Thread 2! We're starting in THE TREASON OF ISENGARD, Volume 7 of the History of Middle-earth.
(I lost my copy of 8 and haven't actually read ever gotten to read Vol. 9, but copies of both are on their way.)
So, having reached Balin's tomb, and with a rough idea of where the book's going to go, Tolkien... goes back and revises his first chapters again. At length.
A lot of this is polishing, changing character names, amplifying concepts. The Black Riders steadily become more sinister, for example; the Ring more important.
He's still wobbling about various elements, too. Odo/Fatty Bolger (now renamed Hamilcar for a while) is still running around with Gandalf in some drafts, although you can see Tolkien moving towards the idea that Gandalf's been taking prisoner.
Trotter's going to be a Man - no, he's Bilbo's cousin, Peregrin Bolger. No, he's a Man. At a guess, Tolkien was still vacillating between trying to write something closer to the Hobbit, with its cast of largely interchangeable dwarves, and something more complex and epic.
I know from my writing, if I'm unsure about something fundamental, it's very hard to make progress. Sometimes, you've got to go back and fix problems; sometimes, it's better to plough ahead and discover the rest of the story so you've got a different perspective on earlier stuff.
I don't think there's a single easy answer. Maybe "whatever you do, keep working on it!" - but then again, sometimes a break is exactly what you need.

I guess "don't give up" works as a universal aphorism, but that's not exactly a perfectly engineered writing tool.
Advice is a toolbox.
It really is instructive, though, to look at the whole sweep of Aragorn's plot. Aragorn, Arwen, Gondor, Isildur... all of that wasn't there from the beginning.

Sometimes, when reading a book, you're amazed by the intricacy of the plot or the cleverness of a twist.
You think the author must be a genius to have planned that all along.

But you can go back and add stuff in, and set up those intricacies and twists, and make yourself look like a genius, even when you started with Trotter the Hobbit and the Land of Ond.
First drafts can be miles away from final drafts.

(That said, it's amazing how good Tolkien's prose is on his first attempt. Rereading these books, my opinion of him as a stylist improves, even as it becomes clear that he had no idea what he was doing in other parts.)
The book now spends 30 pages discussing Bilbo's poem at Rivendell. It's interesting (again, for certain values of interesting), but if Tolkien was writing today, I guarantee he'd have a bunch of hard conversations with his editor.
One thing that's notable about the poem (Errantry) is that Tolkien started writing it as humour in the early 1930s, and slowly adapted it into his mythology, and then into Lord of the Rings. Only one line from the original ("his scabbard of chalcedony") survives.
I want to note three things about the revision of the Council of Elrond.
First, it's at this point that Tolkien really works out the backstory of the Ring - how it was made, what it does, how Sauron lost it, the fate of Isildur, and how Isildur's death led to Gollum getting the Ring - and how all that connects to Aragorn.
And the tension between Aragorn and Boromir (and later, more indirectly but intensely, Aragorn and Denethor) pops right out of that backstory.
Virtually nothing about the character's personality has changed by turning Trotter the Hobbit into Strider the Ranger, but context matters too.
Second, the emergence of Legolas. There have been Wood-elves present at the council since the first draft, but they're really just there as a callback to the Hobbit.
Gloin gets to give a speech about messengers from Mordor and foreshadow the Mines of Moria sequence, but the Elves have nothing to contribute.
Now, though, as Gollum's importance in the narrative rises with the Ring, the Elves get a speech too, where Legolas (or Galdor, or Erestor, because Tolkien) talks about how they captured Gollum, only he escaped.
Now, once Tolkien settled on the Fellowship as including a bunch of different Free Folk, he needs both an Elf and a Dwarf. The Dwarf was always Gimli, but in some notes, he suggests he'll send Glorfindel along.
I suspect that it was that Gollum-speech that made Legolas a viable alternative. Previously, Glorfindel (and Gildor, but he's not at the council) was the only elf with much 'screen time', so he'd be the obvious choice to keep as a continuing character.
But Tolkien doesn't want to send Glorfindel, because... well, remember the whole bit about him reincarnating? He also kicks his way out of the Halls in Valinor and sails back to Middle-earth, which is basically a World-of-Warcraft corpse run on an epic scale. He's overpowered.
So, as soon as a more reasonable elf becomes available - Legolas, you're drafted.
The third thing to note at this point is the Problem of Gollum.

See, in the original version of the Hobbit, Gollum's a lot nicer. Bilbo finds the Ring and keeps it secret, Gollum loses the Riddle-game, and then *offers* to give Bilbo the Ring.
He goes back to his island, can't find the Ring (because it's already in Bilbo's pocket) and finally agrees to compensate Bilbo by showing him to the way out.
(Here's a blog post with the changed text:…)
The problem, of course, is that if the Ring is going to be this epic plot McGuffin of supreme power that exerts a terrible hold on the bearer, it makes little sense that Gollum would be so reasonable.
Tolkien goes for the unreliable narrator play - it's revealed that Bilbo told the Dwarves that Gollum wanted to give him a present, and didn't tell them what really happened.
Later, he'll draft changes to the text of the Hobbit, send them to his publisher going "hey, would it be possible to make some tweaks along these lines", and they take his draft and print it without warning him, so he has to add a note in LotR explaining the two different Hobbits
"I must say that I could wish that I had had some hint that (in any circumstances) this change might be made, before it burst on me in page-proof. However, I have now made up my mind to accept the change and its consequences." - Letter 128
As an aside, THE LETTERS OF JRR TOLKIEN is a fun read, much more accessible than the History of Middle-Earth books, and worth it for bits like "Stanley and I have agreed on our policy - ART OR CASH" or the line-by-line takedown of the original movie script.
We also get the development of Saruman as Gandalf tells the tale of his imprisonment - and now that it's Saruman who's holding Gandalf, it frees Treebeard up to be a good guy.
Honestly, I think that was always coming. Tolkien liked his trees. Even Old Man Willow's just a bit of harmless scamp.
Outlines at this point suggest that at some point, some of the Fellowship are going to meet up with Treebeard, and he'll come to break the siege of Ond.
Obviously, in the books, the Ents march on Isengard, and it's Rohan who breaks the siege. But Rohan barely exists, other than a note about the "Land of Beardless Men".
My "I come from the Land of Beardless Men" t-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by the shirt. Or something.
Oh, if you liked the Frodo>Odo>Olo>Hamilcar>Peregrin>Pippin name evolution, we get a quick encore with Saruman the Grey>White, Radagast the Grey>Brown, and Gandalf the NO I'M GREY in this section.
There's another confusion of names between the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien forgets if it's Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror, or Thorin son of Thror son of Thrain, because the Lonely Mountain was found by Thrain.
He resolves it, exquisitely, by saying it's Thorin II son of Thrain II son of Thror II, while Thrain I lived hundreds of years ago and had a son named Thror I and a grandson, Thrain I. I believe this qualifies for a Marvel no-prize.
Another aside - one reason that Christopher Tolkien was able to reconstruct the order of the drafts is that his father wrote on whatever paper came to hand. So let us salute Richard Creswell Rowland, the backs of whose exam papers are a vital stratum in the text.
Two points on Moria:
* Tolkien really, really wanted to do a facsimile version of the Book of Marzabul, because handouts are awesome.
* "The Balrog lassoes Gandalf", while technically accurate, doesn't really convey the epic nature of the scene.
At this point, Tolkien's revisions have reached the end of his written text. He then writes a document called "The Story Foreseen From Moria", and it's worth delving into this in a bit of detail, because it's a great example of outlining.
He's now got a much more detailed backstory, and he's finally settled on his main cast of characters. We're at the final configuration of the Fellowship.
He also knows a few events that he wants to include:
* Gollum comes back, guides Frodo for a bit, then betrays him
* Something something Treebeard
* Siege of Minas Tirith, lifted by Treebeard
* Ring goes in the fire.
He then starts playing around with his established set of characters. Should Pippin die? Should Sam? What if Sam has to carry the Ring for a bit? Boromir betrays the party - does he die? Does Aragorn slay him?
The outline he comes up with is even closer to the finished book - but it's still way off in places. There's no Faramir or trip through Ithilien, and no Rohan. Saruman's in league with Sauron and it's their combined forces who are besieging Minas Tirith.
Still, at this point, Tolkien's confident enough to start breaking stuff down by chapter, which can be very helpful. Each chapter needs to end on an exciting or intriguing note, and the action should be somewhat self-contained.
Plus, he knows he's going to be bouncing between at least three sets of viewpoints (Frodo & Sam, Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli, Merry & Pippin), so a chapter breakdown helps him organise his thoughts.
The outline won't survive contact with the writing process, but they never do.
(and on that note, I'd better go do some actual work. Thanks very much for all the kind words and retweets! More later!)
Ok, Lorien. Something close to the final text is, again, achieved pretty quickly. Galadriel and Celeborn show up, they talk, mourn Gandalf, there's the Mirror scene, the gift-giving, and off they go.
There are a bunch of little differences that show how Tolkien would spit out an idea, then roll it around and see where it fit.

First draft: Frodo looks in the mirror and sees the Shire burning & the filthy new mills.
Revision: No, Sam would be far more appalled. Give it to Sam.
First draft: Gimli gets a green stone as a gift from Galadriel.
Revision: Oh God. We've got Aragorn as Trotter's real name, but Tolkien's not happy with it. He tries "Ingold" and then "Elfstone", and then goes "oh, if he's called 'Elfstone' then he should get the elvish stone"
And then changes his name back to Aragorn, because Tolkien.
So, Gimli gets a different gift, AND I HOPE YOU LIKE TANGENTS.
Gimli asks for a strand of Galadriel's hair. She gives them three of them. He promises he'll put them in imperishable crystal as heirlooms of his house. It's all very cute, right?
Now, in the beginning of time, the Elves awoke under the stars, and in the twilight the Valar found them and brought some of them to the Undying Lands.
Later, the Valar built two great lamps in the uttermost north and uttermost south to illuminate the world.

And Morgoth, the Great Enemy, toppled them.
So, plan B: The Valar made the Two Trees, two magical trees that shone with holy light. The light of the trees waxes and waned according to two different cycles, and at times it blended in a silver-gold light.
Now, Galadriel in her youth was among the most beautiful of the Eldar, and it was said that some of that magical light was ensnared in her hair.
This (in some tales), inspired Feanor, the Elfiest Elf who ever Elfed, to make the Silmarils, three gemstones that captured the light of the trees.
Morgoth later killed the trees and stole the Silmarils, starting the war between the Elves and Morgoth and, well, the whole epic, basically. The clue is in the name 'Silmarillion'.
So, back to Gimli. He's asked for strands of Galadriel's hair, and he's going to put it in three gems - and *he has no idea what he's asking*.
It's like rocking up to the Garden of Eden and asking if they've any spare fruit. It's asking Jesus if he could cater your bread-and-wine dinner party.
Two things to note here. Firstly, Galadriel was a *later* addition to the events of the First Age. Tolkien created her as he wrote LOTR, then started editing her into his older legends. Which meant the whole significance of asking for her hair was, to some degree, backfilling.
Again, we've got Tolkien taking a spur-of-the-moment inspiration and later working out how it can have greater meaning and significance.
That said, it's also sort of inevitable. Tolkien has a few touchstone concepts that he keeps looping back to - stars, trees, hair and jewels are all images that recur heavily through his work. (Also, towers.)
After the Lorien chapter, the History of Middle-earth takes a look at the maps. Let me just say that if Tolkien's various drafts are basically Track Changes in paper form, then this is some hellish Photoshop layer nightmare, with updates to map sections taped over older versions.
Tolkien then writes another outline, the Story Foreseen From Lorien. It's obvious that he's got a much clearer idea of the 'eastern' story of Frodo and Sam; apart from Faramir, all the major beats are mapped out already. Meeting Gollum, the marshes, betrayal at Cirith Ungol, etc
He adds stylistic notes for himself, pointing out for example that Minas Morghul must be different from Moria ("the usual orc-stuff won't do"). Negative prompts like that can help generate unexpected ideas - like the fantastically spooky three-headed stone watchers.
The 'western' story of the rest of the Fellowship is shaping up. It's still missing all of Rohan, and Boromir's fate is in flux. In this outline, Boromir basically gets Wormtongue's role - he gets jealous of Aragorn and ends up allying with Saruman.
I've always thought of Boromir as a tragic character - Tolkien gives him a fantastic redemptive death scene, after all. It's interesting to think that you could leave 95% of the Boromir text intact, swap in some different scenes, and you'd end up with a very different character
First and last impressions are so very important.
In one of the outlines, Tolkien includes a draft of Frodo's rescue from the tower in Mordor, and there's a bit about an orc complaining that they've captured a Hobbit, shouldn't that be treated with more importance?
I wonder if that idea, written around that time, got moved over to the western story and the capture of Merry and Pippin (previously, the plan was that they just ran off looking for Frodo and ran into Treebeard).
What's interesting is that the whole idea of Saruman setting himself up as a rival to Sauron and seeking the Ring for himself springs from that capture. The current draft of the Council of Elrond doesn't have Saruman talking about capturing the Ruling Ring - that's added after
Onto Rohan! Here's an example of "write what you know". Tolkien really hasn't much clue about who the Rohirrim are yet - his notes are basically "horse guys? Trotter knows 'em? Some names? Eowyn daughter of Theoden?"

But the man knows old English tales.
So, while the plot and structure are still developing - and at this point, he still thinks he's going to get to Gondor in two or three chapters - Tolkien's able to write about quasi-Mercian horsemen and whisk us off to the hall of Heorot - er, Meduseld - with confidence.
Aragorn: Look! A sign! One of the hobbits dropped a cloak-brooch. Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall!
Legolas: What are you on about, the cloaks we got don't have leaf-shaped brooches?
Tolkien: They will when I go back four chapters and add them in.
Tolkien makes a plan and executes it. Image
After Fangorn, Tolkien writes another outline of the chapters to come. It's getting closer and closer to the final arrangement again (Rohan battles with Isengard's forces; Ents trash Isengard; Rohan rides to Gondor's aid).
Some elements are still missing: there's no sign of Wormtongue yet, Eowyn isn't introduced until later (and it should be noted that Arwen doesn't exist yet - she's a later addition).
Another thing that Tolkien consistently underestimates is how long the book is going to be. He's very accurate when he talks about what's going to be in a given chapter, but keeps thinking he's going to wrap everything very soon.
That said - the first few chapters of Book 3 are an absolute whirlwind of action compared to the Hobbitry and walking of Books 1 & 2. We've now got three groups of characters, all having adventures.
Three groups of characters means three chronologies to be synchronised, and that causes endless headaches. Moons waxing when they should be waning, eagles flying in the wrong direction, timelines not syncing up. It's hellish.
The amount of bookkeeping increases exponentially with the number of viewpoint characters.
(he said, having recently finished a novel that required lining up events in two different cities. Pro tip: if you need a character to stay still for a while so action can progress elsewhere, drop a mountain on her.)
Tolkien writes a to-do list, noting matters he needs to resolve after the main story. It amuses me.
* What happens to Bill the pony?
* Bree & Merry's ponies.
* Barnabas Butterbur [added: and the ponies]
* Aragorn weds Eowyn and becomes King of Gondor.
He then rejects that idea; Aragorn's "too grim and lordly", so poor Eowyn will have die heroically instead...
I broke the thread here - it continues:

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More from @mytholder

31 Oct 20
Why, Mr. Frodo, remember when you were Bingo, sir? Or Odo Bolger coming to Rivendell on the back of Mr. Gandalf's horse? Or the time we were imprisoned by Giant Treebeard in his garden? Don't these twitter threads never end?

By 1944, Tolkien had got up to the end of what's now Book IV - Frodo captured by the orcs, Sam on the far side of the gate. He doesn't get back to this story for another three years.
He had these scenes in mind long before that, though - Frodo getting captured has been in the works since Lorien. However, when he actually gets to this point, he wobbles a bit.
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30 Oct 20
All right, here's thread #3, as we go through THE WAR OF THE RING, the next volume of the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH
The War of the Ring, by the way, was a potential title for the third volume of Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien preferred to Return of the King, as it wasn't a spoiler.
The Lord of the Rings was never intended to be a trilogy, either - Tolkien assumed it'd be published as one big volume.
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26 Oct 20
So, for various reasons, I'm rereading the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH books about the writing of Lord of the Rings. They're fascinating (for certain values of fascinating); what I'm going to do this time try to extract writing advice (thread)
Tolkien wrote drafts out by hand; he'd make scribbled notes on one draft that might get worked into the next. Most of the drafts were preserved, so we get to trace how the story evolves and changes. Basically, it's the Track Changes of doom.
First off - Tolkien sets out to write a sequel to the Hobbit, and he has absolutely no idea what it's about. But the man's a pantser (not a panther, autocorrect), so he just starts writing. And Hobbit nonsense amuses him, so we get a lot of Hobbit nonsense at the start.
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