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The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were described by Tolkien as being historical documents that he found and then translated into the final published texts.

Did Tolkien see all of the following texts within his legendarium as being either fully or partially historical texts that he had found and translated?

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  • The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle
  • Bilbo's Last Song
  • The Silmarillion
  • Unfinished Tales
  • The History of Middle-earth
  • The Children of Húrin
  • Beren and Lúthien
  • The Fall of Gondolin
  • The Nature of Middle-earth
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    I'm pretty sure that Tolkien didn't actually see them as translated. It was merely a storytelling conceit that he used to describe their origins
    – Valorum
    Jun 17, 2023 at 18:52

2 Answers 2

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Kind of, yes.

As ibid says in his answer, the list of books doesn't equate to the underlying texts. But in-universe, the ultimate source of those texts was the three volumes titled Translations from the Elvish that Bilbo compiled in Rivendell. He gave those volumes to Frodo along with the diary that became the source for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and together they made up the Red Book of Westmarch. As described in the LoTR prologue:

These three volumes were found to be a work of great skill and learning in which, between 1403 and 1418, he had used all the sources available to him in Rivendell, both living and written.

We are supposed to infer that this is the source of the texts that were later published in edited form as The Silmarillion etc.

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  • I saw those dates (1403-1418) on here in another post, and wondered what was going on, but I think I've sussed it: that's Shire-reckoning, right? Jun 20, 2023 at 12:54
  • Just out of curiosity, where did you get that quote? I don't see it in either the old 1965 edition of TFotR or in my later single-volume edition of TLotR (late 90s red slipcase). Only a mention of Frodo using loose writings of Bilbo's that he brought back to the Shire and put in order during 1420-1. The three volumes are alluded to as books that Bilbo left Frodo when he departed from the Shire in 1401.
    – chepner
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:53
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    @DanielHatton, yes, SR - remember the summer after the events of LoTR was 1420 SR. Jun 21, 2023 at 7:54
  • @chepner it's at the very end of the Prologue, in the section "NOTE ON THE SHIRE RECORDS" that's set in smaller type. p14 in my one-volume HarperCollins hardback edition. Jun 21, 2023 at 7:55
  • Weird, weird, weird. It's just not there in mine. Guess I need to go buy another edition to be complete :)
    – chepner
    Jun 21, 2023 at 13:13
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The list you gave is a list of "published books", not a list of "texts"

Based on the list in your question the simple answer would be "no".

Tolkien did indeed conceive the legendarium as stories he was retelling based on historical texts that had been transmitted, copied, and translated many times prior to reaching him.

But those texts would be the source texts he was using, not the books he published, and certainly not the books other people published later showing the development of his drafts (which is what most of your list is).

A simple glance inside most of these books would demonstrate this.

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