That time I wasted my life editing together a ‘new’ J.R.R. Tolkien book, then lost it

The recent announcement of a ‘new’ book by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fall of Gondolin, which will compile previously published material about one of the great tragic epics of Middle Earth’s early days, brought to mind a few weeks of wasted life circa 2002 or so.

It’s a waste that still frustrates me to this day.

Years ago, I got this idiotic idea in my head to edit together a load of Tolkien stuff into a standalone book. There was a wealth of material about a character called Turin, a cursed man who goes through some truly awful stuff, up to and including accidental incest and the death of just about everyone and everything he comes in contact with. Yes, it’s a real joy! Turin’s story is in The Silmarillion in a somewhat concise form, and chunks of it appeared in more fleshed out, “book like” form in Unfinished Tales and some of the History of Middle Earth books (including in The War of the Jewels), plus some long form poetry. Tolkien just kept trying new ways to tell the story, but never really finished any of them.

It’s a great tale, and my thought was, “If you took all this disparate stuff and artfully edited it together, you’d have a ‘new’ book by J.R.R. Tolkien.”

So that’s what I did. Over the course of a few weeks, maybe a month or two, I brought all this material together into a novel-like form, stitching together passages from more complete versions into ‘summary’ versions in order to make them into a fluid narrative. I worked hard to not inject any of my own words into it. I wanted it to be true, pure Tolkien. In the end there were less than a dozen words inserted by me, and those only to bridge together sentences and passages that were incomplete. I used everything I could find related to Turin’s story, even just little snatches of notes Christopher Tolkien had in his explanatory notes and such, to make it as complete as possible with the resources I had on hand.

Edit edit edit, and I did it. Not a huge feat, of course. I was a full-time editor at the time, so working with other people’s words was part of my day-to-day anyway. But still, a complete ‘new’ Tolkien book, edited together by yours truly!

Finished it up and was suddenly struck with reality: “Ummmm, so what the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

See, it occurred to me that I couldn’t really distribute it, not in good conscious (and certainly not legally), and after spending weeks immersed in the text I really didn’t want to read it for pleasure, either.

With nothing to do with the work, it sat on a floppy disc while I wondered how badly I had just wasted my time. Figured I’d just give it some time and eventually I’d want to read it for pleasure, so I tossed the floppy aside and waited.

A few years later, The Children of Hurin was officially announced, and it was … exactly what I had done. Christopher Tolkien’s, J.R.R.’s son and literary heir, had compiled the same material into a standalone novel.

D’oh!

But the worst part isn’t that I did work someone in a better position to do it ended up doing anyway — it would be fun to compare the two versions and see how similar they are — it’s that I did all that editing in the days before external hard drives were commonplace. I had no reliable, lasting way to back it up. I never sent it to myself by email. It was on an old computer that died some years. And I lost track of that old floppy disc.

So my version of the story is likely lost forever. It MIGHT be on a floppy disc somewhere in a box in my attic, but 1) it would have to have survived all those years in the un-insulated upstairs, and 2) I’m not sure if any of my floppy drives even still work, since it’s been many years since I’ve needed one. And if it’s on a ZIP disc instead of a floppy, well then I’m screwed. Those things never worked even when they were new!

It’s bothered me for the last few years. Every now and then I get a bug up my butt and start searching old backups to see if it turns up, combing through 15-year-old emails and old folders on the computer I haven’t glanced at in ages, but it never does.

That sucks.

Oh well. I’m not the first geek to waste their time on a pointless project, and I certainly won’t be the last.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to the inevitable disappointment of The Fall of Gondolin.

But that’s a story for another post…