The stories contained in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings are supposedly from the Red Book of Westmarch written by Bilbo and Frodo as a memoir. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Book_of_Westmarch

Some additions were made to the book when it was copied into "Thain's Book", notably to story of Aragorn and Arwen.

So who wrote the stories that would later become the Silmarillion? The wikipedia article suggests that Bilbo translated them from Elvish in Rivendell as part of his "Translations from Elvish" book. Is there any proof of this? I know the Silmarillion was never published in Tolkien's life but surely he was thinking of how these legends made it to our time.


The primary evidence for the assumption that the Silmarillion was Bilbo's three volumes comes from the prologue to Lord of the Rings:

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, 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.

It's well-documented that there are plenty of changes that Christoper Tolkien regrets making to the published Silmarillion, but one change he regrets not making is given in the foreword to Book of Lost Tales 1:

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, 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.

While the original framing device of a mariner becoming lost off the western shores of Europe and finding the ancient Elvish lands, where he's told the stories, gradually fell away it was never wholly discarded, but was removed from the published Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien. Again from Lost Tales 1:

The letter of 1963 quoted above shows my father pondering the mode in which the legends of the Elder Days might be presented. The original mode ... had (by degrees) fallen away. 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.

This isn't entirely true and in fact the last versions of several of the tales still contain the old mode; for example, from CT's commentary on the Akallabeth (hoME 12):

But with the removal of Pengolod and Ælfwine from the published text, the Akallabeth lost its anchorage in expressly Eldarin lore; and this led me (with as I now think an excess of vigilance) to alter the end of the paragraph.

Tolkien being Tolkien, this of course was by no means consistent and while this framing device remained in some of the stories, it was entirely absent from others, while others were presented as works of lore by the Eldar of Tol Eressea, and others again were given without any context at all.

The final word is left to Christopher Tolkien, in his introduction to the Silmarillion:

Moreover, my father came to conceive The Silmarillion as a compilation, a compendious narrative, made long afterwards from sources of great diversity (poems, and annals, and oral tales) that had survived in agelong tradition.

And that's where we must accept it.


In The Silmarillion, as it was published, there was no framing device similar to The Lord Of The Rings, as if it was being written by a contemporary, either of ours or of a supposed reader. It's just a book of tales and myths - well, more properly several books, since The Silmarillion is comprised of The Ainulindalë (The Music of the Ainur), the Valaquenta (The Account of the Valar), the Quenta Silmarillion (The History of the Silmarils), the Akallabêth (The Downfall of Numenor) and the last part, Of The Rings Of Power And The Third Age.

However, in older versions of the mythology Tolkien did having a framing story. Tolkien originally envisioned the tales of Middle Earth as a sort of reconstructed English mythology, and in The Book Of Lost Tales, a collection of early stories that form the beginning of the History of Middle Earth series, Tolkien introduces an Medieval English sailor, Eriol (or Ælfwine), who finds himself on Tol Eressëa and meets the elves that still dwell there, not willing to completely forsake their memories of Middle Earth. And from there he heard the History of the Valar and of the Elves of the First Age, and is retelling them as a sort of lost history of the English people.

  • This is certainly true, but even some later material continues to use it, such as the Dangweth Pengolodh from the 1950s. – user8719 Apr 30 '14 at 7:59
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    The idea didn't entirely go away, but it was not incorporated into Christopher Tolkien's finalized Silmarillion. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Apr 30 '14 at 8:01

As first envisioned, The Silmarillion had an Elvish source, exemplified in Pengolod and the direct transmission of the legends to Aelfwine. However, in the late 50's Tolkien became concerned about the lore of Elves and how much this should be in accord with our reality. He came to the conclusion that Elves who had met the Valar should know much about the Universe and couldn't write legends about a flat world or the Sun and Moon being flowers from the Trees. For a while, he tried to rewrite the legendarium into a "round world" version, still in the context of Elvish transmission (e.g. the essay "Quendi and Eldar" is set in a round world and comes from Pengolod). However, this attempt at rewriting never went beyond a couple of quick and unfinished drafts. C. Tolkien believes that his father found out that such a major upheaval of the legends was impossible to do, as he had expressed previously in a letter:

The Elvish myths are 'Flat World'. A pity really but it is too integral to change it. (Morgoth's Ring. Ainulindalë)

It seems that in his last years Tolkien came to the conclusion that the Silmarillion legends weren't Elvish, but Mannish, and that would explain the strange astronomy of the legends. From 1960 onwards, he would say in several letters and essays that the Silmarillion was composed in Númenor, and there's no more mentions of Pengolod or Aelfwine, as far as I know. In the second edition of Lord of the Rings (1966) appears the "Translations from the Elvish" made by Bilbo, possibly to account for this change in the transmission. These three volumes could be a work made by the Faithful Numenoreans, and preserved in Rivendell after the fall of the kingdom of Arnor (though that's just a speculation on my part).

It's not known what would happen with the older Aelfwine line of transmission. Tolkien never rejected it openly, so it's possible that it could still be kept as an alternative source. Pengold was a an Elf, but according to his biography in "Quendi and Eldar" he hadn't lived in Aman and had composed most of his works in Middle-earth, taking many things from the Edain, so this could still count as a "Mannish transmission" of sorts.

  • Thorough answer. Aside from Morgoth's Ring and Quendi and Eldar, where did you get this information? Just curious. – tir38 May 5 '14 at 14:20
  • As for the mentions of Aelfwine and Pengolod as transmissors, they can be found in several volumes of the History of Middle Earth: The Book of Lost Tales in particular, but also in Morgoth's Ring (Ainulindale, Later Quenta Silm., Annals of Aman), The War of the Jewels (Grey Annals, Tale of Years), and The Peoples of Middle Earth (Dangweth Pengolodh). The idea of a Mannish transmision can be found mainly in The Peoples of Middle Earth (Shibboleth of Feanor and Last Writings), and also in a letter from 1971 (Tolkien's Letters, no. 325) – user25305 May 12 '14 at 11:51

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