FORMAT: HARDCOVER (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It’s the time of year again in which books that have been in print one way or another for decades get a quick revision, a new cover and improved binding in order to catch the winter-rush of people who want a good read whilst they stay at home, as well as those looking to pick up Christmas gifts and the like. So it should come as no surprise that Christopher and JRR Tolkien’s lesser known work, Unfinished Tales, has been re-issued just in time for the 40th anniversary of its initial release.
In the grand hierarchy of Middle Earth fandom, Unfinished Tales sits on the top of a very specific pyramid, one with only the most dedicated of readers at its peak. It is the most specialised of all of Tolkien’s writings on Middle Earth, especially as the name suggests, it’s based on notes and ideas that JRR Tolkien did not fully realise. Christopher Tolkien (the eldest son of the good professor) only put the lightest of touches on his father’s work; Unfinished Tales has been edited to keep the stories consistent in terms of naming conventions and the like. Many of the stories are heavily annotated, with the notes often being longer than the story itself.
The book is broadly filled with three different sorts of writing. Mainly we get complete myths and legends from Middle Earth, bits of history that form the back-bone of the world and show the reader how Tolkien created his world. The book also contains geographic, historical, linguistic and background information, such as more information on the Istari and the like. Finally we have extensive footnotes and musings, everything from detailed ideas to fleeting thoughts.
This may be tough going for many fantasy fans; these days we are spoilt by well thought out ‘source-book’ style works that detail made-up worlds in an accessible way. Unfinished Tales is a fantasy guide-book produced by two academics and reads as a scholarly text in places, or fragments of a forgotten age. Brilliant for the hardcore reader or anyone after a PhD in Hobbit Studies, but less likely to keep the casual fan engaged. This new, 40 year anniversary hard-back edition is a gorgeous thing, filled with illustrations and a substantial appendix. It’s destined to become filled with bookmarks and annotations when in the hands of a fantasy archivist, which we suspect would have made both the Tolkiens proud.