Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

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Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Elthir on Mon Oct 13, 2014 3:57 pm

Due to a special request from the horse in my head (yes the grey one), here is a new thread.

What about Elfwine and the Silmarillion?

First, the evidence for Elfwine in the 1958-ish phase comes (at least) from the introductory notes to later work on the Narn.

Christopher Tolkien explains that the notes appear to have been written after The Lord of the Rings was published, connecting them to later work on the Narn. He remarks (The War of the Jewels): 'It is therefore very notable that at this relatively late date he was propounding such a view of the 'transmission' of the Narn i Chin Hurin (in contrast to the statement cited in X. 373, that the 'three Great Tales must be Numenorean, and derived from matter preserved in Gondor.'

Elfwine even explains (version B) that he had help from Elves, and made notes 'according to such lore as I found in Eressea.' Well, it's not Quenta Silmarillion proper, but the suggestion is there that this type of transmission goes for the Silmarillion related texts.

Bilbo

In the Foreword to The Book of Lost Tales Christopher Tolkien noted that he believed presenting the Silmarillion in 1977 without any framework was an error, and adds:

'In the original edition of The Lord of the Rings Bilbo gave to Frodo at Rivendell as his parting gift 'some books of lore that he had made at various times, written in his spidery hand, and labelled on their red backs: Translations from the Elvish, by B. B.'

In the second edition (1966) 'some books' was changed to 'three books', and in the Note on the Shire Records added to the Prologue in that edition my father said that the content of the 'the three large volumes bound in red leather' was preserved in that copy of the Red Book of Westmarch which was made in Gondor by the King's Writer Findegil in the year 172 of the Fourth Age;...'

And then he notes the added information (second edition) that Bilbo's work was almost entirely concerned with the Elder Days. I'll return to this later. Maybe.

Christopher Tolkien then agrees with Robert Foster that Quenta Silmarillion was no doubt included in Bilbo's work, and says:

'So also I have assumed (...) but apart from the evidence cited here there is, so far as I know, not other statement anywhere in my father's writings; and (wrongly as I think now) I was reluctant to step into the breach and make definite what I only surmised.'

My point here is, even after the expansion of the second edition Christopher Tolkien was a bit reluctant to make this definite. It seems he would do so 'now', yes, but I guess it says something about the evidence of this matter given his original choice.

Outside of Tolkien's writings, Richard Plotz interviewed Tolkien in November 1966, and reported:

'... he, half-heartedly I suppose, was thinking up schemes for rendering the Silmarillion publishable. So far, I think what he is doing is relating it to Bilbo's stay in Rivendell, which is what he said to me.'

Now there is a hint of this somewhere in The Lord of the Rings... but apparently when Bilbo went to Rivendell he was surounded by Elves and all elven records for seventeen years. Here was living history and he attempted to write it down, and this is what became the Silmarillion.'

Edited transcript of remarks at the 1966 Tolkien Society of America Meeting, Niekas 19

And from Hammond and Scull's Chronology, November 1966:

'Tolkien tells him (Richard Plotz) that one of the snags delaying publication of The Silmarillion is its quasi-biblical style, which Tolkien considers 'his best, but his publishers disagree. Another problem is that of finding a story line to connect all the parts. At the moment, Professor Tolkien is considering making use of Bilbo again... perhaps The Silmarillion will appear as his research in Rivendell.'

I wish we had Tolkien's actual wording here -- I do not doubt Plotz, but I think the specific expression from JRRT himself might have been that much better to try and determine how 'new' the idea was, for example. One would think the notion had at least occurred to Tolkien in 1955 with the first edition, but then again we have Elfwine popping up in 1958, and then again (again) we have the Numenorean transmission popping up in 1958 too.

Hmm.

Does the Numenorean transmission necessarily preclude Elfwine?

The Bilbo element would seem to suggest this, as whatever Bilbo's translations were imagined to be in 1955, it appears that the information remained in Middle-earth in the Red Book of Westmarch, to be passed down through Sam's family (I forgot how to spell ancestors)...

... that is, instead of books of lore passing back to Eressea and awaiting Elfwine. Still, we might have different books passing down through the ages in different ways, and Elfwine provides the 'missing' linguistic link: that is, Elfwine easily explains how the documents, or certain documents anyway, ended up being rendered into Modern English, as he rendered them into Old English, which only need await a student of Old English. Like, say, someone named Tolkien.

But in my opinion so far, there is no real hint in the first edition or the second that 'Tolkien the translator' was working with Old English rather than Westron, and in my opinion his references to using Old English in translation (the names of the Rohirrim and so on) make this seem even less likely.

A somewhat closer look at first and second editions, with respect to Bilbo's work, coming in part two... if there is a part two.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:30 pm

As always a thorough bit of work and enjoyable read Elthir.

I'd go- events of Silmarilion happen, various records of this time made by the elves and first complied by Elfwine, later various copies or extracts of this work found there way into Numeronean and elvish libraries. With only a complete record surviving at Rivendell where elves could add to the general lore in a way men could not, who just preserved what they had.
Then Bilbo spends 17 years in Rivendell immersing himself in these songs and stories and determines to set it down in Westron, he does so in to three books given to Frodo and passed onto the Gamgees.
These books are added too later with surviving lore from Gondor via Aragorn and from Rohan via Merry (who also adds his history of hobbits and of herb lore, as well as his treatise on common root words) and these are collectively considered 'definitive works' as they incorporate all the surviving material of men through the Numenoreon records combined with the living memory of the elves of Rivendell, and the extra hobbit stuff, so further copies are made to be preserved in Gondor.
From where eventually they survive in increasingly fragmented form down though history until falling into the hands of Tolkien as translator.

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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Eldorion on Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:36 pm

Fascinating stuff, Elthir. Thanks for exploring the late Elfwine mentions in detail. study

Although really now we have three potential sources for The SIlmarillion: the Elfwine transmission, the Bilbo transmission, or the Numenorean (Findegil?) transmission. Or some combination of the above, I suppose.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Eldorion on Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:37 pm

Simulpost with Petty.

Pettytyrant101 wrote:I'd go- events of Silmarilion happen, various records of this time made by the elves and first complied by Elfwine, later various copies or extracts of this work found there way into Numeronean and elvish libraries.

Elfwine lived thousands of years after the Numenoreans, though. He was an Anglo-Saxon who somehow discovered Tol Eressea and heard the old legends from surviving Elves sometime in the first millennium AD.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:44 pm

Who was the one in Book of Lost Tales then?

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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Forest Shepherd on Mon Oct 13, 2014 5:25 pm

Easy question.
Elfwine is stronger. He's a full-grown Anglo-Saxon male while Bilbo is a little Hobbit.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Eldorion on Mon Oct 13, 2014 5:43 pm

Laughing That was also my first thought when I saw the thread title, Forest.

Pettytyrant101 wrote:Who was the one in Book of Lost Tales then?

Elfwine was the character from the framing device of the BoLT, but he lived long after the events described in the main stories.  He heard most of the tales from Pengolodh of Gondolin, an Elvish loremaster who had escaped the destruction of the city and eventually came to Tol Eressea long ago.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 5:45 pm

Ah, long time since I read it, because he got the stories in Tol Eressea I put it back in the First Age somewhere in my head.

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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Elthir on Mon Oct 13, 2014 6:42 pm

Forest Shepherd wrote:Easy question. Elfwine is stronger. He's a full-grown Anglo-Saxon male while Bilbo is a little Hobbit.
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Heheh, so my title choice worked Very Happy

Thanks Petty and Eldo. And as I was working on part two while you folks were posting...


References (some) to Bilbo and his work:

First edition

In the runes and letters decorating the pages before the tale even begins we find that Tolkien is the translator, and in the original Foreword we even have mention, with reference to the maps: 'To complete it some maps are given, including one of the Shire that has been approved as reasonably correct by those Hobbits that still concern themselves with ancient history.'

Approved when? Did Tolkien have help from actual Hobbits (if you ask you don't really have to prove this statement is necessarily so)? Anyway, in Many Meetings Bilbo says that after reaching Rivendell he went on to Dale, and then came back to Rivendell again. And: 'I have done this and that. I have written some more of my book. And, of course, I make up a few songs.'

And at the Council of Elrond Bilbo says: 'I am very comfortable here, and getting on with my book. If you want to know, I am just writing an ending for it. I had thought of putting: and he lived happily ever afterwards to the end of his days.' And there is the suggestion that he thinks he will have to add several more chapters, considering the new information about the One, and that it still needs to be dealt with.

Then in The Ring Goes South he says: '... and bring back all the news you can, and any old songs and tales you can come by. I'll do my best to finish my book before you return. I should like to write the second book, if I am spared.'


One might guess -- at this point at least -- that the book is The Hobbit. That said Bilbo had arrived (Appendix B, first edition) and settled in Rivendell in TA 3002, and he is here talking to Frodo in 3018, or roughly 16 years later.

And in any case, in Many Partings, Bilbo: '... gave him some books of lore that he had made at various times, written in his spidery hand, and labelled on the red backs: Translations from the Elvish, by B. B.' And in The Grey Havens we have a big book with plain red leather covers, at the begining were many leaves in Bilbo's hand 'but most of it was writtten in Frodo's firm flowing script.' And chapter 80 was unfinished.

This appears to be both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings together -- or the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo supplemented by the accounts of their friends and the learning of the wise -- 'Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo in Rivendell.'

And in Appendix A: 'Thus the Red Book contained many annals, genealogies, and traditions of the realms of the South and the North, derived through Bilbo from the books of lore in Rivendell; or through Frodo and Peregrin from the King himself, and from the records of Gondor that he opened to them: such as The Book of the Kings, The Book of the Stewards, and the Akallabeth (that is, The Downfall of Numenor). From Gimli no doubt is derived the information concerning the Dwarves of Moria (...) but through Meriadoc alone, it seems, were derived the tales of the House of Eorl (...). Some of the notes and tales, however, were plainly added by other hands at later dates, after the passing of King Elessar.'

I don't pretend that this includes every reference, but if I have missed something arguably important please add it to the thread!

If I haven't missed anything important here I'll just note that there doesn't really seem to be much in the way of describing these books of lore from Bilbo. The Silmarillion is referenced as a book in Appendix A, and some events that occur within it, but briefly enough and under section I 'Numenor'.

I think Bilbo's 'book' is The Hobbit, and although lore and translations from the Elvish suggest ancient information, Appendix A could still indicate that the lore had to do with annals, genealogies, and traditions of the realms of the South and North. In other words very old stuff, written (partially or largely) in Elvish (Quenya or Sindarin) but not necessarily the Silmarillion.

One could say, however, that Appendix A need not preclude Bilbo's lore extending into the First Age in any case, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that the information that these books of lore where almost entirely concerned with the Elder Days seems to come in in the second edition, in the added Note On The Shire Records.

second edition (1966)

'... Translations from the Elvish. These three volumes were found to be a work of great skill and learning in which, between 1403 and 1418, he had used all the sources available to him in Rivendell, both living and written. But since they were little used by Frodo, being almost entirely concerned with the Elder Days, no more is said of them here.'

Note on the Shire Records

One could quibble with the term 'Elder Days' maybe, but Appendix B explains (both editions): 'In the Fourth Age the earlier ages were often called the Elder Days; but that name was properly given only to the days before the casting out of Morgoth. The histories of that time are not recorded here.'

And in any case we have another mention of the First Age in Appendix A: 'The ancient legends of the First Age, in which Bilbo's chief interest lay, are very briefly referred to, since they concern the ancestry of Elrond and the Numenorean kings and chieftains.'

I found this quite interesting. Tolkien revised this start to Appendix A, removing some things to the Note on the Shire Records, but he also added this bit about Bilbo's chief interest -- thus in the second edition, Tolkien seems to confirm that Bilbo was working with First Age lore.

Thanks to Eldorion for inspiring this thread, as this little gem from Appendix A alone was worth it! Again unless there's something from the first edition that I missed... that would make this not as 'surprising'!


Anyway, perhaps in 1955 Bilbo's books of lore were not Quenta Silmarillion? That's my main wondering here.

The Elfwine conceit is firmly in place in the early 1950s in any case, after the story proper of The Lord of the Rings was 'finished'; and again, the Elfwine transmission was seemingly still possible in 1958 even. Was it only in the 1960s that Bilbo's 'three' books became translations of First Age material -- Quenta Silmarillion and the Great Tales, and other works?

Or at least... more 'certainly' so Wink
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Oct 13, 2014 9:05 pm

Bilbo's personal interests do seem to tend towards the older stuff. In Rivendell he is working on a song about Earendel.

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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Elthir on Mon Oct 13, 2014 9:55 pm

True Petty! It's interesting that Tolkien chose Errantry for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and invented an internal relationship with it to Bilbo's poem in Rivendell.

'In origin a 'nonsense rhyme', it is in the Rivendell version found transformed and applied, somewhat incongruously, to the High-elvish and Numenorean legends of Earendil. Probably because Bilbo invented its metrical devices and was proud of them. They do not appear in other pieces in the Red Book. The older form, here given, must belong to the early days after Bilbo's return from his journey. Though the influence of Elvish traditions is seen, they are not seriously treated, and the names used (Derrilyn, Thellamie, Belmarie, Aerie) are mere inventions in the Elvish style, and are not in fact Elvish at all.'

Anyway, this falls right in with Bilbo telling Frodo that he makes up a few songs -- even if this one has the cheek to be about Earendil!

And it certainly fits right in line with what Tolkien added later about Bilbo's chief interest. And I note 'High-elvish and Numenorean legends' here, also published in the 1960s.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Eldorion on Tue Oct 14, 2014 4:02 am

A master class even by your standards, Elthir! Very Happy Thanks for taking the time to go through the First Edition (which I don't have a copy of) to find a (possible) answer to my question about Elfwine's appearances in the Later Silmarillion.  It's fascinating that the references to Bilbo's work being specifically about the First Age were only added in the Second Edition.  In the absence of any other evidence, I think that's a fairly conclusive argument that Tolkien was undecided about the manner of transmission in the '50s, but that he more or less made up his mind in the '60s (insofar as anything about the Silm can be called conclusive Razz).
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Elthir on Tue Oct 14, 2014 3:02 pm

Thanks Eldo. Unless there's something to poke a hole in this balloon, I like the way you summed it up too. I've often wondered 'why Elfwine in 1958' (or sometimes: do falling apples fall up in Australia)... and now I think I might be closer, at least, to an answer than I was before... although as you note...

... sometimes we can only go so far Nod
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Eldorion on Thu May 19, 2016 1:54 am

I referred to this thread in another topic recently (think it was the Tolkien scholarship one), but I've continued to give thought to similar topics and I tried to express some of them in another essay for my blog. I cited your posts on here in it, Elthir, just using the pseudonym since I don't know of any other way. Figured I'd give you a heads up about that but your PMs are off. Smile

http://nolondil.tumblr.com/post/144577358901/ancalagon-the-black-a-case-study

too long:
Ancalagon the Black: a case study

Ancalagon the Black was the greatest of the winged dragons of Morgoth, which were revealed during the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age. (Earlier dragons had been wingless and flightless, though the only one we know anything about is Glaurung.) Ancalagon is implied to have been very large, so large in fact that many question whether it could really have been the case. Trying to make sense of this question requires a deeper investigation into the nature of The Silmarillion and the reliability of its narrators and in-universe sources. But first, let’s focus on Ancalagon himself. Regardless of size, he remained known as a figure of distant legend even at the time of The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf tells Frodo that:

‘Your small fire, of course, would not melt even ordinary gold. This Ring has already passed through it unscathed, and even unheated. But there is no smith’s forge in this Shire that could change it at all. Not even the anvils and furnaces of the Dwarves could do that. It has been said that dragon-fire could melt and consume the Rings of Power, but there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough nor was there ever any dragon, not even Ancalagon the Black, who could have harmed the One Ring, the Ruling Ring, for that was made by Sauron himself.’ (FOTR, I 2).

Unlike many other figures of the First Age who are mentioned in The Lord of the Rings we learn very little about Ancalagon in The Silmarillion. He appears only in the final chapter and is not even named until the moment he is killed by Eärendil:

Then, seeing that his hosts were overthrown and his power dispersed, Morgoth quailed, and he dared not to come forth himself. But he loosed upon his foes the last desperate assault that he had prepared, and out of the pits of Angband there issued the winged dragons, that had not before been seen; and so sudden and ruinous was the onset of that dreadful fleet that the host of the Valar was driven back, for the coming of the dragons was with great thunder, and lightning, and a tempest of fire.

But Eärendil came, shining with white flame, and about Vingilot were gathered all the great birds of heaven and Thorondor was their captain, and there was battle in the air all the day and through a dark night of doubt. Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and cast him from the sky; and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, and they were broken in his ruin. Then the sun rose, and the host of the Valar prevailed, and well-nigh all the dragons were destroyed; and all the pits of Morgoth were broken and unroofed, and the might of the Valar descended into the deeps of the earth…. (“Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath”)

The question of how large Ancalagon was arises from the statement that “the towers of Thangorodrim … were broken in his ruin.” The literal interpretation of this statement is that Ancalagon’s falling body destroyed Thangorodrim. However, Thangorodrim was not merely a tower, but three adjacent mountain peaks “thrust forward” from the Iron Mountains (TS, “Of the Flight of the Noldor” and “Of the Return of the Noldor”). Karen Wynn Fonstad in The Atlas of Middle-earth estimates the height of Thangorodrim as 35,000 feet based on a drawing of Tolkien’s; whether or not that drawing was meant to be to scale, the peaks are stated to be the highest in Middle-earth (for reference, Mount Everest clocks in at 29,029 feet). The size of a dragon capable of destroying such a massive landform would be ludicrous. For Ancalagon to emerge from the pits beneath Thangorodrim would require an opening possibly miles wide, and it’s unclear what weapon Eärendil could have used to deal a fatal blow. The idea of a super-massive Ancalagon is too far removed from physical plausibility, too straining of the reader’s credibility, to fit into “the inner consistency of reality” that Tolkien thought so important to achieve in fantasy (”On Fairy-stories”).

The more plausible reading, and the one that I think Tolkien likely intended, is that the breaking of Thangorodrim was not meant to be taken literally. Ancalagon was killed and may well have destroyed part of Morgoth’s fortress in his fall, but the actual destruction of the peaks was caused by the immense (probably demiurgic) forces that sunk Beleriand. This is in line with the mythic style that Tolkien employed in “The Silmarillion”, as John Garth describes:

Tolkien was a masterful mixer of the modern and the medieval. At certain points (particularly in many of the descriptions of landscapes traversed in The Lord of the Rings) he is using modern-day realism to create an air of verisimilitude. This is what allows so many of us to feel as if we are reading about something that really happened, or that we are making the journey ourselves. But at other points Tolkien uses profoundly figurative language – particularly when describing distant events in semi-legendary past. It’s quite right that Ancalagon’s fall should be told this way.

However, as Garth goes on to note, this has implications for the way in which we read “The Silmarillion” far beyond the question of Ancalagon. His example is the aforementioned size of Thangorodrim, which may not have been meant literally either, even if it was raised by Morgoth. Once we begin to question the plausibility of the mythology, though, it’s hard to know where to stop. Is the moon really a magical fruit being carried through the sky? Did vast forests really grow in Middle-earth while illuminated only by starlight? Tolkien himself grappled with these questions in the late 1950s, following the completion of the far more novelistic The Lord of the Rings. Regarding the cosmological idea that the world was initially flat, Tolkien wrote:

It is now clear to me that in any case the Mythology must actually be a ‘Mannish’ affair. (Men are really only interested in Men and in Men’s ideas and visions.) The High Eldar living and being tutored by demiurgic beings must have known, or at least their writers and loremasters must have known, the ‘truth’ (according to their measure of understanding). What we have in the Silmarillion etc. are traditions (especially personalized, and centred upon actors, such as Fëanor) handed on by Men in Númenor and later in Middle-earth (Arnor and Gondor); but already far back - from the first association of the Dúnedain and Elf-friends with the Eldar in Beleriand - blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas. (HoMe X, Myths Transformed, Text I; emphasis in the original)

To change the mythology and cosmology of “The Silmarillion” into something more compatible with modern science would have involved rewriting a great many texts, and Tolkien did not attempt to do so. However, he did begin to make changes to his framing device for the work. Since its origins in The Book of Lost Tales, “The Silmarillion” had been presented as a primarily Elven work, translated by a human mariner, Eriol/Aelfwine, who traveled to Tol Eressëa. Christopher Tolkien notes in “Myths Transformed” that his father wrote in a preamble to the Annals of Aman that they had been written by Rúmil (an Elven loremaster) in the First Age but, crucially, that the surviving version had been written down in Númenor in the Second Age from “those parts we learned and remembered” (commentary to Text I). Around the same time (late 1950s), Tolkien wrote the latest version of the Akallabêth and still referred to Aelfwine as hearing and recording the tale. However, in The Line of Elros (probably written in the 1960s; found in Unfinished Tales), Tolkien refers to Elendil as the author of the Akallabêth, though this is not repeated elsewhere and Tolkien never revised the Akallabêth to reflect this notion, if he even continued to think it. (The names Aelfwine and Elendil have identical meanings in different languages, which was significant in some stories, so in the interest of clarity: the UT reference is to the father of Isildur and Anárion.)

We should certainly be very careful about applying ideas that Tolkien entertained but did not necessarily follow through on to the whole legendarium. However, Tolkien deliberately wrote “The Silmarillion” in a mythic style, with all the flourishes that entails (consider how many times someone or something is described as the tallest, or some feat as the greatest, etc.). While the Aelfwine framing device shows him writing and/or translating “The Silmarillion” based mainly on direct accounts from people who lived through it, the book tends to read more as a work of legend passed down through many hands and generations, becoming increasingly remote and inevitably somewhat confused. (For that matter, the Akallabêth doesn’t read like a first-hand account either.) Tolkien wrote this way in imitation of other modern recorders of myth such as Elias Lönnrot, who compiled the Finnish Kalevala from a multitude of folk tales and traditions. He may well have realized, during or after the time when he wrote the notes in “Myths Transformed”, that he didn’t have to rewrite his entire mythology, but that extending the work’s framing device to include a longer chain of internal transmission by mortals could explain the work’s idiosyncrasies without making it incompatible with its more modern, novelistic sequel.

There is some reason to believe this. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo gives Frodo “three books of lore” titled Translations from the Elvish, by B.B. (ROTK, VI 6). This is often assumed to be “The Silmarillion”, as is mentioned by Robert Foster in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien agreed with Foster that his father had probably decided on Bilbo as the conduit for “The Silmarillion”, but could not find a statement from his father about it. As a result, he removed references to Aelfwine from the published version, but did not replace them with the mentions of Bilbo; Christopher later regretted publishing The Silmarillion without reference to how it had been recorded (HoMe 1, Foreword). As my co-forumer “Elthir” has pointed out, the first edition of LOTR (1954-5) states that the Red Book included “many annals, genealogies, and traditions of the realms of the South and the North [Gondor and Arnor], derived through Bilbo from the books of lore in Rivendell” (and also through Frodo and Pippin from Aragorn) without making any reference to the First Age. It is only in the second edition (1965), that Bilbo’s books of lore are stated to be “almost entirely concerned with the Elder Days” and thus not used much by Frodo in his account of the War of the Ring (LOTR, Prologue). Tolkien made numerous mentions of Aelfwine in “The Later Silmarillion”, written mainly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, after the publication of The Lord of the Rings. However, Aelfwine is not mentioned in any of the (relatively few) texts written after the second edition of LOTR. While we can not say for certain if Tolkien decided to replace Aelfwine with Bilbo, I feel that the evidence is persuasive.

Some will reasonably question the significance of any framing device. Is it not enough to simply enjoy the story as it is, and if it includes hyperbole because Tolkien was writing in a mythic style, so be it? Certainly there is nothing wrong with reading and enjoying the books without worrying about the internal history of who wrote down the tales and how they were transmitted through the ages. Anyone attempting a close reading or analysis of The Silmarillion, however, would do well to keep Tolkien’s framing device in mind. One can not discuss the reliability of a narrator without knowing the identity of the narrator, and neither Aelfwine nor Bilbo were always reliable. Aelfwine, in his later appearances, meets Pengolodh of Gondolin and primarily works at translating his written and oral works, though he also reads annals and narratives by other loremasters such as Rúmil. These sources are not incompatible with the Bilbo transmission. Rúmil’s works were written before the Exile of the Noldor and Pengolodh did the majority of his work before the end of the First Age and did not depart from Middle-earth until well into the Second, so both authors’ works would have been preserved in the libraries of Lindon as well as those of Tol Eressëa. From Lindon they likely passed to other realms of the Eldar and the Dúnedain, including Rivendell. On the other hand, if one gives greater credence to Tolkien’s statement in “Myths Transformed” about human authorship of the mythology, then one can trace an intellectual lineage from the Eldar to the Númenóreans and then to the Third Age Dúnedain. The eldest son of Elros, Vardamir Nólimon, is noted as a loremaster who collected lore from both Elves (presumably visitors from Tol Eressëa) and Men (UT, The Line of Elros) and the later Númenóreans (particularly the Faithful) were at times in close contact with Lindon. The Realms in Exile would have preserved Númenórean lore and some of it likely ended up in the library of Rivendell, especially whatever may have been salvaged from the destruction of the North-kingdom. Bilbo is also stated to have made use of living Elven sources in Rivendell (LOTR, Prologue), so figures such as Elrond and Glorfindel are also worth consideration as possible sources, though based on their memories some 6000 years later.

All of the initial sources as well as the scholars who transcribed and translated them had their own biases and agendas within the context of the story. Tolkien described Pengolodh in particular detail: half-Noldo, half-Sinda, a survivor of both the Fall of Gondolin and the Third Kinslaying at the Havens of Sirion. As such, the works ascribed to Pengolodh are ripe for allegations of bias against the Fëanorians due to his personal history and his connection to Turgon, who had a well-documented dislike for the House of Fëanor. Alex Lewis, in his essay “Historical Bias in the Making of The Silmarillion” (Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, 1992, ed. Reynolds and GoodKnight), uses the Bilbo transmission as his starting point to document that differences in the positive and negative attitudes the text takes towards different characters are largely explicable by those characters’ connections to Elrond, in whose house Bilbo was working. This approach has been termed “historiocanon” by Dawn Felagund since it argues for deviating from the “canonical” texts of “The Silmarillion” where historiographic analysis suggests that the narrator was biased, poorly informed, or making claims that are physically impossible (as seems the case with Ancalagon). Making claims about what “really happened” behind a fictional story can be controversial, and such analysis involves making sometimes subjective judgment calls as much real life historiography does, but Tolkien provided us with all the tools to perform such an analysis. He even set an example in his treatment of the first edition of The Hobbit, which he did not reject as “non-canon” once he revised it, but rather gave an in-universe position as the version Bilbo wrote when he wished to hide the manner in which he acquired the Ring.

We can apply this type of analysis to the question of Ancalagon by examining the textual history of his story. It is likely that the first written account of the War of Wrath would have been set down by Pengolodh. A dragon the size of a mountain is hard to accept as straight historical fact, suggesting that either (1) Pengolodh wrote a deliberately non-realistic account, (2) Pengolodh was misinformed about the events of Eärendil’s battle with Ancalagon, or (3) a later scholar misunderstood or altered Pengolodh’s description. Since we have little to work with it’s impossible to give a definitive answer, but a case could be made for any of the three. However, Ancalagon comes across as particularly implausible even in a book full of supernatural entities, suggesting that perhaps the cause was not Pengolodh deliberately exaggerating. Furthermore, The Silmarillion tells us that:

Of the march of the host of the Valar to the north of Middle-earth little is said in any tale; for among them went none of those Elves who had dwelt and suffered in the Hither Lands, and who made the histories of those days that still are known; and tidings of these things they only learned long afterwards from their kinsfolk in Aman. (“Of the Voyage of Eärendil”)

Pengolodh could not have been a direct witness, but later in the same chapter the Edain are stated to have taken part in the fighting. At the end of the war, the surviving Eldar and the Edain both ended up in what was left of Beleriand (Lindon), from which many Elves departed for Tol Eressëa and many humans for Númenor. Pengolodh would have had to acquire accounts of the war here, in the first few decades of the Second Age before the settlement of Númenor. Perhaps he heard only exaggerated descriptions of the dragons and simply recorded what he had been told. However, while Pengolodh had been born in Beleriand, he knew Elves who had lived in Aman and met the Valar, so it is hard to imagine that he was easily overawed or would believe the most exaggerated accounts. In any event his written account would presumably have been of interest to Gil-galad, and copies were undoubtedly made eventually. From there, we can trace at least three possible paths the story took through various manuscripts and languages.


  1. Oral Edainic account -> Pengolodh’s account in Tol Eressëa -> Aelfwine’s translation into Old English -> manuscript lost(?) -> Tolkien’s translation into Modern English
  2. Oral Edainic account -> Pengolodh’s written account in Lindon -> copy of Pengolodh taken to Imladris -> Bilbo’s translation into Westron -> various copies of the Red Book -> Tolkien’s translation into Modern English
  3. Oral Edainic account -> Pengolodh’s written account in Lindon -> copy of Pengolodh taken to Númenor -> copy taken to Gondor -> added to the Red Book by Findegil in the Fourth Age -> merges with option #2

Every new (inevitably imperfect) copy of the manuscript made and every translation into a new language would create opportunities for changes to sneak in. Moreover, not every translation would be literal, but all would reflect the translator’s era and culture to some extent. As Tolkien knew well from his study of medieval literature, damage to manuscripts could introduce uncertainty, not every scribe necessarily understood what they were transcribing, and so on. The point is not to say for certain where the chain broke and an error was introduced into the account of Ancalagon, which is impossible to do with a fictional chain of events but often nearly as difficult in the real world with incomplete records. Rather, it remains worthwhile to keep such considerations in the back of ones mind whether one is thinking about what “really” happened in Middle-earth or trying to understand Tolkien’s intentions in his writing. He all but asks the reader to think about the sources in the passage quoted above, where he briefly brings the framing device front and center and talks about who wrote the histories and how they were working with imperfect knowledge. Even a limited understanding of the internal textual histories underpinning “The Silmarillion” helps lead to a richer and deeper understanding of the mythology.

As for the true size of Ancalagon, it is admittedly frustrating at times to have to answer “we just don’t know” to so many questions, but our incomplete knowledge is one of the things that Tolkien’s invented mythology has in common with real world mythologies, and it contributes to the sense of Middle-earth being in some way real. When you stop to think about it, it doesn’t make much sense for us to have perfectly clear and consistent records of a far distant mythic/historical era, fictional or otherwise . Of course, the door remains open for fanfiction authors to push beyond the misty edges of our understanding or the intractable contradictions between various texts. In this way too, Tolkien’s legendarium is very much like real world myths. But whether you write fanfic or not, engaging with and thinking critically about “The Silmarillion” can be a rewarding experience and one very much in the same spirit as which the book was written.
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Elthir on Thu May 19, 2016 1:59 pm

Hmm... you're right Eldo, my PM was off... I didn't realize it! Anyway, nice work as always... and I hope my information/implication holds up under scrutiny.

I noticed you give the history of Pengolodh. I hope this isn't annoying but once again Tolkien seems to have changed-his-mind/forgot-and-changed-his-mind-anyway... or something...

Short version: (quoting brother Galin):

It [the name] appears explained as 'teaching sage' in Tolkien's Words, Phrases, and Passages (at least), and in Sindarin it was said: 'Goloð was used of any sage or loremaster. A teacher of lore was pengoloð. KWEN- (whence kwenedé) 'speak with rational words'. Also the name Pengoloð (with respect to the Thingódhel question) is well attested in late writings 'Eldarin Hands, Fingers & Numerals and Related Writings' (c. 1968).

And his history is a bit different from that found in the earlier Quendi and Eldar (itself fairly certainly dated around 1959 - 1960) -- he is an Exile rather, according to Author's note 3 to Eldarinwe Leperi are Notessi, and as the Vinyar Tengwar editors also note, he would then have no Sindarin blood.

Long version: the section is in Vinyar Tengwar 48: Eldarin Hands, Fingers & Numerals and Related Writings - Part Two; Text II: Synopsis of Pengoloð's Eldarinwe Leperi are Notessi. The passage reads:

§4 The following account is an abbrevation of a curious document, preserved in the archives of Gondor by strange chance (or by many such chances) from the Elder Days, but in a copy apparently made in Númenor not long before its downfall: probably by or at the orders of Elendil himself, when selecting such records as he could hope to store for the journey to Middle-earth. This one no doubt owed its selection and its copying, first to Elendil's own love of the Eldarin tongues and of the works of the loremasters who wrote about their history; but also to the unusual contents of this disquisition in Quenya: Eldarinwe Leperi are Notessi: The Elvish Fingers and Numerals. It is attributed by the copyist, to Pengoloð (or Quendingoldo) of Gondolin (Authors Note 3), and he describes the Elvish play-names of the fingers as used by and taught to children. ...

Authors Note 3: Reputed to be the greatest of the Lambeñgolmor (linguistic loremasters) before the end of the Elder Days, both by talent and opportunity, since he himself had known Quenya (Vanyarin and Noldorin) and Telerin and preserved in a memory remarkable even among the Eldar the works (especially on etymology) of the earlier loremasters (including Feanor); but also had as an Exile been able to learn Sindarin in its varieties, and Nandorin, and had some acquaintance with Khuzdûl in its archaic form as used in the habitations of the Dwarves in Ered Lindon (Editors Note 25).

Editors Note 25: An earlier and more detailed biographical sketch of Pengoloð appears in Quendi and Eldar (XI:396-97), which describes him as "an Elf of mixed Sindarin and Ñoldorin ancestry, born in Nevrast who lived in Gondolin from its foundation", and who after the fall of Gondolin "collected much material among the survivors of the wars at Sirion's Mouth concerning languages and gesture-systems with which, owing to the isolation of Gondolin, he had not before had any direct acquaintance". He is said to have remained in Middle-earth well into the Second Age to further his studies, dwelling for a time among the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, but he sailed to Eressëa "when the shadow of Sauron fell upon Eriador".

The account of Pengoloð in ELN differs from this in some points. ELN states that Pengoloð was an Exile, meaning that he was born in Valinor instead of Nevrast and had no Sindarin blood. Also, in ELN Pengoloð is said to have learned something of Khuzdûl "in its archaic form as used in the habitations of the Dwarves in Ered Lindon" (i.e., in Nogrod and Belegost), whereas Quendi and Eldar states that Pengoloð gained his knowledge of Khuzdûl from the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm in the Second Age.

So once again a jool unearthed in VT seems to rock the boat a little. This text post-dates the Quendi and Eldar account, but obviously it's up to you what weight you want to give it, and so on.

Or maybe you already weighed it and went with Q&E? In any case, nice work, as I say. I just hope that Galin guy was paying enough attention! He's handsome but not the brightest bulb (he told me to say that!).
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by Eldorion on Thu May 19, 2016 2:49 pm

Thanks as always for your kind words and especially your information, Elthir! I am, alas, not a Vinyar Tengwar subscriber and despite having done a fair bit of reading on this subject lately I hadn't come across that reference before. Embarassed I was indeed going off "Quendi and Eldar" for the biographical sketch of Pengolodh.

I'm particularly interested by the reference to the document's preservation in Númenor. I've been trying to assemble a case for interpreting "The Silmarillion" through the lens of later Middle-earth transmissions (leading up to the Red Book, as opposed to Aelfwine and the Golden Book) on a variety of fronts. Another late document where Tolkien made explicit changes to the framing device, albeit not to one of the major texts of "The Silmarillion".

I was pretty sure even before checking that Aelfwine had not been mentioned in any known text later than the early 1960s, but I tried to confirm that by utilizing Doug Kane's chart in Arda Reconstructed of source texts for "The Silmarillion arranged by date and the indexes of the last three volumes of HoMe. I was unable to find any post-1965 reference, so I felt comfortable making that statement in the essay, but now I've got my fingers crossed that there's nothing in PE or VT that disproves me, although this reference seems to be moving away from the Aelfwine conception too. Laughing
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Re: Who is stronger, Elfwine or Bilbo?

Post by RA on Mon Jun 27, 2016 6:01 am

Interesting topic

Forest Shepherd wrote:Easy question.
Elfwine is stronger. He's a full-grown Anglo-Saxon male while Bilbo is a little Hobbit.
Here to help!

Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one though....
I need to read more of the Lost Tales, and maybe a readthrough of the trilogy again. It's been some time.

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