Why, Mr. Frodo, remember when you were Bingo, sir? Or Odo Bolger coming to Rivendell on the back of Mr. Gandalf's horse? Or the time we were imprisoned by Giant Treebeard in his garden? Don't these twitter threads never end?
HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH THREAD 4 - SAURON DEFEATED
By 1944, Tolkien had got up to the end of what's now Book IV - Frodo captured by the orcs, Sam on the far side of the gate. He doesn't get back to this story for another three years.
He had these scenes in mind long before that, though - Frodo getting captured has been in the works since Lorien. However, when he actually gets to this point, he wobbles a bit.
His original plan - Sam sneaks in and rescues Frodo - doesn't fit the dangers he's established. It's too easy. (And he resists the idea of Sam using the Ring at all - later, he'll transplant a scene of Frodo envisioning using the ring onto Sam, giving us Samwise the Strong
It takes him a few attempts to hit on the idea of Morgul-orcs quarrelling with their Cirith Ungol counterparts, and the tower getting mostly cleared out by orc infighting.
They have to pass by the Watchers, to escape. I love love LOVE the Silent Watchers. There's a note from years earlier where Tolkien tells himself that the "usual orc-stuff" isn't scary enough for this sequence, and he nails the subtle spooky sorcery here.
Mount Doom. Tolkien has long envisaged bits of the ending - Frodo being unable to cast the Ring in himself, Gollum being involved, the rescue by the eagles - but he's still not 100% sure on how it all plays out.
Does Sam push Gollum in? Does Sam sacrifice himself?
He hits on the idea that Gollum gets the Ring and ends up falling into the fire. I suspect Tolkien buttresses this in revisions to earlier chapters - it's not completely clear from HOME, but it looks like Frodo's two lines about "casting yourself into the fire" are later changes.
He writes the Field of Cormallen chapter in pretty much the first draft, and you can tell he's having fun reuniting characters and just hanging out with them.
In another outline, he plans out the rest of the book.
* Faramir and Eowyn
* King Elessar crowned
* Elrond & Galadriel show up with Finduilas (later Arwen)
* End of Third Age - power of Rings fading
* Meet Saruman on way home
* Meet Bilbo, return Sting
* Return to the Shire [added: via Bree, pick up pony]
* Drive out Cosimo Sackville-Baggins
*Frodo rides to the Havens with Elves. Farewell.
* Sam's book.
First off, it's good to see that throughout many years and innumerable drafts and outlines, Tolkien's still sure that the burning question he has to resolve is WHAT ABOUT PONIES??!?
Second, as I mentioned in the last thread, Arwen's introduced here and then added earlier in the book in revisions.
Third - Frodo's departure was part of the vision from the absolute start. Even in the earliest drafts, back when it was Bingo, there was the idea of going away West over sea.
But before we head Shirewards, let me loop back, because I skipped over some really interesting outlines of the Mount Doom sequence.
Like the idea that the Nazgul actually get to Mount Doom in time, and Frodo uses the ring to cast *them* into the fire.
Here we all end together, said the Ring Wraith.
Frodo is too weary and lifeless to say nay
You first, said a voice, and Sam (with Sting?) stabs the Black Rider from behind.
Or Frodo's vision of himself as "Emperor Frodo; hobbit should become lords of men" when Sauron tries to tempt him not to destroy the ring.
Anyway, back to the road home, and one of the most remarkable examples of WTFery in this volume.
So, in the finished version, there's the Scouring of the Shire; the Hobbits return to find the Shire corrupted and industrialised, and it turns out that a fallen Saruman is running things, with Lotho Sackville-Baggins as a (now dead) figurehead.
And it all seems perfectly fitting. Bill Ferney shows up in Bree as a foreshadowing of evil spies near the Shire; there's the long-standing petty nastiness of the Sackville-Bagginses. There's pipe-weed and Shire-goods at Isengard.
And we've got Saruman as this fallen, broken wizard - still dangerous because of his voice and cunning, but now faded and sort of grotty and small.
All those elements are present in the drafts. Tolkien's planned variations of the Scouring for ages. It all seems nicely set up, right?
But... when the Hobbits meet beggar-Saruman on the road, Merry gives him a pouch of pipe-weed out of charity (as per the final text, Book VI Ch. 6), and Saruman's _genuinely grateful_ and warns Merry that they'll find trouble in the Shire and to beware of Cosimo (Lotho)
And when they get to the Shire, the early drafts are mostly the same as the final text (Frodo's much more active and heroic, but most of action is roughly comparable)... only they get to Bag End, and meet Sharkey - and it's just some guy.
Now, Tolkien soon works out that he can draw all the threads together and that it works much better to have Saruman be Sharkey, but it's amazing how what seems like a perfectly engineered conclusion was achieved only in a second draft.
I do love the Scouring of the Shire chapter. It's so mundane and gritty, with its rows of tarred sheds and intimations of murder and cannibalism.
The Grey Havens also gets to its final form pretty quickly. There's a reference to a visit by Gandalf for another fireworks show, but most of the final text is put down quickly.
I must share this list of possible titles for Bilbo's book.
MEMOIRS OF AN AMATEUR BURGLAR
MY UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
THERE AND BACK AGAIN - and WHAT HAPPENED AFTER
ADVENTURES OF FIVE HOBBITS
THE CASE OF THE GREAT RING
WHAT THE BAGGINSES DID IN THE WAR OF THE RING
But as I said, the text is mostly complete in the first draft. Tolkien nails one of the most iconic and blissfully simply final lines.
"Well, I'm back", he said.
He then writes another chapter.
This epilogue is, as Tolkien put it, "universally condemned" by those who've read it. (Letters #144)
The epilogue is Sam talking to his children; they ask him questions about the other members of the Fellowship, and what happened after the war.
Everything in there got transferred into the Appendices, especially the Tale of Years and the hints about the early fourth age.
And if you like Hobbitry, it's here in spades.
"What's happened to Gimli?" said Frodo-lad. "I liked him. Please can I have an axe soon, dead? Are there any orcs left?"
"Still I think it was very sad when Master Elrond left Rivendell and the Lady left Lórien," said Eleanor, "what happened to Celeborn? Is he very sad?"
The original ending:
Tolkien clearly likes the chapter - I wonder if nostalgia for his own kids being that young is part of it. Also, there's a lot of discussion about translating things into Elvish. But yeah, there's a reason "Kill Your Darlings" is common writing advice.
If all your beta readers think a chapter should be cut, then they're probably right.
And while the very end of a book isn't why the book will be remembered or loved, it'll strongly flavour the audience's memories of the book.
There's a note where Christopher Tolkien says he has no plans to do a History of Middle-earth breakdown of the appendices to Lord of the Rings, due to the complexity and confusion of the manuscripts.
Given what he's already worked through, that's 1d20/1d100 SAN Loss.
But anyway - it's done. The rest of SAURON DEFEATED is a breakdown of the Notion Club Papers (another unfinished novel of Tolkien's), and a discussion of the destruction of Numenor.
Some brief notes on publishing.
The original plan for LORD OF THE RINGS was to write a quick sequel to the Hobbit, which was a relatively successful kids' book. The publishers asked for a sequel, but there's no contract or advance.
Throughout the writing process, Tolkien stays in touch with the publishers at intervals, keeping them appraised of progress. He warns them when he goes off-spec by, ah, about 1200 pages.
When it's finally done, neither Tolkien nor the publishers (Allen & Unwin) quite know what to do with it. They're pretty sure it's not going to sell.
Paper costs have gone up threefold since the war. The book will require a bunch of maps, special plates for the runes and so forth.
It doesn't help that Tolkien's *real* obsession is getting the Silmarillion out. Any time any publisher shows *any* interest in one of his manuscripts, he instantly drags out the Silmarillion.
"Oh, you like my little fairy story, Farmer Giles? Do I have anything else, you ask?"
He gets a sniff of interest from another publisher, and tries playing hardball - the ONLY way you can publish LORD OF THE RINGS is as ONE VOLUME with the Silmarillion! They're ONE BIG STORY!
It falls through, and he goes back to Unwin. Tolkien's own finances aren't great at this point, either, so he becomes willing to compromise. Split the book into three, you say? Well, I guess...
Cue lots of arguments over the titles for each volume, the cover art. Snarky comments from Tolkien about the summary on the back cover. Stress about the maps, which all have to be redrawn in haste.
It's all terribly familiar to anyone who's published a book.
There's even a suggestion that they could try publishing THE SILMARILLION by subscription. These days, bung it up on Kickstarter.
The first book comes out. To everyone's surprise - especially the publishers - it _sells_.
[ THIS TWEET INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK FOR FUTURE WRITING ADVICE ON HOW TO HANDLE HAVING A BEST-SELLER - SHOULD I HAVE A BEST-SELLER, I SHALL RETURN AND ADD TRENCHANT ADVICE HERE ]
From a letter to Allen & Unwin 30 September 1955
When is Vol. III likely now to appear? I shall be murdered if something does not happen soon.
It helps that there's a BBC Radio adaption within a year; while Tolkien hates it, it does help sales. These days, audiobooks are a vital part of a book's lifecycle.
By 1956, they're already fielding foreign-language translation offers.
198 From a letter to Rayner Unwin, 1957
[As far as I am concerned], I should welcome the idea of an animated motion picture, with all the risk of vulgarization; and that quite apart from the glint of money, though on the brink of retirement that is not an unpleasant possibility.
And then it gets to the USA (initially in a pirate edition), and _boom_
I went to the [great new] offices of [Unwin]. To this I paid a kind of official visitation, like a minor royalty, and was somewhat startled to discover the main business of all this organization of many departments (from Accountancy to Despatch) was dealing with my works.
"Also a large single order for copies of The L.R. had just come in. When I did not show quite the gratified surprise expected I was gently told that a single order of 100 copies used to be pleasing (and still is for other books), but this one for The L.R. was for 6,000"
Nice work, JRRT.
Some final (I swear) thoughts on Tolkien's strengths and failings as a novelist.
He doesn't give up. He keeps slogging away, keeps writing and revising his whole life.
Arguably, there's a lot of wasted effort; he keeps tweaking and revising bits of Silmarillion without ever really finishing them. But he keeps working.
He's very good at elaboration. Give him a simple idea - "there's city called Ond" and he'll spin out centuries of backstory. But he starts with the simple idea, the necessary plot element, and goes from there.
He looks for ways to use existing material. A lot of the time, instead of dropping an idea, he'll move it to a different character. And he keeps pulling stuff from his unpublished works whenever he's stuck for a name or character.
He also writes what he knows when he's stuck. Rohan springs from his academic work; the Misty Mountains from his own trip to the alps.
What he doesn't do is try to create a whole world from scratch. Middle-earth didn't spring fully formed from his mind. It's very easy to mistake later codification for initial intent.
And he writes what interests and excites him. He creates something absolutely weird and quirky that everyone agrees is going be... not a totally unviable failure, but certainly a 'prestige book' that'll survive on the coattails of the Hobbit.
He doesn't create what he sets out to make, but he follows the Road where it takes him.
Anyway - thanks for coming along on this little tour through Chris Tolkien's dense examinations/excavations of his father's works. Thanks to all who've shared these threads; I'm not normally quite so verbose.
Check out my soundcloud time: I started rereading the HOME books because one of my current projects is the Moria supplement for the upcoming One Ring roleplaying game, now published by @FriaLigan. Moria won't be out until late 2021 at the earliest, I suspect.
If you *run* on seeing this tweet, there's still time to grab the discounted PDF bundle of THE DRACULA DOSSIER which I co-wrote with @Kenneth Hite
, which does a similar deep delve into Dracula, only with more shooting and espionage.
And my fantasy novels THE GUTTER PRAYER and THE SHADOW SAINT, both from Orbit, are available from most bookstores. They're not quite Tolkien, but I did hit my deadlines instead of blowing them by more than a decade, so a point to me, JRRT!
JRRT: Hi, I'm a professor of philology. I've created many languages from scratch, and am obsessed with the beauty and origins of names.
Also JRRT: My main character is called Bingo Baggins and he's named after my kids' toy bear.
t know how feasible that is - with LOTR, it's all one big story, so you can see how it develops. The Silmarillion is so fragmented you'd have to do each tale individually.
written over such a long period it'd be hard to identify why Tolkien made a particular choice.
a look at Lost Tales 1 & 2 again and have a think - but not anytime soon :)