Is this an unfinished book review of the Unfinished Tales by J.R.R. Tolkien? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Read on to find out!
The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien, as edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, was the lifeline I needed after finishing The Silmarillion. As you can see in my review of The Silmarillion, I was completely entranced by Tolkien’s mastery.
No surprise I was so eager to jump to the next adventure and dive even deeper into Tolkien’s work. Some have described the Unfinished Tales as the breadcrumbs for the really hungry. I was really hungry. And almost crashed and burned.
Are the Unfinished Tales Unfinished?
Yes and no. Christopher Tolkien has done his best to edit and give a wholesome feeling to the compilation of stories. But some are left unfinished and the name is suitable.
The book is divided into 4 parts. The first 3 parts cover events and characters from the First, Second, and Third Ages. The fourth part focuses on additional information about various phenomena seen throughout Tolkien’s world like the palantiri and the Istari.
One of the great merits of the book is the logical sequence of the stories. There’s a chronology to the stories that gives a sense of coherence.
As someone who was left with mixed feelings, I can advise you not to read the Unfinished Tales before you brave through the mass of The Silmarillion. I’m glad I had the experience when I jumped into the book. Otherwise, making a connection with most of the characters in the first two parts would’ve been near impossible.
Almost Did Not Finish the Unfinished Tales
Well, that’s a bit overdramatic, but I had my difficulties. According to my Goodreads account, it’s taken me a month, a month to read the whole book.
To be fair, The Silmarillion had taken me just as long, but I remember why. I wanted to savor the book, take it one page at a time, and immerse myself in it. The same does not go for the Unfinished Tales. I had the most trouble with the second story in Part Two. But let’s take it one Age at a time.
Part One: The First Age
The first part of the journey focuses on two stories – “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” and “Narn i Chîn Húrin”. I was already pretty familiar with the characters from The Silmarillion. Following their journeys was a pleasant experience indeed.
Especially the dramatization of the story of Hurin’s children, it was a great pleasure to have a more detailed account of the events.
Part Two: The Second Age
The second part of the book is focused on Númenor. With the upcoming TV series based in the world of Tolkien, I was pretty excited to learn more about the Age of Númenor and the island. What a battle that was.
The second story, “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife”, almost made me quit the book. I’ve never skipped ahead in a book, and I’m not about the start now. But it was excruciatingly difficult to go through the story.
It’s common knowledge and opinion and J.R.R. Tolkien has real problems with crafting great female characters. I’m ready to agree, after reading the story and meeting Erendis. Don’t get me wrong, the overall craftsmanship of Tolkien is not in doubt. But this character…
Erendis is made to be a bitter, dissatisfied, narrow-minded woman who tried everything to embitter the life of Tar-Aldarion. To the point where she up and left, and tried to turn their daughter against him. I very much dislike such small characters, I can’t relate to them, especially when I can’t be convinced there’s substance to their bitterness.
The story in itself was exciting and engaging, but I couldn’t stand Erendis. That’s the point where I almost quit the book. Of course, I’m glad I didn’t since the book continues with more of Galadriel and Celeborn. But I hope and pray, whatever that TV series is about, it’s not so focused on Erendis. Or at least makes her a more likable character.
Part Three: The Third Age
The third part of the book starts with the death of Isildur. For some reason, I get emotionally invested when it comes to this. The folly of men, the failure of Isildur to destroy the One Ring starts a chain reaction that leads to the fall of Sméagol, the death of Thorin and Boromir, and such hardships for our precious hobbits.
That being said, I was really excited while reading the story. It almost felt cathartic, knowing and seeing how Isildur died. I don’t know why, but trust me on that one. Tolkien has the ability to make you hold your breath, and rage, and wonder wasn’t there another way.
The stories quickly pick up from Isildur’s death through the years. From how Rohan came to be, how Gandalf ‘arranged’ the events from The Hobbit, and how the hunt for the Ring went. What was really interesting for me was to see how the Nazgûl (the Black Riders) performed on duty, so to say, and the rivalry between Sauron and Gandalf.
Part four servers as further worldbuilding, if more is even necessary for the Legendarium. The short story about the Drúedain – another fictional race, wasn’t the most exciting thing.
But if you’re a curious cat, you’ll be happy to learn more about the Istari and the palantiri. These short overviews feel like the last strokes that bind everything together on the huge canvas that is the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Unfinished Tales Were Finished
And then it ends. Just like all the stories end more or less, so does the book. Sometimes it was frustrating, sometimes, if I dare say – it was a bit boring and annoying. But most of the times, this collection of stories was exciting.
Fair warning! Personally, I think you have to be truly hungry for more because the Unfinished Tales can cause digestion problems. But if you get through them, you’ll thoroughly enjoy… Is this a full course? I’m not very good with food metaphors. But the tales are unfinished so… I don’t know.
Anyways. What I’m trying to say is that the Unfinished Tales are more suitable for the diehard Tolkien fans, but they were definitely worth my time. Effortlessly, they manage to add to that amazing world and flesh it out. An adventure through the Ages, through Arda worth going on!