The later timeline material given in The Nature of Middle-earth has a much longer timeline for the Years of the Trees era events than what's published in History of Middle-earth (and implied or stated in the published Silmarillion).

I know it is stated in material in Morgoth's Ring that the origin of Men needed to be pushed back since a few centuries wasn't enough to allow for the numbers and different peoples of Men at the time Finrod Felagund first met them (in Sun Year 310).

But tens of thousands of years seems like a far larger change than is necessary for this purpose (a mere thousand years ought to allow for the emergence of different cultures and languages among Men)... And the result is things like the Return of the Noldor taking 144 years (which seems incredibly long even given that they had to walk across a continent plus the Grinding Ice... historical expeditions could cross continents in a couple of years).

Is it ever explained what the motive for the vastly increased timeline was?

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    Tolkein was also trying to change things so that the Sun and Moon had always existed. The Hobbit 3rd edition had an edit to that effect. He was also trying to make 144 a significant number to the Elves (like 40 in Judeo-Christian mythology).
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 22, 2021 at 8:43
  • Yes, I know about the Sun/Moon thing... but I don't see why that in itself would lead to expanding the timeline for Men and Elves (for example in the published Silm it seems that Ingwe/Finwe/Elwe/Olwe were 1st generation Elves who awoke at Cuivienen, whereas the Nature of Middle Earth demographic/time stuff makes them many generations on) Sep 22, 2021 at 19:22
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    He was a life-long tinkerer. The only way anything he wrote could approach finality was when it was published -- and woe betide the publisher wanting a new edition. That's why LotR and the Silmarillion are more canonical than the dozen or so volumes of collected notes that have been published.
    – Mark Olson
    Sep 22, 2021 at 19:45
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    @MarkOlson You should turn that into an answer.
    – Spencer
    Sep 22, 2021 at 20:43
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    @OrangeDog it definitely does diminish that (and IMO the earlier mythology is better, and I think CT was right to keep it in the published Silmarillion). But I don't think that really explains the perceived need for the vast expansion of the pre-Return of the Noldor timeline. Sep 23, 2021 at 23:22

2 Answers 2


Tolkien was a life-long tinkerer -- it was his way of working and he was never satisfied with what he'd done. The only way anything he wrote could approach finality was when it was published -- and woe betide the publisher wanting a new edition!

Incidentally, this is why LotR and the Silmarillion are so much more canonical than the dozen or so volumes of collected notes that have been published. The notes are inconsistent with themselves in many ways, and stories and musing on background frequently exist in multiple versions, at most one of which matches the world of LotR and the Silmarillion.

C. S. Lewis gave credit to the Inklings for encouraging Tolkien stop rewriting and get LotR to the publisher, but he never claimed credit for the work itself, saying:

No one ever influenced Tolkien -- you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch. We listened to his work, but could affect it only by encouragement. He has only two reactions to criticism; either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning or else takes no notice at all.

(My emphasis.)

It's also worth reading his "Leaf by Niggle" which is more than a bit autobiographical. Niggle is a painter who is (like Tolkien) a procrastinator who is obsessively painting a great tree, but must make every leaf a masterpiece and his life becomes devoted to perfecting this painting to the exclusion of everything else. Tom Shippey saw "Leaf by Niggle" as autobiographical.

If you read the latest book of Tolkien's notes, The Nature of Middle-earth by Carl Hostetter, you can see his obsessive tinkering at work as he tries, for example, to reconcile what he's said about Elves' lives and the nature of Arda with itself, leading him to consider huge changes to his chronology and world.

Personally, I can only say that Tolkien's obsessive artistry created a truly glorious book in Lord of the Rings, and Christopher Tolkien's restraint and clear judgement with the The Silmarillion salvaged a masterpiece out of the astonishingly scattered leaves JRRT left behind.

  • This is certainly true, and may be the best answer possible... but there seems to be so much effort spent in the NoME material to make things "work" with the extended timeline (Maeglin's age, etc.) that I was hoping there was some explanation as to what the motivation of the greatly-extended timeline was in the first place. E.g. "Men had then existed for [...] 64,534 Sun Years, which, though doubtless insufficient scientifically [...] is adequate for purposes of the Silmarillion, etc." -- but why was so much time needed to be "adequate for purposes of the Silmarillion"? Sep 23, 2021 at 23:20
  • @cometaryorbit You can get inside Tolkien's skin to some extent if you have the patience (stamina?) to read the thirteen (I think) thick volumes of his working papers that have been published. Nearly everything he wrote went through endless revisions and versions and fiddling and re-revisions and false starts -- that was Tolkien. (LotR, in fact, is possibly the least revised of his major writings, since once he really got started on it, he didn't do a huge amount of revision.) ((I should be clear that this is not a criticism! His methods produced wonders in his hands.))
    – Mark Olson
    Sep 23, 2021 at 23:44
  • I've read most of them, but I don't have the last two HoME volumes and haven't read them in at least a decade. I was hoping there might be a hint there. Plus I might have missed something in Nature of Middle Earth. Sep 23, 2021 at 23:53
  • @cometaryorbit Good luck and I hope you yet find something -- goodness knows there's enough there that no one can remember it all -- and post it here. But I fear that the answer will always boil down to Tolkien's restless creativity.
    – Mark Olson
    Sep 24, 2021 at 0:19
  • @MarkOlson "Stamina" is definitely the word.
    – Spencer
    Sep 25, 2021 at 1:44

I think it may be necessary to extend the timeline so that the Elves might develop some sort of traditions regarding succession and social hierarchy in general, before the War of Jewels.

It bothers me a little when I first read the Silmarillion: unless they got slain or lost(kidnapped) a lot back in Middle-earth, they wouldn't have the need to come up with any rule of succession. I also don't like the idea that God taught them the idea of royalty, kings, and princes.

The Nature of Middle-earth kind of answers my question: The Elves do grow old, they become less vigorous from some point on. It only takes a very long time. The leaders may give up their leadership to the younger and more adventurous generation - That is how we get Ingwe, Finwe, and Olwe instead of any of the first Elves: Imin, Tata, and Enel - the first Elves all became Avari.

The entire War of Jewels took place in such a short time (for the Elves), no natural succession was seen - Galadriel was only approaching her prime at the end of the Third Age.

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