16

I was always under the impression that the published Silmarillion is supposed to represent Bilbo's "Translations from the Elvish" that he made while living in Rivendell, becoming attached to the Red Book of Westmarch.

But "Of the Third Age and the Rings of Power" states that

These stones were gifts of the Eldar to Amandil [...] They were called the Palantiri, those that watch from afar; but all those that were brought to Middle-earth long ago were lost.

At the end of Lord of the Rings, when Bilbo and Frodo depart over the sea, Aragorn still has one fully-functional Palantir and one semi-functional one (the "burning hands of Denethor" one).

Even in Fourth Age 172 (When the King's Writer Findegil copied the Red Book) they would probably still have been around, as it seems Eldarion inherited the throne from Aragorn without any major wars/invasions/etc.

Is this a "Tolkien as translator" comment, or a late Fourth Age one, or something else?

4
  • 1
    Another misconception I'd like to point out is that fans often believe that the (Quenta) Silmarillion is from the Elves' point of view, but the book sometimes makes references to information that the elves canonically do not have. Jul 28, 2021 at 16:35
  • 2
    @cometaryorbit The publish book Silmarillion contains four other texts beside the Quenta Silmarillion, the Ainuldale, the Valaquenta, the Akallabeth, and Of the Rings of Power and the Fourth Age. To me it seems highly probable that the Quenta Silmarillion is among Bilbo's translations from the Elvish, but less certain that the Akallabeth and of the Rings of Power are. It is possible that they come from the sources less important than the Red Book that Tolkien mentions. Jul 28, 2021 at 16:39
  • 4
  • @ibid it's close, but doesn't really touch on the 'Bilbo's translations from the Elvish' aspect of it. Your answer below is more complete. Jul 29, 2021 at 8:57

2 Answers 2

24

Christopher Tolkien's published "The Silmarillion" has no framing device

The original framing device of Tolkien's first age texts involved a mariner (first Eriol, later Ælfwine), who visited Tol Eressëa and was recounted many tales by the elves there. Later this framing device was generally removed, but references would still be made in some of the tales about which character was saying them over.

In the Foreword to The Book of Lost Tales Part One, Christopher Tolkien discusses in depth about the decisions he made regarding the framing device of the Silmarillion. He says that he thinks his father's intent was to tell the story without any framing device and instead just include a note about how it was recorded.

When my father died in 1973 'The Silmarillion' was in a characteristic state of disarray: the earlier parts much revised or largely rewritten, the concluding parts still as he had left them some twenty years before; but in the latest writing there is no trace or suggestion of any 'device' or 'framework' in which it was to be set. I think that in the end he concluded that nothing would serve, and no more would be said beyond an explanation of how (within the imagined world) it came to be recorded.
The History of Middle-earth volume I - The Book of Lost Tales Part One - Foreword

Christopher than says that he was aware of the theory that the Silmarillion was meant to be Bilbo's 'Translations from the Elvish', and that he himself felt so, but that he felt introducing this into the Silmarillion texts would be stepping beyond his place as an editor.

In The Complete Guide to Middle-earth Robert Foster says: 'Quenta Silmarillion was no doubt one of Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish preserved in the Red Book of Westmarch.' So also I have assumed: the 'books of lore' that Bilbo gave to Frodo provided in the end the solution: they were 'The Silmarillion'. But apart from the evidence cited here [i.e. from The Lord of the Rings], 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.
The History of Middle-earth volume I - The Book of Lost Tales Part One - Foreword

Christopher later found more evidence of this, but it was already long after the Silmarillion was published.

The Note on the Shire Records entered in the Second Edition. In one of his copies of the First Edition my father noted: 'Here should be inserted Note on the Shire Records'; but he wrote against this later: 'I have decided against this. It belongs to Preface to The Silmarillion.' With this compare my remarks in the Foreword to The Book of Lost Tales Part One, pp. 5-6.
The History of Middle-earth volume XII - The Peoples of Middle-earth - "The Prologue"

So instead Christopher decided to just focus on creating a single cohesive text, erasing all the conflicting mentions of who narrated each part.

The choice before me, in respect of 'The Silmarillion', was threefold. I could withhold it indefinitely from publication, on the ground that the work was incomplete and incoherent between its parts. I could accept the nature of the work as it stood, and, to quote my Foreword to the book, 'attempt to present the diversity of the materials - to show "The Silmarillion" as in truth a continuing and evolving creation extending over more than half a century'; and that, as I have said in Unfinished Tales (p. i), would have entailed 'a complex of divergent texts interlinked by commentary' - a far larger undertaking than those words suggest. In the event, I chose the third course, 'to work out a single text, selecting and arranging in such a way as seemed to me to produce the most coherent and internally self-consistent narrative'. Having come, at length, to that decision, all the editorial labour of myself and of Guy Kay who assisted me was directed to the end that my father had stated in the letter of 1963: 'The legends have to be worked over . . . and made consistent; and they have to be integrated with the L.R.'
The History of Middle-earth volume I - The Book of Lost Tales Part One - Foreword

Arguably Tolkien intended to revise the "Quenta Silmarillion" to have it as one of Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish, but he has not done so and Christopher has not either. Everything in The Silmarillion has been edited to have an omniscient narrator.

That said, "Of the Rings of Power" is a different work from the "Quenta Silmarillion", and we do not know what Tolkien's original or final intent was with it. And it's original drafts haven't been published so we can't even see if Christopher edited out narrator names from it like he did with some of the other tales.

11
  • "He says that he thinks his father's intent was to tell the story without any framing device and instead just include a note about how it was recorded." <--- didn't CJRT in the end regret wholly removing the framing, and was just not confident enough to explicitly say the Silm was Translations from the Elvish? At least, I vaguely recall something like this from listening to the Mythgard Academy HoME series. Jul 29, 2021 at 8:24
  • 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. -Christopher Tolkien Jul 29, 2021 at 8:26
  • OK, perfect, thank you! Jul 29, 2021 at 8:57
  • 2
    @DavidRoberts - From reading the BoLT intro, it seems that Christopher felt in hindsight that he should have explicitly added a statement about it being from Translation from the Elvish. "and (wrongly, as I think now) I was reluctant to step into the breach and make definite what I only surmised." I think this is him saying that he should have done more editing here, not less. (Personally I think the Ælfwine framework should have been kept, but I'm not Christopher.)
    – ibid
    Jul 29, 2021 at 9:26
  • @ibid yeah, I think that is what "wrongly, as I think now" must mean; that the Bilbo origin should have been overtly given. Jul 29, 2021 at 11:22
10

The published Silmarillion is often taken by fans to be, in-universe, an English translation of the Bilbo's own translations from Elvish. However, the book itself never claims to be this. In the introduction, Christopher Tolkien talks about how the book can be seen as analogous to a collection of folklore—for which perfect consistency cannot be expected and probably would not even be desirable. No canonical answer is given for who should be thought of as the in-universe author of the various works included in the book.

J. R. R. Tolkien was, in any case, not particularly diligent about maintaining the logical integrity of his framing narrative. Even The Lord of the Rings occasionally includes things (such as the thoughts of the fox that passes by the sleeping hobbits early in the story) that its purported in-universe authors (Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam) could not possibly have known about. The writings that made their way into The Silmarillion (and The Unfinished Tales, etc.) were an inhomogeneous lot, composed in different styles and with different viewpoints, and the author never himself rationalized these into a coherent whole with a cohesive in-universe provenance. "Of the Third Age and the Rings of Power" appears to have been written either by a much later in-universe observer or an omniscient one—as a fair number of Tolkien's essays about his created world (such as his essay about the Istari) were. And there is not really anything more we can say about its viewpoint than that.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.