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The History of The Lord of the Rings

The History of The Lord of the Rings
Cover depics Gandalf at the gate of Bag-End
The cover of the paperback edition of The Return of the Shadow
Editor Christopher Tolkien
Author J. R. R. Tolkien
Cover artist Roger Garland (paperbacks)
John Howe (paperbacks)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Tolkien's legendarium
Genre High fantasy
Literary analysis
Publisher George Allen & Unwin (UK)
Publication date
1988 (The Return of the Shadow)
1989 (The Treason of Isengard)
1990 (The War of the Ring)
1992 (Sauron Defeated)
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)
Pages 512 (The Return of the Shadow)
512 (The Treason of Isengard)
496 (The War of the Ring)
496 (Sauron Defeated)
ISBN 978-0261102248 (The Return of the Shadow)
ISBN 978-0261102200 (The Treason of Isengard)
ISBN 978-0261102231 (The War of the Ring)
ISBN 978-0261103054 (Sauron Defeated)
Preceded by The Lost Road and Other Writings
Followed by Morgoth's Ring

The History of The Lord of the Rings is a four-volume work by Christopher Tolkien published between 1988 and 1992 that documents the process of J. R. R. Tolkien's writing of The Lord of the Rings. The History is also numbered as volumes six to nine of The History of Middle-earth ("HoME", as below). Some information concerning the appendices and a soon-abandoned sequel to the novel can also be found in volume twelve, The Peoples of Middle-earth.


The volumes include:

  1. (HoME 6) The Return of the Shadow (1988)
  2. (HoME 7) The Treason of Isengard (1989)
  3. (HoME 8) The War of the Ring (1990)
  4. (HoME 9) Sauron Defeated (1992) (Also published as The End of the Third Age, see below)

The titles of the volumes derive from the discarded names for the separate books of The Lord of the Rings. J. R. R. Tolkien conceived the latter as a single volume comprising six "books" plus extensive appendices, but the original publisher split the work into three, publishing two books per volume with the appendices included into the third. The titles proposed by Tolkien for separate books were: Book I, The First Journey or The Ring Sets Out; Book II, The Journey of the Nine Companions or The Ring Goes South; Book III, The Treason of Isengard; Book IV, The Journey of the Ring-Bearers or The Ring Goes East; Book V, The War of the Ring; and Book VI, The End of the Third Age. The title The Return of the Shadow comes from a discarded name for Volume I.

Three of the titles of the volumes of The History of The Lord of the Rings were also used as book titles for the 7-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings - The Treason of Isengard for Book III, The War of the Ring for Book V, and The End of the Third Age for Book VI.

The first volume encompasses three initial stages of composition, or as Christopher Tolkien entitled them, "phases", and finishes with the Fellowship of the Ring entering the Mines of Moria. The second continues to the meeting with Théoden king of Rohan, and includes the discussions of the original map of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, and of the evolution of Cirth. The War of the Ring continues to the opening of the Black Gate. The last volume finishes the story, featuring also the rejected Epilogue, in which Sam answers his children's questions.

Sauron Defeated also includes The Notion Club Papers (a time-travel story related to Númenor), a draft of the Drowning of Anadûnê, and the only extant account of Tolkien's fictional language of Adûnaic. However, some paperback editions, entitled in this case The End of the Third Age, include only The Lord of the Rings material, being only a third of the original edition.[1]

The original idea was to release The History of The Lord of the Rings in three volumes, not four. When Treason of Isengard first was published (in paperback) HoME 8 was named Sauron Defeated and was supposed to be the last part.

There is an inscription in the Fëanorian characters (Tengwar, an alphabet Tolkien has devised for High-Elves) in the first pages of every History of Middle-earth volume, written by Christopher Tolkien and describing the contents of the book.

The inscription in Book VI reads:

In the Return of the Shadow are traced the first forms of the story of the Lord of the Rings; herein the journey of the hobbit who bore the Great Ring, at first named Bilbo but afterwards Frodo, is followed from Hobbiton in the Shire through the Old Forest to Weathertop and Rivendell, and ends in this volume before the tomb of Balin, the Dwarf-Lord of Moria.

The inscription in Book VII reads:

In the Treason of Isengard the story of the Fellowship of the Ring is traced from Rivendell through Moria and the Land of Lothlorien to the time[?] of its ending at Salembel beside Anduin the Great river, then is told of the return of Gandalf Mithrandir, of the meeting of the hobbits with Fangorn and of the war upon the Riders of Rohan by the traitor Saruman.

The inscription in Book VIII reads:

In the War of the Ring is traced the story of the history at Helm's Deep and the drowning of Isengard by the Ents, then is told of the journey of Frodo with Samwise and Gollum to the Morannon, of the meeting with Faramir and the stairs of Cirith Ungol, of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and of the coming of Aragorn in the fleet of Umbar.

The inscription in Book IX reads:

In this book is traced first the story of the destruction of the One Ring and the Downfall of Sauron at the End of the Third Age. Then follows an account of the intrusion of the Cataclysm of the West into the deliberations of certain scholars of Oxford and the Fall of Sauron named Zigûr in the Drowning of Anadûne.


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