The next section of the book comprises 4 fragments that tell part of the story, written at different periods in Tolkien’s life, and give a glimpse on how he was shaping the tale, both to be a better story and to better fit in his greater mythology.
Then comes the incomplete ‘Last Version’. This was Tolkien’s attempt to rewrite the whole story, some 35 years later, after he finished work on The Lord of the Rings.
This version is everything that the original is not. Now the story of Tuor is a conherent narrative. All of his moves seem to make sense as part of some greater story. Gone is the young Tolkien’s stuttering voice, replaced by the master of Anglo-Saxon metre. Seriously, take a look at this little example:
Here the hands of the Valar themselves, in ancient wars of the world’s beginning, had wrested the great mountains asunder, and the sides of the rift were sheer as if axe-cloven, and they towered up to heights unguessable. There far aloft ran a ribbon of sky, and against its deep blue stood black peaks and jagged pinnacles, remote but hard, cruel as spears.
This is a master at the pinnacle of his craft! And then, just as Tuor reaches Gondolin once more, the story ends, abandoned by Tolkien. It is heart-breaking that he never finished what clearly could have been another masterpiece.
There are many who have avoided this book because it is not a complete narrative in the same way as The Children of Hurin. (See my review of that book here.) For my part, I completely respect Christopher Tolkien’s decision not to assemble such a work. While any author could take these pieces and stich them together, the differing voices, even where both are Tolkien at different stages of his life, would be jarring. It is better to present the pieces just as Tolkien left them.
For myself, I have an abiding interesting in both the creative process that goes into building a story, as well as a deep interest in mythology and how mythological tales get changed and modified over time. So this book with all its fragments, and its commentary by Christopher Tolkien, was right up my alley. Not only do we get to see some of Tolkien’s best writing, we also probably see some of his worst. In some ways that is very jarring, in others, it is beautiful.
I have seen a few reviews that have complained that his book contains ‘nothing new’. That may be true. I don’t claim to own every Tolkien book published, and probably couldn’t remember it all if I did. I can say, it is nice to have all of these related stories and fragments collected together so that they can be seen side-by-side, to see how the story, and the author, changed in the telling.