The second volume of The History of Middle-earth focuses on The Lord of the Rings, whereas the first volume centered around the First Age and the mythology of The Silmarillion and the Gods.
I think this second volume will appeal to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but perhaps wouldn’t consider themselves hardcore fans, as I think the first volume was certainly one for the die-hard contingency due to its ‘heavy’ tone and unfamiliarity. It was, at times, pretty difficult reading owing to the sheer grandness of the mythology and the multitude of names.
This second volume was nicely structured and easy to read, Christopher Tolkien introduces each chapter describing his father’s notes before following with the first draft of the various chapters of The Lord of the Rings. It was fascinating to read about how Tolkien developed his story chapter by chapter, without really knowing where to go with the plot. In fact, it was obvious from his letters that he was never really interested in writing a sequel to The Hobbit. He enjoyed writing about hobbits because they were personally amusing to him and nothing more. I was also surprised by the large gaps Tolkien took between writing the manuscript, and how he wrote the chapters often on the back of examination scripts of the students he taught. I think Christopher Tolkien deserves a lot of credit for his work decoding the quite often ineligible writing of his father and the lack of any order to the notes.
It was also great to read how the ring-bearer was originally Bilbo’s son, Bingo and that Strider was called Trotter. It was also originally penned as being Gandalf the hobbits met on the road after leaving Hobbiton before Tolkien, in a moment of inspiration, changed it to the Black Riders. As a fantasy writer, I know how difficult, yet enjoyable at the same time, it is to control the timescales and interplay between events. This is why I’m in complete awe of how Tolkien created and coordinated the perfect fantasy story involving so many characters, over hundreds of miles and over such a length of time.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loved Lord of the Rings, but coming in at a whopping 2,000 pages be prepared to spend a hefty amount of time reading it!