In this sixth volume of The History of Middle-earth the story reaches The Lord of the Rings. In The Return of the Shadow (an abandoned title for the first volume) Christopher Tolkien describes, with full citation of the earliest notes, outline plans, and narrative drafts, the intricate evolution of The Fellowship of the Ring and the gradual emergence of the conceptions that transformed what J.R.R. Tolkien for long believed would be a far shorter book, ‘a sequel to The Hobbit’. The enlargement of Bilbo’s ‘magic ring’ into the supremely potent and dangerous Ruling Ring of the Dark Lord is traced and the precise moment is seen when, in an astonishing and unforeseen leap in the earliest narrative, a Black Rider first rode into the Shire, his significance still unknown. The character of the hobbit called Trotter (afterwards Strider or Aragorn) is developed while his indentity remains an absolute puzzle, and the suspicion only very slowly becomes certainty that he must after all be a Man. The hobbits, Frodo’s companions, undergo intricate permutations of name and personality, and other major figures appear in strange modes: a sinister Treebeard, in league with the Enemy, a ferocious and malevolent Farmer Maggot.
The story in this book ends at the point where J.R.R. Tolkien halted in the story for a long time, as the Company of the Ring, still lacking Legolas and Gimli, stood before the tomb of Balin in the Mines of Moria. The Return of the Shadow is illustrated with reproductions of the first maps and notable pages from the earliest manuscripts.
The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part One
I now I would admit when I first got this book (that was in high school, so…..18-19 years ago.. ewwww), I was MASSIVELY disappointed. At the time I was coming off LOTR and wanted more Tolkien. Not realizing what this book actually was and that was basically a history book of Middle Earth and the early drafts into LOTR. Fast forward to today, I have a much more appreciation for the book, well the series over all.
It was interesting to see the evolution of the characters, notably Aragorn! The earliest unpublished versions of LOTR, Aragorn was called Trotter rather than Strider and was a Hobbit instead of Man. The name was derived from his wooden feet. Yes… Wooden feet.. Trotter/Aragorn got them after being tortured in Mordor. There is a great deal more information of Trotter and is explained in The History of Middle-earth, volume IX, Sauron Defeated.
While this book & series did help with my understanding of Middle Earth and in the Challenge. They are rather boring at times, and come off as special edition Christopher Tolkien commentary of his father’s work. Dare I say almost a cash grab??? I really think where Christopher really shined was in the first age with The Great Tales. Those being The Children of Húrin in 2007, Beren and Lúthien in 2017, and The Fall of Gondolin in 2018. I really enjoyed those novels and I am glad Christopher went a head and wrote out The Fall of Gondolin. He wasn’t originally going to do that. But at any rate, if you are a big Tolkien fan I would say you should check these works. If not, stay away from them hahaha.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― The Fellowship of the Ring