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The Return of the Shadow is a book in the The History of the Middle Earth series which was released by Christopher Tolkien describing his father's thoughts, plans and desires for the world of Lord of the Rings. These books have been brought together by the scraps of script JRR left behind, letters to friends and old drafts send to the original publishers of the work.
This book looks into the whys and where for's about the writing of the early chapters of Lord of the Rings. So here we are given the thought process of Tolkien as he took the characters from the Hobbit and set out to write a sequel. So here he starts with making the follow up solely on Bilbo from the hobbit but within the first two or three drafts he changes this to a son called Bingo with companions Frodo, Marmaduke and Odo. This doesn't sound anything like the final version of Lord of the Rings but the compiler Christopher Tolkien points out the similarities even in the first draft to the final draft, one of these is the speech and the comment about not knowing you half as well as you deserve etc.
The book is split into the chapters which will become the first few chapters of lord of the rings and in each we are presented with the drafts of the chapters as they have been found. So at first we get the very first version written by Tolkien, as we progress things change and we see elements of the previous drafts which become set in the final version but not necessarily in the way they are found at the final version. An example of this is that in the first version of the second chapter, the rider we meet is Gandalf and not the ring wraiths, but some of the elements of the description of Gandalf does turn into the ring wraiths - interesting too some maybe?
Obviously this kind of book is of interest to Tolkien fans and perhaps not all of those, this is a bit of a niche for even Tolkien fans it explains the thought processes of one of the great writers of the Twentieth century. We are presented with the inner thoughts on the thought process which handed us one of the greatest novels ever written, it's a privilege in many ways to have more information on how a great writer takes pieces from early drafts and expand or discards as he goes along. I'd find this kind of information interesting about any novel I love but as this is my favourite novel of all time then I find it particularly fascinating.
This is an interesting read without perhaps being engrossing and is for the true Tolkien fans but as an exercise in writing and how to build a story then it's worth reading.
P.S. The title The Return of the Shadow was one of the early names for the book which became The Fellowship of the Ring. When Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings, he called the novel The Lord of the Rings and thought of it as one long novel without the split into three novels we know so well. However, when he finished the novel and sent it to Fred Unwin for publishing, Fred was concerned that they couldn't buy enough paper to publish a 1000 page novel so asked Tolkien to split the novel into three books and to think up names. The first name for the Fellowship was The Return of the Shadow; I think personally it's a better name but was rejected for The Fellowship.