Unfinished Tales (J.R.R. Tolkien) Book Review

Tolkien’s ‘Unfinished Tales’ is not a story in itself, but a collection of tales that relate to stories in The Lord of the Rings universe, which Tolkien has added to. Some are not ‘unfinished’, but more explanations, or even a ‘prequel’ style story. In this way, I cannot write this review as I normally would, as the book does not follow a single coherent plot, nor follow the deeds of one group of characters.

What follows is a list of the tales in the book, and a short bit on their contents:

Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin: Is a part of the story, in which he meets with the Aínur Ulmo, whom bids him go to Gondolin with a warning.
Narn i Chin Hurin: The story of Turin son Hurin, which is told fully in the novel bearing the same name.
A Description of the Island of Numenor: As it says, a description of Numenor, the isle of men in Ea (the world that is, in which Middle Earth is situated.
Aldarion and Erendis: The story of a man, Aldarionm whose love of the sea comes between himself and his family.
The Line of Elros; Kings of Numenor: A story of the history of the kings of Numenor, they being the proud men the ‘Numenoreans’.
The History of Galadriel and Celeborn: A more full story of Galadriel and Celeborn of Lorien, whom we meet in the Lord of the Rings.
The Disaster of the Gladden Fields: This is the story of how Isildur, ancestor of Aragorn lost the one ring he won at Mount Doom.
Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan: How came about the alliance between Rohan and Gonder in days of old.
The Quest of Erebor: A lay of the events leading up to The Hobbit, of the meetings of Gandalf and Thorin.
The Hunt for the Ring: The journey of Sauron’s Black Riders as they pursued Frodo in an attempt to recapture the One Ring for their master.
The Battle of the Fords of Isen: More information on the battle of the Ents at Isengard, in which the Hobbits Meriadoc and Peregrin played a part.
The Druedain: The story of a race similar to men that the Rohirrim call ‘Woses’. Not to be confused with Dunedan, a man of the West like Aragorn.
The Istari: The tale of how the five Istari (wizards) came from Valinor as Maiar to Middle Earth to overthrow Melkor, and thence Sauron. Curumo, Olorin, Aiwendil, Alatar and Pallando (the first three being Saruman, Gandalf and Radagast).
The Palantiri: The story of the five Palantiri, or seeing stones. That of Orthanc and of Gondor are mentioned in the Lord of the Rings.

Wow, that was extensive! I can’t review each of these ‘books’ or stories individually, as it will take hours and hours. I may take a few posts to review my favourite though. I will dedicate this review, which will likely be rather shorter than usual, to my thoughts and feelings on the book.

Obviously, I like some of the tales more than others. To me, some are more interesting, and some not. My favourites are of the Istari, the Palantiri, The Quest of Erebor and The Disaster of Gladden Fields (to name a few). Obviously, these tales are some that relate most directly to the main trilogy, so they fit in well with the story. Narn I Hin Hurin I would also like too, but why read that shortened version when there is a brilliant, full length one to speak of? Some, I struggled to read. I like the lore of the LOTR universe, but the history of long dead kings was a struggle, but interesting. By all means, chop through the book and read the tales that you think will appeal to you first, but please don’t put it down after that! Read all of the tales. Chances are, if you’ve bought the book, you’re interested in the LOTR universe and want to know more, else you wouldn’t have bothered.

I’m glad to say that Unfinished Tales is not a re-write of the Appendices of the LOTR, as a money making venture. There are a few overlaps, but these tales are indeed new, so having read the Appendices there is still a lot of knowledge you can gain from this book. It just shows that whilst these events aren’t written into the book, Tolkien does know what his characters were doing in the time interim that they weren’t in the limelight. The first tale, that of Tuor, is the only time we ‘see’ one of the Ainur in the flesh outside the Silmarillion, which is interesting.

I think this book will merit most those who have read all of the other books. The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. The events in the book do relate most directly with one book or another, and if you’ve read all of the books then you’ll be able to place the tale in context far more easily.

My advice with this book is this: it is not a novel, so don’t treat it as one. Don’t read it straight up cover to cover. Most of the tales you can probably read in a few hours at most, so do so. If you’re struggling with another book, open this and read a tale or two before going back to your other book.

Unfinished Tales has been edited by Christopher Tolkien, so the writing style is akin to that in The Children of Hurin. He has included a notes section for each tale which gives even further information, or explanations. It’s what makes the book special!

I’ll give Unfinished Tales an 8/10. It’s a good book, but if you’re looking for long, epic lays of the heroes of LOTR, you’ll be disappointed. One thing I did hope to see was a continuation of the story of Shelob, post getting beaten by Sam. Alas, not this time.


2 thoughts on “Unfinished Tales (J.R.R. Tolkien) Book Review

  1. I’m actually a little surprised you haven’t found these before. Christopher Tolkien, John’s son, actually published these collections several years ago. Christopher has been doing some re-editing of some of these tales into more epic novel form. I’m currently reading “The Children of Hurin” which is a decent tale.

    If you have not read it and you like those epic history tales, you would enjoy The Silmarillion.

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