Saturday 22 November 2014

From Eriol and AElfwine to Bilbo Baggins - framing Tolkien's Legendarium for the modern reader


Continuing from

In Tolkien's very earliest stories dating from 1917, now published as The Book of Lost Tales volumes one and two, framing device was a mariner called Eriol who found his way to Elfland, and heard the stories sung and recited in The Room of the Log Fire, in The Cottage of Lost Play.

This Eriol was therefore the link between the ancient legendary or mythic world - and the modern world; and over the next decades Eriol became variously re-named and transmuted through AElfwine in the early versions of The Silmarillion in the 1920s and 30s, through the Lost Road fragment of 1936 and the Arundel 'Arry' Lowtham character of the Notion Club Papers of 1945-6 - all of whom were mariners who reached Elfland (Tol Erresea) and brought the ancient legends back to Middle Earth (i.e. the British Isles).

But in the end, it was Bilbo Baggins who did this job - as described in the Prologue: concerning Hobbit to the The Lord of the Rings ^

So Eriol = Aelfwine = Arundel = Bilbo.

Cottage of Lost Play = Elrond's House in Rivendell

Room with the Log Fire = Hall of Fire


^By the end of the first century of the Fourth Age there were already to be found in the Shire several libraries that contained many historical books and records.

The largest of these collections were probably at Undertowers, at Great Smials, and at Brandy Hall.  This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Westmarch.  That most important source for the history of the War of the Ring was so called because it was long preserved at Undertowers, the home of the Fairbairns, Wardens of the Westmarch.

It was in origin Bilbo's private diary, which he took with him to Rivendell.  Frodo brought it back to the Shire, together with many loose leaves of notes, and during S.R. 1420-1 he nearly filled its pages with his account of the War.  But annexed to it and preserved with it, probably in a single red case, were the three large volumes, bound in red leather, that Bilbo gave to him as a parting gift.  To these four volumes there was added in Westmarch a fifth containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship.

The original Red Book has not been preserved, but many copies were made, especially of the first volume, for the use of the descendants of the children of Master Samwise.  The most important copy, however, has a different history.  It was kept at Great Smials, but it was written in Gondor, probably at the request of the great-grandson of Peregrin, and completed in S.R. 1592 (F.A. 172).  Its southern scribe appended this note:  Findegil, King's Writer, finished this work in IV 172.  It is an exact copy in all details of the Thain's Book in Minas Tirith.  That book was a copy, made at the request of King Elessar, of the Red Book of the Periannath, and was brought to him by the Thain Peregrin when he retired to Gondor in IV 64.


Christopher Tolkien's reflections on The Silmarillion of 1977 in the Introduction to The Book of Lost Tales

Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion in 1977 as a single volume work; but just six years later he explicitly stated that he had made a mistake in the way that work was presented. is certainly debatable whether it was wise to publish in 1977 a version of the primary 'legendarium' standing on its own and claiming, as it were, to be self-explanatory. The published work has no 'framework', no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be. This I now think to have been an error. 

He says this in one of the most interesting and enlightening pieces of JRR Tolkien criticism and discussion I have encountered - the Introduction to the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales.


The acknowledged problem is that The Silmarillion of 1977 is presented as a free-standing, and supposedly self-explanatory volume; with no context or framing. The reader does not know how to read it; especially in relation to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

So, the reader jumps straight into an Old Testament-like account of how the world was made by the One Creator God and his many minor gods - yet there is no indication of who is telling us this - and how do they know about it? How is it that we hold in our hands a purportedly true account of the making of the world, and the first doings of elves and men within it?


What Christopher Tolkien reveals, which is amply confirmed throughout the multi-volume The History of Middle Earth, is that this question of the provenance of these ancient (feigned) histories had been a matter of deep and lasting concern to JRR Tolkien - he had never ceased to worry over it, but had not reached any clear conclusion - which was why Christopher Tolkien decided to just say nothing.

However, by 1983 Christopher had decided that this was an error, and that he should have framed The Silmarillion to indicate that the book had been written by Bilbo Baggins as one of his Translations from the Elvish during his residence at Rivendell, with presumably some indication of where Bilbo had obtained his information (eg. Elrond, the resident and visiting Noldorin High Elves from Valinor, and Aragorn) and how Bilbo's book had come down to us in modern times.

...apart from the evidence cited here, there is, so far as I know, no other statement on this matter anywhere in my father's writings; and (wrongly, as I think now) I was reluctant to step into the breach and make definite what I only surmised.

This provenance is sketched-out in the Prologue to the second Edition of The Lord of the Rings as having been a copy of The Red Book of Westmarch etc., made by a Gondorian scribe called Findegil in Fourth Age 172 - and this feigned MS has (somehow) come into the hands of JRR Tolkien (and then presumably his son Christopher) and used as the basis for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and - now - The Silmarillion of 1977.


So, the reader of The Silmarillion (1977) should read it as a modern editor's presentation of one of Bilbo Baggins's Translations from the Elvish - done in Rivendell and handed to Frodo Baggins for safe keeping just before he returned to the Shire after the destruction of the One Ring.

It should not be regarded as a 'God's eye view' of what happened; but as a summary and synthesis by one well-informed Hobbit; gathered from the partial and only-partially-reliable manuscript resources of Rivendell, supplemented by oral evidence - many, many years (sometimes many thousands of years) after the events described.


Tuesday 18 November 2014

If Charles Williams did preside at Inklings meetings - why might this fact have been unrecorded? The Tolkien Red Herring

I have argued that there are good grounds for believing that Charles Williams (rather than CS Lewis) assumed a dominant, 'presiding' role at Inklings meetings during the 1939-45 years he was in Oxford -

If I am correct about this, why would it not have been mentioned specifically such that the fact was not suspected?

The main evidence would have needed to come from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis does not say that Charles Williams 'took over' from him at Inklings meetings; however, Lewis was always keen to emphasize the convivial aspects of the Inklings and downplay the formal elements. And his almost unbounded admiration of and praise for Williams in letters after CW's death and the introduction to Essays Presented to Charles Williams certainly do not contradict the idea of CW presiding.


But JRR Tolkien said nothing of this kind - indeed, Tolkien threw a large Red Herring into Inklings studies which has confused most scholars since; when from the late 1950s or early 60s Tolkien began to 'rewrite' his own relationship with Charles Williams, and present a distorted history of his own relationship with Williams - downplaying his own friendship, claiming not to like William's work, claiming Williams was really just a favourite of CSL, and that this happened because Lewis was too impressionable.

Tolkien is, indeed, so negative about Williams that many Inklings scholars state that Tolkien was jealous of Williams having displaced himself as Lewis's best friend.


However, there is no trace of this in published contemporary evidence of letters, diaries etc, deriving from while Williams was still alive and in the period afterwards. This is unanimous that Tolkien and CW were good friends, and got on well together, there is no trace of 'jealousy' -

Above, I argue that Tolkien retrospectively changed his mind against Williams, after some of the revelations concerning Williams life which were published in the late 1950s (perhaps related to Williams's participation in ritual magic and/or his un-Christian relationships with young women) - but this was all more than a decade after Williams's death.


It also seems that Tolkien was strongly and decisively influenced by Williams's novel The Place of the Lion; but much of this clear influence is only evident in the unpublished novels The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers  -


Since Tolkien only became famous, and oft-interviewed, after he had turned-against Charles Williams, and after CS Lewis had died, the best potential source of information on the nature of Inklings meetings and their conduct was already distorted; the well was poisoned, in effect.

Of course this is a negative explanation for an absence of evidence - and is clearly not a decisive argument! Still, perhaps it helps explain why it seems possible that CW may have 'led' the Inklings meetings, despite there being no specific evidence to confirm this assertion.


Wednesday 5 November 2014

What was Lewis thinking when he wrote his 'puff' for Lord of the Rings; what were Unwin's thinking by printing it so prominently on the cover or book flap?


"If Ariosto rivalled it in invention (in fact he does not) he would still lack its heroic seriousness..."

Wait! What? Ariosto! Who he?

What microscopic proportion of the English speaking population have even heard of Ariosto, let alone read him, leave aside - having read him - regarding surpassing Ariosto's  imputed 'inventiveness' as a compelling recommendation for reading Tolkien?

Crazy stuff. Incompetent. Off-putting.

Luckily, not off-putting enough to torpedo the book.


Tuesday 4 November 2014

Tom Bombadil 'has no fear' - what is the significance?

In the Lord of the Rings chapter entitled 'In the House of Tom Bombadil'; in response to a question from Frodo concerning 'who is' Tom Bombadil, his wife Goldberry responds:

Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.

The stand-out significance of this is that Tom has no fear.

This is unusual, perhaps unique among the healthy and long-lived inhabitants of Middle Earth - even Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron experience fear; because to have no fear is usually a defect - unless there is indeed nothing to fear.

To be afraid is necessary, for almost every living thing, since it is fear which protects us from harm.


And this exactly seems to be the case with Tom: he rationally has no fear, because he has nothing to fear, because nothing can harm him - which means that Tom Bombadil cannot neither be hurt nor killed.

Tom is the Master, because he is invulnerable - he has never been 'caught'.


Why would he be invulnerable? Probably because he is a god of some kind. But the other gods we are told of are vulnerable, can be harmed, and experience fear.

Why would Tom in particular be impossible to harm?

Perhaps because he wants nothing, but is absolutely content with what he has, and what he has cannot (or at least will not) be taken from him...

Or if it may be taken from him at some point in the future (as seems all too likely, seems in fact to have happened - assuming Tom is not still to be found on Middle earth), then concern for that future loss casts no shadow over the present.