The Eldy Review of Lore

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Post by Eldy on Thu Feb 14, 2019 3:24 pm

This post began as a result of the discussion currently happening in the thread "The Silmarillion in 1000 Words" (link to where the current exchange began), particularly some of my back-and-forth with Elthir regarding issues we've talked about before. It's been almost a year since I last put serious thought into this and considerably longer since I did any meaningful reading of scholarship on the topic, but I've been thinking and talking more about Tolkien in the past few weeks than I have in a while, so this has been on my mind again. Also, a friend said on Discord that she wants me to keep moonlighting in Tolkien studies, so I might not have a choice. Wink

Anyway, my hope at this point is to try to step out of my comfort zone and engage with some aspects of Tolkien studies that are not my area of expertise. That's made the current reading and writing process a little intimidating, so once I started on this post last night I saw a chance to try to put some of my thoughts in order and shake off a little rust, and it turned into this mess. The first part is sort of a literature review, mostly of stuff I've only just read (though there are also a bunch from my major Lore kick in the spring of 2016), but it picks up a bit in the second half. I can't promise that it's any good, but my usual writing process is to begin with a forum post as a dry run and then try to clean up and restructure the material later if it's salvageable.

The Silmarillion, Framing Devices, and Some Other Shit

I think there are a number of reasons why the Red Book transmission (and, semi-relatedly, the Round World Silmarillion, though you can have the former without the latter) is often overlooked:

(1) People just don't like it on a personal level. This is perfectly legitimate and it's never been my intention to tell anyone what to do with their "personal Silmarillion".

(2) A lot of people misunderstand (sometimes willfully, it feels like) what Tolkien actually said about the Red Book transmission, and thus dismiss it out of hand for reasons like "the narrative voice of The Hobbit is clearly not Bilbo's" even though this fact is fully accounted for by Tolkien's conceit.

(3) There's a sense that the Red Book transmission destroys part(s) of what makes "The Silmarillion" (or The Silmarillion) special. This has been the main subject on my mind as I dip my toes back into this stuff, so I'm trying to familiarize myself with the current state of published Tolkien scholarship on certain related questions. I've previously expressed my thoughts on why the Red Book transmission is correct in terms of whether or not it was Tolkien's intention (see here for an example), but I'd like to focus on the more subjective, literary arguments. But that definitely necessitates getting up to speed on a lot of things.

(Also, I must give credit at the outset to Elthir for our many discussions over the years, as I've borrowed/stolen some of these ideas from him.)

Dennis Wilson Wise, writing in volume 13 (2016) of Tolkien Studies, produced maybe the strongest-worded criticism in recent years of the model I generally subscribe to, with his article "Book of the Lost Narrator: Rereading the 1977 Silmarillion as a Unified Text". Wise argues against the widely-held view (within Tolkien studies, anyway) that the legendarium is best appreciated as a vast collection of disparate texts and that their contradictions should, in fact, be celebrated rather than regretted. Elthir and I have both written in support of this view on here and it's very common in published scholarship as well, something Wise acknowledges as he cites and replies to numerous prominent scholars (and is perfectly polite about it; I bear him no grudge against him for his views). I profoundly disagree with Wise's disinterest in the "impression of depth" provided by the "compilation thesis", but he makes a number of valid points that I think must be taken into account regardless of whether one's interest in the First Age leans more towards the (pseudo)historical or the literary.

Somewhat paradoxically, the area where I feel Wise is most insightful and the area where I most disagree with his line of argumentation are actually one and the same. One of Wise's main arguments against the value of the compilation thesis is that it's a poor method of appreciating the 1977 Silmarillion:

http://muse.jhu.edu/article/641282

Wise, p. 106 wrote:So whereas others might see a gross heterogeneity of styles, textual inconsistencies, textual flaws, or strange discrepancies in levels of narratorial omniscience, I much prefer to see deliberately placed oddities that must be fitted into the whole and explained rather than explained away. Such a reading, I suggest, will effectively make the 1977 book a stronger book. We need not give up the “impression of depth” because, after all, the text does explicitly refer to several other texts. Still, I suggest refocusing our attention. The writer of The Silmarillion clearly worked from source materials and like Geoffrey of Monmouth, worked for a higher purpose. He wrote a single unified text to accomplish this focus, and this means we should give up the frustrating and confusing compilation thesis.

I both agree and disagree here. I agree that if one values the 1977 Silmarillion in its own right it is better appreciated as a coherent work. Of course, Christopher Tolkien famous warned that the '77 Silm was not intended to be completely consistent either with itself or with his father's other works (TS, Foreword), but Wise points out that in the introduction to Unfinished Tales Christopher stated he used the '77 Silm "as a fixed point of reference of the same order as the writings published by my father himself, without taking into account the innumerable 'unauthorized' decisions between variants and rival versions that went into its making." I had actually forgotten this line (though I remember Christopher distancing himself from that view in the Foreword to HoMe I, which Wise also cites), but as I've mentioned before I also accord the '77 Silm a measure of prominence as the go-to reference in most cases. And I think most people do this to some extent, as Wise argues, so I feel I have to seriously consider his points about best to approach that volume.

I've previously discussed my thoughts on the limitations of what Wise calls the compilation thesis, which I'll take the liberty of quoting here.

https://terpconnect.umd.edu/~jkeener/tolkien/canon.html

In light of the abridgments and the points in which it arguably diverges from Tolkien’s latest intentions, many fans are reluctant to accord The Silmarillion full “canonical” status. This can lead to a grab bag approach, where people construct their own “Silmarillion” canons (either individually or in groups) from the published version and a mix of various ideas from HoMe. It is alluring to approach the whole body of work as similar to primary world mythologies, which tend to survive as incomplete collections of sometimes contradictory stories. Coupled with Tolkien’s stated desire to create a mythology of his own and his description of feeling that he discovered things about his stories more than he created them on his own, it is tempting to attempt to “reconstruct” the “true” version of the First Age underlying all the different versions that have been published. However, Tolkien himself was concerned with consistency between his stories and wanted to arrange “The Silmarillion” in a complete form suitable for publication. We can’t claim to know how Tolkien would have done on this, or what ideas he would have kept and which he would have replaced with new ones. Treating Tolkien’s invented mythology as a vast puzzle often results in ideas that are not recognizably Tolkien’s, especially when trying to view Tolkien’s early stories through the lens of late conceptions that only entered the mythology decades later. This becomes a species of fanfiction, which is not necessarily without merit, but should not be presented as anything like authoritative.

https://terpconnect.umd.edu/~jkeener/tolkien/hightowers.html#orcs

Furnish simply does not address the inconsistency between these accounts (which arose because this part of “Myths Transformed” was essentially Tolkien’s notes to himself as he tried and failed to firm up his ideas about orcs). This is a prime example of why it is essential to have a methodology before diving into HoMe, since otherwise you’re likely to end up smushing together ideas Tolkien had at different times to create something neither Tolkienian nor coherent.

While calling the construction of the 1977 Silmarillion a "grab bag" process would do a disservice to the amount of work Christopher (assisted by Guy Kay) put into that process and to his intimate knowledge of the legendarium even before a further 20 years of research while editing The History of Middle-earth, it is by now well-documented how, even in the course of individual passages, Christopher sometimes picked parts of texts written years or decades apart in order to assemble something that, while almost all of the words were written by his father, differs in many significant and less-than-significant ways from the source texts. The difference between this process and fan attempts at ironing out inconsistencies is, of course, that Christopher has been the foremost living authority on Arda since 1973 and had his father's blessing "to publish edit alter rewrite or complete any work of mine which may be unpublished at my death or to destroy the whole or any part or parts of any such unpublished works as he in his absolute discretion may think fit and subject thereto". So putting stock in Christopher's creative decisions, even when he later expressed self-doubt, is a perfectly reasonable approach to take.

It's also one that, arguably, produces a result closer in general approach--if not in specific detail--to what Tolkien himself would have produced had he ever managed to finish "The Silmarillion". Tolkien placed significant importance on consistency with his published works, and I'm not sure this always gets the attention it deserves (not speaking of Elthir here). To again quote myself rather than rewording stuff I've written about in the past, since I'm lazy:

http://www.thehalloffire.net/forum/viewtopic.php?p=336348#p336348

I think that "The Problem of Ros" is indicative of how Tolkien viewed the importance of texts that had been published versus texts that hadn't. He considered the meaning of Elros to have been "fixed by mention in The Lord of the Rings", whereas the story attached to the meaning of Maedros and Amros (included in the chapter "The Shibboleth of Fëanor") was merely "desirable to retain". And despite coming up with a rather detailed explanation, he later wrote "most of this fails" because of the meaning of Cair Andros given in Appendix A. As Christopher puts it: this "forced [his father] to accept that the element of -ros in Elros must be the same as that in Cair Andros".

Granted, as Elthir (and others) note, Tolkien continued to "niggle" with even the published parts of the legendarium for his entire life. I have no doubt that he would have done so with a published "Silmarillion", just as he did with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But I think it's fairly clear that Tolkien wanted a coherent and internally consistent "Silmarillion". While it would undoubtedly have looked different from the 1977 version (Charles Noad's essay in the collection Tolkien's Legendarium (2000, ed. Flieger and Hostetter) outlines a plausible structure of the Silm as Tolkien likely conceived of it late in his life) and would undoubtedly have included a framing device which would have made that aspect of the "impression of depth" more obvious to the casual of reader (cf. HoMe I, Foreword), Tolkien's version of "The Silmarillion" would probably not have included one of its features most beloved by many of the world's finest Tolkien scholars. Whether Tolkien was capable of finishing "The Silmarillion" is another question--I don't think he would have even with another 20 years--but we spend so much time arguing over his intentions for a reason. Anyway, here are a couple quotes from the Letters since I know I'm veering away from orthodoxy right now myself (emphases mine).

Letter 19 (1937) wrote:I promise to give this thought and attention. But I am sure you will sympathize when I say that the construction of elaborate and consistent mythology (and two languages) rather occupies the mind, and the Silmarils are in my heart. So that goodness knows what will happen. Mr Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent Grimm's fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn into the edge of it – so that even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge.
Letter 247 (1963) wrote:I am afraid all the same that the presentation will need a lot of work, and I work so slowly. The legends have to be worked over (they were written at different times, some many years ago) and made consistent; and they have to be integrated with The L.R. ; and they have to be given some progressive shape. No simple device, like a journey and a quest, is available.

Much of Wise's piece is devoted to literary analysis of the 1977 Silmarillion, which is outside my wheelhouse, but I think he makes a number of interesting observations about the ways in which the work is more coherent than it is sometimes made out to be (even by its own editor) and how it displays clear and consistent themes that speak to a single authorial voice, despite the nature of its composition in the Primary World. One of his most interesting arguments is the case he makes for considering the Akallabêth and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age to be of a piece with the Quenta Silmarillion (disagreeing with Christopher in the process). However, I think Wise overstates the extent to which his interpretation necessitates a different mindset from the compilation thesis. In one of two analyses of specific passages--the description of Maedhros' and Maglor's conversation before they steal the Silmarils from Eönwë's camp--Wise writes:

Wise, p. 108-9 wrote:Let us notice something else. Allegedly, this is a private conversation between two brothers; the text does not mention anyone else as present. On what authority does the text present this conversation? An earlier passage further calls everything into question: “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” (S 251). The text admits that no reliable primary documentation exists for the War of Wrath. The few extant documents come only at secondhand, composed from information “learned long afterwards.” [...] (Gut instinct tells me that Tolkien had originally written this passage to give some explanation for how these events might become known to posterity; but, if so, the “explanation” seems to undermine his intention dreadfully.) [...]

Let me propose that whoever physically wrote these passages down in the fictional world had simply invented the entire conversation. (And now I begin to drop the pose of “text-active” language.) We know that the Maedhros-Maglor passage, by itself, is no “innocent” rendering of a conversation—it deliberately suppresses pieces of dialogue that certainly occurred in the event-story; the strategy makes Maglor’s views prominent without calling attention to their failure. So whoever wrote this passage—and someone obviously did—had a clear moral purpose: he wanted to uphold a certain ethical principle, the idea that—when faced with two evil choices—the lesser of two evils should be done.

After continuing to make his case for the 1977 Silmarillion as a coherent artistic statement, Wise further states:

Wise, p. 114 wrote:Such a unified structure is lost, I suggest, if we attempt to reduce The Silmarillion to a compilation of hypotexts. Combined, these chapters are powerful. That power can be best explained by a writer-narrator’s careful, guiding hand.
Wise, p. 118 wrote:Closely tied to the “unified text” thesis is the idea that, within the textual world, a writer-narrator must have written this unified text and intended its higher meaning. We know nothing about him beyond what may be gleaned from his composition. As Nils Ivar Agøy has suggested, this narrator is probably a Man speaking to a Mannish audience that knows little of Elvish tradition; the narrator must come from the Fourth Age or later (159). To these characteristics, I have added “extreme rhetorical skill” and a “moral viewpoint of high seriousness.” More concerned with ethical knowledge than with “true history,” this writer-narrator aims to lead his audience to the Good Life, the life rightly led—rectitude in the face of tragedy, humility toward God or the gods. I would diverge from Agøy, though, by refusing to equate the narrator’s voice with Tolkien’s own. As most narrative theory holds, and as Paul Edmund Thomas says, the “narrator’s voice is not and cannot be precisely equivalent to Tolkien’s voice, because Tolkien stands both inside and outside the novel” (162). Our narrator may share Tolkien’s moral earnestness and “silver tongue,” but they are not the same.

And this is where I sort of start to diverge. I think the main difference between Wise and those he criticizes is less about how to analyze the First Age material in general and more about the status ascribed specifically to the 1977 Silmarillion. The '77 Silm is often disregarded because it was not assembled by Tolkien himself and it both diverges from and excludes much of (what many people consider to be) the most interesting First Age material. But considering the '77 Silm as worthy of study and appreciation on its own merits does not divorce it from internal source material. As Wise earlier noted (p. 104 and note 3), the '77 Silm makes reference to a variety of both titled and untitled sources that it is ostensibly based on. (At the same time, many of those source were also the actual basis of the '77 Silm in the Primary World.) Whether you accept the '77 Silm or not, you have to make judgments like the ones Wise describes when dealing with any First Age text.

Here I think we run into another problem: not only how to classify the '77 Silm, but how to classify the material in HoMe. If we want the complete story of the Fall of Gondolin, for instance, we must turn to the version found in The Book of Lost Tales (or the '77 Silm, which in turn drew heavily on the BoLT version). But how are we to do this? Are we putting on our Christopher Tolkien hats and patching over holes left by Tolkien in chronologically later texts? Or are we treating the BoLT version as one of the Secondary World source texts (what Wise calls hypotexts)? In the case of BoLT, my stance has long been that it must be the former--that version of the legendarium is simply too different in too many ways from Tolkien's later conceptions for it to conceivably have been written by characters living in the Arda described Tolkien in the '50s and '60s, if not earlier, or the Arda described in 1977. This is probably not too controversial a statement about BoLT, but when it comes to the Aelfwine framing device as described in the '20s and '30s--or the traces of it visible in other material prior to the second edition of LOTR--a lot of people go with the latter interpretation.

In fairness, there is a case to be made here. Dawn Walls-Thumma, also known as Dawn Felagund in fan circles (who I met at the 2016 NY Tolkien Conference and have a great deal of respect for) is, like much of the Tolkien studies community on Tumblr and other online spaces associated with the fanfic community, a major proponent of analyzing "The Silmarillion" as an Elvish work, though she places less stress on Aelfwine--or the more general question of the Secondary World history of the text after its composition--than on its ostensible authorship by Pengolodh, to whom so many works in the post-LOTR period were attributed (Aelfwine's role having been mostly reduced to translator by then).

https://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch/vol3/iss3/3/

Walls-Thumma, pp. 5-6 (note 2) wrote:Douglas Charles Kane makes the argument that Tolkien eventually rejected Pengolodh as the primary Silmarillion loremaster in favor of a mortal, Númenórean tradition. Kane draws on the evidence presented in Myths Transformed, where twice in the late 1950s, Tolkien wrote of his intention that "the Mythology must actually be a 'Mannish' affair," handed on by the Eldar to the Númenóreans, who recorded it (1993, pp. 370, 401). Christopher Tolkien identified the confusion over the tradition as a "fundamental problem" that he solved by eliminating reference to the loremasters and tradition altogether in the published Silmarillion (p. 205). I disagree with Kane that these late notes are in any way definitive. To change the narrative point of view of the entire Silmarillion is no small feat, and while one can interpret the lack of mention of Pengolodh in The Later Quenta Silmarillion II (LQ2), which is contemporaneous with the notes in Myths Transformed, as evidence of Tolkien carrying his intentions to fruition, the same draft contains no revisions that suggest a Númenórean narrator. In fact, two sections added to LQ2 represent a distinctively Eldarin point of view: Laws and Customs among the Eldar and The Statute of Finwë and Míriel. Both of these sections contain significant material concerning Elven views on eschatology. Given the Númenórean preoccupation with death, it defies credibility that, if Tolkien wrote this material with a Númenórean narrator in mind, that this narrator would be able to resist commenting on this material. Rather, what seems to have happened is what happened with other radical changes Tolkien contemplated in the writings collected in Myths Transformed: He contemplated them only, never progressing to the stage of modifying the mythology to actually reflect them.

I think there are two related points here. The first is that when reading a specific text it's worth remembering what Tolkien had in mind at the time of its composition. I would agree with this--it makes no more sense to retroactively apply later framing devices to BoLT than to do the reverse. And as late as the 1950s, if you're going to read, say, the Dangweth Pengolodh on its own, then Aelfwine should be kept in mind. (Though you might not want to do so with all contemporaneous works; the Númenórean transmission rears its head in the Annals of Aman.) But I think the second point--that Tolkien would have had to rewrite a great many works for the Númenórean transmission to be rightly considered anything more than a transient idea--rests on an overly broad definition of "the Mythology" in the meaning relevant to Myths Transformed. Elthir has been eloquently arguing this point here and on other forums for years and I don't want to step on his turf too much, but in short, the idea of the Númenórean transmission does not require thinking of all of the First Age material as human-authored.

I agree with Dawn that there are many texts which it makes little sense to view as human-authored, though there are others which might have required relatively little rewriting to be incorporated into the new scheme. I think it was Charles Noad who suggested (in his aforementioned article) that Tolkien might have rewritten the Dangweth Pengolodh to depict Elrond answering Bilbo rather than Pengolodh answering Aelfwine, but I can't verify that right now since I am, as usual, writing in isolation from many of my books. That one's a little tricky because it has be an exchange between a mortal and an elf, but many other elf-authored works could be incorporated into the new scheme with practically no rewriting at all since there's nothing in either the Númenórean transmission or the related Red Book conceit saying that there were no elf-authored texts preserved alongside human-authored ones. You can even keep Pengolodh if you want to--most of his work was written in Middle-earth and would presumably have been kept in the libraries of Lindon and Imladris, and from the latter could be included by Bilbo in his Transmissions from the Elvish. The Elves of Tol Eressëa visited Númenor for much of the Second Age and we know they brought lore (whether oral or written) with them because Vardamir Nólimon, the nominal second king of Númenor, collected it from them (UT, The Line of Elros)--though he probably lived too early to get any of Pengolodh's works. But he was hardly the last Númenórean loremaster.

Unfortunately, much published Tolkien scholarship which touches on these questions is hobbled by scholars following in the footsteps of Verlyn Flieger. Obviously, Flieger is one of the world's leading Tolkien scholars, but she has a bizarre blind spot concerning the Red Book transmission. I posted a critique of her treatment of this topic back when I first purchased a copy of Interrupted Music (link), but that book seems to be the first place most scholars turn. Nicole duPlessis, writing in last year's Tolkien Studies (source), uncritically quoted a line from Flieger that I'd forgotten: "Tolkien’s clear intent that the book [The Lord of the Rings] as held in the reader’s hand should also be the book within the book" (Interrupted Music, p. 77; qtd. in duPlessis, p. 11). This is, bluntly, a serious misreading of the text. TH and LOTR were ostensibly based upon the Red Book, but were adapted and rewritten for a modern audience (see the first page of the Prologue to LOTR; the "Note on the Shire records" later in the Prologue; the note that directly precedes Appendix A; section two of Appendix F, "On Translation"; et passim). Fortunately, there has been some recent pushback to this. In the same volume of Tolkien Studies as duPlessis, Janet Brennan Croft, in a significantly improved version (see here) of the paper she presented at the 2016 NYTC (which I briefly mentioned at the time in another thread) quotes Flieger but also Vladimir Brljak's rebuttal (p. 188).

Brljak (Tolkien Studies vol. 7 (2010), link here) notes that the problems Flieger describes "disappear with the premise of this unknown literary synthesizer, or several of them, somewhere down the line" who adapted the Red Book of Westmarch into The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion (p. 13). As with Wise and The Silmarillion, Brljak considers the identity of his synthesizer to be a mystery, but notes that they must have made many creative decisions and invented much of the dialogue (same as the aforementioned Maedhros and Maglor conversation).

Brljak, p. 14 wrote:We have no means of reconstructing the process by which this author—let us, for ease of reference, employ the singular—trans- formed the “memoir” into “feigned history” or literary narrative. We cannot determine which elements he found in the source-texts and which were later additions, interpolations, creative fictional embellishments—it is, for example, this unknown author who must have contributed most of the dialogue.

I have a couple problems with this. The first is that Tolkien explicitly identified himself as the "synthesizer" in the runes found on the title pages of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (cf. Croft's above-linked essay, pp. 186-188). Even without that, however, I think the most parsimonious interpretation of the authorial voice of the Prologue and other "out of universe" comments is that it is Tolkien's, rather than inventing a hypothetical second modern translator. Obviously, this can not be the real Tolkien, as the Red Book does not exist in reality; Tolkien himself noted that the Foreword to the first edition of LOTR muddled the distinction between the actual and ostensible writing process. As quoted above, Wise quotes and agrees with Paul Edmund Thomas that the narrator of The Silmarillion cannot be Tolkien, as "most narrative theory" (Wise's wording) holds. I am not a literary theorist and have no academic background in that field, but as far as my personal Silmarillion is concerned, I see no reason why Tolkien, "stand[ing] both inside and outside the novel" (Thomas' wording), cannot be both the ostensible discoverer of the Red Book ("inside") and the actual author who was asked to write a sequel to The Hobbit in 1937 and included a fictionalized version of himself in the book's framing device ("outside"). While not directly comparable, Tolkien wrote fictionalized versions of himself and the other Inklings into the The Notion Club Papers, where they served as mediators between the present and the ancient past, though this involved much more than just translating an ancient book.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I would go as far Jeremy Painter (Tolkien Studies vol. 13 (2016), link here). However, it was incredibly gratifying to finally read a published paper that understood the Red Book conceit, correctly described it in the very first paragraph, and low-key called out other scholars for not taking it seriously. Painter argues that, despite the adaptational process carried out by "Tolkien's narrative personal (a scholar of Middle-earth lore)", it is possible to (imperfectly) distinguish between three distinct source traditions for The Lord of the Rings, based on the scheme outlined in the Prologue.

Painter, pp. 125-126 wrote:The first of these archive centers is located at Undertowers, from which Sam’s descendants hailed; the second is Great Smials, where Pippin’s descendants collected manuscripts from Gondor; and the third is Brandy Hall, which housed, among other manuscripts, Merry’s works... Thus, following the Prologue’s lead, we can identify three basic narrative threads, consisting largely (but not exclusively) of three dominant character viewpoints: Frodo’s and Sam’s, Merry’s, and Pippin’s.1 For the purposes of this article, Tolkien-the-compiler’s auctores (or, more broadly, “authorized sources”) are designated Æ (“Ælfwine,” or Elf-friend), a tradition primarily superintended by Sam Gamgee and his descendants; H (“Holbytla”), a tradition beginning with Merry, the sword-thain of Rohan; and P (“Periannath”), a source that can be traced back to Pippin and his special relationship with Gondor and its citizens.

Painter considers this sense (as he perceives it) of The Lord of the Rings being based on identifiably distinct sources to be partially responsible for the impression of depth in his work. He essentially conducts the inverse of Wise's process, challenging the authorial singularity of a work published in Tolkien's lifetime vs building a case for the authorial singularity of a posthumously published work (though Wise did not wholly reject the idea of depth since the '77 Silm still refers to other sources). Painter's analysis gets fairly technical and I don't want to get too caught up in LOTR right now, but it's definitely thought-provoking. Painter repeatedly acknowledges that we can't isolate specific lines as definitely belonging to one of these hypothesized sources but argues that the ambiguity helps create the sense of depth.  (On the other hand, when studying the construction of The Silmarillion from Primary World source texts written by Tolkien, much of it can be identified line-by-line, as demonstrated by Doug Kane in Arda Reconstructed.)

Jumping around a bit, the most important discussion of depth in Tolkien's works seems to be Michael Drout et al's "Tolkien’s Creation of the Impression of Depth" (Tolkien Studies vol. 11 (2014), link here). The phrase "impression of depth" comes from Tolkien's discussion of Beowulf, but as far as I can tell Drout is responsible for its use by scholars such as Wise and Painter in relation to Tolkien's own writing. (Beowulf is also one of Drout's specialties, in any event; for a non-paywalled and perhaps more accessible take by him, see this lecture on YouTube.) Drout et al's computer-assisted analysis of the multiple versions of the Túrin story is very interesting but gets into way more granular detail than I'm able (or want) to discuss right now. However, Drout et al make a lot of comments about how inconsistencies and gaps in the stories increase the impression of depth. This includes inconsistencies within single narratives such as characters contradicting each other--which wouldn't necessarily mean multiple authors were involved--as well as contradictions between texts and references to other, nonexistent stories (see particularly pp. 176-178).

Drout is one of the main scholars who Wise disagreed with. For my part, I personally find the impression of depth as Drout describes it to be one of the most engaging parts of the legendarium. Trying to get back to my original point, this necessitates a framing device. There's no rebuttal that can be offered to a statement like Wise's that he "ha[s] never felt the lack of any narrative framing device to be a lack" (his emphasis), but personal preference aside, I think the removal of the framing device from The Silmarillion meaningfully changes it. The vast majority of readers do not read with the same analytical eye as Wise to draw conclusions about the nature of the narrator (not that this is a bad thing). I can only speak anecdotally, but I think relatively few people come away from the '77 Silm with the impression that it was written by "a Man speaking to a Mannish audience that knows little of Elvish tradition" (Agøy quoted by Wise, p. 118). The Tolkien fanfiction community does not, as a general rule, take that approach (see Dawn Walls-Thumma's above-linked article), nor do I think it is a majority position on Tolkien message boards, which operate in a semi-distinct environment. No less an authority than Tom Shippey equates The Silmarillion with Tolkien's concept (from "On Fairy-stories") of "[t]he human-stories of the elves"--which is to say, stories about humans written by Elves (J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, pp. 247-249).

ETA: I must admit (and was only just reminded by another paper) that in Letter 212, Tolkien states "it must be remembered that mythically these tales are Elf-centred, not anthropocentric, and Men only appear in them, at what must be a point long after their Coming. This is therefore an 'Elvish' view, and does not necessarily have anything to say for or against such beliefs as the Christian that 'death' is not part of human nature, but a punishment for sin (rebellion), a result of the 'Fall'. It should be regarded as an Elvish perception of what death — not being tied to the 'circles of the world' – should now become for Men, however it arose." However, this letter is almost entirely concerned with events from the early part of The Silmarillion and is more about the philosophical and religious implications of such things as the creation of the dwarves, and does not deal so much with stories per se. As I attempt to argue below, I think this difference is more than mere semantics, that the notion of singular authorship of "The Silmarillion" (not The Silmarillion) is unnecessary, and that the Great Tales and other material from after the Edain establish themselves in Beleriand is better understood as their own distinct set of works.

ETA 2: For the first time ever, I've hit the maximum post length for this forum (it's apparently somewhere below 65,000 characters and 10,000 words), so this will have to be split into two posts.


Last edited by Eldy on Thu Feb 14, 2019 3:37 pm; edited 1 time in total
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The Eldy Review of Lore Empty Re: The Eldy Review of Lore

Post by Eldy on Thu Feb 14, 2019 3:24 pm

Insofar as one wishes to take the legendarium "seriously" and have a common basis from which to analyze it, ambiguity over its in-universe provenance is a major issue. While I'm not a very good person to speak about this from a literary criticism perspective, I think understanding a work's authorship is one important consideration when understanding the work as a whole. Maybe not if you're Roland Barthés (though I know enough to know he's not universally agreed with), but at the very least, misunderstanding the identity of an author and then applying that misunderstanding to your analysis seems, to me, self-evidently problematic. (This may be too harshly worded; there is enough uncertainty surrounding the legendarium that I wouldn't describe people as wrong for not subscribing to the Red Book transmission, but I think it's almost certainly incorrect to deny Tolkien was using it by, at most, the second half of the 1960s).

Despite my beef with Verlyn Flieger over the Red Book transmission, I think she has has some great insights on the subject of internal source traditions, and reading Interrupted Music is part of the reason I started thinking more about this issue. But first, let me try to lay out the perspective I'm coming from here, again by quoting an old post of mine because, Jesus Christ, I've been working on this for like five ten twelve hours now.

http://newboards.theonering.net/forum/gforum/perl/gforum.cgi?post=940564#940564

The Fall of the Noldor, for as much as I enjoy that story, is separate from [the story cycle that begins with the Dagor Bragollach] in a number of ways. There's a temporal separation due to the 400 year Siege of Angband during which Beleriand is relatively peaceful and therefore less interesting, but more importantly there aren't any humans present. For as much as The Silmarillion is generally seen as being about Elves, humans are the reason for most of the events summarized above taking place, and most of the protagonists in the stories are human. Humans are also essential to The Silmarillion from a thematic perspective. To understand The Silmarillion as a mythology (which I think is how it was intended to be understood) we need to know to which culture that mythology belonged and who transmitted it down through the generations. (Verlyn Flieger makes this point in Interrupted Music much more eloquently than I'm doing here.) For much of his life Tolkien wrote the Silm stories within the frame narrative centered on Eriol/Aelfwine, although most of the specifics tying him to English prehistory were eventually stripped away. However, I think there is solid evidence that Tolkien abandoned the idea of Eriol/Aelfwine in favor of the Bilbo/Red Book transmission by the end of his life.

With that in mind, the overall "point" of The Silmarillion which it drives toward is the preservation and transmission of Elvish legend, language, and -- in the form of the Half-Elven -- genetics. (I don't think it's a coincidence that every elf-human marriage was between a male human and a female elf, since all known Middle-earth cultures were patrilineal.) In the BoLT Tolkien described how the mythology allowed the English, through Eriol, to preserve "the true tradition of the fairies". I think that Tolkien's discussion of the mythology as a Númenórean creation during the Myths Transformed era and later should be understood as a variant on this same idea: "the true tradition of the Eldar", if you will. That is, in any event, essentially how the Quenta Silmarillion ends. Beleriand is destroyed and almost all of the Elvish and Edainic royal houses are extinct, except for the line preserved by the Half-Elven. One of whom becomes a great king of Men whose eldest son dedicates himself to collecting stories from both Elves and Men (UT, The Line of Elros), and whose descendants are known as Elf-friends and (King's Men/Black Númenóreans notwithstanding) maintain a closer connection to the Elves than any other group of humans. And ultimately the tales of the Third Age conclude with the two branches of the Half-Elven reunited and that connection rejuvenated for a time.

Unfortunately, Interrupted Music is one of the many books I don't have with me, so I'm working primarily from notes I took almost three years ago and therefore can't offer page numbers or many exact quotes. Flieger states that a mythology has two important purposes--establishing a connection to the transcendent and providing moral instruction--and that it is therefore essential to understand "whose myth is it?" Wise argues persuasively that the author of the 1977 Silmarillion had a number of moral lessons he (it was probably a he) wanted to impart. However, I am (following Flieger) unsatisfied with this knowledge if there is no way to ground it in an understanding of the author's broader social context and likely moral beliefs beyond those expressed in the text. Likewise, the idea of a connection with the transcendent loses much of its meaning without a context of who, exactly, is on the other end of that connection.

In Tolkien's earliest stories it was very clear who this was: the English nation. The Book of Lost Tales abounds with references to English geography, English (and pre-arrival-in-Britain Anglo-Saxon) history, and Tolkien's own personal connections to his home country. The stories were themselves set in England or something close to it; Tol Eressëa, which was much more important to the early mythology than its later role as a glorified ferry, was at various points literally and symbolically the island of Great Britain. And the young Tolkien, displaying something of an inferiority complex regarding his jealousy of other countries' better-preserved mythologies, straight-up wrote in one fragment summing up the BoLT: "[t]hus it is that through Eriol and his sons the Engle (i.e. the English) have the true tradition of the fairies, of whom the Iras and the Wealas (the Irish and the Welsh) tell garbled things." (HoMe II; also no page numbers, sorry ;_; )

Most of the specific English connections in BoLT have limited relevance to the later legendarium, but some of the basic ideas persisted. John Garth, in Tolkien and the Great War, is pretty critical of the later "Silmarillion" works following the Lost Tales and the Lays, writing "the physical and psychological detail of the narrative poems was largely excluded as well. [...] The long English prehistory between the voyage of Eärendel and the Faring Forth was abandoned. The 'Silmarillion' in all its versions retreats from fairy-story, and the 'contact with the earth' that Tolkien had thought so important fades away, while the epic heroes tend to merge into the 'vast backcloths'" (p. 280). I think this is a bit too harsh when applied to some of the post-WWII material, but it's definitely an accurate description of the 1930s versions of what became the Quenta Silmarillion (fire emoji would go here if this forum supported them). However, he is considerably more generous towards the Third Age works, writing:

Garth, p. 307 wrote:By the time The Hobbit appeared, Tolkien had long abandoned the identification of the Lonely Isle with Britain, and the story of a Germanic or Anglo-Saxon mariner hearing the 'true tradition' of the Elves had dwindled to the occasional 'editorial' aside in the 'Silmarillion'. The myth was no longer, in any geographic or cultural respect, about the genesis of England. But the loosening of these links – together with the new scope for naturalistic portraiture that accompanied his move away from epic modes – meant paradoxically that Tolkien could now write about 'Englishness' in a more meaningful way than in drawing linear connections through vast aeons. He could model hobbits directly on English people as he had known them in and around his cherished childhood home of Sarehole near Birmingham, borrowing aspects of custom, society, character, and speech.

That the Shire is representative of England is widely understood even by people who have only read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings casually, but this doesn't have to be--and, I would argue, shouldn't be--understood separately from the English aspects of the mythology. I can't believe I'm drawing a connection between The Lord of the Rings and the infamous "mythology for England" (which is not a phrase Tolkien ever used) since the common misconceptions about that have always really bugged me, but I think it's important. Several years ago, Simon Cook (who, incidentally, used to post on the LOTR Plaza as "Smials") wrote a really good article called "The Peace of Frodo: On the Origin of an English Mythology" (Tolkien Studies vol. 12 (2015), link here) arguing that Tolkien's understanding of what an English mythology would look like was influenced by the contemporary work of philologist and historian Hector Munro Chadwick. Cook states that the history of the Anglo-Saxons before arriving in Britain was of significant importance to both Chadwick and Tolkien, and thus, the geographical connections to England are of less importance to the mythology than many scholars consider it to be. It is worth noting, as Cook does, that the original version of Eriol/Aelfwine lived before the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England (Tolkien appended his new character to the legend of Hengist and Horsa, who supposedly led said conquest, by making Eriol their father).

Cook puts particular emphasis on the recurring concept of marriage between an immortal (divine and/or elf-)woman and mortal man. (For a shorter but non-paywalled version of his argument, see the section "Tolkien's English Mythology" in this essay from the late, lamented Plaza Scholars Forum.) The fact that every human/elf marriage, including the likely but unconfirmed union of Imrazôr and Mithrellas, followed that gender pattern has fascinated me since I first noticed it the better part of a decade ago, and my further reading in Tolkien scholarship since I was 15-ish has increased my belief that it is of central importance, even before getting to Cook's article. I'm not knowledgeable enough about Germanic mythology and history to give a full evaluation of Cook's arguments, but I will quote part of his conclusion. I find it generally convincing, so I'm only going to bold the part where I partially disagree.

Cook, p. 71 wrote:After Aragorn’s coronation comes his wedding to Arwen. In the first instance, the story of this marriage provides the new conjectural source for all those later traditions and folktales concerning the marriage of mortal man with goddess or fairy queen. Indeed, as opposed to the earlier stories of the two mortal men who marry Elves, and so become a part of the traditions of the First Age, this story of an Elf-maid who marries a mortal becomes one of the traditions told about and by mortal Men. Nevertheless, with this wedding Tolkien looks backward as well as forward. I suggested earlier that the conception of the union of Eärendel’s parents was Tolkien’s first exercise in the construction of an asterisk-story. It could be said that the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen replaces that of Eärendel’s parents (and subsequently, also Beren and Lúthien) as the proposed source of later traditions; but this later union also replicates the original, for Arwen as well as Aragorn is a descendant of Eärendel. The tale of Eärendel “the evening star” is thus recalled in the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen— as indeed is indicated in the description of Arwen, as she rides to her wedding, as the “Evenstar of her people” (RK, VI, v, 251).

In the figure of Aragorn, then, are united most of the Northern traditions chartered by Chadwick. Of course, Tolkien’s asterisk-story is not a mirror image of these traditions. It might be objected, for example, that not only is Arwen not a goddess, but also although born an Elf she dies a mortal. But the point of an asterisk-story is that it constitutes the source of later stories, and Arwen’s choice of mortality by no means invalidates the idea that in later traditions she became first a goddess of the earth and then a fairy queen. Something similar applies to the fate of Gandalf and Frodo in later myths and legends. [...]

I think Cook actually sells his own argument short here. If we take Tolkien's comments about the "Mannish" Númenórean nature of the Great Tales--not, as noted above, the entire First Age corpus--then Cook's argument also applies to the stories of Beren and Lúthien and Tuor and Idril with no caveat. I think being able to consider all three unions of the Half-Elven together in this manner is not only more convenient for this particular argument but also improves the overall cohesion of the legendarium and makes it a stronger artistic statement. In the same letter as the English mythology comment--indeed, later in the same paragraph--Tolkien continued to describe his early vision that "[t]he cycles should be linked to a majestic whole" (Letters, no. 131). While LOTR was not yet conceived at the point in time Tolkien was recalling, he also wrote, in a separate letter to Waldman, of his later view that "the Silmarillion etc. and The Lord of the Rings went together, as one long Saga of the Jewels and the Rings, and that I was resolved to treat them as one thing, however they might formally be issued." (Letters, no. 126)

This is a famous quote, but I think it's relevance to the framing device debate is often overlooked. It seems rather obvious to me that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion can not, in fact, be "one thing" if they do not share a common internal textual tradition, which in practice means a framing device. There is no "majestic whole" if one of the stories comes down to the present through the Red Book and one through the Golden Book, only becoming associated with each other in the 20th century when they were ostensibly translated by the same person. I think most people implicitly realize the silliness of that scenario, so there have been attempts to merge the Eriol and Bilbo transmissions somehow. Charles Noad and Verlyn Flieger have both offered ideas of how Tolkien might have done so, particularly if he had also decided to continue The Notion Club Papers, which includes lots of weird mystical shit (a highly technical term) that can be used to paper over many gaps. Flieger is particularly fond of TNCP, describing Tolkien's decision to drop the tale as...

Flieger, final chapter of Interrupted Music wrote:...a pity, and the Tolkien canon thereby suffered a great loss, first, because the shift from mythic fantasy to science fiction in the Atlantis story would have had a narrative style and direction hitherto untried, and, second, because each venture had, in a different way and at a different period in its author's creative life, explored uncharted narrative ground--the Eriol-Saga by marrying actual history and real-world myth to a fictive mythology, and the Atlantis stories by using memory as a vehicle for time travel.

I have, at times, been a little flippant about this, because the simple fact of the matter is Tolkien didn't do any of this--but he did extend the Red Book framing device in the second edition of LOTR in a way that is compatible with increased mentions of Númenórean transmission in the framing devices of First and Second Age works. As noted above, I think the practical objections to this are unfounded: there is no reason why the Red Book can't have included more "accurate" Elvish historical and philological texts as well as more "literary" human works, translated by Bilbo (or Findegil, or whoever) for their cultural or artistic merit, not because they were strictly accurate. I think the idea that Núménorean or Gondorian works could not have been found in the library of Imladris to be ridiculous, but additions were made to the Red Book in Fourth Age Gondor, so it really doesn't matter. The fact that many people are attached to Aelfwine or to The Notion Club Papers doesn't change any of this.

There's an understandable reluctance to let "The Silmarillion", already the least-popular of Tolkien's three major works, become simply an appendix to something else, whether that's The Lord of the Rings or English prehistory. Anders Stenström, in his contribution to the 1992 J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference (available for free here), critiques the notion that Tolkien's work was an "asterisk-mythology": an attempt to reconstruct the myths that the ancestors of the English actually told. However, I'm sympathetic to Simon Cook's view that the asterisk-mythology idea remained part of Tolkien's creative mindset for decades despite evolving and increasingly diverging from whatever the true historical form was. Stenström goes on to note that The Silmarillion or its precursors can only be seen as a mythology "when reduced (or raised) to the background of something else", but that "when you are there, in the actual stories, the stage is always set in front of the vast backcloths, where things are becoming less mythical and more storial, passing into history" (p. 313). This is true enough: the "unattainable vistas" Tolkien spoke of (Letters, no. 247) are just important a part of the literary effect of stories set in Beleriand, where the characters were looking back on and consciously emulating Valinor, as they are of stories in Third Age Middle-earth, where Beleriand itself had become one of the objects of nostalgia and emulation.

Retelling or experiencing those stories with more novelistic immediacy (or the immediacy of fanfiction; see again Dawn Walls-Thumma's essay) is, of course, a different experience than reading the highly condensed texts we have. This is especially true of the 1977 Silmarillion, which is highly abbreviated in form, but it is true to a lesser degree of most of Tolkien's First Age works (as John Garth noted as well). If the less novelistic nature of "The Silmarillion" as compared to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is a criticism, then it is a criticism that transcends the framing device debate. As Tolkien wrote regarding Elf-authored texts:

HoMe XII, The Shibboleth of Fëanor wrote:All peace and all strongholds were at last destroyed by Morgoth; but if any wonder how any lore and treasure was preserved from ruin, it may be answered: of the treasure little was preserved, and the loss of things of beauty great and small is incalculable; but the lore of the Eldar did not depend on perishable records, being stored in the vast houses of their minds. When the Eldar made records in written form, even those that to us would seem voluminous, they did only summarise, as it were, for the use of others whose lore was maybe in other fields of knowledge, matters which were kept for ever undimmed in intricate detail in their minds.

However, I do not consider the remote nature of "The Silmarillion" a flaw. Rather, I see it as part of a vast trend, covering the whole cycle of the legendarium from the First to the early Fourth Ages, of a gradual (and at times interrupted) transition from the mythical to the "storial". At the beginning of this process are the Ainulindalë and other very early pre-Eldarin myths. Once the Eldar appear we begin to get more character-focused stories, but with very little context for what their lives were like outside the events we glimpse (which is probably one of the reasons the subject is so attractive to fanfic authors). The Great Tales are another step towards things seeming more concrete, and the first stage at which the nostalgia is not simply for something inaccessible (Valinor hidden from the Exiles) but something the central characters have never known--and never will, either (Tuor maybe notwithstanding). Most of the Númenor material is pretty remote and mythological in nature, though we also have "Aldarion and Erendis", which IMO features some of Tolkien's most memorable characters. Then there's the Third Age, where we at last find something like modern novels (though Tolkien disliked the term; cf. Letters, no. 329). The theme of transition and the passing of an Age is central to LOTR and by the time you reach the Fourth Age stories are far less fantastical or "heroic" in nature and not at all mythical, as Tolkien noted when describing his decision to abandon The New Shadow (Letters, no. 256).

It is only by having successors, I think, that "The Silmarillion" can fully flourish. All of Tolkien's stories benefit from the backdrops of history and the sense of depth behind them, but by its nature as a more mythological world, "The Silmarillion" is better appreciated when we have an understanding of who those myths belonged to. The eucatastrophe of the star of Eärendil's appearance is a great moment and I think most readers are pretty invested in the surviving characters of the Silm at that point, but knowing it's the same star glimpsed by Sam in Mordor (after going on a quest with one of Eärendil's descendants) adds even greater resonance. Reading about the Fall of Doriath and knowing that it would still be a sticking point between Elves and Dwarves, including characters we get to know fairly well, more than 6000 years later significantly ups the stakes. And a lot of the statements in the Silm about how impressive certain characters are ring truer if you know what happened later. We can be told that "the Leap of Beren is renowned among Men and Elves" (TS, Of Beren and Lúthien) and be left thinking, well I guess he can jump really well then, but when we read LOTR we see firsthand just how renowned Beren and Lúthien were, which makes their story feel a lot more impressive than just being flatly told that it is.

In the portion of the letter to Waldman not included in the Letters but later published in Hammond & Scull's The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (and quoted by the same on p. 656 of the first edition of the Reader's Guide), Tolkien states of The Return of the King that "it is the function of the longish coda to show the cost of victory (as always), and to show that no victory, even on a world-shaking scale, is final. The war will go on, taking other modes." This is thematically essential: ending The Lord of the Rings on a less ambiguous note would have undercut, among other things, the core notion of the long defeat, which is intimately connected to many of Tolkien's most important themes.

FOTR, II 7 wrote:He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.
Letters, no. 195 wrote:Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.

Much the same is true of "The Silmarillion"; ending it with the War of Wrath and the conclusion of the First Age does not work. It needs its own "longish coda" to depict how history and "the war" go on. Wise made a similar point (p. 115) when describing why he felt the Akallabêth was essential to include as part of The Silmarillion, and I'm pretty sure this has been noticed by plenty of people, though I'm not going to try to dig up any other citations right now. However, I don't find the Akallabêth and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age to be fully satisfying, given how short they are. They work as part of a single volume, certainly, but I think most readers who got to the end of The Silmarillion would be highly disappointed if there was no way to learn anything more about the 6000 years of history summarized in its final 70 pages. While The Lord of the Rings is obviously far too long to be considered a coda to "The Silmarillion", it is a fairly direct sequel in terms of continuing the themes of the earlier work and was clearly considered to be so by Tolkien, as stated in the "one long Saga" letter. Insofar as "The Silmarillion" is about Elves (and their relationship with humans), it's not until the conclusion of LOTR that you finally get their complete story, when "an end was come to the Eldar of story and song" (TS, Of the Rings of Power).

Furthermore, this lets us end back where we began (in more ways than one). To summarize, Flieger stated that one of the two core functions of a mythology is to provide a connection to the transcendent. In the earliest stage of Tolkien's mythology, The Book of Lost Tales, we can see this in his statement that the Tales provide an explanation for how the English came to "have the true tradition of the fairies". That is to say, the true tradition of what became known as the Eldar--and through them, some knowledge of the Valar and even of God (Eru Ilúvatar). The legendarium started to shed its obvious English trappings at an early date, but the notion of Englishness remained deeply important to Tolkien. This is expressed in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, not just through the Shire representing England, but deliberate references--and updates--to concepts from pre-English Germanic mythology. But these references also function as callbacks to the internal mythology of the Secondary World, the one the characters are actually aware of. While the overall arc of Middle-earth's history bends towards defeat (though with hope for a final salvation, in accordance with Tolkien's Christian beliefs), there are nonetheless victories along the way.

The First Age ends with victory over Morgoth, and while the seeds of later evil are sown, there's reason for the surviving characters to be reasonably optimistic about the future. The biggest stain on the happy ending, Maedhros' and Maglor's theft of the Silmaril and murder of Eönwë's guards, does not directly result in other evil deeds. The Edain learned from the Eldar throughout the First Age and into the Second (with visitors from Tol Eressëa), and directly from Eönwe before Númenor was made for them (TS, Akallabêth). They were ruled by the son of the last two members of the Half-Elven. The stories of the second half of the First Age therefore serve as a founding myth of the ethnogenesis of the Númenóreans in general and the lineage of their royal family in particular. Of course, the Númenóreans end up doing a lot of bad later and contribute to the continued decline of Middle-earth, though they also manage to preserve some of their older traditions and knowledge. After a steady decline of nearly 2000 years since the last high point (Gondor under the Ship-kings), the final story of the cycle ends with a repetition and renewal of the transfer from Elves to Men, symbolized by the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn--also known as Envinyatar, renewer--whose son was named Eldarion, Scion of the Eldar.

There was also a renewal of transmitted Eldarin knowledge, and crucially, this was not limited to the Númenóreans, of whom there were exceedingly few "pure" descendants anyway. The Shire officially became a "Free Land under the protection of the Northern Sceptre [Arnor]" and the Hobbits maintain direct connections with the Dúnedain for some time afterward. Bilbo first received the title of Elf-friend in the penultimate chapter of The Hobbit and thoroughly (re)earned it by the time he left Middle-earth, being personally responsible for much of the Elvish lore that was later preserved in the Red Book. And the Red Book itself eventually ceased to be a strictly Hobbitish editorial project, as the most important copy was the one made and substantially added to in Gondor (LOTR, Prologue, Note on the Shire records). At this final recorded passing of an Age, as the last of the Noldor were leaving Middle-earth, their "true tradition" was shared by the descendants of the Númenóreans, who were inspired in part by the ancient Germanic ancestors of the English, as well as Hobbits, who were inspired by the modern English people of Tolkien's childhood. It's very far from the BoLT, but I think we can see a clear expression of that foundational creative impulse of Tolkien's when the legendarium is considered as a single contiguous whole.

Finally, at the very end of the Red Book (though not the last page of The Lord of the Rings), we have this parting note from the in-universe chroniclers; printed in Appendix A within quotation marks, indicating it was not a creation of the ostensible modern author.

LOTR, Appendix A, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen wrote:There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she [Arwen] laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.

Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old.

...and Aelfwine wasn't the one who wrote that! Very Happy
Eldy
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The Eldy Review of Lore Empty Re: The Eldy Review of Lore

Post by Eldy on Thu Feb 14, 2019 4:58 pm

I realize I was unclear in parts (this is very much a trial run to see if I want to try to write properly on this topic), but glancing over this thing again at least one point merits a prompt clarification:

Eldy wrote:As with Wise and The Silmarillion, Brljak considers the identity of his synthesizer to be a mystery, but notes that they must have made many creative decisions and invented much of the dialogue (same as the aforementioned Maedhros and Maglor conversation).

This unfortunately blurs the distinction between two separate points. As noted above, I don't share Brljak's desire to divorce Tolkien from the identity of the modern "synthesizer" of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I do not, however, think that Wise's hypothetical "writer-narrator" of the '77 Silm should be identified with Tolkien. This overlaps with another point mentioned above, about when and where to grant the status of in-universe work to different texts. This is a matter for "personal Silmarillions", so there aren't objectively right or wrong answers here.

For example, I do not consider The Book of Lost Tales to have an in-universe author in my personal Silmarillion, because my Silm is based primarily on much later versions of the mythology which can not coexist in the same fictional universe as the BoLT due to irreconcilable differences in history, chronology, geography, and actual matters of plot and character. When I turn to the BoLT for fine detail that is lacking elsewhere (eg, the Fall of Gondolin), I do so from an out-of-universe perspective, playing editor in order to have complete versions of the tales to mentally immerse myself in, but not ascribing in-universe provenance to these hybrid versions.

I do not consider the 1977 Silmarillion to have an in-universe author either, because the 1977 Silmarillion is not an in-universe text in my mental conception of the First Age. I do, as noted above, use it as a first point of reference for many questions, but there is a long (unwritten) list of places where I consciously diverge from it. However, were I to incorporate the 1977 Silmarillion, there are two different approaches I could take. I could conceive of it as another modern creation, drawn by Tolkien (or whoever) from the Red Book but adapted for modern readers. Or, I could consider it a single in-universe text, translated more or less literally and published "as is". The second option subdivides into considering all five parts of the Silm as the product of one author, as Wise does, or considering each of them as independent in-universe texts.

I would probably not consider all five together, because our knowledge of the external process of composition fairly clearly demonstrates that they were not written as such, and I'm not aware of any evidence that Tolkien moved away from seeing "The Silmarillion" as an anthology (cf. Charles Noad's essay). However, were I to follow in Wise's footsteps, I would probably not be putting as much emphasis on the external textual history anyway. So I might very well subscribe to his view of all five pieces having one author--Wise makes his case very well, and his ideas make more sense than some other models I've considered over the years. In any event, I actually appreciate that Wise did not suggest an identity for his writer-narrator. We could speculate that, were Wise's model correct, maybe it was Findegil (as Wise suggests a human author), but there's no solid basis for that.

[ETA: One other thing to note is that the decision to grant in-universe status to one text will often have implications on how you have to approach other texts if you wish to remain coherent. The Book of Lost Tales is, again, an obvious example of this, but there are a number of implications if one accepts the '77 Silm. I don't get the impression that Wise would want to acknowledge any other in-universe First Age texts, but if one did, the presence of so many texts that are extremely similar to the '77 Silm in places (but not necessarily in whole) strongly implies that the '77 Silm is a based on written sources, not something pieced together from oral history and narrative poetry. This also requires a relatively late date of composition even if you leave out the Akallabêth and OTROP. It would also cast significant doubt on the idea of singular authorship, so it's probably best not to mix the '77 Silm and HoMe if you can help it. Since I enjoy the latter more than the former I take a different path than Wise, but that doesn't make either of us right or wrong.]

In fairness, this same question is faced by anyone attempting to construct a personal Silmarillion. I don't accept the Akallabêth as the work of Pengolodh or Aelfwine, but I'm also deeply skeptical of the notion (briefly mentioned in Unfinished Tales) that it was the work of Elendil, as the Akallabêth reads nothing like a firsthand account. Looking solely at the text, I think it strongly suggests Third (maybe Fourth) Age Gondorian authorship, which is what I roll with in my mental model. But I don't try to ascribe a specific author, even when it's just me thinking about things for my own amusement.

I don't know if this actually makes anything clearer but I wanted to at least try. Razz And if anyone is reading this, thank you very much for humoring me as I try to work through this material.
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Post by halfwise on Thu Feb 14, 2019 7:31 pm

Good Gad, Eldy.  I can only hope you have no pressing matters to attend to.  Though I fear that if your psychology works like mine, who spent the last hour+ reading this largely because there were pressing matters to attend to, then your other matters must be far more pressing by a factor of 12 at least to induce you to escape them by writing this.  Good stuff here, glad you got it out.

I won't attempt to directly interact with such a voluminous work, but I do have a couple points of my own to make.

1. Though Tolkien's final version of the Sil may have been rendered internally consistent (Letter 247 quoted above), I think he would have been doing this purely for the reader's sake, and not his own.  As an academic Tolkien would probably feel quite comfortable with a collection of inconsistent texts as a reflection of his own reality working with sources.
2. I've long felt that Tolkien scholars don't place enough emphasis on the influence that H. Rider Haggard's She had on Tolkien.  I won't go through the many points of comparison here, but with regard to a framing device I think Tolkien originally wanted to create something similar to the Shard of Ammertas, the script written on a shard of pottery which was used to launch Haggard's story.  It was a heiroglyphic account of a hidden kingdom meant to be over 2000 years old, and worked wonderfully to pull the reader into the story.  But upon closer inspection it doesn't hold up: several pages of text are meant to have come from this pottery shard.  Doesn't matter, the device works.  In a similar vein, I don't think Tolkien would take his method of transmission too seriously - I doubt he meant it to bear close inspection, only to connect the story to the reader.

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Post by Eldy on Fri Feb 15, 2019 1:33 am

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, halfy! I'm really happy to know someone actually read this. Smile And yeah, it is kind of avoidance, but I felt guilty about staying up all night doing nothing lately so I decided to stay up all night doing this instead. No

The LOTR Plaza was home to a number of long discussions about the influence of Haggard's She on Tolkien back in the day, but unfortunately the site is offline and a few minutes' poking around in the Wayback Machine didn't yield any archived threads. I've never read She so I didn't participate in those discussions--and, honestly, hadn't though about them for years until you mentioned it. I appreciate you bringing it up even though I can't add anything of substance.

Having just written 10,000 words about why I think Tolkien's choice of framing device is thematically significant, it might be unnecessary to state that I disagree about him not taking it seriously. Razz The framing device in The Book of Lost Tales followed directly from the conclusion of the main events of the Tales, but Tolkien spent a lot of time developing various schemes for internal source traditions and identifying specific loremasters whose work was important, even after the framing device lost much of its obvious relevance. Pengolodh received two biographical sketches: one published in HoMe XI, Quendi and Eldar, and the other in Vinyar Tengwar 42. His life had little to no bearing on the events of the First Age, but because he was of central importance to the transmission scheme for so long, knowing a bit about him is highly relevant to conducting analysis of the First Age. Tolkien specifically drew attention to the unreliability of certain narratives at various points, IMO inviting critical analysis of them, which is only possible if they are treated as Secondary World texts with Secondary World authors and some chain of events which allowed them to survive to the modern era.

I'm too tired to hunt for many quotes right now, but IIRC it is generally held that Tolkien was consciously emulating other compilers of European myth when constructing his framing devices (though that doesn't mean they were his only inspirations). This includes both historical figures, such as the Welsh compilers of the Red Book of Hergest (presumably the namesake of Tolkien's Red Book) and modern figures like Elias Lönnrot, who compiled the Finnish Kalevala, which was a significant influence on Tolkien in many ways (including inspiring the story of Túrin Turambar, after Tolkien rewrote the Kullervo cycle of the Kalevala in English). Verlyn Flieger talks a lot about the significance of framing devices in the book I'm unable to reference, but relatedly, Janet Brennan Croft discussed (in the above-linked essay) the importance of the editorial role in the sort of model Tolkien emulated. She also refers to Tom Shippey, who argued that editing is "the most important part of bringing ancient works and forgotten authors back to life. All the rest is merely superstructure." (qtd. Croft, p. 177)

Regarding your first point, I would have to do more thinking (after sleeping) to give a decent response. However, my mind quickly goes to the idea of the Númenórean transmission and the simultaneous preservation of elf- and human-authored texts. If Tolkien indeed settled on that, then you must be correct that he was happy with a collection of inconsistent texts. This could be interpreted as contradicting Letter 247, but I think the two are reconcilable. The non-Round World "Silmarillion" material was never in a state suitable for publication and to the end of Tolkien's life required updates to earlier material such as The Fall of Gondolin for them to even semi-plausibly occur in the same setting as, say, the prose version of The Children of Húrin. Whether Tolkien would have decided to publish only the original, non-Round World version or to include different texts reflecting both views (as seen by their respective in-universe authors), he still had a great deal of "working over" to do. But a published "Silmarillion" which did not include The Book of Lost Tales or the successive revisions to the Annals and the Quenta would lack much of what many people love about the unfinished Silm, even if it were an extensive anthology. In any event, I think you are right that Tolkien would not have looked for complete consistency and that this is reflective of Tolkien's own academic work (which were also some of his creative inspirations).

At this point I'm as much musing to myself as anyone else, so I should probably cut this off. Thanks again for commenting! Feedback is always really helpful in terms of trying to get better, in addition to being encouraging.



ANOTHER ADDENDUM

Rereading the Foreword to HoMe I this evening, it is clear that the comparison of Tolkien's legendarium to his notion of the "impression of depth" in Beowulf long predates Drout's article, or indeed his career, though his work was cited by both Wise and Painter (which is partially why I read it).
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Post by halfwise on Fri Feb 15, 2019 2:26 am

If you ever get around to it, I highly recommend reading She. My jaw dropped more than once.

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Post by David H on Fri Feb 15, 2019 5:34 am

That's an impressive bit of analysis Eldy! The writing is clear and the arguments are balanced and relatively easy to follow, and I definitely respect your scholarship. Glad to see you back in the game! cheers

I read "She" many years ago as part of a class, and it's never quite left me. I'll have to dig it out of the bookshelves and see if it's still the same book I remember.... study

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Post by Forest Shepherd on Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:43 am

halfwise wrote:If you ever get around to it, I highly recommend reading She.  My jaw dropped more than once.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She:_A_History_of_Adventure
scratch

this one?

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Post by Elthir on Fri Feb 15, 2019 7:36 am

Just starting to dig in Eldy!

I'm a little out of sorts. This morning I put a shirt on backwards and it's been bugging me all day.

And I've been over at TORN babbling about Balrog wings, fencing with Jackson fans, and convincing at least one person that Tolkien's Elves do feel the cold. But I should have been here! For starters:

I think there are a number of reasons why the Red Book transmission (and, semi-relatedly, the Round World Silmarillion, though you can have the former without the latter) is often overlooked: (1) People just don't like it on a personal level. This is perfectly legitimate and it's never been my intention to tell anyone what to do with their "personal Silmarillion".

Agreed.

Especially Round World mythology. Even when I give my happy opinion that Tolkien solved his problem without replacing flat-to-round world mythology in QS, I often get pushback about the "truth", and that Bombadil should know it. I get the love of flat-to-round, but I still think we can love it and have a few Elvish nuggets at the feast!

Of course, and as I know you know that I know you know, Tolkien did not fully incorporate his late notions (as I argue them to be) into the existing texts or all authorship notes, so my opinion that he "solved" his concerns is a generalization. For example, I'm also not fully convinced that Elendil was going to stand as the author of AK -- though admittedly I haven't thought about this enough compared to my mad focus on DA, as again, you know.

Perhaps interestingly, I once chatted with someone who really didn't like Tolkien giving the Hobbits Westron names. I get it, but yikes, it's part of the conceit. I love it. And generally speaking, I still think of Samwise as Samwise.  

(2) A lot of people misunderstand (sometimes willfully, it feels like) what Tolkien actually said about the Red Book transmission, and thus dismiss it out of hand for reasons like "the narrative voice of The Hobbit is clearly not Bilbo's" even though this fact is fully accounted for by Tolkien's conceit.

Recently I was challenged (politely and articulately) with the statement that there is no internal evidence that Bilbo's work was a children's story.

(3) There's a sense that the Red Book transmission destroys part(s) of what makes "The Silmarillion" (or The Silmarillion) special. This has been the main subject on my mind as I dip my toes back into this stuff, so I'm trying to familiarize myself with the current state of published Tolkien scholarship on certain related questions. I've previously expressed my thoughts on why the Red Book transmission is correct in terms of whether or not it was Tolkien's intention (see here for an example), but I'd like to focus on the more subjective, literary arguments. But that definitely necessitates getting up to speed on a lot of things.

I'll have to think about this one.

Plus I don't want to look stoopid in comparison to your post. It would really help if you imagine me scratching my beard thoughtfully at this point.

Concerning Mr. Wise (intimidating name), I've never read his work, so thanks for that. So far though, I feel like I'm missing something. I've read the above quotations three times now and I'm not sure I necessarily disagree with much of it . . . yet I'm also not sure I fully grasp (or appreciate) why we should lose the idea of various texts underlying Quenta Silmarillion.

I'll read them thirty more times if need be, but after that I've really got to change this shirt.

Great thread!


I'll tag a brief, basically useless comment about Flieger's transmission text (to make up a name for it). Read it so long ago that I don't actually recall her reason for "going there" (golden book, memory transmission and so on), but I do recall not being persuaded, and thinking that the argument -- though very interesting and nicely written -- seemed more like a "what if" notion.

Perhaps I should read that again. Though I could be stupider now than I was back then!

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Post by Elthir on Fri Feb 15, 2019 8:37 am

(…) but as far as my personal Silmarillion is concerned, I see no reason why Tolkien, "stand[ing] both inside and outside the novel" (Thomas' wording), cannot be both the ostensible discoverer of the Red Book ("inside") and the actual author who was asked to write a sequel to The Hobbit in 1937 and included a fictionalized version of himself in the book's framing device ("outside"). While not directly comparable, Tolkien wrote fictionalized versions of himself and the other Inklings into the The Notion Club Papers, where they served as mediators between the present and the ancient past, though this involved much more than just translating an ancient book.

Ah, more music to my ears.

Great mention of "Jethro" Tolkien too. I'm gonna use that someday and probably forget I didn't think of it.

Incidentally, are you sure you're only 24?

You can even keep Pengolodh if you want to--most of his work was written in Middle-earth and would presumably have been kept in the libraries of Lindon and Imladris, and from the latter could be included by Bilbo in his Transmissions from the Elvish.

Eldy, are you familiar with Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals, and related writings part two, in VT 48. It's a late text, and section 4 gives a very interesting account that includes Elendil and Pengolodh.

I know I quoted part of it somewhere on the web (at least once), but in any case I'll try to add it to this thread at some point, even if you've read it. That reminds me -- I never got VT 50!

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Post by Eldy on Fri Feb 15, 2019 9:31 am

David H wrote:That's an impressive bit of analysis Eldy!  The writing is clear and the arguments are balanced and relatively easy to follow, and I definitely respect your scholarship. Glad to see you back in the  game! cheers

Thanks a bunch, Dave! It's (mostly) been fun getting back into this, so we'll see if it leads to anything.

Elthir wrote:I've been over at TORN

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Elthir wrote:Of course, and as I know you know that I know you know, Tolkien did not fully incorporate his late notions (as I argue them to be) into the existing texts or all authorship notes, so my opinion that he "solved" his concerns is a generalization. For example, I'm also not fully convinced that Elendil was going to stand as the author of AK -- though admittedly I haven't thought about this enough compared to my mad focus on DA, as again, you know.

Christopher commented in note 16 to "The Line of Elros" that Elendil was never identified as the author of the Akallabêth in any other text, and as far as I know nothing to the contrary was discovered during the editing of The History of Middle-earth. I'm inclined to suspect it was a transient idea, but I bring it up semi-regularly since, when arguing against something as entrenched as Aelfwine/the Golden Book transmission, I figure I should use every piece of evidence I can get. Razz Especially when Tolkien wrote it into something other than personal musings, which for many people is a (sometimes unstated) prerequisite to take an idea seriously. Even though Tolkien probably didn't stick with the Elendil idea, the fact that he mentioned someone other than Pengolodh in that snippet from "The Line of Elros" is telling to some extent.

Not wholly relatedly, but while flipping through the chapter on the Akallabêth in HoMe XII I noticed a line that is relevant to my comment in the OP about the Silm being an ethnogenesis myth, which I will quote here as a reminder to myself. As it reads in the 1977 Akallabêth: "This [the Edain arriving in newly-created Númenor] was the beginning of that people that in the Grey-elven speech are called the Dúnedain: the Númenóreans, Kings among Men." I didn't really elaborate on this thought earlier, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the endings of The Book of Lost Tales and The Silmarillion both result in three related peoples leaving the continental mainland to become a new nation on an island, even if the specifics of their migration to that island differ significantly. Simon Cook did not make this point in his essay, as he was strangely silent on post-BoLT First Age material, but I think it's another point in favor of the interpretation that the Númenóreans filled the same tradition-receiving role in the mythology as the English initially had.

Elthir wrote:Plus I don't want to look stoopid in comparison to your post. It would really help if you imagine me scratching my beard thoughtfully at this point.

Concerning Mr. Wise (intimidating name), I've never read his work, so thanks for that. So far though, I feel like I'm missing something. I've read the above quotations three times now and I'm not sure I necessarily disagree with much of it . . . yet I'm also not sure I fully grasp (or appreciate) why we should lose the idea of various texts underlying Quenta Silmarillion.

I would be imagining the Letobeard right now, but Jared Leto has gone through so many beard styles (and I think shaved it off completely recently) that I can't remember which was the one. cyclops

The sense I initially got regarding Wise's motive was that he simply likes the 1977 Silmarillion way more than a lot of Tolkien scholars--he describes it as "a narrative and rhetorical masterpiece" on the first page of his article--and wanted to defend its merits against those who are dismissive of it. While he doesn't reject the idea that the hypothetical "writer-narrator" used in-universe texts as source material (p. 106), he's singularly uninterested in investigating those sources: "I do not value The Silmarillion for its hint of avant-texts or textual prehistory, its echoes of oral folklore transformed into written forms." (p. 101) However, that Wise makes an argument against such analysis being worth anyone's time leaves me with the impression that there is something more than just personal preference at play. Maybe a particular literary theory he believes in which I'm not picking up most of the references to (he does mention "most narrative theory" towards the end of the article without elaboration), or perhaps just stubbornness born of the knowledge that he's arguing against a large crowd. But I obviously can't speak to his private thought process.

(And thank you for your kind words about my post!)

Elthir wrote:I'll tag a brief, basically useless comment about Flieger's transmission text (to make up a name for it). Read it so long ago that I don't actually recall her reason for "going there" (golden book, memory transmission and so on), but I do recall not being persuaded, and thinking that the argument -- though very interesting and nicely written -- seemed more like a "what if" notion.

Perhaps I should read that again. Though I could be stupider now than I was back then!

It's been a few years now since I read Flieger's proposed transmission in full. I remember being unimpressed by it, though that was largely because I felt she had unfairly dismissed the (in my opinion more convincing) Red Book transmission. And, as you note, attempts at synthesizing Aelfwine, Bilbo, and/or the Notion Club can be interesting hypotheticals, but I've yet to see one that makes a convincing case that Tolkien actually considered using it, much less decided to do so.

Elthir wrote:Incidentally, are you sure you're only 24?

I'm still unsure how I managed to even get this far. Suspect

Elthir wrote:Eldy, are you familiar with VT 48, Eldarin Hands, Fingers and Numerals, and related writings part two. It's a late text, and section 4 gives a very interesting account that includes Elendil and Pengolodh.

I know I quoted part of it somewhere on the web (at least once), but in any case I'll try to add it to this thread at some point, even if you've read it. That reminds me -- I never got VT 50!

I am aware of it, though I just realized that I got the issue number wrong when mentioning it in my reply to halfy upthread. Hurr durr Actually, I only know about it thanks to you, since you posted a chunk of it on here a few years back after I shared one of my essays which mentioned only the "Quendi and Eldar" backstory, and I added it as an addendum to >said essay< afterwards. I remain very grateful to you as I might not have found that information any other way. Dawn Walls-Thumma's article that I keep referring to, which I enjoy despite my disagreement with parts of it, does not mention the VT version at all, even though Pengolodh receives a ton of attention. Which would seem to suggest the peer reviewers at the Journal of Tolkien Research who were assigned her article didn't know about it either.
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Post by halfwise on Fri Feb 15, 2019 1:46 pm

Forest Shepherd wrote:
halfwise wrote:If you ever get around to it, I highly recommend reading She.  My jaw dropped more than once.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She:_A_History_of_Adventure
scratch

this one?


Yep, that's it.  On reading it you keep seeing Tolkien's techniques of shifting language, and point after point of comparison to his legendarium.  I really think Tolkien's works would have been quite different (if they even existed) if He had not read She.

EDIT: turns out to be the public domain.  http://www.bookwolf.com/Wolf/pdf/HRiderHaggard-AHistoryOfAdventure.pdf
Though it's a horrible version, getting footnotes mixed up with the text, and does not feature the careful copying out of the Sherd in Greek and Hieroglyphs. Paragraphs are not well marked and sometimes mistaken.  But it will do in a pinch.

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Post by malickfan on Fri Feb 15, 2019 4:12 pm

Ooh another lengthy detailed lore essay Eldy, when I'm feeling up to it I'll try to chime in with some thoughts of my own, but until then I look forward to Elthir's always interesting comments Smile

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Post by Elthir on Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:50 pm

I am aware of it, though I just realized that I got the issue number wrong when mentioning it in my reply to halfy upthread.

Drat. Read that and forgot it by the time I asked. And the number didn't throw me, since the meaning is obvious enough.

Dawn Walls-Thumma's article that I keep referring to, which I enjoy despite my disagreement with parts of it, does not mention the VT version at all, even though Pengolodh receives a ton of attention. Which would seem to suggest the peer reviewers at the Journal of Tolkien Research who were assigned her article didn't know about it either.

Huh. Interesting. I assume no (Linguistic) Editorial Team members were tasked here.

Concerning Dawn Felagund's opinions as quoted above. For now I'm choosing to skip over them (well, just a brief reaction below). You've already commented in ways I agree with -- and incidentally you're not stepping on my turf about anything -- or let's put it this way: the lonely grass in parts of my turf could use more stepping on.

I've read AR, and again (being lazy) I can't recall if Doug brought the full force of evidence regarding Tolkien's later characterizations about the Legendarium, but as we know, there are certainly notable Mannish Legendarium/Silmarillion characterizations that post-date Myths Transformed in any case.

Dawn Felagund wrote: Given the Númenórean preoccupation with death, it defies credibility that, if Tolkien wrote this material with a Númenórean narrator in mind, that this narrator would be able to resist commenting on this material. Rather, what seems to have happened is what happened with other radical changes Tolkien contemplated in the writings collected in Myths Transformed: He contemplated them only, never progressing to the stage of modifying the mythology to actually reflect them.

I can't think of a single discussion I've ever had about this topic where this argument hasn't been raised. It's popular no doubt (edit: although maybe I'm reading a suggestion here that isn't intended). One thing though, as Doug notes, Tolkien did add a mention of the Dome of Varda -- in an LQS2 text (if I recall correctly), and I think it slips in so "silently" and neatly that a reader may easily think it's a poetic reference and nothing more.


I realize this example if hardly going to bother Dawn or anyone taking her point of view. But again, I'm not going to jump in deeper -- for now I'll just say: it's not nothing.


And not that you said otherwise, but to be clearer (or much less clear) about my opinion of the "abandoned" Myths Transformed texts, my argument is not that Tolkien necessarily abandoned the ideas in MT (which could yet have been revised or expanded on, admittedly), but that he abandoned the need for a new, fully revised "Elvish based" Quenta Silmarillion that wholly rejects the "older" mythology.

In other words, I think he would "need" to fully consider a theoretical LQS3 in light of his new characterization and transmission frame -- no need to tear away the Sun as a fruit of a tree, but do consider every section again with respect to the later ideas.

And maybe slip in a reference to the Dome of Varda, for example  Wink

Hah! I set myself up for that one!


Here's a somewhat random thought. We human readers are so used to day, night, sun, stars, morning, and so on, that (I think) we might/can easily overlook such references in a tale where they . . . could be surprising. For example, when I first read the new "Ambarussa tale" (what there is of it), where one of Feanor's sons dies at Losgar, certain references slipped by, references that, to my mind, could make this text and arguable Elvish text, in the sense of a pre-existing Sun. I'd have to think more about the transmission element, but for another example, The Awakening of the Quendi does not harp on this string either. "Morning" (with a Sun) is there to notice, but in my opinion it's not jarring or overly pointed at.


"Overly pointed at"? Must be time for me to end this post!

But humorously (to me), someone over at TORN just "wished" that Tolkien had continued with his MT based Silmarillion! As soon as I say how unpopular it seems to be, of course someone jumps in to wish Tolkien had sailed there in earnest!


Or in a boat. Cough. Sorry couldn't resist.


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Post by Elthir on Fri Feb 15, 2019 6:58 pm

I'm including She in my next round of book purchases too.

Thanks Halfy and Malickfan!

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Post by Eldy on Sun Feb 17, 2019 1:53 am

malickfan wrote:Ooh another lengthy detailed lore essay Eldy, when I'm feeling up to it I'll try to chime in with some thoughts of my own, but until then I look forward to Elthir's always interesting comments Smile  

Cheers, malick. I'd love to hear any thoughts you'd like to share. Smile

Elthir wrote:And not that you said otherwise, but to be clearer (or much less clear) about my opinion of the "abandoned" Myths Transformed texts, my argument is not that Tolkien necessarily abandoned the ideas in MT (which could yet have been revised or expanded on, admittedly), but that he abandoned the need for a new, fully revised "Elvish based" Quenta Silmarillion that wholly rejects the "older" mythology.

In other words, I think he would "need" to fully consider a theoretical LQS3 in light of his new characterization and transmission frame -- no need to tear away the Sun as a fruit of a tree, but do consider every section again with respect to the later ideas.

And maybe slip in a reference to the Dome of Varda, for example  Wink

Those are some really interesting points; thanks! I need to think on this some more since it's been a while--hopefully I can pick up more of my older books on Monday so I have them on hand during the current research project (even though it will mean even more clutter here).  I'm intrigued by the thought of a post-MT Elvish "Silmarillion" that retains ideas from the older mythology. To try to clarify (my excuse for having to ask being that my sleep has been a disaster this week Razz), is your suggestion that Tolkien moved away from the MT idea that the Elves would have felt the need to keep their stories and annals in continuity with their (more accurate, thanks to the Valar) understanding of astronomical (and broader) reality?

I initially meant to touch on the Round World Silmarillion in the OP of this thread but obviously ended up not doing so, partially because it was already so long and partially because I was (perhaps overly) focused on the details of the transmission itself. While it's not possible to fully extricate the Númenórean transmission from the Round World Silmarillion, I don't think the two are logically dependent on each other. That is to say, Tolkien could (if he'd chosen to--he probably didn't) have preserved the World Made Round cosmology while also replacing Aelfwine with some combination of the Númenóreans and Bilbo being responsible for the preservation of the Silmarillion works. Of course, maintaining the World Made Round cosmology would remove the original, practical reason for a Mannish (and possibly Hobbitish) Silmarillion, though as I attempted to argue above I think it still improves "The Silmarillion" as a piece of art for it to be more closely entwined with its sequels than to remain tied to the Aelfwine framing device long after its original reason for being (a connection with English prehistory) had long since fallen away.

(And since the evidence for the Red Book transmission is, in my opinion, overwhelming on the strength of material published during Tolkien's lifetime, specifically the second edition of The Lord of the Rings and the preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, focusing more on that makes for a less assailable argument--though that's perhaps a more mercenary mindset than is admirable or desirable.)

That said, I still haven't made up my mind over whether or not I think the Phial of Eärendil creates an inconsistency the Round World Silmarillion. Just thinking about Myths Transformed, it's easy enough to assume the identification of the Star of Eärendil with the planet Venus is an example of blending with Mannish legends. Eärendil and the Silmaril can remain historically real, but if "Arda" is the solar system as understood in the late 1950s, then the idea of Eärendil eternally sailing his ship through the heavens makes about as much sense as the Sun and Moon actually being the last fruit and flower of the Two Trees carried by Maiar over or around the Earth. This might slightly undercut the power of the moment when Sam glimpses the star from Mordor, but I think it still works well enough.

On the other hand, the fact that "the light of Eärendil's star, set amid the waters of [Galadriel's] fountain" in the Phial of Galadriel displays supernatural powers is harder to reconcile. We could suppose that this is simply Galadriel's explanation of "Elf-magic" to mortals and that whatever process was used to imbue the Phial with its "magical" properties did not necessitate capturing the distant light of a silmaril. Clearly, that wasn't the case when The Lord of the Rings was first published, but maybe it could be considered part of a raft of recontextualizations (less charitably: retcons) regarding the change in cosmology. But I'm not aware of any evidence that Tolkien considered that specific idea, so I'm uncomfortable suggesting it as anything but "headcanon" for use in personal Silmarillions.

I wish I could offer a more substantive reply to all the ideas you bring up; there's a lot of thought-provoking stuff here that I will definitely keep in mind while brushing up on HoMe (especially the Later Silmarillion volumes) in the near future. Hopefully at a time when I'm less behind on sleep and schoolwork. Sleep
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Post by Elthir on Sun Feb 17, 2019 7:40 am

I've gone through Post I Part II Eldy, and I think a good "huzzah" covers my reaction there. I haven't read Cook, but I like your responses.

This next comment isn't really a response to Wise, but something I feel like (perhaps needlessly) adding after reading some of his work: for myself, the fact that I don't consider the constructed Silmarillion (bad word alert) "canon", or that my personal (imagined) Silmarillion differs from it in ways, is certainly not a comment on literary merit.

Well, no one said otherwise, but I'll add...

. . . nor does a given decision I make to diverge from the 1977 Silmarillion necessarily reflect some sort of negative judgement with respect to (arguable) "mistakes" -- a word that seems to be a little more prevalent on certain Tolkien sites these days concerning the 1977 Silmarillion. Like a recent example:

In the published The Silmarillion, Orodreth is Finrod's brother: this was an editorial decision by Christopher Tolkien and an admitted mistake. Orodreth was actually the son of Angrod and thus Finrod's nephew.

Tolkien Gateway

To my knowledge Christopher Tolkien has never admitted that keeping Orodreth as Finrod's brother was a mistake. What he said about the various changes that affected Orodreth and Gil-galad's parentage (and sisterage?) was rather " . . . but nothing of this late and radically altered conception ever touched the existing narratives, and it was obviously impossible to introduce it into the published Silmarillion."

Christopher Tolkien added that he thought it would have been better to have left Gil-galad's parentage obscure in the constructed Silmarillion -- and here I note the much later constructed Children of Hurin, in which Orodreth is still Finrod's brother and Gil-galad's parentage is not noted on the family tree. It's true that CJRT might have simply decided to stay consistent with the 1977 Silmarillion in any case, with regard to Orodreth as Finrod's brother, but even if so, I can't agree with characterizing this choice as a mistake.

Not Tolkien Gateway


Anyway I digress. My Personal Silmarillion is a somewhat vague, unwritten compilation. It's for my "mind experience" when engaging with the Secondary World. My mad view about canon is one thing, but I think the 1977 Simarillion and the constructed Children of Hurin are very important works, and great gifts.

"To try to clarify (...), is your suggestion that Tolkien moved away from the MT idea that the Elves would have felt the need to keep their stories and annals in continuity with their (more accurate, thanks to the Valar) understanding of astronomical (and broader) reality?"

I would say/guess: I don't think Tolkien felt the need for an Elvish Silmarillion (Western Elvish) to exist, or if it did, it didn't need to survive through Numenor to Rivendell, or (to ramble and make the same basic point), that if one did exist in Elrond's archives, Bilbo's interest (or some other reason) led him to translate a different version.

But let's say the ideas (or some of them) in MT survive in some measure, like (as I raised earlier, but I wanna quote it anyway, from LQS2, section 57, Morgoth's Ring): "But now atop the mountain-top dark Ungoliante lay. For a while she rested, and with eyes faint from labor she saw the glimmer of the stars in the dome of Varda and the radiance of Valmar far away. Slowly her eyes awakened and took fire . . ."


What the heck is this dome of Varda? Whatever it is, I don't think it's going to snag the reader in this context. It's arguably going to seem poetic or to refer to some structure built by Elves (or someone, and in my opinion the dome
is quite awesome and magical in Elvish "reality").

Is the dome going to be just a quick Elvish nugget in a largely Mannish work? Maybe Tolkien's going to refer to it
in more detail in a more purely Elvish text. That's all for the artist/author to decide, but as I say above, I think Tolkien "needs" to revise QS in light of the new transmission, and use his creative talents in consideration of what a largely Mannish version -- but involved with or confused with, Elvish lore -- would look like.

In other words he "can't" just say: okay keep the older mythology and simply stamp "Largely Mannish" on it.

Well he can . . . I'm not the boss of anyone Very Happy  

But for example, according to CJRT, at one point his father seems to alter the ratio of Valian Years to Sun Years for the Annals of Aman without altering the entries. Well, that might be what he intended, but I'm not sure it works all that well when I consider every entry. This isn't a great comparison really . . . so again, back to my beloved DA: I think Tolkien is in high form when deciding what Men have (ultimately) gotten "wrong", compared to a version of the fall of Numenor that's better imbued with Elvish knowledge.

That sort of consideration is art in my book. QS is already art of course, but JRRT never really reworked it fully in light
of his later characterization of the legendarium. And I don't think it's because he abandoned that characterization
(and admittedly I might be wrongly injecting "abandoned" as a conscious decision into Dawn Felagund's argument),
or even the MT ideas necessarily (or at least some of them), I think Tolkien just ran out of time.

By the way, that the Legendarium can contain more purely Elvish texts, or even purely Elvish texts, is an important point in my opinion. So obviously I like seeing you put a good stamp on it.

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Post by Elthir on Sun Feb 17, 2019 11:16 pm

Mr. Wise wrote: "Christopher Tolkien had once written that he treated the 1977 text “of the same order as the writings published by my father himself” (UT 3), a “completed and cohesive entity” rather than “a complex of divergent texts interlinked by commentary” (1)." Christopher Tolkien later distanced himself from this position, deeply regretting that he “attached no importance” to his father’s concerns about presentation (LT I xi) and thereby left for The Silmarillion “no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be” (xii)."


Whoa! Maybe I'm missing something here, and if so . . . cough, never mind [and if so, imagine me covering my Leto beard in shame, walking slowly backwards toward a door, trying not to behorse] but I don't think Christopher Tolkien took this position and later distanced himself from it -- or rather, even if he did, I don't think he's revealing that here.

This melding of quotes is from the introduction to Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien explaining that this book is not going to be the same animal as the 1977 Silmarillion. CJRT explains that here he is not going to edit any works (except in matters of nomenclature that would cause undue confusion), and for the purpose of presenting these tales (and except in a few specified cases): "I have indeed treated the published form of the Silmarillion as a fixed point of reference of the same order as the writings of my father himself, without taking into account the innumerable "unauthorized" decisions between variant and rival versions that went into its making."

In my opinion, at this point -- before the first volume of HOME was even published -- to do otherwise would make UT much more complex and possibly too confusing, and I can very easily see why this decision was made. Where does Christopher stray from this a bit? For example, I would say in a brief commentary on the matter of Orcs (see note 5, The Druedain), where he simply notes that the idea of the origin of orcs presented in the 1977 Silmarillion is one of many.

Thus the Silmarillion as a point of reference is here "undermined" in a sense, and CJRT is referencing, if vaguely and briefly, variant texts other than the constructed version. Of course it makes sense to generally treat the constructed Silmarillion as authorial -- again, to do otherwise is to basically start writing HOME (the Silmarillion parts anyway) within UT itself.

In other words, I don't take Christopher Tolkien's words here as a brief description of how he viewed his own Silmarillion in general, at the time he published UT, but rather how he "must", or at least is going to, treat his Simarillion with respect to a reference point for readers of Unfinished Tales.

I'll add that the statement: " . . . a complex of divergent texts interlinked by commentary" -- is in my view an external comment from Christopher Tolkien (on page one, UT), describing that he chose (due to influence from Guy Kay as we know) to create a "unified" one volume Simarillion (a reader's version as I sometimes call it), instead of presenting it as an abbreviated HOME. The commentary is his commentary, not internal interlinking commentary such as is found in The Book of Lost Tales for example, or commentary as part of an imagined framework.

I'm not sure Wise is necessarily saying otherWise. Sorry, I had to Very Happy


I can't read Mr. Wise's full argument from the link, but again, if I've foolishly missed his boat here, tell me. I could use a good behorsing about now anyway.

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Post by Eldy on Mon Feb 18, 2019 12:57 am

I don't have time to give a proper response to your earlier post, but with regard to the quoting of Christopher Tolkien: upon revisiting both sources just now, my readings of the introduction to Unfinished Tales and of the start of Wise's paper align with yours. I hadn't really thought about this before since Wise's comment reminded me of previous discussions I've had and it wasn't what he hung his argument on anyway*, but I think you make a valid point. And your reading fits better with Christopher's comment in the foreword to The Silmarillion (the first foreword, so predating UT by three years), where he warned against looking for "[a] complete consistency ... either within the compass of The Silmarillion itself or between The Silmarillion and other published writing of my father's".


*Throughout the paper, Wise is open about the fact that many of his interpretations of The Silmarillion differ from Christopher's own views of the work--for example, over the question of whether the Akallabêth and OTROP are "wholly separate and independent" from QS. Christopher says yes, Wise says no. He spends relatively little time discussing authorial (or editorial) intent, though he acknowledges that Christopher's disagreement presents a substantial challenge to his thesis. I imagine this is largely due to Wise's background in literary criticism--in contrast to people like myself who get into the field via the "Middle-earth studies" route--which is actually one of the reasons I found his paper so interesting, as I'm actively trying to get out of my comfort zone.

ETA: To clarify, Wise spends a great deal of time discussing what he believes can be inferred about the intent of The Silmarillion's unknown in-universe compiler, but when it comes to points of uncertainty, he (in comparison to some other approaches to analyzing the First Age works) spends more time evaluating the text on its own than he does trying to puzzle out JRRT's or CJRT's precise intentions.
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Post by Elthir on Mon Feb 18, 2019 4:20 am

Thanks Eldy. I guess if Wise is clearly enough knocking heads with CJRT about this I shouldn't have pounced so readily. The first time I read the article I sort of glossed over the start, and then kinda gave up thinking about it when I realized Muse (?) wasn't gonna give me the rest of the text for free . . . or at least without signing up for something?

Later I went back to the link, foolishly thinking I could find a way to read the whole article Very Happy

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Post by Eldy on Mon Feb 18, 2019 5:24 am

I appreciate you pointing it out; it's a subtle bit of interpretation and I don't necessarily suspect anything underhanded (not that you suggested as much either), but I glossed it over as well so I'm happy to have reread a bit closer after seeing your post. Smile

I'm just lucky to have access to Project MUSE through both my alma mater and my current university where I'm in grad school. If only Vinyar Tengwar were accessible through academic databases too. Razz
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Post by Eldy on Mon Feb 18, 2019 8:01 am

So, guys (Elthir), I need some help. I'm currently trying to make sense of Verlyn Flieger's "Tolkien and the Idea of the Book" (The Lord of the Rings, 1954-2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, ed. Hammond & Scull) in which she makes some--what sound to me--rather bizarre claims about transmission schemes. Some of this material I remember from Interrupted Music but other parts I'm not sure about, so maybe she cleaned up some of the wackier ideas, but like...

Flieger, pp. 288-289 wrote:In answer to the question of what text Bilbo was using, the earliest candidate is likely to have been the Golden Book of Tavrobel, the record made by Eriol the Mariner of the tales he heard in what was to become Valinor. [A lengthy recounting of variations on the framing device in the BoLT era follows.] Later redactions and "translations" intervened between the two books [Golden and Red], as well as the not inconsiderable problem of having the earlier book escape the Downfall of Númenor and manage to survive the re-making of the world. Somehow, the book had to get from the old world to the new one, and from the House of a Hundred Chimneys to Rivendell, the most likely place where it could be available to Bilbo. Moreover, several languages were involved, for while the stories of the First Age were presumed to have been written in the early Anglo-Saxon of Eriol/Aelfwine, the later versions of the great tales of Beren and Lúthien and Túrin Turambar were supposed to be in "Elvish" (most probably Sindarin).

In order to be read by any modern audience, both languages had to be "translated" into modern English or "Common Speech." Moreover, this had to be done by someone whom Tolkien could fictively authenticate as a translator. As his vision changed in the course of the re-visions of forty years, so did his concept of the "book," the redactor, the putative translator, though not the strategy that lay behind the invention of all these. Over the years, "Golden" was dropped from the title, Eriol/Aelfwine as redactor was diminished, Heorrenda disappeared, and the book just became "the Book of Stories" or "the Book of Tales," arriving in Númenor in time for the Downfall, and barely making it to Beleriand ahead of the tidal wave.

My initial instinct was just to dismiss this as Aelfwine-induced delirium (a common affliction where intelligent and well-read people twist themselves into absurd mental pretzels to try to come up with some way for Aelfwine to remain relevant to the later mythology), but this is so out of left field that I feel like I have to be missing something. The mention of fleeing Númenor to Beleriand makes it sound like a Lost Road era concept (and therefore anachronous to try to combine with Bilbo and the Red Book), but I have no idea if the notion of Aelfwine time traveling from the first millennium AD to the Second Age has any basis in Tolkien or if it's simply the result of Flieger's TNCP obsession and a conflation of two significantly different concepts of Tol Eressëa, having Aelfwine be on both. I also can't recall ever reading anything about an Anglo-Saxon compendium called "The Book of Stories" being brought to Númenor and there translated into Sindarin. It makes especially little sense given that one of Aelfwine's last appearances in the legendarium was hearing the Akallabêth from Pengolodh, which makes the idea that he lived and worked before the Downfall seem impossible.

If anyone recognize any references I'm missing, I would be really grateful for any help I could get. Or if sounds weird to other people too, I'll at least feel like I'm going slightly less crazy.
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Post by Elthir on Mon Feb 18, 2019 4:46 pm

Eldy, I'll dig out my copy and read this again in full.

And perhaps I can stay horsed before I try to respond (at some point) Very Happy

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Post by Elthir on Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:01 pm

Read it! Fell off my horse at one point but didn't further behorse.

My opinion in brief: I like the start, I like the interesting background with respect to the Winchester Malory and so on. But when Flieger gets to the part you quoted, she jumps to the "Bilbo transmission" with respect to First Age Translations, which she herself knows gets specific ink in the 1960s, and yet she reaches back to Eriol and the Golden Book!  

At this point, and admittedly to put it too simply, I'd characterize this as conflation, not unlike the map of Tol Eressea in Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth. That said, I totally get the impulse behind what Flieger appears to be doing, and there's a nice charm to it in my opinion. But when I shake that off, I think she's trying to pull together too many disparate strands.

Again I would have to go back to her earlier book to try to figure out her reasoning for doing this, but right now all I can find is Splintered Light, and it's even possible that I might have donated IM to make room for new stuff on my bookshelves!

My IM should be right next to my SL, but it isn't Suspect


Also, it's not like I've never done a bit of "mixing" myself. For instance, I like the idea of Tolkien's "Atlantis Haunting" being a measure of dream transmission (NCP), connecting the fictive Tolkien to Elendil, himself a "Starfriend" or better yet an "Elfriend, Elfwine", and also other internal Men, serving as a way to help the fictive Tolkien translate ancient languages and deal with ancient scripts and runes.

That said, I can't recall any real reason to think Tolkien went there. I've never actually looked for any bits that might "support" the idea, but I'm guessing there isn't anything compelling, if there's anything at all. It's just a fan idea and an admitted conflation -- to try and help "solve" the language void that a dismissed Elfwine the Anglo-Saxon arguably leaves. And as an idea with no textual support that I'm aware of, I always try to be clear about that.


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Post by Eldy on Tue Feb 19, 2019 10:32 am

Thanks, Elthir; it's good to get your take on it. Smile I liked the paper for the most part. I engage in conflation too (though I think synthesis sounds better Razz), and part of the reason my eyebrows shooting as far as they did is that Flieger's results are very different from my own. But even trying to be objective it seemed like a bit much.

As of this evening I'm now reunited with my copy of Interrupted Music and quite a bit else besides, including Sauron Defeated. "The Book of Stories" is mentioned in a blockquote in IM, which originally comes from p. 279 of HoMe IX, included with a number of other notes and fragments at the end of "The Notion Club Papers Part Two" (italics and "[sic]" in the original).

Tréowine sees the straight road and the world plunging down. Aelfwine's vessel seems to be taking the straight road and falls [sic] in a swoon of fear and exhaustion.

Aelfwine gets view of the Book of Stories; and writes down what he can remember.

Later fleeting visions.

Beleriand tale.

Sojourn in Númenor before and during the fall ends with Elendil and Voronwë fleeing on a hill of water into the dark with Eagles and lightning pursuing them. Elendil has a book which he has written.

His descendants get glimpses of it

Aelfwine has one.

Which I will admit is a really neat idea and I can understand how it appeals to Flieger. I'm still not totally sure what her reasoning was in "Tolkien and the Idea of the Book"--I've been looking through some of the relevant parts of Interrupted Music and I think she makes a slightly different (IMO stronger) argument there--but to be honest I'm way too tired to absorb much from her writing right now.

Best wishes with your future (be)horsing affairs. :hug:


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I am very excited about having a much larger percentage of my collection on hand for the near future. These are the ones I picked up today--literally, in a plastic tub which was very heavy when fully loaded. Razz

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