Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Unfinished Tales

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth collects various narratives in author J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe that range in time from the Elder Days to the end of the War of the Ring, comprising various elements such as wizard Galdalf’s account on how he sent Dwarves to Bilbo Baggins’ residence at Bag-End, the emergence of the sea-god Ulmo, a description of the military organization of the Riders of Rohan, and so forth. His son Christopher Tolkien notes that maintaining the writings of a deceased author is difficult, although there is great value in doing so.

The first tale, set in the First Age tells about Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin, which remained untouched for years, although the elder Tolkien write a compressed incarnation of the story for The Silmarillion. Rían, the wife of Huor, dwells with the people of the House of Hador, but when rumors come to the Dor-lómin of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, she wanders into the wilds alone, and thus, the Elves forsake the caves of Androth, Tuor going with them. Most of the story describes a journey, with the end consisting of the army of Gondolin sitting at the feet of mountains.

The next tale of the First Age tells about the Children of Húrin, opening with his son Túrin’s childhood, and the shadow of war looming large. Morgoth tries to tempt Húrin, and Morwen fears that Túrin will be taken away, thus sending him to Doriath, where he is watched over by Melian, who sees him rarely. Túrin finds himself among outlaws, and he is eventually told to return to Doriath, whence Nellas never sees him again. The dwarf Mîm shows the outlaws his home of Sharbhund, with Morwen and Nienor journeying to Nargothrond as well. The tale ends in tragedy, essentially being a shorter version of the complete The Children of Húrin published as a standalone story.

The first of the Unfinished Tales of the Second Age describes the Island of Númenor, with the elder Tolkien having written it more as a description than a narrative, describing the physical nature of the isle since it clarifies and accompanies the story of Aldarion and Erendis. The account of the atoll derives from descriptions and simple maps preserved in the archives of the Kings of Gondor, and describes the Andustar as being rocky in its northern reaches. It has three small bays facing westward, cut into the highlands, and seafaring becomes the chief enterprise for daring and hardy men of the island.

Afterward comes the story of Aldarion and Erendis, with Meneldur being the son of Tar-Elendil, the fourth monarch of Númenor. Tar-Meneldur commands his son to stay on the island, desiring to proclaim Aldarion the King’s Heir, and Aldarion remains in the isle for fifteen years, leading no expedition beyond. Erendis is eventually conceived, and proving to be a beautiful woman from birth, and Aldarion rides to Hyarastorni, the house of his cousin Hallatan. From the point where Aldarion reads Erendis’s letter, the tale according to the younger Tolkien is fragmented and inconsistent.

The third tale of the second age describes the lineage of Elros, specifically the Kings of Númenor, from the founding of the city of Armenelos to the downfall. The fourth details the history of Galadriel, Celeborn, and Amroth, the King of Lórien, although the younger Tolkien acknowledges that there are severe inconsistencies “embedded in the traditions.” However, there are in the account of the elder Tolkien details of which there are none in the Silmarillion, such as the kinship of Finarfin’s children with Thingol as a factor influencing their decision to join Fëanor’s rebellion.

Ending the tales of the Second Age are several appendices, the first regarding the Silvan Elves and their speech patterns, with The Silmarillion indicating some of the Nandor, the Telerin Elves that abandoned the march of the Eldar on the east side of the Misty Mountains, dwelled in the woods of the Vale of the Great River. The following appendix discusses the Sindarin princes of the Silvan Elves that adopted the elven speech patterns, with Silvan Elvish ceasing to be spoken in the Third Age in Thranduil’s realm. Other appendices discuss things such as the port of Lond Daer.

The first tale of the Third Age of Middle-earth details the disaster of the Gladden Fields, detailing the circimstances of Isildur’s death as he becomes the first victim of Sauron’s One Ring. The second story, divided into subsections, discusses Cirion, Eorl, and the friendship of Gondor and Rohan. The chronicle commences with the first meeting of Cirion, Steward of Gondor, and Eorl, the Lord of the Éothéod, after the end of the Battle of the Field of Celebrant. The narrative ends with mention that when Isildur returned from the War of the Last Alliance, he remained for some time in Gondor.

The third shorter tale describes the Quest of Erebor, where the Dwarves Thrór and his son Thráin (together with Thráin’s son Thorin, afterwards surnamed Oakenshield), escape from the Lonely Mountain, or Erebor, by a secret door when Smaug descended upon it. The next discusses the hunt for the One Ring, beginning with the journey of the Black Riders, the torture of Gollum for information, and Saruman’s dealings with the Shire. The final tale of the Third Age talks about the Battles of the Fords of Isen, with Théodred and Éomer being the primary obstacles to an easy conquest of Rohan by Saruman.

Unfinished Tales concludes with stories of the wizards including Gandalf and the enigmatic palantíri, along with an index of the numerous names appearing in the text, and is overall and enjoyable collection of stories sure to appeal to diehard fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Middle-earth universe. Granted, a great portion of the text is somewhat fragmented and, true to the anthology’s title, unfinished, although it definitely gives good backstory on the world before the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, and warrants a read for those interested in Tolkien’s prosaic process.

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