The Treason of Isengard
The first five volumes of the series covered Tolkien’s unpublished and unfinished writings on Middle Earth up until late 1937, when Tolkien working on The Lord of the Rings.
At that point his earlier writings of Middle Earth, Beleriand, and Valinor were set aside for many years while he concentrated on the “sequel to The Hobbit”. That sequel “grew in the telling” (as Tolkien himself said in his Foreword to the Revised Edition), branching off into unexpected directions.
Book IV of The History of Middle Earth, The Return of the Shadow, follows the beginnings of the massive process of writing and developing The Fellowship of the Ring. It is a tangled tale of false starts, name changes, massive editing, and major re-writes, made understandable only by Christopher Tolkien’s helpful editorial comments.
Tolkien wrote the first chapter, “A Long-Expected Pary”, no less than six times, rearranging names, events, time-tables, etc… The rest of the narrative (particularly the trek of the hobbits from the Shire to Rivendell) was similarly rearranged and rewritten several times as Tolkien added and rejected ideas.
Eventually, he progressed as far as the Mines of Moria, “till I stood by Balin’s tomb in Moria…There I halted for a long while” (Foreword: FotR pg 5).
The Return of the Shadow follows the narrative up to this point, where Tolkien then progressed no further for some time.
The Treason of Isengard picks up the tale here, but does not immediately take the story on from Moria. Following the writing of a complex novel is a difficult task, as it necessarily travels backward and forward in time, revising and rethinking earlier concepts, filling holes in the narrative, etc…
After Tolkien stopped at Balin’s tomb in Moria he returned again to the early chapters of LotR to solve some plotting and logistical problems that still haunted him. He was still uncertain in his mind as to the reason for Gandalf’s delay in reaching the Shire.
He had brought forth the ideas of Gandalf being “held prisoner” by the “Giant Treebeard” (the Ent’s first appearance in the writings), as well as the wizard having been delayed by the Black Riders, who besiege him in the “Western Tower” of Sarn Ford (ToI pg 9).
He also struggles with the identity of ‘Trotter’, who is originally a hobbit, but in the course of revisions becomes ‘Strider’“a man of Elrond’s race and household” (ToI pg 7).
One of the “watersheds” of the novel’s development entered the manuscripts shortly afterwards…“Sarumond the White”, a wizard of Gandalf’s order who has gone over to Sauron and imprisons Gandalf. This changes the whole structure of the novel from that point onward.
Saruman’s betrayal changes the routes the fellowship can take from Rivendell, and later splits the novel’s action into two “fronts”. It also gives this book its name – The Treason of Isengard.
This action obviously necessitated a rewrite (two, actually) of the “Council of Elrond”, to fill in the back story of Gandalf’s dealing with Saruman.
From there the narrative progresses through Moria, to Lothlórien. Halting again at Lothlórien, Tolkien stopped to map out the narrative moving forward, providing some hastily written notes for the later storyline.
From there he progresses on to the “Breaking of the Fellowship” complete with Boromir’s betrayal and redemption. The Riders of Rohan are introduced, and Treebeard, who has shown up in various guises through the early writings, finally shows himself as the benevolent character he becomes in the finished version.
The Treason of Isengard concludes at the meeting of Gandalf and Co., with Theoden and Wormtongue in Edoras. This provides, as the editor notes, “a very suitable stopping-place, not in terms of the movement of the composition but in terms of the movement of the story” (ToI pg 2).
The title, The Treason of Isengard, like all the titles used in The History of the Lord of the Rings is taken from a discarded title proposed by JRR Tolkien himself for Book III.
The History of Middle Earth is continued in Book VIII, The War of the Ring.