Notes from two essays in Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter.
This collection of scholarly essays was prompted by the completion of The History of Middle-earth, the posthumous volumes edited by Christopher Tolkien. It's split into three sections: one about HoMe as a whole; one about Tolkien's languages; and one about Tolkien as a storyteller. I've already commented on Thomas's essay, "Some of Tolkien's Narrators," for which this collection was recommended. As for the rest, I skipped the languages section, but skimmed other essays if they looked like they might be relevant here. There were two I wanted to make brief notes about.
David Bratman, "The Literary Value of The History of Middle-earth"
This essay is a reader's guide to The History of Middle-earth. Most of it is not relevant here, but it does include comments on the revisions of LotR:
In some of the early drafts for Books IV and VI, Sam easily fools guards, fights off orc soldiers, and pushes Gollum into the Cracks of Doom; and Frodo slays the chief ruffian of the Shire in dramatic single combat. . . . [A]bandoned ideas such as these give the impression that Tolkien knew whereof he wrote when he gave Sam as Ringbearer wildly improbable dreams of heroism. . . . Tolkien's fuzzy initial idea that Frodo would somehow just walk into Mordor by the main entrance survives only in the form of Frodo's own vague initial plan . . . . All these transformations show Tolkien's skill at turning his own weaknesses in the first draft into his story's strengths in the final draft.
Bratman also describes stylistic changes, where "a breathless, informal style with many run-on phrases, contractions, and colloquialisms" were polished out. An amusing example is Strider's prior incarnation, "Trotter," saying that the Black Riders give him the "creeps."
Obsessive re-writing deprived us of a Silmarillion in Tolkien's lifetime, but here that re-writing was certainly for the best.
(The author is on LJ, but I'm not sure of the level of anonymity, and thus don't want to mention real names and LJ names in the same post, given the all-seeing eye of Google.)
Marjorie Burns, "Gandalf and Odin"
Burns' thesis is actually different from her essay's title: she argues that in LotR, the attributes of Odin are split between Gandalf, Sauron, and Saruman: for instance, Gandalf gets eagles and wise ravens, while Saruman gets crebain and Sauron gets fell beasts of the air.
She also discusses Norse mythology in the context of The Silmarillion, and concludes,
The very repetition of . . . matched figures representing two moral directions, should let us know that Tolkien . . . believed the basic pattern is always the same. . . . [T]he characteristics of misused power, exorbitant pride, and self-devouring jealousy are little different in a Sackville-Baggins, a Steward, a Wizard, or a Vala. So it is that the ravaging of the Shire can be seen in The Lord of the Rings as simply another manifestation of Mordor, as "just one of its works."
Tolkien shows us, as well, how malevolence works "from within" (as it did through Loki in Norse mythology). He shows us how the maladies of pride, jealousy, and covetousness spread outward from Morgoth, infecting—level by level—nations, families, friendships, and even the Fellowship.
The lessons, Burns points out, were handed down by example: Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, Grima, Lotho.
All I know about Norse mythology, I learned from the works of Neil Gaiman; so while this argument seemed a trifle thin to me on first reading, I'm not really qualified to comment.