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Old 12-31-2022, 09:08 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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Finding the "Lost Road"

Last night, sparked by its mention in Fall of Numenor (on which more when I've finished it), I reread Tolkien's fragmentary time-travel novel The Lost Road. Found in HoME V, TLR is the tale of a father and son of our age travelling back in dreams through the history of northern Europe, all the way to Numenor and the tale of Elendil.

Or... it would have been. What it actually is is four chapters, a couple of narrative excerpts from elsewhere, and various contradictory notes. The whole thing was rejected by Allen and Unwin, whose reader said it was "difficult to imagine this novel when completed receiving any sort of recognition except in academic circumstances".

I can see why, because TLR is a very strange book. The first chapter introduces a viewpoint character who promptly dies of old age between chapters. The characters routinely fall off into discussion of linguistic minutiae. Lines of Old English, reconstructed proto-Germanic, Sindarin, and Quenya are dropped with very little to differentiate them. And the bulk of chapters 3 and 4 is a discussion of the politics of a Numenor which the reader has not seen except through a window.

But - at the risk of mind-reading Tolkien - I think I can see what he was going for. Alongside the father-son story, and the linking theme of "the Eagles of the Lords of the West coming upon Numenor", most chapters also centre on the telling of a story. Chapter I glosses over the story of the Lombards, and name-drops most of the others in the book; Chapter IV (as originally numbered) retells the story of the First Age through Elendil's words. The unwritten chapters seem to continue this theme: the Aelfwine chapter exists in a fragment which shows Aelfwine telling the tale of King Sheave, Chapter IV (in the 'final' outline) is "the Irish legend of Tuatha-de-Danaan - and oldest man in the world", Chapter V is "Prehistoric North: old kings found buried in the ice" and also "painted caves", while the fragment of Chapter VI talks of a prophet or truth-teller.

All of these stories are told by, or to, the protagonist Alboin as he dream-travels back in time into his predecessors. The story seems to indicate that he isn't aware of his future self - except at the very end, where (per an obscure note) Elendil-Alboin becomes aware that he is Alboin.

What does he do, then, as a traveller from the far future now placed in the pivotal moments of the fall of Numenor? The only narrative structure I can imagine is that he draws on the stories he has heard - the king from over the sea, the old man who escaped the flood, the ancient kings from before the Ice - to, if not necessarily change history, then to direct it how it is meant to go. Alboin's journey is what lets him guide his Elendil-self to making the right choices - to, presumably, take his family and sail eastwards, escaping the Fall and establishing the realms in exile.

Does that hold up? It stands at odds with The Notion Club Papers, where the 'dream-travellers' are just passive observers. But I really struggle to believe Tolkien would have written a time-travelling protagonist who does nothing, and only actually exists as Alboin in his own time and in one final moment of realisation. If you sing a man a song of the sea-kings, you have to make use of that, right?

hS
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Old 12-31-2022, 10:28 AM   #2
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Chekhov's sea-kings

With the caveat that it's a long time since I read The Lost Road, I think that would be a plausible way to spin the story, as well as an effective one. On the other hand, Elendil has, of course, always already acted like he did, or the stories Alboin dreamed wouldn't be these stories. Did Alboin time-travelling back into Elendil's mind cause history to unfold the way it did, or was the point him realising that it was himself, as Elendil, who brought about the events remembered in the stories? Or both, in a 'Hold the door!' moment? It's all very timey-wimey, but that would make a story I'd like to see told.


ETA: Considering the origin of TLR in that compact between Tolkien and Lewis about writing a space-travel story and a time-travel story, and seeing how the names of their respective protagonists, Elwin and Alboin, mirror each other, I'd like to think that Alboin would have no more remained a passive observer than Ransom did, but then I'm not Tolkien.
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Old 01-06-2023, 02:52 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
With the caveat that it's a long time since I read The Lost Road, I think that would be a plausible way to spin the story, as well as an effective one. On the other hand, Elendil has, of course, always already acted like he did, or the stories Alboin dreamed wouldn't be these stories. Did Alboin time-travelling back into Elendil's mind cause history to unfold the way it did, or was the point him realising that it was himself, as Elendil, who brought about the events remembered in the stories? Or both, in a 'Hold the door!' moment? It's all very timey-wimey, but that would make a story I'd like to see told.

ETA: Considering the origin of TLR in that compact between Tolkien and Lewis about writing a space-travel story and a time-travel story, and seeing how the names of their respective protagonists, Elwin and Alboin, mirror each other, I'd like to think that Alboin would have no more remained a passive observer than Ransom did, but then I'm not Tolkien.
Now that you've said that, I think "both" would fit very well with Tolkien's philosophy. Across the Legendarium, we run into the idea that the outcome of events is set, fated, doomed - but also comes about through the actions and choices of the people involved. The House of Hurin was cursed, but it was Turin's decisions that directly caused the results of the curse. So the idea that Elendil is fated/historically known to have founded the Realms in Exile, but also needs to "be" Alboin to do so, would fit in very well.

The "stories" theory I expressed also makes sense of the last chapter before Numenor: chapter VI, variously described as "Beleriand" or the "(A)galdor story". All the notes on this seem to describe it as a story of the first return of the Numenoreans to Middle-earth - a story which is also given in a different form in the new Fall of Numenor, which cribs it from somewhere in HoME. But that doesn't make sense of the timeline! Why would we step backwards from Alboin, then step past Elendil to something millennia before him? Well, maybe we don't - maybe the Galdor story is a story within the chapter, retold later (after the Downfall). That would fit the structure Tolkien seems to be making, and would mean Alboin sees the disaster before he sees the people who brought it about.

hS
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Old 01-06-2023, 10:30 AM   #4
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I'm not sure Tolkien made up his mind in what order the episodes of LR would be told/experienced. He might have at least considered a temporal jumble, much like the Lost Tales were. This would not at all have been out of keeping with the epic poetry, both classical and Germanic, which inspired him.
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Old 01-09-2023, 09:51 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
I'm not sure Tolkien made up his mind in what order the episodes of LR would be told/experienced. He might have at least considered a temporal jumble, much like the Lost Tales were. This would not at all have been out of keeping with the epic poetry, both classical and Germanic, which inspired him.
He certainly changed his mind a few times, but Christopher seems to believe he settled on a reverse-chronological structure. HoME V pages 77-79 give two example structures:

Quote:
Work backwards to Numenor and make that last... the tales that should intervene between Alboin and Audoin of the twentieth century and Elentil and Herendil in Numenor [are]: 'Lombard story?'; 'a Norse story of ship-burial (Vinland)'; 'an English story - of the man who got onto the Straight Road?'; 'a Tuatha-de-Danaan story, or Tir-nan-Og'; a story concerning 'painted caves'; 'the Ice Age - great figures in ice', and 'before the Ice Age: the Galdor story'; 'post-Beleriand and the Elendil and Gil-galad story of the [battle with Thu'; and finally 'Numenor'].
Quote:
... an outline for the structure of the book as he now foresaw it. Chapter III was to be called A Step Backward: Aelfwine and Eadwine - the Anglo-Saxon incarnation of the father and son, and incorporating the legend of King Sheave; Chapter IV 'the Irish legend of Tuatha-de-Danaan - and oldest man in the world'; Chapter V 'Prehistoric North: old kings found buried in the ice'; Chapter VI 'Beleriand'; Chapter [VII] 'Elendil and Herendil in Numenor'.
The latter was sent to Allen & Unwin. The first structure is mostly retro-chronological; the big outlier is the Lombards, who should really fall either before or after the English (Vinland was some 400 years after Audoin of Lombardy). But 'the Galdor story' is specifically 'before the Ice Age', which doesn't make sense if it's also before not only the war with Thu, but before Numenor too.

It's possible, looking at these, that Galdor had been dropped entirely: Chapter VI Beleriand could simply be the war against Thu-Sauron. But the fact that two of the 'Chapter' summaries specifically mention older legends does make me feel like Galdor would fit in as a story.

Page 79 gives two versions of 'the Galdor story': one in which Agaldor is 'one of the old folk, and well-nigh the last of the long-lived in these regions', who later fights Thu, while the other has him as a man of Middle-earth at the time that the Numenoreans first land (and kill him). It's just possible that the first version is an "end of the Numenorean legacy" story, while the latter is a legend of the ancient Galdor, carried down into Chapter VI Beleriand. What I don't think is possible is that Tolkien had one - and only one - chapter dive past Numenor entirely, when he had such a neat 'working backwards' model.

hS
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