Did you know that author J.R.R. Tolkien was toying with the concept of a sequel to his beloved and iconic series of novels, The Lord of the Rings? The English author didn’t get very far in his draft, only 13 pages, and decided the tone and direction the story was heading in was too dark, even for his taste. But while the title of the story seems like something you’d see in the young adult section of the bookstore these days, there are still some interesting storybeats that I think could have been an interesting story regardless. But the manuscript was thankfully never lost and is one of the chapters in Tolkien’s History of Middle-earth series, specifically the Peoples of Middle-earth book.
The New Shadow was going to be set in the Fourth Age of man, some 105 years after the fall of Sauron and the One Ring. The story would have followed the son of Aragorn and Arwen, King Eldarion of Gondor, and how the society of men had become restless during times of peace. Which in itself, I found an interesting concept, especially how the world changed since Tolkien’s passing in 1973. The Cold War would end, but we’ve seen a slew of wars and conflicts since, including the Iraq War, The Gulf War, The War on Terror, The War on Drugs and the numerous conflicts in the third world and the Middle East, among many others. Couple this with the short attention span the internet/social media has caused amongst it’s users, especially those in the younger demographic, and I think this concept of peaceful times resulting in societies becoming restless in the face of having it good is an interesting observation, albeit a very pessimistic one.
Tolkien would describe the world of The New Shadow as one where children would run around in the streets, playing “orcs”, not unlike how children back in the day would play “cowboys and Indians”. The titular focal point of the novel came from the New Shadow Cult, where misguided men would begin again the worship of Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, along with Sauron and Saruman, perhaps not unlike how those in contemporary settings have idolized and followed the mantras of hate groups. One of the themes Tolkien touched on comes from a conversation between two of the new characters, Borlas and Saelon. In it, Borlas laments that despite the peaceful times, Men (humans) have a constant presence of evil in their hearts, a Dark Tree he called it, that is impossible to fell, no matter how hard we try to get rid of it. People are wired for violence and hatred, incapable of learning from their mistakes.
It’s a really bleak setup for a story and I can totally see why Tolkien ultimately abandoned it. For all the darkness in the Middle-earth universe, there was always a bit of light to guide the heroes and ultimately, save the day. Not only that, but there was a sense of wonder and magic in Tolkien’s work. But to talk about that inner evil, as opposed to the personification of evil, may have just been too much of a downer for readers, especially after Frodo went through all that trouble of destroying the One Ring, something that was forged thousands of years beforehand. Nevertheless, it’s still interesting to see where Tolkien’s head was at that point in his life.