The History of The Lord of the Rings

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"). 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 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
EditorChristopher Tolkien
AuthorJ. R. R. Tolkien
Cover artistRoger Garland (paperbacks)
John Howe (paperbacks)
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesThe History of Middle-earth
SubjectTolkien's legendarium
GenreHigh fantasy
Literary analysis
PublisherGeorge 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 typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages512 (The Return of the Shadow)
512 (The Treason of Isengard)
496 (The War of the Ring)
496 (Sauron Defeated)
ISBN978-0261102248 (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 byThe Lost Road and Other Writings 
Followed byMorgoth's Ring 


The volumes are:

  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)

The first volume of The History encompasses three initial stages of composition or, as Christopher Tolkien calls them, "phases", and finishes with the Fellowship of the Ring entering the Mines of Moria.

The second volume continues to the meeting with Théoden king of Rohan, and includes discussions of the original map of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, and of the evolution of Cirth.

The third volume, The War of the Ring continues to the opening of the Black Gate.

The last volume finishes the story and features the rejected Epilogue, in which Sam answers his children's questions. It 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 Adûnaic.

Some paperback editions of the fourth volume, retitled The End of the Third Age, include only the materials for The Lord of the Rings.[1]

The original idea was to release The History of The Lord of the Rings in three volumes, not four. When The Treason of Isengard was first published in paperback Volume 8 was to be called Sauron Defeated and was to be the last volume.


The titles of the volumes derive from discarded titles 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 in the third. The titles proposed by Tolkien for the six 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 was a discarded title 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 seven-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.

Tengwar inscriptionsEdit

There is an inscription in Fëanorian characters (Tengwar, an alphabet Tolkien devised for the High-Elves) on the title page of each of the volumes of History of Middle-earth, written by Christopher Tolkien and describing the contents of the book.

Tolkien's creativityEdit

The History of The Lord of the Rings reveals much of the slow, aggregative nature of Tolkien's creativity. As Christopher Tolkien noted of the first two volumes, Tolkien had eventually brought the story up to Rivendell, but still "without any clear conception of what lay before him".[2] He also noted how, on the way, his father could get caught up in a "spider's web of argumentation"[3] – what Tom Shippey described as getting "bogged down in sometimes strikingly unnecessary webs of minor causation".[4] Thus (for example) the character eventually known as Pippin Took was, in a series of rewriting and of deleted adventures, variously known as Odo, Frodo, Folco, Faramond, Peregrin, Hamilcar, Fredegar, and Olo – the figures also being Boffins and Bolgers, as well as Tooks.[5]

Only with the Breaking of the Fellowship did fluency finally arrive for Tolkien, his son recording how chapters were suddenly "achieved with far greater facility than any previous part of the story".[6] Thereafter Tolkien's problem was rather one of selecting between alternative accounts, so as to produce the best effect – two episodes in the "fascinating study"[7] Sauron Defeated that were eventually deleted being the pardoning of Saruman, and an awards ceremony at the book's close.[8]


  1. ^ Edition by Harper Collins; Edition by Houghton Mifflin
  2. ^ Christopher Tolkien (ed.) The Treason of Isengard (London 1989) p. 18
  3. ^ Christopher Tolkien (ed.) The Treason of Isengard (London 1989) p. 52
  4. ^ Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth (London 1992) p. 284
  5. ^ Christopher Tolkien (ed.) The Treason of Isengard (London 1989) p. 31
  6. ^ Christopher Tolkien (ed.) The Treason of Isengard (London 1989) p. 410 and compare p. 411-14
  7. ^ "Reviews: Sauron Defeated by JRR Tolkien (The History of The Lord of the Rings: Part 4)". Fantasy Book Review. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  8. ^ Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth (London 1992) p. 282-5


External linksEdit