There was a time where I thought this summer would be the time to reread the Lord of the Rings. I even packed my bags in preparation for it. But to read LOTR is no small task, not something to walk into half-heartedly. So I read “Leaf by Niggle” to get me in the right frame of mind . . . and then it didn’t happen. So I put the books in the box of goodies that I shipped back to Honolulu to keep the load light. And then I read books that I bought tied to my time at Laity Lodge instead.
+ + + + + + +
One of the questions posed early on at the Lodge a few weeks ago was the question of what authors we turn to for comfort (because these last few years have brought great need for comfort). I told the couple I sat near that I would often turn to Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton. And it doesn’t matter much what I read from them as long as it is from them. Granted, the shorter the better has been the case of late. I had just reread a number of shorter Lewis pieces collected in Present Concerns. But I did want to read some Tolkien. So I went back to Unfinished Tales. I had read the entries tied into The Hobbit and LOTR a few weeks before but had, at that time, decided to stay away from the longer pieces from “the first age” that take up most of the book. I’ve read the Silmarillion before and enjoyed it, but it is also a bit of a commitment. And I’m a little leery of reading “First Age” and “Second Age” content with Amazon’s Rings of Power coming in September. But I jumped into the story of Tuor and his journey to Gondolin anyway. I’m so glad that I did.
+ + + + + + +
Unfinished Tales is a collection of pieces edited by Christopher Tolkien that are “elaborations ‘of matters told more briefly, or at least referred to elsewhere.” Christopher Tolkien wove things together based on manuscripts and fragments and notes. It is amazing to me how much of Tolkien’s voice shines through even in drafts and fragments. There is joy and sadness and wonder in almost every little narrative piece. Tuor’s tale, which clocks in at about 30 pages, features a kind of depth you would expect from stories that are chronologically later. Here Tuor shows up fully realized in a fully realized world. A favorite text:
In this way, Tuor passed into the borders of Nevrast, where once Turgon had dwelt; and at last unawares (for the cliff-tops at the margin of the land were higher than the slopes behind) he came suddenly to the black brink of Middle-earth, and saw the Great Sea, Belegar the Shoreless. And at that hour the sun went down beyond the rim of the world, as a mighty fire; and Tuor stood alone upon the cliff with outspread arms, and a great yearning filled his heart. It is said that he was the first of Men to reach the Great Sea, and that none, save the Elder, have ever felt more deeply the longing that it brings. (25)
And that’s just around the 1/3 mark of the tale of Tuor’s coming to Gondolin. And yes, it’s difficult to hold all of the names of people and places in your head. And yes, it’s great to turn to the end notes that C. Tolkien added that point to connections (or contradictions) with the bigger story. And there’s no real hurry to finish things because each piece of the book stands on its own. It’s nice just savoring the wonder of each good moment.
+ + + + + + +
So now I’m onto the story of Turin, also set in the First Age. And it’s good. Hopeful and tragic at the same time, and not only because you know the “long story” but also because Tolkien renders each character so well while saying so little.