In honour of Tolkien Reading Day, I thought I would just make a quick listing and mini-reviews of a few of J.R.R. Tolkien’s more obscure works that I have read. Living in the literary/reading/Christian (alternately: nerdy) circles that I do, it is hard for me to single out many of Tolkien’s works as “obscure,” but still there are those that come to mind as less commonly known, read, and appreciated works. So let me flex my limited niche knowledge for a moment and introduce some of them to you!
The Children of Húrin
The first of many J.R.R. Tolkien narratives compiled into a single volume by Christopher Tolkien, this may not be so obscure now that it has been joined by such entries as Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin. But in 2012 when I first read it, The Children of Húrin was about as obscure as it got. No casual Tolkien fan she, who knew about this tragedy of Middle-Earth. Certainly, I can’t take credit for actually being Tolkien-versed enough to have found out about this book for myself at the time; it was recommended to me by a friend who was much more learned about these things than I was. And I, being a tragic teenager, was in enough of a suitably melancholy state after reading it that of course it became one of my favourite books.
As it says on the tin, the story follows the children of one Húrin, who gets captured by Morgoth before he can return home from a battle and cursed to see the ruin of his line. The unsuspecting children, therefore, must live under this doom and it all culminates in madness, death, and despair. Featuring torture, friend-slaying, dragon-sickness, incest, suicide, blood-thirsty swords, and more, this is one account that gives lie to the perception that all Tolkien’s stories are about good conquering evil, and instead depicts a sobering look at how corruption and hubris can be the downfall of not just one person, but whole civilizations.
Not only is Túrin Turambar, the son of Húrin, a fabulously disastrous human being, he also gives Russian novel protagonists a run for their money with how many names he can go by throughout one story. Also, I think he has Jace Herondale from The Mortal Instruments books beat by a mile.
The Book of Lost Tales: Part One
So you’ve read The Silmarillion. Child’s play. Have you read this? I must have been on a bit of a Tolkien kick, because I read this the year after I read The Children of Húrin. This is the first of The History of Middle-Earth books by Christopher Tolkien, combining and compiling all the legendarium in its nascent forms that eventually were to make up the The Silmarillion. Originally, the history of middle-earth was told to a mariner (who I believe formed the inspiration for Eärendil the mariner but otherwise doesn’t much resemble him in nature or role) who found the last dwelling-place of the elves in his travels. These elves, brace yourselves, were diminuitive in stature. Shocking, I know.
If you thought any of the more recent works edited by Christopher Tolkien were notes-heavy, this one will beat them all by a mile. So much of the story is fragmented and combined with other versions that notes really are a must and they help situate a lot of the more indecipherable inconsistencies or holes with explanatory context. Christopher Tolkien also outlines how in earlier versions of significant events like Melkor’s rebellion there was more lightness and humour in general, which fits with the original imagining of certain Middle-Earth stories like The Hobbit.
Generally, this is a scholarly work that adds richness to the Middle-Earth lore as we see it evolve from its initial ideas. It is also an insight into the writing process that Tolkien went through as he sketched out his world and mythology, including the origins of a lot of his invented languages. And what self-respecting writer hasn’t changed a character’s name halfway through a story or misremembered how someone was related to someone else and carried on writing without realising their own mistake? I certainly have.
Generally unrelated to the Tolkien legendarium, Middle-Earth annals, or what-have-you, Roverandom is the story of a toy dog and his wanderings through the kingdoms of the world, outer space, and sub-ocean. I had no idea of its existence until I saw it on a store shelf and I’ve never heard anyone really talk about it. Which is a shame because it is an incredibly charming children’s story with all the bizarre adventures of a Gulliver or some H.G. Wells explorer.
When Rover, the family pet, crosses paths with a cross wizard and gets on the wrong side of him, he is turned into a toy dog. A minor inconvenience that necessitates a journey over sea and land to find the wizard to get him to turn him back. After many mishaps, adventures, meetings, dangers, and helpers, Rover has embarked on a quest of Homeric proportions, named after himself like that of Odysseus: his own Roverandom.
So, there is a wizard and there is a dragon, it’s not entirely un-Middle-Earth-like. From flights to the moon and submersion the ocean floor, it also takes on aspects of science-fiction and Atlantean mythology. Overall, it’s an extremely imaginative tale that is written with Tolkien’s skillful and inventive style.
Are you into Tolkien? What are you reading for Tolkien Reading Day? Have you read any of these or other works by Tolkien that you think are obscure? Comment down below!
More Tolkien-related reading:
A Lord of the Rings Appreciation Post