They say that you should promote your books by posting about things your target audience is interested in. So, naturally I’m promoting my Paranormal YA book about half-angel teenagers by writing a blog post about the writing notes of JRR Tolkien. Not like I’ve written about that before or anything, or shared fanfiction I almost wrote.
Look, it’s AWESOME STUFF, okay?
When I was in high school, I was stubbornly antisocial. I had learned from books that heroes read books and were social outcasts. So I cast myself out from society and read books. At times I amused myself by being deliberately awkward and nerdy in front of my peers.
However, then a new kid came to my school. We’ll call him Jim, because that was his name. Jim was both an avid book-reader AND an incredibly social person. And we immediately connected over Lord of the Rings, which at that point was only a book series and known by precious few high schoolers. And he out-nerded-me. Because not only did he know Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but he had read through Tolkien’s NOTES, and learned all sorts of cool things about Frodo not originally being Frodo, Aragorn originally being a hobbit, and other stuff.
I begged my parents for the books for Christmas. They gave them to me. And there is a whole ton of fascinating stuff in there, which hopefully the Tolkien estate won’t sue me for summarizing and presenting to you because it is really cool. It’s easy to see Tolkien as this master-planner who had The Lord of the Rings already written in his head, but while Tolkien HAD planned out the whole world of The Silmarillion long before he wrote The Hobbit, the shape of The Lord of the Rings as a story within that world went through a lot of iterations, which are really cool to see.
1. Was originally supposed to be about Bilbo’s son Bingo returning the ring
So, context for this. Tolkien was originally just supposed to write a normal sequel for The Hobbit. Most particularly, it was supposed to be a story involving MORE HOBBITS. Hobbits were Tolkien’s own invention, unlike dwarves, elves, and goblins, so people wanted to hear more about these delightful pipe-smoking burglar people. This fact will be important for the first three entries.
Naturally, when you’re doing a sequel, you want it to have the same character as the first book. So the first book was originally supposed to be about Bilbo. The problem was, Tolkien had already written “he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” So there could not be a plot about Bilbo being unhappy. Tolkien toyed around with the idea of Bilbo being corrupted by dragon-gold (like the Master of Laketown) and wanting to see a dragon before he died, but he discarded it. He also briefly considered the idea of a dragon coming to Hobbiton and the hobbits rallying, but struck that out almost immediately.
So instead, the story was going to be about Bilbo’s son, Bingo (named after a stuffed toy his child had. Look, not everything with Tolkien is exhaustive linguistic histories.) And instead of the dragon, it was going to be about Bingo returning the invisibility ring to its rightful owner—the Lord of the Ring. The idea seems to have been of a much more limited “Lord,” just a sneaky guy somewhere who owned evil rings, who you had to return them to. This starts to come up as the germ of the Black Riders takes shape (originally the Rider who stopped by the Hobbits was Gandalf, in a cloak, but that too was discarded) and Gildor the elf talks to Bingo about them.
“…it is my belief that the Lord of the Ring is looking for you..’
‘Is that bad or good?’
‘Bad, but how bad I cannot say. Bad enough if he only wants the ring back (which is unlikely); worse, if he wants payment; very bad indeed if he wants you as well (which is quite likely)… you put off the scent; but they are hot on it now… Servants of the Lord of the Ring—[?people] who have passed through the Ring” (Return, 74).
I’m quoting as directly as I can from the notes, which has the [?people] note—apparently the written text is hard to decipher on that point. Christopher also doesn’t know who’s talking in this next section, though Gildor is the most likely one.
“Yes, if the Ring overcomes you, you yourself become permanently invisible—and it is a horrible cold feeling. Everything becomes very faint like grey ghost pictures against the black background in which you live; but you can smell more clearly than you can hear or see (75)”
(Okay, short aside from me, remember how the Riders are always sniffing?)
“…you are a ringwraith. You can wear clothes, but you are under the command of the Lord of the Rings.
…In the very ancient days the Ring-lord made many of these Rings: and sent them out through the world to snare people. He sent them to all sorts of folk—the Elves had many, and there are now many elfwraiths in the world, but the Ring-lord cannot rule them; the goblins got many, and the invisible goblins are very evil and wholly under the Lord…” (75)
You can see that while a lot of the ideas of Sauron are still present, this Ring-lord is not nearly as powerful, more like a dark wizard with isolated agents that do his bidding. He sounds like a Necromancer—and Tolkien did have that as an early idea. And in a way, that’s who it was in the final draft too.
2. Strider was originally Trotter
Okay, so this is one of my favorite bits of Tolkien lore so I’m really excited about sharing it. Bree is still in Tolkien’s drafts, though it is entirely a hobbit town of darker-skinned, tougher, fatter hobbits (Butterbur is introduced as the fattest hobbit Bingo has ever seen) and the hobbits still do meet a wandering drifter there who knows about Gandalf. But his name is Trotter, not Strider and—get this—he’s a hobbit. A badass hobbit.
“Suddenly Bingo noticed that a queer-looking, brown-faced hobbit, sitting in shadows behind the others, was also listening intently. He had an enormous mug (more like a jug) in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe right under his rather long nose. He was dressed in dark rough brown cloth, and had a hood on, in spirte of the warmth—and very remarkably, he had wooden shoes! Bingo could see them sticking out from under the table in front of him” (137)
Trotter’s still a ranger, but in the original draft, ‘rangers’ is simply another word for hobbits who don’t live in houses but just whatever hole suits them. They’re basically bums, or maybe more like feral hobbits. Again, Tolkien was trying to make his Hobbit sequel about hobbits, so you have a hobbit town with a hobbit ranger. For a bit he even considered making this “Trotter” to be Bilbo in disguise, but he eventually gave up that idea.
But how badass is this Trotter? Well, see he’s called Trotter because he wears these wooden shoes that make a trotting noise everywhere he goes. Obviously this is weird because we all know hobbits are barefoot. But when we get to the council of Elrond, this happens:
“…Thus it was that Frodo learned how Trotter had tracked Gollum as he wandered southwards, through Fangorn Forest, and past the Dead Marshes, until he had himself been caught and imprisoned by the Dark Lord. ‘Ever since I have worn shoes,’ said Trotter with a shudder, and though he said no more Frodo knew that he had been tortured and his feet hurt in some way. But he had been rescued by Gandalf and saved from death” (401).
But we are not done with the badassery, because in the margins of the notes, Tolkien sketched out the idea that Trotter actually had no feet at all, and that his wooden shoes were prosthetics.
Yeah. Tolkien almost had the first amputee fantasy hero.
Eventually Tolkien replaced Trotter with Strider with Aragorn by splitting the original form of Boromir, son of the king of Ond (early version of Gondor) into two characters—the son of the King and the son of the Steward. And this, of course, led to a great deal of fun later.
3. Treebeard once held the hobbits captive.
Everyone of course is familiar with Treebeard, the kindly, slow-speaking, horribly strong Ent who destroys Isengard. But Treebeard wasn’t always so benevolent.
Treebeard was originally “Giant Treebeard,” and like most giants, he was a bit nasty. He was something of a unaligned side character who indeed “was on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side.” Except in this case, he never turned, he just remained an slightly hostile third party who didn’t like trespassers on his property. In fact it was originally him and not Saruman who kept Gandalf from joining the hobbits.
“Yes!” laughed Gandalf. “There are many powers greater than mine, for good and evil, in the world. I was caught in Fangorn and spent many weary days as a prisoner of the Giant Treebeard” (363).
Gandalf, of course, escapes him, as do Frodo and Sam. Tolkien is not specific as to how… this was very early in his drafting process, and fits more with the whimsical tone of The Hobbit than The Lord of the Rings, which is probably why it was revised once the text became much less hobbit-centric.
In later drafts, Gandalf warns the hobbits as they leave Rivendell of the giant Treebeard in Fangorn. There is also a short segment where Frodo realizes that what he’s taken for a forest of trees is actually a grove a very tall flowers, and a voice asks what he’s doing in his garden.
Eventually Tolkien conceived of a more kindly Treebeard, who carried Frodo through the Black Mountains to the siege of Ond (early form of Gondor.) This Treebeard “once had a castle in the Black Mountains and many thanes and followers, who look like young trees when they stand.”
It’s interesting to get this view of Treebeard as a straight giant and not the “plant elemental” version that we’ve become familiar with from Jackson. He seems more like Beorn than anything.
4. Boromir’s Journey
Carahadras, Moria, and Lorien are largely the same as they are in the book. Early on Gimli is the one who dies in Moria, but this is quickly discarded for Gandalf, who first dies to a Black Rider before Tolkien decides it should be a Balrog (he later considers changing this to Saruman)
Boromir, though, goes through an interesting transition. Tolkien seems uncertain of what to do with him. He first arrives at Rivendell as the son of the King of Ond, and is a proto-Aragorn. At other times he just seems to be the big grunt of the party, rescuing hobbits and carrying luggage like a man-shaped pony. Once Aragorn gets added, Boromir’s role as the traitor becomes clearer—but still there’s some debate. Originally Boromir survived the Fords of Rauros after he tried to take the ring from Frodo. Tolkien just sketched out these ideas, but they’re interesting.
“Boromir and Aragorn (who notes a change in Boromir—who is keen to break off the chase and go hom) reach Minas Tirith, which is besieged by Saruon except at back. ? Siege is briefly told from point of view of watchers on battlements. Evil has now hold of Boromir who is jealous of Aragorn. The Lord of Minas Tirith is slain and they choose Aragorn. Boromir deserts and sneaks off to Saruman, to get his help in becoming Lord of Minas Tirith.” (Treason, 210)
This is a very evil image of Boromir, a truly jealous traitor who will try anything and betray any friend. A later section in these same notes asks “What about Boromir? Does he repent? [written later in margin: No—slain by Aragorn.]” (212) This is shortly after a mused notion of Aragorn becoming the Lord of Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul) as he comes out to meet the others.
However, in the writing out of the scene where Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo, he seems to have changed his mind, for Boromir dies in the very first draft he writes and it is nevery changed substantially.
5. Aragorn once did have a romance with Eowyn.
So Tolkien is not big on romance. But even he manages to squeeze in one love triangle, of sorts. My mom and sister were big fans of Aragorn/Eowyn, and were very disappointed that the canon version had Aragorn ending up with Arwen. And really, when you’re reading the book, Arwen barely appears, and it’s hard to catch that she and Aragorn are into each other. There’s a very few scenes, but Eowyn has a lot more.
Turns out, that’s because originally, Arwen didn’t exist. Originally, Aragorn first sees Eowyn at Meduseld and is immediately taken with her, and she with him. Here’s the relevant commentary from Christopher Tolkien’s compilation of his father’s notes.
“The significance of the meeting of Aragorn and Eowyn, on the other hand, was destine to survive, though fundamentally transformed…after she had gone ‘he stood still, looking at the dark doors and taking little heed of other things’; at the meal before the departure ‘Aragorn was silent, but his eyes followed Eowyn’ (struck out); and when she brought the wine to the guests ‘Long she looked upon Aragorn, and long he looked upon her.’ For which was substituted: ‘As she stood before Aragorn she paused suddenly and looked upon him, as if only now had she seen him clearly. He looked down upon her fair face, and their eyes met. For a moment they stood thus, and their hands met as he took the cup from her. “Hail Aragorn son of Arathorn!” she said… Aragorn [said]: ‘If I live, I will come, Lady Eowyn, and then maybe we will ride together.’ Then Eowyn ‘smiled and bent her head gravely’” (447)
So when Tolkien writes romance, he writes at 90 miles a minute. Not surprising, since this is how romance unfolds in the sort of epic heroic tales Tolkien is emulating. You don’t do any of these deep meaningful conversations where people talk heart to heart. It’s just *boom* romance.
It’s really sort of interesting to wonder how an Aragorn/Eowyn romance might have unfolded. Would she have joined the Fellowship, or at least ridden alongside Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli? Would she have gone with them to the Paths of the Dead? Perhaps that was how “Dernhelm” would be incorporated, though it seems unlikely that Aragorn or any of the Dunadan would have fallen for it.
Interesting to wonder, but pointless. Tolkien never got that far.
“Cut out the love-story of Aragorn and Eowyn. Aragorn is too old and lordly and grim. Make Eowyn the twin-sister of Eomund, a stern amazon woman… Probably Eowyn should die to avenge or save Theoden.” (448)
Christopher adds that there’s a note musing whether Aragorn did love Eowyn and never married after her death. It’s easy to see the logic here. Aragorn in the books is an almost superhuman figure, and an emotional romance might have undercut that. But also, he’s wandered in the dark and grim places of the world and seen horrors that Eowyn can’t even contemplate.
Also Aragorn is 87 and Eowyn is like 30, so there’s that.
(Of course Arwen is like 3000, but that’s different.)
6. Sam killed a Nazgul
For the most part, a lot of the rest is very similar, with only minor differences. It seems once Tolkien had hit on a plan and written things out, he didn’t make many changes. CS Lewis had a saying that Tolkien either ignored criticism or rewrote everything, and that seems at play here.
Oh, but I do have to tell you this. It’s not much a change, but it is fun.
“Nazgul shape at the door. Frodo is caught in the fire-chamber and cannot get out!
Here we all end together, said the Ring Wraith.
Frodo is too weary and lifeless to say nay.
You first, said a voice, and Sam (with Sting?) stabs the Black Rider from behind. (Sauron 5)
Yep. Later versions identify this Nazgul as the Witch-King (called the Wizard-King in earlier drafts). So Sam almost backstabbed the Witch-King of Angmar.
Dangit, even Tolkien’s drafts are awesome. I recommend reading through the notes in full, especially if you’re interested in writing; they really opened my eyes to how writing is more a process than a finished product. (a breakthrough which led to me writing my own book) Because genuinely, I would read a story on any one of these abandoned threads, so long as it was Tolkien who wrote it.
If you want them, the Amazon links are here to the quoted books (And I’m going to let that stand in for MLA citations) Hopefully including them here will help the Tolkien Estate view this as promotion than as any sort of spoiler/copyright infringement.
(There’s another book of notes called The War of the Ring, which I didn’t quote from here. It comes in between Treason and Sauron)