Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
(1993, Harper Collins)

The History of Middle-Earth, book 10

The final draft versions of the legends of the Elder days in Aman before the publication of the Silmarillion, as well as essays on the philosophy of elvish souls, and a drastic re-imagining of the entire


-- 2nd reading (hardcover)
December 11th, 2012 to January 8th, 2013


The first half of this book exhibited the next-to-last drafts of the Silmarillion, and as such, were very little different from what came before, and what came after, and it took me a long time to make any progress. In later days, Tolkien started second-guessing his mythology -I'd have loved to know the reason for that. The second half of the book presented essays on how this transformation would take place, while maintaining the central myth, and were very interesting, indeed.

Spoiler review:

In the history of the drafts of The Silmarillion, this book compiles the last stages of the first part of the story, much of which would eventually make it into The Silmarillion, which was compiled after Tolkien died. The writings take up many years after they were left off. The pre-Lord of the Rings drafts were compiled back in The Lost Road. Here, even before The Lord of the Rings was completed, he started rewriting his mythology. And possibly due to Sauron's manipulations, or having seen the growth of science after the Second World War, he started to have some very different ideas.

There is a lot of expansion in the Silmarillion story, and not all of seemed really necessary to present. We were given several versions of the Ainulindale, the story of the gods, which was finally separated from the story of the Silmarils. It expands the realm of the gods, where Eru created them, and which probably stemmed from his ideas of expanding the solar system to 5 billion years old, which could be measured at that time, and the universe, of course, being much older. My favorite part of this is probably where Eru says not to worry about Melkor's manipulations, as everything he tries to disrupt will become more beautiful because of it, such as freezing cold creating snow out of rain.

The Annals of Aman continue very closely to the versions we saw in earlier books. Though they seemed much the same to me, the editor pointed out several instances where they differed significantly. That's really the difference, I think between academic study and casual reading. I know the story in general, but I'm not fixated on the words that make up the story. Still, it's always good to read the story of this myth again.

It did take me a long time, though, to get through the Annals of Aman and the Later Quenta Silmarillion. I wonder if I'm just tiring of the story. Normally, I won't reread a book until a decade or more has passed. Here, in essence, I'm rereading a very complicated story over again every year!

As with the Annals, the Quenta didn't seem to change, though there were enough differences that the editor thought it useful to put most of it in this book, so there must have been enough to warrant it. I did like the way he stated the reasons why he chose to put this version or an older one into the final published Silmarillion, and in some cases, only realized he made a mistake after the thorough analyses made here.

The Quenta Silmarillion went through two phases in this book, one which takes the previous version and separates it into the nearly completed Silmarillion, and the other a more advanced version. The more advanced version is hardly touched here, except to point out major differences, at least until Tolkien came to the revelation that Feanor had a different mother than his brothers. That revelation seems to have set off a chain reaction that sent Tolkien into a frenzy of philosophy and remolding of his mythology.

I did enjoy the story of Finwe and Miriel, which is less a story and more a philosophical discussion about what it means to be an elf. I had honestly never before thought of elves being monogamous, and what that meant to them, as they are immortal. Tolkien discusses how their souls are drawn to one another, meaning they know when they fall in love that it is until the world ends. What a love that must be! But I wonder if an elf would then remain single until the love of his life has been born, which could be thousands of years from when he himself was born.

Tolkien also clarifies what he means by the elves fading, which is simply a balance between the power of the body and that of the soul. In Aman, where the Valar dwell, the gods have created a place free of death, where even the lives of flowers can be a long time (though presumably they do die eventually, as per their life cycle). In the youth of the elves, their bodies were strong, and their souls inexperienced. After millennia in Middle-Earth, their souls grew stronger, feeding on their bodies, and eventually taking the power away from the bodies. If Middle-Earth had remained untouched by Melkor's evil, perhaps they could retain a perfect balance.

It is also told how elvish mothers give part of their selves to their offspring, and how Miriel gave just about all of herself to Feanor, which is the reason she wanted to "die". The entire treatise is a discussion amongst the Valar of how to deal with this special situation, because according to divine law, no elf could have two spouses. Eventually, after a mourning period, the soul of Miriel maintained that she wanted no part among the living, so she was forbidden to leave again, and Finwe was permitted to have another spouse. This separation of Feanor from his brothers by giving them a different mother gives the story more of an impact, especially since some of them have very different opinions about him, and wonder if some of the strife could have been avoided if Finwe had been content with one son, or Miriel had more strength.

The next part of the book, a tale of Finrod visiting the human wise woman Andreth, tells of the early days of men, or the rumor of those days. Tolkien obviously wanted to flesh out mankind's legends, and how men perceive their mortality. In some ways, I didn't want to see some of this, except that it is very interesting. As in the real world, there are varying opinions on what really happened. I do wish, however, that Tolkien had treated the story as less of a myth, passed down through the ages, and more as a story. I've made the same complaint about the Dragonlance Chronicles, and I haven't changed my opinion.

In this story, Andreth insists that men were once immortal, but they were punished, either by Melkor, or by Eru for worshiping the devil. It has always been maintained that mortality was Eru's greatest gift to men, but here, that is given as an elvish idea, their understanding of men by the teachings of the Valar. Even worse, the Silmarillion is now given as a Numenorian transcription of what elves told them, which they learned from the Valar. There is now another separation from the source, and made by opinionated and short-lived men, which can skew the story. I don't like the idea, but it remains that the story is an interesting one. It discusses the relationship between bodies and souls, and the power of Melkor (which grows incredibly from last book to this one), as well as the role of men in the end of the world.

This is where this part of the Silmarillion was abandoned (except possibly works that went into the published story, and Unfinished Tales), and it was due to Tolkien's expanding philosophic and scientific analysis of his story. The fifth part of this book takes miscellaneous writings and relates them in an interesting vision, one that discusses Melkor, elves, men and orcs, flip-flopping between the latter's origins as men (an idea I dislike) and elves. There is also a series of visions for an updated mythology, one which would take into account the 5 billion year old sun, and the rest of the universe that it exists in.

I prefer the romantic version of the tale, where the sun and moon are created from the last flowers of the two trees, which left Middle-Earth in darkness until they rose. However, the texts are extremely interesting, definitely the best part of the book, and they paint a very interesting story. That story would include most of the elements of the existing Silmarillion, but put it in a completely different setting. The Earth would be round to start with, and Melkor would follow the other Valar later, wreck the works, try to corrupt the sun, and so on. The trees would be created to preserve the uncorrupted sun, and Aman seems to be protected by some sort of force field. Compared to the Book of Lost Tales, this setting and tale seem way too modern. At first, I was in complete disagreement with even thinking about such a thing. But as I read the synopses of the revised tale, my interest was piqued.

Still, I wonder at Tolkien's ability to throw away everything he had written prior to this, where he had written draft after draft, even to the point of changing only specific wording between drafts. Would he have continued to write new drafts of The Silmarillion in this revised format, or was he ready to commit to a new story like The Lord of the Rings, and actually publish it? It's impossible to say.


-- First reading (hardcover)
July 29th to August 12th, 1994


No review available.


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