Monday, 11 June 2018

The root of The Problem with the 1977 Silmarillion

John Garth (in Tolkien and the Great War - pages 279-80) puts his finger on the root of The Problem of the 1977, single volume Silmarillion; which is that when Tolkien was re-drafting stories, he did not work from the original text of the stories - such as we can now see presented in the later edition of Lost Tales; but instead he worked from a summary of the stories that he had prepared in 1925 for an old school teacher to whom Tolkien sent some of his work.

This created the basic character of the Silmarillion from then onwards - which is precisely that it reads like a Summary - not like 'the real thing'; everything is at a distance, and I am not engaged by it.

Or, to put it another way, the sections (except perhaps the first creation myth) are essentially 'annalistic' in style - rather like the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, or indeed the Appendicies of Lord of the Rings....

This, in itself, need not have been so damaging, except for the way that the 1977 Silmarillion is presented. The 1977 Silmarillion is without any feigned historical frame, implicitly presented as a arc-ing story; and implicitly as within-universe - yet without any context.

In sum, the 1977 Silmarillion is not presented as the (feigned historical) 'annals' of the legend, but instead as-if the sections were a kind of novel.

As I've written before; this could, in principle, easily be set right by a different presentation of the Silmarillion material.

The Silmarillion legendarium can never have the kind of 'mass appeal' of The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings; but I believe it could and should be made available in a 'within-universe' form similar to the Appendices; a form that is both more accessible, and less 'universe-hostile', than the detached and scholarly presentation of The History of Middle Earth.


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