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Old 12-31-2022, 09:08 AM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2017
Location: The north-west of the Old World, east of the Sea
Posts: 3,808
Huinesoron is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Huinesoron is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
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?

Have you burned the ships that could bear you back again? ~Finrod: The Rock Opera
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