Book Review: The Treason Of Isengard

The Treason Of Isengard (The History Of The Lord Of the Rings:  Part Two), by J.R.R. Tolkien

It is remarkable just how little of this book has to do with the Treason of Isengard.  Although I am very familiar with the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, I have to say that I was unaware that there was so big an interest in the manuscript history of his Lord of the Rings to make it worth making a giant series that relies on the fact that readers are not only aware of the Lord of the Rings itself but are interested in seeing large amounts of variants that reveal the painstaking process by which that epic came into being.  And let it be understood that this book is by no means the only such book in the series–it is the second of three that I have read and it manages to cover some of the same ground that the first book had gone over showing the fourth and fifth (!) efforts that Tolkien made to get through some of the beginning chapters of the Fellowship of the Ring.  This sort of book is a clear example of a secondary work, one whose existence depends on the excellence and worth of a previous work, but such works are not bad ones.

This book consists of twenty-six chapters featuring manuscripts and various comments by the Tolkiens on material that ranges from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring to the beginning of The Two Towers.  The material includes a discussion of Galdalf’s delay (1), the fourth phase of the introduction to Fellowship (2,3), more discussion about Gandalf and Saruman (4), Bilbo’s song at Rivendell (5), the council of Elrond (6,7), the movement of the ring to the south (8), the mines of Moria (9,10), the story as foreseen from that point (11), , Lothlorien (12), and Galadriel (13), and the farewell to Lorien (14).  There are chapters on the first map of the LotR (15), the story as foreseen from Lorien (16), the great river (17), the breaking of the fellowship (18), the departure of Boromir (19), the riders of Rohan (20), the Uruk-hai (21), Treeberad (22), some miscellaneous notes (23), the white rider (24), the story foreseen from Fangorn (25), and the king of the golden hall (26), a well as an appendix on runes and an index.  All told, this material takes up more than 400 pages, some of it turning in itself in the way that snakes are sometimes shown to have devoured their own tails, but not in a bad way.

It is hard to recommend this book to someone who is not a huge fan of Lord of the Rings.  While the original publishers of Tolkien’s works wondered how big of an audience would be interested in the Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings and thought that they may lose money on it, the existence of this book not only proves that Lord of the Rings has a huge enough audience to support other books being written about it but that there is an audience that event wants to read the manuscripts that demonstrate the painfully slow process by which Tolkien’s story that was originally going to be a simple and straightforward story of the destruction of the one ring as a sequel to the Hobbit became a sprawling epic that hinted at still more sprawling epic stories involved in his legendarium.  I found this book interesting, but at the same time I wonder if this sort of book is really a good one to enjoy very often, since like laws and sausages I would prefer not to know how my novels are made from endless and frustrating edits that add length and complexity to originally simple and straightforward plans, especially since Tolkien and I write in very different ways.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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