• Lost tales of Tolkien
    April 16,2014
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    The family of J.R.R. Tolkien has certainly benefited from his writings. First there was “The Hobbit,” largely a children’s story, which he actually wrote when his children were youngsters, reading it to them chapter by chapter as he was writing it. Then there was the three-volume “Lord of the Rings,” which went through many printings and became a cult object for a generation of readers.

    After his death, his son, Christopher, got together a number of articles and semi-stories that he had left, and also some things he had culled from the “Lord of the Rings” in order to keep it from becoming too long.

    And this year, the family is publishing Tolkien’s translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic “Beowulf.” Of course, he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, but for some reason, after making his own translation around 1926, he never had it published. It will be interesting to see how it compares with some of the later translations that have appeared in recent years.

    Tolkien was steeped in the languages and cultural traditions of Europe. He was also steeped in the language and traditions of his own creation — Middle Earth, which reflects European traditions and languages.

    “Lord of the Rings” makes mention of some battles that have taken place, but not in any great detail. He had written about them in more detail but decided such details would make the books too long. Christopher Tolkien found the manuscripts and included them in volumes known as “Unfinished Tales” and “The Book of Lost Tales.”

    One such elaboration was the fight where Isildur lost his life. Having cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand, Isildur leaves the southern kingdom (Gondor) in charge of his nephew and travels north with a small entourage. At the Gladden Fields by the Anduin River, his group is assailed by a large group of orcs. Isildur’s sons urge him to escape by putting on the ring, which will make him invisible, and swimming across the river. He does so, but the ring slips off his hand, making him visible, and he is shot and killed by the assailants.

    Another battle briefly mentioned in “Lord of the Rings” is the “Battle of the Fords of Isen,” where Saruman’s forces attack the Rohirrim. There is just a mention that the son and heir of King Theoden has been killed in the battle. “The Book of Lost Tales” goes into great detail about that fight, showing that the son and heir, Theodred, is a very valiant and inspiring leader, willing to sacrifice himself in order to save other lives.

    One thing that has always puzzled me in “Lord of the Rings” is when Frodo is finally at the lip of the volcano where he is supposed to throw the One Ring into the fire. Instead, he declares that he owns the ring, and puts it on, becoming invisible. The creature Gollum, who has been trying to recover the ring throughout the trilogy, attacks Frodo at the edge of the abyss and eventually bites off Frodo’s ring finger. Then he is described as triumphantly holding up the ring, with the finger visibly still in it, before tipping too far and falling into the fire.

    I’ve always wondered why, if the finger was invisible when part of Frodo’s hand, it didn’t stay invisible when it was still in the ring Collum was holding up triumphantly. I’ve never seen any explanation anywhere in what Tolkien wrote himself, or what his family has compiled from his writings later.

    Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.
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