The total volume of Tolkien's Middle-Earth manuscripts is vastly greater than that of the completed Lord of the Rings, but it seems to be a near-hopeless tangle of variants and unfinished reworkings in both prose and verse. From the great body of material dealing with the ""First Age"" of Middle-Earth, Tolkien's son Christopher has compiled a prose narrative of the events surrounding the making and eventual loss of the three jewels called the Silmarils, many centuries before the Wars of the Ring. The protagonists are chiefly Elves. They appear here not as the steadfast, transcendent figures of the Ring books, but in their youth as a fiery and much-divided race capable of uglier passions than any of the ""good"" characters in the trilogy. The telling is uniformly solemn and distanced, compressing a great range of events into a schematic summation that is a far cry from the varied, immediate narrative of the Ring story. Taking a negative view, one might say that this is not a book or even a fragment of one; it is a grandiose outline showing the Tolkien style at its most determinedly pseudo-biblical. But the alternative view is more to the point: even these truncated materials shed an astonishing amount of ""historical"" light on The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion proper is the largest single chunk of ""history,"" but it is accompanied by four shorter chronicles which first establish the foundations of Middle-Earth (an explicit Creation-myth) and then convey the great sweep of history from the Silmaril wars to the Wars of the Ring. Turning back to the trilogy from this new prologue, one finds the intrinsic grandeur of Tolkien's design re-illuminated at every stage. It is now sadly clear that we shall have no more Middle-Earth books--that is, books in their own right. But thanks to the efforts of Christopher Tolkien, we may be privileged in coming years to follow a progressive and dazzling enrichment of the book we all thought we knew.