The Lost Road

Tolkien's abandoned first 'time-travel' story, the fragments are published in Vol V of the HoMe series The Lost Road and Other Writings.

Some Background

The Lost Road (published in HoMeV) is Tolkien's earlier attempt of a time-travel story (cf. Letters #252) - of which The Notion Club Papers (published in HoMeIX) are the later attempt. Neither one was finished, but most of the extant fragments are published in the HoMe series.

The idea about writing "space-travel", respectively "time-travel", stories occured between Tolkien and Lewis and was probably born during one of those meetings of the Inklings. Tolkien and Lewis were both dissatisfied with the ways the topic was handled in many - if not most - existing novels, and so they agreed - or challenged each other - to write their own. Lewis' "space-travel" stories were published in three books (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), whereas Tolkien's two attempts were abandoned sooner or later. In a letter from 1964 Tolkien explains the idea briefly:

When C. S. Lewis and I tossed up, and he was to write on space-travel and I on time-travel, I began an abortive book of time-travel of which the end was to be the presence of my hero in the drowning of Atlantis. This was to be called Númenor, the Land in the West. The thread was to be the occurrence time and again in human families (like Durin among the Dwarves) of a father and son called by names that could be interpreted as Bliss-friend and Elf-friend. These no longer understood are found in the end to refer to the Atlantid-Númenórean? situation and mean 'one loyal to the Valar, content with the bliss and prosperity within the limits prescribed' and 'one loyal to friendship with the High-elves'. It started with a father-son affinity between Edwin and Elwin of the present, and was supposed to go back into legendary time by way of an Eädwine and Ælfwine of circa A.D. 918, and Audoin and Alboin of Lombardic legend, and so the traditions of the North Sea concerning the coming of corn and culture heroes, ancestors of kingly lines, in boats (and their departure in funeral ships). One such Sheaf, or Shield Sheafing, can actually be made out as one of the remote ancestors of our present Queen. In my tale we were to come at last to Amandil and Elendil leaders of the loyal party in Númenor, when it fell under the domination of Sauron. Elendil 'Elf-friend' was the founder of the Exiled kingdoms in Arnor and Gondor. But I found my real interest was only in the upper end, the Akallabêth or Atalantie ('Downfall' in Númenórean and Quenya), so I brought all the stuff I had written on the originally unrelated legends of Númenor into relation with the main mythology.
Letters #257

What Tolkien seems to have intended with The Lost Road, is to provide a link between the presence and his version of an Atlantis tale, the Akallabêth, and to lead the reader there through several steps all of which allude to actual history. And Tolkien at one point intended even more steps - or stops - in his journey into the past, than are mentioned in his letter, and which can be gathered from Christopher's comment:

This is followed by a rapid jotting down of ideas for the tales that should intervene between Alboin and Audoin of the twentieth century and Elendil and Herendil in Numenor, but these are tantalisingly brief: 'Lombard story?'; 'a Norse story of ship-burial (Vinland)'; 'an English story - of the man who got onto the Straight Road?'; 'a Tuatha-de-Danaan? story, or Tir-nan-Og?' (on which see pp. 81 - 3); a story concerning 'painted caves'; 'the Ice Age - great figures in ice', and 'Before the Ice Age: the Galdor story'; 'post-Beleriand and the Elendil and Gil-galad story of the assault on Thu'; and finally 'the Númenor story'.
HoMeV p. 77

And here we find the "StraightRoad" or "Lost Road" mentioned again followed by a brief explanation:

To one of these, the 'English story of the man who got onto the Straight Road', is attached a more extended note, written at great speed:

But this would do best of all for introduction to the Lost Tales: How Ælfwine sailed the Straight Road. They sailed on, on, on over the sea; and it became very bright and very calm, - no clouds, no wind. The water seemed thin and white below. Looking down Ælfwine suddenly saw lands and mt [i.e. mountains or a mountain] down in the water shining in the sun. Their breathing difficulties. His companions dive overboard one by one. Ælfwine falls insensible when he smells a marvellous fragrance as of land and flowers. He awakes to find the ship being drawn by people walking in the water. He is told very few men there in a thousand years can breathe air of Eressëa (which is Avallon), but none beyond. So he comes to Eressëa and is told the Lost Tales. Pencilled later against this is 'Story of Sceaf or Scyld'; and it was only here, I think, that the idea of the Anglo-Saxon episode arose (and this was the only one of all these projections that came near to getting off the ground).

ibid. p. 78

Here we also have a parallel to the Scyld or Sheaf episode, which is mentioned in Letters #257, and to which Tolkien gave more thought lateron...

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