As Tolkien wrote the manuscript for Lord of the Rings, he badly wished to return to the Silmarillion. Because of new characters such as Galadriel, and further exploration of Orcs, Elves, and Dwarves, he had a lot to reconsider. Much, of course, changed in the Silmarillion writings, but one thing that remained true was that the story had a framing.
In the previous post, I wrote about Eriol/Ælfwine, the eleventh century Englishman who visited Tol Eressëa, met the Elves and learned all about the Silmarillion stories, which he wrote down and gave to his countrymen (which was to explain how we have them today).
1946: While writing the Lord of the Rings
It was in 1946, when Tolkien had finished writing Two Towers, and had just begun Return of the King, that he returned for a time to the Ainulinadlë. He actually put down Lord of the Rings to dip back into the classics.
Speaking of change, this new version featured a round world! The versions previous to this and the versions after all began with a flat world which would eventually be made round. But this version, written while on a break from Lord of the Rings featured the round world from the beginning. Through even this drastic change, Tolkien retained the story that Ælfwine was told the Silmarillion by Pengolod.
1950: Right after writing Lord of the Rings
Soon enough, Tolkien returned to the Lord of the Rings, finishing the manuscript in 1950ish. This was also when he sat down to rewrite the Ainlinadlë, which reverted back to the flat world idea. Still, through this draft and the next (which would be the final), the framing remained in tact.
The preamble to the first post-Lord of the Rings version read:
This was written by Rúmil of Túna and was told to Ælfwine the Eressëa (as he records) by Pengoloð the Sage
While the second read:
This was made by Rúmil of Túna in the Elder Days. It is here written as it was spoken in Eressëa to Ælfwine by Pengolð the Sage. To it are added the further words that Pengoloð spoke at that time concerning the Valar, the Eldar and the Atani; of which more is said hereafter.
It is well to keep in mind two things at this point. First, as he wrote this draft, Tolkien fully intended to publish the Silmarillion along side Lord of the Rings, hopefully as a sort of two-volume set. Second, even in the final version of the Ainulindalë (and as we can see, the final version of the Silmarillion), Tolkien wished to have the narrative framed by Ælfwine and Pengolð.
1951ish: So long Ælfwine and Pengolð!
But the Silmarillion at that time (the early 1950s) didn’t just consist of the stories that we have in the published version today. Tolkien also continued his Annals, which he had started prior to writing the Hobbit, renaming them the Annals of Aman and the Grey Annals. These Annals were basically like the Tale of Years from the Appendices, giving solid dates to the events of the Silmarillion.
And even these had framing – Here begin the Annals of Aman, which Rúmil made, and speak of the coming of the Valar to Arda. For a time, Tolkien considered the idea that the Annals of Aman “were held in memory by the Exiles. Those part which were learned and remembered were thus set down in Númenor before the Shadow fell upon it.”
Gone were Pengoloð and Ælfwine, and here now are the Númenorians who got it from the Noldor who got it from Rúmil. Though Tolkien wouldn’t always stick with the Númenorian bent to the story, this wouldn’t be the last of them, either.
The Grey Annals, written around the same time, took the place of the Annals of Beleriand, covering the First Age and the years before the Sun. These Annals, however, had nothing to do with Rúmil, but were made by the Sindar, the Grey Elves of Doriath and the Havens, and enlarged from the records and memories of the remnant of the Noldor of Nargothrond and Gondolin at the Mouths of Sirion whence they were brought back into the West.”
Whose Stories Are These, Anyway?
Though Tolkien faced many problems in writing the Silmarillion, he created a new one in this post-Lord of the Rings period: just whose stories were these? At first, it was simple. They were handed down by the Elves to Eriol who took them back to England and that’s how we got them in the present day.
But with the Noldor, Sindar, Rúmil, Pengoloð, and even the Númenorians now in on the action, he really had to work this all out.
For a time, he batted around the idea of the round world specifically because the High Eldar would have been too smart to think that the world was ever flat. “The Mythology,” he said, “must actually be a ‘Mannish’ affair. (Men are only interested in Men and in Men’s ideas and visions).”
The Númenoreans were the perfect conduit, and Gondor the perfect place to have preserved these stories. They were, he wrote, “part of the Atanatárion (or the Legendarium of the Fathers of Men).” And with that, at least during this period of writing, Ælfwine was completely missing.
1958ish: Welcome Back, Ælfwine and Pengolð!
However, in the late 1950s, Tolkien decided again to rewrite much of the Silmarillion material. In this version, Ælfwine was back – he placed Mannish footnotes in the text where necessary. But in other cases, references to both Pengoloð and Ælfwine were removed, allowing the story to flow without the interruption of framing.
This was all simply reworking, and no indication at all that Tolkien was growing cold on the framing idea. This is evidenced in the interesting work “The Laws and Customs of the Eldar Pertaining to Marriage and Other Matters…” in which he stated that it was handed down by Ælfwine, who gave a little preamble.
Almost phased out by the Númenorians (to some degree), Ælfwine now faced a new foe; one that came surprisingly late to the party: hobbits. Tolkien finished up his late 1950s Silmarillion writings around 1960. Over the next few years, he was preoccupied with a revision of both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
In a 1963 letter, Tolkien voiced his worry about the framing of the Silmarillion. The stories themselves, he wrote, had “to be integrated” with the Lord of the Rings. Perhaps with this in mind, Tolkien revised the passage in Lord of the Rings where it’s explained that Bilbo gave to Frodo “some books of lore that he had made at various times” (as was said in the original version) to “three books of lore…”
To the Prologue, Tolkien added a bit about “the three large volumes bound in red leather, that Bilbo gave to him [Frodo] as a parting gift.”
Also, in the Prologue was added an obvious reference to the Silmarillion:
“But the chief importance of Findegil’s copy is that it alone contains the whole of Bilbo’s ‘Translations from the Elvish’. These three volumes were found to be a work of great skill and learning in which, between 1403 and 1418 [Shire Reckoning], he had used all the sources available to him in Rivendell, both living and written. But since they were little used by Frodo, being almost entirely concerned with the Elder Days, no more is said of them here.”
But this was literally the only place where Tolkien even came close to mentioning the idea that the hobbits would be part (or all) of the framing. If he intended this to be his final thought on the matter, he never mentioned it to anyone.
Finally, in Conclusion…
The published Silmarillion, as we know, contains nothing of the framing. It is presented as if the work had been simply found along the road somewhere. It’s clear that most of it comes from and is for the Elves, but beyond that, it’s a mystery.
As we can see now, it didn’t have to be this way. And Christopher Tolkien, who hastily edited together the Silmarillion as it’s published today, regrets his choice to nix the framing. In the very first volume of the History of Middle-Earth series, published only six years following the release of the Silmarillion, he stated:
“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.”
A big part of me agrees with Christopher Tolkien, and I would have absolutely loved for the hobbits to have framed it. But in the end, where would that have brought us? If Ælfwine the Englishman really had handed it down through his ancestors to today, why wasn’t he mentioned in Lord of the Rings? His inclusion, and maybe any inclusion of the framing narrative, might have created more questions than answers.
A Few Notes
- We’ll delve more into this round earth thing a little later, I promise.
- I’ve purposely left out other writings, such as The Notion Club Papers in an attempt to be kind of brief. The framing in Notion Club is next level bonkers and would have been a fun thing to poke at for a bit.
- Reading over this now, I’m thinking that maybe I should have given better references (or any references). So if you want to know where I got some information, just ask. I’ll refind it for you. I think I’ll be better with this in the future. (Hint: Footnotes)