As a designer and programmer for an old type of game (MUD) with a fantasy theme, and with some of those involved (maybe most) inspired by Tolkien, and as a fan of Tolkien myself, I've finally begun reading The History of Middle-earth. There is a lot of reading material and I could not possibly recall it all if I tried and in any case it would make reading the histories rather useless, which would be a huge loss for dedicated fans. I'll be honest: it is dry in many places and it's not exactly easy to decipher it all; still, his son Christopher does a fabulous job with what he has available (and the conditions of the materials need also be considered). The fact I'm typically exhausted makes this even more difficult for me. I have contemplated rereading TS, TH and LR and then start reading the History all over again; but I think because of being so exhausted and because there is so much to read, I might reread it (or parts of it) at another time - presumably after rereading the actual stories involving Middle-earth.
As for how I've gone about reading the history it's important to realise there is a lot of background information, a lot of history with many drafts, ideas changing and essentially everything being different in some way or another. I started out initially reading from the first book but then I decided that I wanted to read the history of The Lord of the Rings first; therefore I started with book VI, entitled: The Return of the Shadow (a name that Tolkien thought of before deciding on The Fellowship of the Ring).
I will try my best to organise this in a somewhat intuitive order where possible (and when I have the motivation to do so) but I personally prefer having more content over having the best organisation. But just like Middle-earth there will be many drafts and versions of this document; I will try to document where possible but this will never be remotely perfect.
In earlier drafts Sauron made many Rings and gave them out to the different peoples of Middle-earth. The elves were given many and there were now many elfwraiths but the Lord did not have any power over them (maybe the idea that they weren't under the Lord but also were in the Unseen is a precursor to Glorfindel in The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo sees him in the Unseen as he himself, Frodo, is fading into the wraith world ? I don't know for certain but neither do I have a recollection of even hints of this in TS - though of course I have not read that part of the histories). The dwarves it was believed had none because they could not be taken: they were too solid. Men had 'few' and goblins had many and the invisible goblins were very evil and wholly under the control of the Dark Lord. The men-wraiths were also under the dominion of the Lord of the Rings.
A second draft has it that the Dwarves had seven (like in the final) and they become greedy and in this way they were controlled but not beyond that (which of course is shown in TH when Thorin is very angry that Bilbo took the Arkenstone and used it as a way to negotiate with the people of Lake-town; we do indeed find out that he had one of the Rings given to Dwarves). The men now had 'three' but they found more which were abandoned by Elfwraiths (and so there could be more than three black riders). Here the Elfwraiths however weren't said to not be under control of the Dark Lord (which in my mind implies some might have been, some might not have been or they all were under dominion of the Dark Lord).
Originally Gollum was - because this is how it was in the first edition of The Hobbit and so Tolkien was working under those constraints - willing to give up the Ring because he was tired of it; as soon as (in The Hobbit) Bilbo showed up a plan began to formulate in his mind to get rid of the Ring. He could have given it to the goblins but they were already evil enough where it wouldn't amuse him and it would be dangerous for an invisible goblin - dangerous to Gollum, that is.
Here Bilbo also had pity for the creature and Gandalf rebukes Bingo for having suggesting it a pity he didn't kill Gollum when he had the chance. Only here Gandalf tells him if he had done so it would be against the rules; he'd not have had the Ring but the Ring would have had him at once (much like it does to Sméagol -> Gollum in LR); here though it is also said by Gandalf that he might have become a wraith at once! I want to say also in one of the earlier drafts of LR Gandalf tells Bingo that if after he was stabbed by the Morgul-knife (the attack itself varies in the drafts too but I've not documented that yet) he were to put the Ring on he would have become a wraith at once also; there were variations on this whole theme though and I'm not sure now what ended up finally (even though I reread LR recently I also started reading RS off and on and I'm quite busy and stressed). I do think however it was said in an earlier draft: had Bingo put the Ring on he would have become a wraith. Of course he doesn't do this in the end just as Frodo doesn't in FR. But that came after the first edition of TH:
Before the darker nature of the Ring of Power was developed (remembering that The Hobbit wasn't meant to have a sequel) Gollum was willing to give the Ring up to Bilbo if he won the Riddle-game. Of course Bilbo had already found it so Bilbo says never mind to him since he would have had it (and Gollum wouldn't have) anyway if he gave it up and he'll let him (Gollum) off if he shows Bilbo the way out of the cave. Gollum was relieved as in this edition he truly was going to honour the Riddle-game rules (though of course Bilbo didn't really honour it but since Gollum agreed to try to answer it was acceptable) and give up his birthday gift (and he apologised profusely, pleading for forgiveness). Since this obviously couldn't happen once the darker nature was developed Tolkien modified it to later editions and then could say Bilbo told this story (and of course it was a lie but this was the Ring's influence on Bilbo).
There are some other slight changes which I cannot recall but they all involve the Ring; for those who want to read the first edition you can order it at the online Tolkien Bookshop (tolkien.co.uk) here. It gives insight into how Tolkien originally envisioned it (and the finality of the story) - and of course The Hobbit in any edition is a delightful story. I also have more information on the development of the nature of the One Ring but this too I do not currently have access to.
Strider was earlier called Trotter (who would go through many name changes back and forth) and he was a hobbit (the name changes continued after it was decided he was after all a Man); he wore wooden shoes, though, and he tells why at the Council of Elrond: he was actually captured in Mordor and there is the suggestion that he had injuries to his feet and/or he then had wooden feet (I want to say this was in TI but it was a long time ago I read it but in either case for a Hobbit to wear shoes is by itself odd).
Trotter was not the only one who would later become a Man who was originally a hobbit: Barliman Butterbur was originally called Timothy Titus (as a hobbit) (the name actually from another story of Tolkien's though the two were very different) and later became Barnabas Butterbur (also a hobbit) and only later would become Barliman Butterbur (a Man). Bill Ferny (originally spelt Ferny but at one point spelt Ferney and of course in the end it was Ferny) was also a hobbit and possibly so was the swarthy looking person the hobbits see at The Prancing Pony (which was originally called 'The White Horse') - though I can't be 100% on that last one I seem to remember this nonetheless. Nob was originally called Lob which is very interesting: Lob is an Old English word for 'spider' and this is where the creature Shelob gets her name: it literally means she spider. But Lob was in fact a hobbit here and later becomes a Man.
The arrival of Bree and the events in Bree went through quite a few changes. Trotter actually encounters the Nazgûl and goes on to tell Gandalf about them being abroad (instead of Radagast the Brown at the bequest of Saruman the White in FR); Gandalf actually writes the letter and leaves it in Trotter's care in one draft and in another leaves it with Barnabas (who is equally forgetful as in FR). Also, unlike in FR, Barnabas actually respects (or at least doesn't question the nature of) Trotter. Trotter also praises Barnabas for turning away the Nazgûl (who asked about four hobbits with five ponies coming out from The Shire); to be specific, Trotter tells Bingo he should be very grateful for Baranbas's actions. So Trotter actually has easy access to the hobbits unlike in FR and this is good for the hobbits; this of course didn't make it in the end.
Tolkien asked multiple times who Trotter was. He suggests that Rangers are best not hobbits but either way Trotter must not be a hobbit OR he is someone very well known e.g. Bilbo! The following note (in my poor digital copy for when I'm not in front of my books - it does look close enough if not perfect) was made by Tolkien:
Rangers are best not as hobbits, perhaps. But either Trotter (as a ranger) must be not a hobbit, or someone very well known: e.g. Bilbo. But the latter is awkward in view of 'happily ever after'. I thought of making Trotter into Fosco Took (Bilbo's first cousin) who vanished when a lad, owing to Gandalf. Who is Trotter? He must have had some bitter acquaintance with Ring-wraiths &c.
Christopher writes this, at least according to that same digital copy (and it also looks accurate from memory):
The ascription of Fosco Took's vanishing to Gandalf looks back to the beginning of The Hobbit, where Bilbo says to him. 'Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures?'
Of course at this stage it's still Bingo Bolger-Baggins who is the Ring-bearer. Instead though he brings his nephews Odo and Frodo Took, along. Which leads me to the next section regarding the flight of the Hobbits (leaving the Shire) and also the origin of the Nazgûl snuffling.
In FR Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee and Peregrin Took are in Hobbiton and Sam hears hoofs. Frodo does not want to be seen by anyone and he wants to pull a fast one on Gandalf (for being late if it is Gandalf). Of course it is the Nazgûl and Frodo does NOT put the Ring on. Originally however the hobbits are not the same: Bingo Bolger-Baggins, Frodo and Odo. Bilbo in one version is Bingo's father and in another version is Bingo's uncle; Frodo and Odo are Bingo's nephews, as noted in the previous section.
But whereas in FR Samwise Gamgee recounts hearing the Nazgûl in Hobbiton earlier (after Frodo tells about the snuffling as if trying to find an elusive scent when they get off the road after Sam hears hoofs), originally it is the here mentioned Frodo who heard it but much earlier (which is odd because why are they only seeking Bingo now allowing that he's fleeing just in time?). But where does this snuffling come from if not the Nazgûl? In the original draft there are slight variations.
Before this however, as above, the cloaked figure is white and it is Gandalf; Gandalf saw the hobbits and so knows Bingo is playing a prank. But he still sniffs and acts just as the Nazgûl later does with some additions. Tolkien later points out that Bingo Bolger-Baggins must think about using the Ring but must resist until the incident at Weathertop (where they will have Trotter -> Strider). The sequence went this way:
This sequence changed slightly but was the beginning of the Nazgûl snuffling out for Frodo Baggins.
But in an earlier plot Bingo would use the Ring to hide from the Nazgûl during his flight from The Shire! Similarly Bingo would hide from Farmer Maggot; originally Bingo had made such an effort of escaping unseen he didn't want to be seen and because of the encounters with the Nazgûl he now doubly doesn't want to be (in fact Maggot would send the Nazgûl away, doing Bingo much good). Bingo is stuck outside while Frodo and Odo are having food/drinks and Bingo decides to play a prank: he would take the mug of beer from Maggot's hand and drink the remaining beer, terrifying Maggot as well as Frodo and Odo (though they weren't as terrified and more so annoyed). This event would change over time though and Bingo hides from Maggot not to remain unseen but for his life; when Bingo was younger he had been attacked by one of Maggot's dogs and Bingo ended up killing the dog. Maggot then threatened Bingo if he ever showed up again he would kill Bingo! There are other variations too where one has Bilbo and Bingo in the grasp of Maggot. In either case Bingo hides from Maggot originally though of course later on it'd be extremely dangerous for him to use the Ring in that way. I have documented the actual prank but I currently have no access to it so for now I will let this be.
Incidentally, Meriadoc (Merry) was originally called Marmaduke but he was not there initially. To be more correct, there were a lot of name changes and it isn't necessarily true to say they can be directly mapped from one to the other (although for some they largely can esp Bingo to Frodo Baggins).
Those who have read TS might remember that in the fall of the city Gondolin the Elf Glorfindel died as he slew a Balrog (a fate that everyone who killed a Balrog faced: the Balrog would fall as would its opponent). Tolkien was questioned if this is the same Glorfindel in FR and he gave it some thought. This might be in the history but I honestly can't recall (when I first wrote this I had recently read a good many of the Letters) but it certainly is in the Letters. Either way he decided that Glorfindel was released from Mandos and so indeed Glorfindel in FR is the same elf who was slain in the fall of Gondolin.
But what exactly is a Balrog? I already gave a basic description in the Vocabulary section but I'll elaborate a bit more here: the history of the name and its translation is very interesting; at least in the second edition (I've not checked my first edition which belonged to my mother) of The Silmarillion it is first likened to 'demon of terror' but this is not the only translation: you have 'demon of might' (which makes sense because 'Melkor' translates to 'He Who Arises In Might') amongst other translations (you might say that through their might, shadow and flame they instil terror into their enemies). There is much to write about them - and there is a very contentious debate about whether they can fly (I have actually written an essay on this with a different angle here and there is another good discussion at The Encyclopaedia of Arda) but I will only briefly reference them for they are a formidable foe of the enemies of the [first] Dark Lord Melko/Melkor/Morgoth (until the fall of Melko/Melkor - called Morgoth after he stole the Silmarilli [as told in TS]); Melkor's most loyal servant was Sauron, however, and of course Sauron would become the next Dark Lord after Morgoth was banished. I will possibly return to Balrogs again but for the time being suffice it to say it is the creature Gandalf went into Shadow in the Mines of Moria in FR (and he too indeed was killed along with the Balrog known as Durin's Bane; Gandalf of course is returned to life). The Balrogs and the Fire Drakes were perhaps the two most feared foes of the enemies of Morgoth.
At first the 'Giant Treebeard' (as he was called and at some point also 'Tree Beard') was in league with the Enemy and actually kept Gandalf prisoner for some time (that's where he was when he was trying to return to The Shire as he found out the Ringwraiths were once again abroad contrast instead of being held at the tower Orthanc in Isengard by Saruman); another version had Gandalf stuck in a tower surrounded by at least some of the Ringwraiths but I cannot recall exactly how he escaped: perhaps they were summoned? I seem to recall that. In any case this means he [Treebeard] was in fact once a Giant and his forest Fangorn was a gigantic forest (and he had two or three Giants with him). In TT Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took would encounter Treebeard and have quite an adventure. But originally Frodo [Baggins; Tolkien would eventually realise Bingo Bolger-Baggins would be Frodo Baggins along with other name and role changes] would have an encounter with Treebeard (I don't recall specifics but I presumably will document this in the future).
A troll is a stone inhabited by a Goblin spirit which is to say a Stone Giant. When Tolkien decided that Treebeard was not after all a Giant but instead an Ent (which derives from Old English 'ent' which comes from 'eoten' for 'giant') he had to change the name of (as I recall it) 'Entish Lands' to 'Ettenmoors'. The latter is of course on the final map of Middle-earth and of its residents three were infamous: Tom, Bert and William Huggins, the trolls who were tricked by Gandalf to remain out long enough to be hit by the Sun - and therefore turn to Stone (hence Stone Giants); whilst Melkor's Trolls (etc.) had this weakness later breeds of Sauron and in particular the Uruk-hai ('Orc-folk', 'Orc-people') and Olog-hai ('Troll-folk', 'Troll-people') did not (which might seem in some ways ironic if you consider Sauron was a Maia whereas Melkor was originally an Ainu; indeed Sauron was Melkor's most loyal lieutenant and was considered equally as evil as Melkor except that for a long time he did not serve himself).
Moria's meaning was actually different in the past: in LR of course it is The Black Pit but beforehand it was Black Gulf. Also, and this is pure speculation on my part (and with the note that I actually don't think it's likely but it is interesting in any case at least to me), originally (as I recall) the River leading to Rivendell was called the Riven river and so Riven + dell. Of course it's proper name is Imladris but that isn't in the common tongue.
Gamgee: Stayathome and Hamfast (as in Gaffer Gamgee being Sam's father).
Shelob: 'lob' is an old word for spider so 'She spider'.
On the One Ring: in a plot outline Gollum would betray Frodo to the spiders but instead of Shelob trying to eat Frodo (or anything and everything) the spider would magically put Frodo to sleep. Also, around this time (it's obviously not all complete) Gollum's cries would be heard by the Ringwraiths but somehow Frodo lost the ring (I want to say either Gollum stole it at that time or Sam obtained it - maybe wrestling it from Gollum - until he could rescue Frodo) yet had another ring - and he was then in a dungeon in Minas Morgul (though at that point spelt Minas Morgol). The Ringwraiths realising that the ring he had was not the One Ring threatened to send him to Barad-dûr (sometimes spelt Barraddur and Barrad dur). But that's when Sam rescues him. I know there was something about overpowering the Ringwraiths or something along those lines.
Here too Frodo initially saw him as an Orc (because Sam had the One Ring, much like when Sam rescues him in Cirith Ungol in the Lord of the Rings) and therefore hated him but Sam then handed it to him and they then dressed up as Orcs like in the book. Their escape route was of course quite different and there were some differences in how they went about it too. I want to say they both got around Orcs but differently: this including if I recall Frodo using the Ring (of course Sam would use the One Ring to hide from the Orcs in Cirith Ungol out of necessity also but I want to say here it was riskier than in the final, at least if you consider the final plot). Of course using the Ring near the Ringwraiths would never be wise (as Frodo finds out when the Ring influences him to put it on at Weathertop and there stabbed by a Morgul-knife by the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl).
On the other hand it could have also been that Sam rescued him from the spider(s) when this happened (I can't recall for certain but again these variants were brought up around the same time). I should say these were different plots rather than slight variations!
The spiders plot obviously was what would later become Shelob ('lob' being an old word for 'spider' and therefore 'She+spider') and instead of the spell of sleep it was venom meant to paralyse the victim so she could eat her prey at her convenience; she would of course have eaten Frodo but for Samwise Gamgee. Gollum's plan of course was to recover his Precious after Shelob eats Frodo but this never happens; he backs away until they are at close to Sammath Naur where he would shortly fall into the Cracks of Doom after biting the Ring off Frodo's finger and therefore finishing the quest for Frodo - and saving the world. Of course Gollum never would have been able to keep the Ring this time around; Sauron and his armies were too powerful - not to mention so close to home. Gollum would have been taken to Barad-dûr and would have been killed. This didn't come to pass, however, and in either case the spider plot would change along with the geography.
The subject of what are the flying steeds the Nazgûl received after their horses were destroyed: at one point instead they themselves would become a demonic eagle but then it was made instead - vultures (maybe it was later called something else, the only other name I know of is fell beasts but that only describes the dread so I somehow think the answer is they are demonic vultures in the end). So my thinking is that indeed they are demonic vultures; I rather like this name but whether it is 100% canon I cannot say; vulture is referred to in RK as are other things.
At one point there was a thought that Sam might wrestle the Ring from Gollum and they both fall in (referencing Sam saying that he thinks there is something he must do before the end); in LR of course Sam thinks it is that he would go to the very end and die in the process but of course he is rescued in the end. In the Letters Tolkien states also that if Sam was kinder to Gollum he might have tried to take the Ring from Frodo (as he does in the end) but upon realising he could not have both the Ring and survival he would cast himself into the fire and therefore be faithful to his Master in the end and also save the world (of course Gollum loved and hated himself as he loved and hated the Ring).
Original name of Gríma Wormtongue (who wasn't always in the plot outline): Frána Wormtongue. Initially, before the love between Arwen Undómiel arose, in fact before Arwen existed, Aragorn son of Arathorn would wed Eowyn (so spelt at the time without the accent). This was then scratched out but still it was suggested Aragorn would never wed after her death. Of course this was very different in the end because of Arwen and instead Éowyn (now with the accent) would wed Faramir (brother of Boromir of the Fellowship). At one point Eowyn (early stages) was still related to King Theoden (so spelt at the time) - who was actually at the time not called 'King' but I believe Lord or some other title - but in a different way; I cannot recall specifically. Gandalf's horse was not originally called Shadowfax.
Narothal ('Firefoot'), the first name given to Gandalf's white horse, was replaced later in pencil by the suggestions: 'Fairfax, Snowfax', and pencilled in the margin is 'Firefoot Arod? Aragorn', but these latter were struck out. Arod became in LR the name of a horse of Rohan.
At another point the horse would be called Greyfax. If memory serves me correctly he acquired the horse from Rohan differently but how so I'm uncertain.