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9 Tolkien stories we can only dream of

Tolkien is not exactly known for his brevity: The Lord of the Ring ranks with War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo and Gone With The Wind as the butt of jokes for its length; whilst Tolkien beats the Bard in terms of word-count. Without even including The History of Middle-earth or academic texts, the works of the Professor surpass over one million words. It may seem strange that I would wish for some more, but I do.

Saying that, there are only five main Middle-earth books: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The Children of Húrin. C.S. Lewis gave his readers seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia – a template that has since been followed by both J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin – whilst Discworld aficionados have been spoilt with 40 books. We, however, have to console ourselves with unfinished musings, scattered fragments, and contradictory passages.

Putting aside questions of Legolas’s hair colour, the wingedness of balrogs, and the exact nature of Tom Bombadil, let us imagine that discovered in a loft there were a bundle of original Tolkien manuscripts to be published in the forthcoming years. What would we like to be in that bundle?

The Fall of Gondolin

Although a chapter of Tolkien’s posthumous tome The Silmarillion – “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin” – is dedicated to Gondolin’s downfall, sadly the longer version of the story remains unfinished. An early version was published in The Book of Lost Tales Part Two but, at 50 pages long, it isn’t quite at the full length we would like, nor does its story perfectly marry the condensed version in The Silmarillion. Just as The Children of Húrin was published in 2007, a similar version of “The Fall of Gondolin” would be perfect; a glorious drama of love, treachery, bravery and war, The Fall of Gondolin would make for a gritty companion piece to The Children of Húrin.

The Blue Wizards

We know that five wizards were sent to Middle-earth, including Saruman, Gandalf and Radagast. But the only things we know for certain about the other two is that they were Blue and they lived to the east of Middle-earth. Tolkien changed his mind on their names, their date of arrival, and whether they were successful in their quest against Sauron. Precious little is known about these two wizards and it would be tantalising to hear about their personalities, what cultures and peoples they encountered, and what adventures they became embroiled in. If The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are quests surrounding Gandalf, just imagine what the Blue Wizards might have got up to.

Númenor

The story of the Second Age is dominated by Númenor and Númenóreans. But, except for Númenor’s foundation and downfall, very few paragraphs are devoted to describing it in detail – many of the Kings and Queens are simply names on a list whilst we even lack the names of Isildur’s wife and mother. All we really have to go on is the Akallabêth and three chapters in Unfinished Tales; entire millennia pass with scant mention. Do you know anything about the rule of Tar-Telemmaitë? No, me neither.

Mariners

Mariners and ship-faring have an interesting dichotomy in Tolkien’s stories. On the one hand ships are used as a powerful device at key moments in Tolkien’s stories: the Corsairs of Umbar, Ar-Pharazôn’s attempt to invade Valinor, Fëanor’s burning of the ships at Losgar, Frodo’s parents drowning, Eärendil sailing to Aman, Frodo leaving Middle-earth. Yet, although ships are used as a form of transport in Tolkien’s works, very little is told of the journeys themselves. Even more curiously, the peoples of Middle-earth – save for Aldarion and Basso Boffin – were surprisingly incurious about the world they inhabited. What was life like aboard the ships? Were there ever great naval battles with another power? Did any sailors ever get left behind to start a colony in far-flung reaches of Arda? Essentially I would like Tolkien’s version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Dwarves

Putting aside Mîm the Petty-dwarf in The Silmarillion, and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, our only real extended knowledge of dwarves is in The Hobbit. Even there, our knowledge of dwarven clothing and culture (save for the colour of their hoods) is pretty patchy at best. More importantly, four of the seven dwarf clans – Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefoots – we know absolutely nothing about apart from their location in the east (cf. Blue Wizards above). We deserve to know as much about dwarves as we do about elves, men and hobbits.

Technological advances

Rather than a specific story this is a general observation. Clear dates are given for the invention of the Tengwar, the creation of the Silmarils and the growing of pipe-weed in the Shire. By the end of the Third Age the Shire appears to have developed a sufficiently sophisticated legal system to declare someone dead and auction off their goods, but there’s no electricity. What about the steam engine? Or the cannon? Why were these apparently sophisticated civilisations not advancing technologically?

Orcs

For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history.” – Winston Churchill

History is written by the victors, so it is said, and orcs are very much Middle-earth’s losers. Merry and Pippin’s capture by orcs, and Sam’s interactions with them at Cirith Ungol, provide a remarkable glimpse into the orc psyche. Far from being brain-dead, useless servants as can often be the caricature, they are shown to be intelligent and thoughtful (albeit still probably misguided, if not outright nasty). This image provides an amusing example of how a history written from the perspective of orcs might look.

Maps

The first experience of Middle-earth for many children is a sense of awe, amazement, and curiosity at seeing the fantastic world sprawling out from beneath their fingers in either Thrór’s Map or the fold-out map of Middle-earth at the back of The Lord of the Rings. These maps are beautiful and fascinating: I am sure that thousands and thousands of people around the world have spend hours poring over the maps, if not trying to redraw them themselves. The “Map of Rohan, Gondor and Mordor” provides the level of satisfying detail that I want for all of Middle-earth: what is north of Forochel? Where is Hardbottle? What are the cities of Harad? Even more than that, some artists over the years – such as the late Karen Wynn-Fonstead – have made their own maps of cities such a Minas Tirith and Gondolin. Such level of detail from Tolkien himself would be hungrily and joyously devoured by readers.

Dagor Dagorath

when the world is old and the Powers grow weary, then Morgoth shall come back through the Door out of the Timeless Night; and he shall destroy the Sun and the Moon, but Eärendel shall come upon him as a white flame and drive him from the airs. Then shall the last battle be gathered on the fields of Valinor. [..] Thereafter shall the Silmarils be recovered out of the sea and earth and air [..] and with their fire rekindle the Two Trees

Some of the details of the Last Battle, or Dagor Dagorath, as included on p. 165 of The Shaping of Middle-earth.

Christopher Tolkien decided to remove references to the Second Prophecy of Mandos – including the Last Battle – due to its inconsistency with later revisions of The Silmarillion and the published text. Fellow blogger Michael Martinez notes thatWithout a clear outline for the War of Wrath Christopher Tolkien struggled to produce a coherent ending for the story” – I would dearly love for such a clear outline to exist.


Let me know in the comments whether you agree or disagree with my suggestions, or if you have any suggestions about the stories you would like to see. But remember: balrogs don’t actually have wings, otherwise they wouldn’t keep falling off mountains!

About the Author: Shaun Gunner
Shaun is the current Chairman of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2013, Shaun regularly speaks about adaptations of Tolkien's works whilst passionately believing the Society needs to reach out to new audiences. In his spare time can be found in the cinema, playing video games and Lego, or on Twitter.
  • Mike Pureka

    Minor nitpick, but I think under “Mariners” you mean Tolkien’s version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There were no boats to speak of in Prince Caspian.

    • Thanks! When I read over it yesterday I thought there was something wrong about it but I couldn’t think of what it was.

  • Maksim

    I think that the Fall of Gondolin in The Book Of Lost Tales
    is quite long enough, and it’s quite certainly complete and full of
    beautiful detail and heartwrenching drama. With it being tucked away in
    the academic 12-volume History of Middle-Earth series, which by far not
    all Tolkien fans had even heard of, it would be a great idea to publish
    it separately, with illustrations from Ted Nasmith or Alan Lee.

    As for closer look at various places and people in M-E, I’d love to read more about Dol Amroth, its people, and any interesting stories set in and around that princedom. There’s a rumour, for example, that one of the princes for married to an elf.

    • Parmenter

      That rumor is confirmed towards the end of The Return of the King when Legolas recognizes Imrahil as a kinsman due to family resemblance.

  • Leo Eris

    I believe Tolkien did not consider the technology you consider advanced to be very advanced at all.

    • Parmenter

      Yes, he didn’t Cultures only develop technology if their mindset supports it. The hobbits were quite content. The Numenoreans -did- develop technology. Early versions of Ar-Pharazon’s assault on Numenor had them with WW1 level warships, not sailing ships, for instance.

  • Matthias Arran

    I fully and heartily agree with the note about the Blue Wizards! I always imagined if one would have fallen into Sauron’s clutches, like Saruman did, and the other was able to build up some resistance against Sauron’s influence. The Lord of the Rings does say King Elessar “made peace with the people of Harad” not that he subdued them. I interpret that as there must have been some movement in the East.

  • When talking about Technology, the only race that I have seen that have advanced in Technology compared to the other races is the Hobbits, as an example Bilbo has a clock on his mantlepiece at home.

  • Jordi

    Excellent post! Going through it other examples came to my mind: What about the fascinating yet ill-defined nature of Glorfindel? Don’t the Eagles deserve a more accurate explanation on their origins, language, relationship with other races…? Am I the only one curious about the story of each of the Nazgûl before succumbing to Sauron’s power? However, I think all these “open mysteries” are an intrinsic part of Tolkien’s enchanted Universe, which lets our imagination fly and love it

  • TroelsForchhammer

    Though I would love to see a late manuscript of the full version of “The Fall of Gondolin” come to light, I cannot really agree with most of this. Much as I love ˋThe Children of Húrin´, I cannot help but wonder if it was not actually an error to publish it in that way, as I think that it misrepresents its author’s vision in many ways.

    Tolkien’s conception of Middle-earth was never static – it was a dynamic conception that changed with Tolkien’s changes in aesthetic and literary tastes, with his philosophical and theological speculations etc. etc. Trying to present it, as does the published ˋSilmarillion´ and ˋThe Children of Hurin´, as a static thing – something that is fixed with a single ˋtrue´ answer to any given question – is a misrepresentation of how Tolkien worked with and saw his own Secondary World, and also, in my honest opinion, of his genious.

    And this is not merely true of the world of the Elder Days, but also of the latter ages – ˋThe Hobbit´ and ˋThe Lord of the Rings´ both represent a series of snapshots of a conception, but in both cases, the story changes from edition to edition while Tolkien still lived, and we need to understand the transience of Tolkien’s conception.

    The kind of stories that you speak of are mostly filling out gaps, but if we could have more, I would much rather have additional versions of some of the core tales – more corrections to LotR and TH, more versions of the great tales of the Silmarillion, etc. – more evidence to show how Tolkien’s conception evolved and changed, and how his changing tastes and thoughts changed and thus influenced his sub-creation.

  • Parmenter

    I do look forward to seeing those things Christopher didn’t like or agree with – he and his father did have some disagreements, especially in later years, such as what likely led to the Athrabeth being left out of the Silmarillion, so we know there is -some- material. Might not be much, but there is some.

  • It’s true we would enjoy many more stories by the Professor. Especially more on “The Fall of Gondolin”!

    I suppose technology could not be a theme in Tolkien’s work as what he wrote was rather a corpus of legends of a far past. Let’s not forget that “the West of Middle-earth” is, in Tolkien’s idea, a very old Europe.

    As for Dagor Dagorath, it’s just the good old Apocalypse (the event, not the book by St John). Or Ragnarok. It’s in the future. But as it in early stages of Tolkien’s work it was inspired by Voluspa in the Elder Edda, there could have been a text (maybe ascribed to Elves or to Mandos himself) of a prophecy about the Last War, the end of the world and the beginning of a new world. In verse, probably.

  • There are some other stories I would definitely like to hear about:

    (1) The full tale of the Northern Kingdom: Who were the royal houses of Cardolan and Rhudaur, how did they cope with the growing menace of Angmar, how did the Dúnedain perceive the arrival of the hobbits and, finally, how did Arnor and Angmar destroy each other.

    (2) The Black Numenoreans: Why did Eru not destroy them like the others, how did they develop Umbar into a dark Realm in Exile, how did Berúthiel wind up as Tarannon’s spouse, what was the history of the Mouth of Sauron?

    (3) The tale of the Elves of Eregion, their forging of the Great Rings, their betrayal by Sauron and how Rivendell was founded.

    (4) What did actually happen when Arda was made round? Why did this miracle fail to convince everyone far and wide that Eru was real and Sauron an imposter? And why, BTW, did this profound transition not have any influence on the calendar reckoning?

    (5) Full versions of “The Wanderings of Hurin”, the Voyages of Eärendil (so much for “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, sir!) and “Tal-Elmar”.

  • Glorfindel

    Oh dear… such musings are the tantalising pleasure of all tolkien-lore connoisseurs…What would i love to read?

    1 – Blue Wizards (I agree entirely with your point). For some reasons i never ‘feel’ that they were subdued by Sauron but my dreaming always tends towards them working on secret errands for Ulmo/Osse (blue wizards… water?) for which only they are privy hence they don’t share much with Gandalf or the others… but in all the happenings that involved water they are somehow the orchestrators of the favourable turns for the free peoples that involve water in any form…

    2 – Glorfindel the Golden Haired…. Oh how I love this guy… i want to know about his princely line and their benevolence… so virtuous in all things and noble… seemingly what was above and beyond the norm for elven lords… why? I often imagine his line of princes had some favour from the West by way of some special grace owing to lineage… are they descended from Feanors mothers’ sister (i made her up) perhaps …having received some special dispensation for the loss of her sister – 1st of the elves to truly die – and herself drifting into sorrow close to death… at the prayer of Lorien does she receive this grace that surely she must live because from her womb shall come a line of princes whom if they did’t exist would change the very course of middle earth? Therefore they are imbued in their blood with this special grace from the west? This will surely help answer the Glorfindel question as to his return to Middle earth even after death – no other elf ever having received this grace….?

    3 – Ecthelion of the Fountain… Valiant and noble almost to the extent of Fingolfin? What is his lineage? What special power did him and Glorfindel possess that rendered the terror of Balrogs void in them and their very nature resistant to their fires?

    4 – Elrohir and Elladan… sons of Elrond… and their quest to save their mother as she was tortured in the den of orcs… some of their journeys with Aragorn…

    5 – Tom Bombadil… do i need to explain? And goldberry for that matter…

    6 – The Eagles of Manwe…

    7 – The dark Elves

    8 – Ulmo…. the Lord of waters seemed most intimately hands on with the Elves of Middle earth often assisting them directly or even pleading their case to the valar…. Orome was in the early days with his hunts… but Ulmo was consistent over the ages….

    9 – Tulkas… i think of the valar he came last… why? where was he? Why did he always laugh?

    Oh i can go on forever…