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The Lost Road

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"...It is a long tale..." — Aragorn
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The Lost Road is an unfinished story by J.R.R. Tolkien. It concerns a father and son that travel back through time to Númenor. It seems likely that it was written in 1935-6.[source?]

Contents

Plot

The theme of The Lost Road is one of 'Preincarnation': there are a series of occurrences throughout time of father and son duos sharing names that are etymologically connected with Amandil ('Bliss-friend') and Elendil ('Elf-friend'). These include Eädwine-Ælfwine of Anglo-Saxon legend, Audoin-Alboin of Lombardic, through to "the traditions of the North Sea concerning the coming of corn and culture heroes, ancestors of kingly lines, in boats".[1] In the story the present pair—Edwin and Elwin—travel back through the different phases of the history of their names, eventually reaching the time of Amandil and Elendil and the Akallabêth or Atalantie ('Downfall' in Númenórean and Quenya respectively) of Númenor.

Númenor at this stage in Tolkien's thought was not connected with the wider Legendarium. Rather it is a direct analogue of Atlantis, a "legend or myth or dim memory" that had always "troubled" Tolkien and a theme to which he often returned.[1]

Conception

The genesis of the story was a discussion Tolkien had with C.S. Lewis about the shortcomings of Science Fiction literature. Lewis remarked that "there is too little of what we really like in stories", and suggested they try their hand at the genre "as amateurs":[2]

We... meant each to write an excursionary 'Thriller': a Space-journey and a Time-journey (mine) each discovering Myth.
J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 24, (dated 18 February 1938)

Lewis' 'Space-journey' came to fruition a few years later and was published as Out of the Silent Planet, thanks in part to the positive review of it Tolkien gave to publishers Allen and Unwin.

However, only a fragment of The Lost Road was ever written: the two opening chapters, and two which take place in Númenor. According to Tolkien he abandoned the story because "it was too long a way round to what I really wanted to make, a new version of the Atlantis legend".[2] He did pass the completed chapters on to Allen & Unwin in 1937 as a possible successor to The Hobbit, however the publishers felt that even if finished the story was unlikely to be a commercial success.[3]

Other versions of the Legendarium

This was not Tolkien's last attempt at integrating the Númenor story into a time travel frame work. He tried a second time a decade later with The Notion Club Papers. It was only after both these works floundered that the legends of Númenor were finally integrated with the main mythology.[1]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 257, (dated 16 July 1964)
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 294, (dated 8 February 1967)
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Note 3 to Letter 24, (dated 18 February 1938)