a page of the examination script of the poet John Heath-Stubbs."

Heath-Stubbs was personally acquainted with Charles Williams and wrote a booklet on Williams for the British Council and the National Book League (1955, rpt 1973). Dorothy L. Sayers regarded the booklet as "admirable." As I recall there is a bit about Williams in a late memoir H-S published. Heath-Stubbs himself is briefly described in John Wain's Sprightly Running.

Thus Heath-Stubbs was not an Inkling, but he was one of the interesting people in their penumbra. I would like to return to the topic of the "penumbra of the Inklings" later.
Last edited:
53/ We've seen Tolkien revising the diction of LotR to its benefit before (e.g. the renaming of the Fangorn Forest that originally could have been the Topless Forest). It would have been jarring if Tolkien had left it that Saruman "got back into his control-room."

77, 78, 85, 231/ There seems to have been a hiatus of about a year and a quarter in Tolkien's work on LotR. He may have stopped work around the end of 1942 or early in the following year -- and "began to nibble" at it only around the beginning of April 1944. I haven't checked Scull and Hammond to see what he was doing during that interval. 78 -- it was hard for him to get back "into swing again."
I have started the "penumbra of the Inklings" thread -- please check it out.

Admirers of C. S. Lewis's Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, the second and third novels of the Cosmic Trilogy, which Lewis wrote while Tolkien was at work on LotR, might be interested in these newly-released home recordings of Lewis reading from those books.

He reads well, except for a few loud harrrummphs as he clears his throat. I haven't yet listened to the Chaucer selection. These recordings are major additions to the canon of audio recordings of the Inklings. (Sadly, it seems there are no recordings of Charles Williams, but there are of Owen Barfield.)
Some minor thoughts as far as p85

p37 and note 6 p41. I enjoyed the various versions of the discussion on pipeweed in the ruins of Isengard. The note says there were no less than seven separate forms for the first version of the story alone. I get a sense of this aspect of the hobbits' history being close to Tolkien's heart and that he was determined to get it just right.

p55 first version of arrival of Wormtongue at Isengard - a note added to the page: Shall Wormtongue actually murder Saruman? I really enjoy the evolution of ideas in Tolkien's writing.

p61 In the same way I enjoyed the evolution of the encounter with Saruman at Orthanc.

p65 When it's first thrown down the stairs by Saruman, the crystal ball (palantir) shatters on impact. Yet another example of how the story grows in the telling.
I've now read through Part Two, the Ring goes East, pages 85 - 226. I don't have a lot to say about it, but it was certainly worth reading.

p123 Tolkien writes to Christopher saying he would change the surname Gamgee to Goodchild "if I thought you would let me."
I always find their relationship in the writing of the LOTR very interesting.
Tolkien's reason for the change was "precisely to bring out the comicness, peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits. Had I thought it out at the beginning, I should have given all the hobbits very English names to match the shire".

p131 (and 121) Tolkien's eye for detail: "at this point I require to know how much later the moon gets up each night when nearing full, and how to stew a rabbit!"
It's this attention to detail backstage that helps make the book so believable.

p147 Faramir starts to emerge

p151 Briefly entertained plot twist: "Gollum rescues them" from the Rangers of Ithilien.

p144 Throughout this period of writing in 1944, Tolkien was reading each chapter as he completed it to C.S .Lewis and Charles Williams. We will of course never know whether any of their comments caused changes of any kind in the story as it progressed. I'm sure they must have been encouraging.

p184 Kirith Ungol, Spider Glen, was inhabited by giant spiders

p196 The giant spiders become one, called Ungoliant
Now there's a familiar name...
It will be interesting, Hugh, to see if there is even one instance about which we will regret Tolkien's second thoughts as he wrote LotR.
It will be interesting, Hugh, to see if there is even one instance about which we will regret Tolkien's second thoughts as he wrote LotR.

Now that's an interesting thought...

It was very early days, so much so that it was almost a different book, but I would like to have read about the dragon invading the Shire...
I’m going to stick with the plan of finishing my reading of The History of The Lord of the Rings by the end of this month. This means I’m skipping most of The War of the Ring; I read up past page 201, and expect to start posting on Sauron Defeated through page 135, which was published separately as The End of the Third Age when The History of LOTR was published separately from a The History of Middle-earth in a boxed set of three thick paperbacks and one thin one.

Hugh (and others?), it would be great to see your comments on the rest of The War of the Ring, if you wish.
I see that my plan for this reading of the History of LotR didn’t take account of Christopher’s account of the drafting of the Appendices to LotR — which for some reason didn’t appear till the 12th HoMe volume. However, that book does appear in the proposed Late Musings thread to begin (if anyone’s interested) this coming January. The entire 12th book, The Peoples of Middle-earth, is scheduled for April-May 2021.
Ahh! I had my schedule wrong. I'd thought I had December to finish The War of the Ring and January for Sauron Defeated. I'll be reading the rest of The War of the Ring in the next couple of weeks, the catch up with Sauron Defeated.
I'm looking forward to your posting(s) on the rest of The War of the Ring, Hugh.

Comments on material in Sauron Defeated / The End of the Third Age (hereafter HLotR 4) will probably begin later today -- feel free to ignore them till you're ready, natch.

As for the mistake you mention, you're in good company. "'I am out of my reckoning,' [Aragorn] said to Frodo" (FotR, "The Great River" chapter).
Last edited:
HLotR 4 p. ix/ It would be interesting to know if the Inklings were aware that Tolkien had, evidently, after seven years or so of labor, set aside LotR and had been deep into the writing of a new novel (The Notion Club Papers), and, if they were, what their thoughts were. Lewis in particular must have been dismayed. CJRT writes of an hiatus "that lasted through 1945 and extended into 1946., The Return of the King being then scarcely begun." The Notion Club Papers is, at a rough estimate, nearly as long as Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, and by around the time of Tolkien's tools-down on LotR, Lewis had written his complete cosmic trilogy.

Here's a comment on Tolkien's emotional situation around this time -- I don't endorse it; it's speculative.

The Notion Club Papers - an Inklings blog: JRR Tolkien's nervous breakdown
Well, I'm now up to page 343 in the War of the Ring. The main point of interest for me has been the re-working of Aragorn's use of the Stone of Orthanc @p300 and his decision to take the Paths of the Dead. Other stuff has been worth reading, for instance the development of the relationship between Denethor and Faramir, but it's felt more like fine tuning, and it may be that I'm less interested in this particular phase of the LOTR.
And I've now finished the War of the Ring. The main interest for me in this last section was @p404 onwards in which there are varied versions by Gimli and Legolas of their experience on the Paths of the Dead and subsequent events prior to their arrival at the Pelennor Fields. I really enjoyed this as I've always felt frustrated (perhaps too strong a word) by the brevity of the account, given its great significance for the outcome of the battle, in the LOTR.

One other point- p337- the eucatastrophe - at the siege of Gondor when the Lord of the Nazgul enters the gate in triumph and faces up with Gandalf.... "in that very moment away behind in some courtyard of the city a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that far above the shadows of death was now coming once again. And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, great horns of the north wildly blowing. The riders of Rohan had come at last."

I remember reading somewhere of Tolkien giving this as an example in LOTR of eucatastrophe, and coming on this passage here unexpectedly, I suddenly understood the concept better than I had before - see below: ......when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart.....

Here's the context of that quote from Tolkien in "On Fairy-stories":
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.
Last edited:
And I've now finished "The End of the Third Age" in "Sauron Defeated". I've found little to say about this, mainly because JRRT's writing seems to have flowed relatively smoothly in these last chapters with only minor plot redrafting. However, it was well worth reading. The one point of interest for me was that in the initial version of the Scouring of the Shire Frodo has a leading role in the fighting using his sword to good effect. I was surprised that at this late stage JRRT still saw Frodo as a fighting swordsman/leader rather than burdened with the after-effects of having been the ring-bearer.

Now that I've finished, many thanks indeed Extollager for suggesting this course of reading. I doubt that I'd have got round to reading these books without this framework, and the schedule lasting several months meant that I could read them without any sense of undue pressure. It's been very worthwhile.

Similar threads