The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring Cover

The Fellowship of the Ring


The first time I read this book, I read an old copy of the book published in the 1960s, and according to the numerous forewords in this book, the version that I just finished is markedly different from the one I originally read. I exaggerate a bit (most of the changes are typos, corrections from "corrected" spellings, or other changes made by the publishers from the original manuscript, which means these are changes that I didn't expect to notice), but the way the authors talk about the changes, one would expect this to be like, say, reading the 1990 version of The Stand against the 1978 version. There was a lot of talk of tedious page-by-page comparisons between the US edition and the UK edition, using optical readers to make word-by-word comparisons, meetings with Christopher Tolkien to better understand the author's intent, etc. There has been (apparently) a lot of work put into making sure the 50th anniversary edition of the book was as close to the original manuscript as possible.

What I found most intriguing about the forewords was that it touched on the creative process that Tolkien had for creating this story. Apparently his first drafts were written in pencil, and his second drafts were (unless I was misunderstanding this part) written in ink over those pencil drafts, with some words changing between drafts. It made draft comparisons fairly tricky, not just because of Tolkien's style of writing drafts, but also because the pencil had smudged after nearly seventy years, making some of the original writing illegible. So not only were the restorationists working to recreate the original story, but they were working really hard to do so.

Tolkien also used the margins of his handwritten manuscripts to think through plot development, characters, or whatever else was relevant to the story at a given time. This was what precipitated the meetings with Christopher Tolkien, I suppose because the manuscripts are still held by the family. There's a multi-volume set of Lord of the Rings that includes annotations and other supplemental material gained from these notes, and I'll admit, part of me would like to see those. It just seems like a lot of Middle-earth, possibly more than could maintain my interest.

So, why am I spending so much time talking about the forewords instead of the book itself? Because there's really no point in reviewing The Fellowship of the Ring, is there? There's nothing I can add to the commentary that hasn't been covered in the last seventy years. The only thing I can saw is that if you saw the movies, but never read the books themselves, you really should read them. I'm re-reading this volume, and The Two Towers, so I can finally get around to reading The Return of the King. I know, I know; I should have read it a long time ago.