The Book of Lost Tales: Pt. 1 (History of Middle-Earth S.)

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Paperback, 1985



Call number




HarperCollins (1985), Paperback


Fantasy. Fiction. HTML: The Book of Lost Tales was the first major work of imagination by J.R.R. Tolkien, begun in 1916-17 when he was twenty-five years old and left incomplete several years later. It stands at the beginning of the entire conception of Middle-earth and Valinor, for these tales were the first form of the myths and legends that came to be called The Silmarillion. Embedded in English legend, they are set in the narrative frame of a great westward voyage over the Ocean by a mariner named Eriol (or AElfwine) to Tol Eressea, the Lonely Isle, where elves dwelt; from him they learned their true history, the Lost Tales of Elfinesse. In these Tales are found the earliest accounts and original ideas of Gods and Elves, Dwarves, Balrogs, and Orcs; of the Silmarils and the Two Trees of Valinor; of Nargothrond and Gondolin; of the geography and cosmology of Middle-earth. Volume One contains the tales of The Music of the Ainur, The Building of valinor, The Chaining of Melko, The coming of the Elves and The Flight of the Noldoli, among others. Each tale is followed by a short essay by Christopher Tolkien, the author's son and literary executor..… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
These Lost Tales are part of the "History of Middle-Earth," i.e. Christopher Tolkien's exhaustive multivolume autopsy of his father's creative process in generating the mythology that underlies the world of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The contents of this book were recovered from old
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manuscript notebooks, and mostly constitute variant tellings of episodes later reworked in The Silmarillion, concerning the doings of gods and elves prior to the "awakening of men." They are set in a frame-story according to which various elves of the Lonely Island (Tol Eressea) recount these legends to a human traveler Eriol.

Although the tales themselves are buttressed with copious notes on the source texts and their relationships to the Middle-Earth Tolkien canon, I admit I read little of that material. Instead, I offered the stories themselves aloud to my Other Reader as occasional bedtime reading. We both found the book enjoyable and satisfying that way. (On points where I had particular curiosity, I did read in the editorial apparatus that constitutes nearly half of the book.)

The content and imagery of these stories is very Dunsanian, reminiscent of stories like "The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth" and The King of Elfland's Daughter. But instead of Dunsany's lucid-if-ornate prose, we get the affected archaicisms of the aspiring English philologist. That certainly made this material a challenge to read aloud, but it was fun nevertheless. (I'm sure it didn't hurt that I've studied Middle English verse and enjoyed reading those texts aloud.) Reading this material as its own story, rather than a draft of what Tolkien was later to produce, is a pleasant enough experience. It may even be better than reading it with the hope of profound insights into the secrets of The Lord of the Rings, despite all of the younger Tolkien's efforts to facilitate such discoveries.
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LibraryThing member Andibook
What IS The Book of Lost Tales? It’s a collection of Tolkien’s unpublished and unfinished writings, brought together and annotated by his son Christopher Tolkien. It includes rejected ideas, drafts, outlines, and variations as well as comparisons and notes on the evolution of the texts. Ever
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wanted to know how Tolkien developed his iconic elves, what Melian was originally named, or a more detailed account of Gondolin? BoLT is your book. No idea what I’m talking about? Read The Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion first.

The BoLT blew my mind, especially Part I. These are Tolkien’s very early writings, before his concept of the world was fully developed. And wow, I’m very glad that he did develop it further. His elves were once decidedly closer to fairies and gnomes. He had an entirely different framework for telling these tales, one which he eventually (and in my opinion, rightly) discarded. Some of the concepts and ideas were very whimsical and childish (like “the cottage of lost play”) and don’t seem to fit Tolkien’s high-fantasy world.

Part II and the later sections of Part I are much closer to Tolkien’s finalized world. There are all sorts of familiar stories, not always “accurate” to published canon, but often with much more detail; most of these stories were revised and shortened before being added to the Silmarillion. The tales were not yet sewn together by the story of the Silmarils; the jewels were a side-story at best, and the Sons of Fëanor were not fully realized. I don’t think I appreciated how intricately Tolkien wove the Silmarillion together until I read BoLT.

Favorites: Glorfindel! He’s a side character at best, but one of my favorites. The BoLT contains the full narrative of the Fall of Gondolin, which is only summarized in the Silmarillion. Gondolin itself, while not a “character,” is one of my favorite sections, especially Tuor and Idril. I won’t lie; I broke out the sticky notes to mark Gondolin sections. The detailed variations on the creation story, the sun and moon, the trees, etc., were also wonderful. It was fascinating to watch the Silmaril narrative develop.

Least favorites: Oh god, Ælfwine. The original framework was the story of Ælfwine, an Englishman who journeys to an elven land and hears tales of elvish history. It ties the story together and embeds it into English history… but the entire thing is just too whimsical and fairytale-like. I love the sort of nonsense whimsy you find in children’s bedtime stories, but it just isn’t right for Tolkien’s world.

Writing style: Tolkien paints a wonderfully full, detailed, high-fantasy world, full of fantastic characters and beautiful scenery. Lots of repeated themes: betrayal, greed, love, oaths, etc. Many of the stories seemed darker than in the Silmarillion, which I very much appreciated.

I recently had a friend (a reader and a fantasy fan) complain that Tolkien “interrupts” his story too often. I can see where she’s coming from; but to insist that side stories like the Entwives were interruptions and just bad writing, not world-building? This is what happens when you speed read through everything, children. ಠ_ಠ

Finally, you can’t tackle BoLT without warning: CHRISTOPHER TOLKIEN IS SUPER PEDANTIC. No criticism is intended; it’s just that he has taken great pains to present and interpret his father’s drafts, notes, corrections, re-writes, name changes, etc. etc. as accurately as possible. So be prepared to read (or skip through) his analysis and explanations for every section.
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LibraryThing member Trogdor7899
Well, to put it simply: These volumes are for the extreme Tolkien fan. It's a very inricate journey into the process of one man's idea that transformed into a wonderful world we all enjoy: Middle-Earth. Like I say, it's an incredible source of knowledge for die-hard Tolkien Fans, but it is not an
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easy read! Prepare to have a notebook handy to take notes because it is CHALK full of stuff.
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LibraryThing member wyclif
A return to the very beginnings of Tolkien's Middle Earth ethos and the Elder Days. A rich collection of wild and energetic tales much different than the distillation found in The Silmarillion, such as the cosmological poem "Habannan Beneath the Stars." There is much here that is stylistically
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reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron. Recommended for those interested in the mythos of men and elves, or the Tolkien completist.
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LibraryThing member threadnsong
It is a monumental effort to have begun this work, and Christopher Tolkien is to be commended on his persistence with this look at his father's earliest notes.

For Tolkien fans it is fascinating to see how these tales emerge. For a writer who is interested in world-building, it is a good way to see
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how the process works and how many, many versions a tale has to take before it is considered "complete." And yes, I know that these are chapters that Tolkien never completed in his lifetime, but they became [The Silmarillion]. Many of them are more detailed than what was eventually published, and I think the best example of this expansion is Chapter VIII, "The Tale of the Sun and the Moon." It is so much more fleshed out and more detailed and described than what came into "Silmarillion" and I just totally loved it.
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LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
In my opinion there were excellent reasons why these tales were lost. These do not represent treasures that mistakenly went unpublished in Tolkien's lifetime. Rather, he must have known that these dabblings did not deserve the fame and acclaim of his primary body of work.
LibraryThing member Louise_Waugh
Difficult to rate - not for casual readers, but I wouldn't miss it - gems and insights for the true believer.
LibraryThing member caerulius
This book is almost dauntingly dense. The collection of stories rewritten over and over by Tolkien, that formed the basis for the myth and history behind the world behind The Lord of the Rings is a scholar's paradise, but a little daunting for the layperson. The stories are intriguing, and the
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annotations provide influences and varying earlier versions. Haven't finished it yet, but it is fascinating, particularly for someone like me, who loves knowing the background and influences to beloved works.
It is, however, the most prized book in my collection, not because it is Tolkien, and not because it is a first edition, although both are true. This was the very first gift I recieved from my boyfriend, and is inscribed with a touching note, and houses the letters and notes he's written me, and call me a sentimental sap, but that is more than enough to launch it into the 5 star category for me. *blushes*
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LibraryThing member charongra
Precursor to "The Silmarillian" and heavily annotated by Christopher Tolkien. You might call this book a "behind the scenes" look at the making of The Silmarillion.

The one major gripe I have with BLT (the book, not the burger) is that there are no breaks between the fictional story and the
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non-fictional annotation. I'm reading along, enjoying the tale, and before I know it, I find myself reading some bunch of words that somehow don't seem to fit in with the plot. Then I have to dig through pages of minuscule text to find where the annotation ends and the story continues.

At least, that's the experience I had while reading my particular edition.
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LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
Read this one for Afrasiab. I don't know if Tolkien deliberately borrowed an incident from the Shahnameh, but I'm willing to bet he would have read it, and I can think of much worse borrowings to make.

The Silmarillion in its earliest form. This is the first half, without the charismatic megafauna,
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but very interesting reading nonetheless.
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LibraryThing member Hedgepeth
Many of the "lost tales" are early versions of portions of the Silmarillion. I would definitely recommend that the aspiring writer read this to see how Tolkien wrote and rewote and in some cases totally discarded ideas. Otherwise this book is not for the casual Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fan.


Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — 1985)


Original publication date

1917 (original notebook)

Physical description

304 p.; 7.7 inches


0048232815 / 9780048232816
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