So this is my sort of review of The Treason of Isengard, the seventh volume of The History of Middle-earth and the second volume of The History of The Lord of the Rings. The … wait, what? Never heard of it? Then, I guess, you’re not a Tolkien fanatic such as myself. Well, that’s totally fine. I didn’t expect you to be one. However, in order to enjoy this post, you should have either watched the movies, read the novels, or both. If that’s not the case but you intend to, then you probably shouldn’t read the fun facts below since there will be SPOILERS. Those who are eager to learn a couple of juicy details about The Lord of the Rings, please bear with me. First off, however, I have a couple of remarks concerning the book. After all, this is supposed to be a review and you should really know what this is all about.
The History of Middle-earth is a series of twelve volumes documenting the writing process of The Lord of the Rings (#6-9), The Silmarillion, a couple of unfinished tales, and everything else that belongs to the Middle-earth universe. It was compiled and written by Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s youngest son. He must be his father’s greatest fan. All his life, he has been working on the Middle-earth universe listening to the stories, contributing ideas, giving feedback, drawing maps, deciphering his father’s handwriting, making fair copies, and after Tolkien’s death, organising the manuscripts, editing his unfinished tales for publishing, and writing this history. The depth of detail is incredible; not the slightest mistake that sneaked into the published editions goes unnoticed, even if it is just a single word that differs. Christopher Tolkien, I bow before you.
The History is a work of non-fiction. Although it gives older versions of the narration (for some scenes even multiple forms although they differ only slightly), the focus lies on the development of the story, the world, and the characters. It includes remarks on chronology, moon phases, map revisions, and tonnes and tonnes of notes, which make reading a little cumbersome since one is constantly browsing back and forth. Therefore, it is an attractive read for literary scholars or Tolkien fanatics, but even for the greatest fan, it gets boring from time to time. So if you had a hard time reading the novels or aren’t completely in love with them, The History is not for you. I really don’t want to dissuade you from read it, certainly not! I just want to save you from a tedious death of boredom. It’s more like for total nerds only.
9 Fun Facts for LotR Fans and Those Who’d Like to Impress Them
This said, let’s move on to the fun part you all have been waiting for! However, if there’s the slightest chance that you will pick up The Treason of Isengard sometime in the future, don’t read any further. These are a couple of the most interesting titbits and therefore HUGE SPOILERS! For everyone else – here we go! And in case you’re wondering, the spelling of names follows the spelling of the versions the individual facts are taken from.
Did you know that …
… Bilbo’s song of Eärendil in The Fellowship of the Ring is not the final version?
The Eärendillinwë published in “The Fellowship of the Ring 2.1 Many Meetings” is actually followed by three revisions, the last one being the final form of the song. However, all three versions were probably lost at the time the manuscript went to the publisher and therefore the earlier form was included and published. When the three other versions resurfaced years later, even Tolkien himself was confused about the chronological order, since he thought they had to be versions written prior to the published one (cf. 103).
… Tolkien came up with two things that would resurface in extremely popular in YA fiction?
Wait, what? Well, two snippets made me immediately think of popular YA series.
The first one reminded me of the Twilight Saga. Yes, my dear readingrats, it gets this bizarre! Gandalf seems to be the literary predecessor of Edward Cullen. Sounds extremely unlikely, doesn’t it? They have nothing in common at all … well, apart from the fact that Tolkien once contemplated: “[?Does] Gandalf shine in the sun?” (211)
The second one refers to the Harry Potter series. There is a snipped in one of the versions that reads as follows:
‘S is for Sauron,’ said Gimli. ‘That is easy to read.’
‘Nay,’ said Legolas. ‘Sauron does not use the Runes.’
‘Neither does he use his right name or permit it to be spelt or spoken,’ said Trotter [= Aragorn]. (382)
That’s totally he-who-must-not-be-named! And the more I thought about it, the clearer it got: Both have a strong fixation on a ring of power, both are evil, both want to rule and they don’t mind killing anyone in their way. Both have their groups of loyalists and non-human warriors. And both spent quite a lot of time without a body. Gosh, Voldemort is Sauron reborn!
… Saruman is truly “‘clad in many colours'” (436)?
When he first emerged, his name was Saramund the White of Irongarth, who would later become the Saruman the White of Isengard we all know and loathe. When Tolkien decided he should become Gandalf’s power-hungry antagonist, he came up with a rather interesting idea: Why not make him the Balrog of Moria? Couldn’t the fight on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm be one between Gandalf and Saruman (cf. 236, 422)? That also fits the earlier conception of the Balrog, in which he was only of the height of a common man and lacked much of his terrifying presence (cf. 197). Tolkien also thought about turning him into a wandering conjuror and trickster (cf. 287).
… Galadriel’s importance and destiny changed many times?
First of all, Tolkien had a hard time deciding on the names of Galadriel and Celeborn (< Galadhrien & Galathir < Galdrien & Galdaran < Rhien & Aran < Finduilas & Tar). During that time, the famous mirror of Galadriel did not belong to her, but to her husband (cf. 249-250) and at some point, said husband was not Celeborn but Elrond (cf. 236). For the end, Tolkien had two different schemes: First, Lórien was supposed to be destroyed by the Nazgûl forcing Celeborn to flee to Mirkwood, while Galadriel was lost. Second, he decided that Lórien would fade and Galadriel leave, while both Celeborn and Elrond stayed behind in Middle-earth (cf. 451).
… the original breaking of the fellowship was completely different from the one in TFotR?
First off, the fellowship we all know was the result of much rewriting and changing, adding or refusing characters, names, and purposes. For example, there was a fellowship that consisted of only seven people, namely Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, and Galdor (who would later be renamed Legolas) (cf. 114-115), or one to which a half-elf named Erestor and Merry were added, while Pippin was supposed to return to the Shire (cf. 162).
When Tolkien wrote the first draft of the breaking of the fellowship, many concepts that would later on change this scene thoroughly hadn’t come to his mind yet. After Frodo disappeared, the other companions went looking for him. While Sam has an inkling to where Frodo is heading and sets out after him, Merry and Pippin get lost and come across Treebeard. Since the others cannot find any of the hobbits, they split: Aragorn and Boromir go to the besieged Minas Tirith and Legolas and Gimli are heading home, singing laments until Gandalf appears to them (cf. 211).
… Boromir was the predecessor of Wormtongue?
While Boromir is the only member of the fellowship whose name wasn’t changed once, his destiny underwent a couple of changes. The most interesting version of his story is certainly the one in which he is the predecessor of Wormtongue: As I mentioned above, Aragorn and Boromir go to Minas Tirith and ultimately break the siege. Afterwards, Aragorn is chosen to become the new lord of the city, which makes Boromir extremely jealous. He sneaks off to Saruman to beg his help to overthrow Aragorn (cf. 210) which leads to his death; he is killed by Aragorn (cf. 212).
… Merry and Pippin were supposed to have some strange adventures?
Since there were no orcs that could kidnap Merry and Pippin in the first draft of the breaking of the fellowship, the two wander off in search of Frodo and get lost. They meet Treebeard, one of the last three Ents (cf. 412), who takes the hobbits to Minas Tirith (oh well, it’s really hard not to write Isengard). There, they play a crucial part in breaking the siege of the city (cf. 330). However, Tolkien wasn’t sure whether to include Treebeard at all, so he came up with a really strange alternative: the two hobbits would end up in Minas Morgul and have a couple of adventures there (cf. 339).
… Gollum wasn’t the only one who was supposed to fall into the fires of Mount Doom?
For a very short time, Tolkien considered Sam sacrificing himself by hurling himself with Gollum and the ring into the chasm. Soon afterwards, this was changed so that, while Sam would still fight Gollum and throw him into the fires, he and Frodo would survive (cf. 209).
… Tolkien planned a great love story between Aragorn and Eowyn?
When Aragorn first met her, he fell in love with her at first sight:
So Aragorn saw her for the first time in the light of day, and after she was gone he stood still, looking at the dark doors and taking little heed of other things. (445)
Tolkien even planned their wedding but soon changed his mind and decided to cut the love story. He thought that “Aragorn is too old and lordly and grim” (448) to be Eowyn’s husband. Well, that’s something a couple of YA authors should have taken to heart when writing their paranormal novels… just saying.
So, if Eowyn cannot marry Aragorn, then what to do with her? Right! How about making her a badass Amazon woman who is going to revenge or save her king and die in battle? (cf. 448) That’s right, YA and NA authors! There’s something called emancipation! It works in medieval high-fantasy, so I guess it should come naturally in western contemporary fiction.
Still, for all hopeless romantics there was still the “possibility that Aragorn did indeed love Eowyn, and never wedded after her death” (448) *sigh*.
Arwen? Who the fuck is Arwen? In case you’re wondering, Arwen didn’t even exist yet. Yes, we are right in the middle of the first volume of The Two Towers, but Arwen hasn’t emerged yet. Funny, isn’t it? The great love story that is emphasised in the adaptations didn’t even exist for quite some time.