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FICTION : THE LOST ROAD AND OTHER WRITINGS by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin: $18.95; 455 pp.).

January 03, 1988|Sue Martin

This is the fifth in a series of books on the notes and first manuscripts by J. R. R. Tolkien's son on his father's life work, the world of Middle-Earth and "The Lord of the Rings" (a sixth is in the works). Is there still the rabid interest in Elves and Hobbits and the Gods That Were as there was in the '70s when the "Trilogy" (as it was known then) was popular? I just don't understand the need for these exhaustive and fussily detailed rehashes of material already published in a finished, edited form ("The Silmarillion," published in 1977). And frequently, the material utilized (the bulk of it published previously in the "Silmarillion") are first drafts and lines crossed out by Tolkien Sr. Ten years later and we find out the permutations of the names of the characters, and sites, i.e.: Taur-na-Danion, Taur-na-Thanion, Dorthanion, and Darthonian. It all seems water under the bridge bringing up this minutiae now.

As Christopher Tolkien says in his preface, this book . . . "determined which elements in the published 'Silmarillion' go back to that time (the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938), and which entered afterwards." A period of a few months ? Who cares? Tolkien senior's finished works are classics: lovely, heart-felt tales of courage, valor, magic and wonder. These dry compendiums don't make the original work any clearer, it muddies the images. If these were university press editions, I'd understand their publication, but as mainstream works, they've lost me.

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