Monday, 4 July 2011


...son of Eöl of the dark woods. He became enmeshed in the Doom of Mandos and died badly. I am reading The Silmarillion again (the publication of which was a mistake in my view), and have been going over this chapter in my mind. See what you think:

''Thus all seemed well with the fortunes of Maeglin, who had risen to be mighty among the princes of the Noldor, and greatest save one in the most renowned of their realms. Yet he did not reveal his heart; and though not all things went as he would he endured it in silence, hiding his mind so that few could read it, unless it were Idril Celebrindal. For from his first days in Gondolin he had borne a grief, ever worsening, that robbed him of all joy: he loved the beauty of Idril and desired her, without hope. The Eldar wedded not with kin so near, nor ever before had any desired to do so. And knowing his thought of her she loved him the less. For it seemed to her a thing strange and crooked in him, as indeed the Eldar ever since have deemed it: an evil fruit of the Kinslaying, whereby the shadow of the curse of Mandos fell upon the last hope of the Noldor. But as the years passed still Maeglin watched Idril, and waited, and his love turned to darkness in his heart. And he sought the more to have his will in other matters, shirking no toil or burden, if he might thereby have power.

''Thus it was in Gondolin; and amid all the bliss of that realm, while its glory lasted, a dark seed of evil was sown.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter XVI, Of Maeglin).


  1. This comes back to a recurring theme—one to which I have made reference before on this blog—that runs through much of nineteenth and twentieth century ‘Romantic’ Teutonic literature: namely, incest. Mæglin and Idril were first cousins. Incidentally, I think that I am right in saying that we—the Orthodox—forbid even third cousins to marry. That should be contrasted with the practice of the papists, who allow—and even encourage—the marriage of first cousins, particularly in Spain. I have heard it recounted that at least one senior Spanish Roman Catholic cleric positively advocated such incestuous unions.

    Now, I daresay that Patricius might take me to task over my reference to Tolkien’s work as being ‘Romantic’. Such words are no more than convenient labels, so I would not insist on its application in this case. Nevertheless, I should be prepared to argue that, as English literature, Tolkien’s work is ‘Teutonic’; the English language is, after all, essentially a Teutonic one.

    How much do we know about the editorial work done by Christopher Tolkien in publishing the ‘Silmarillion’? It has been a long time since I read it, but I seem to recall that he talks, in the foreword, about a process of “selecting and arranging”.

    I am most curious, so have several questions for you, Patricius:

    1. Is the entirety of Tolkien’s writing on Middle Earth contained in that collection of books—published by his son, Christopher—that goes by the name “The History of Middle Earth”? I have never read it all, and only have a couple of volumes in my possession.

    2. Is everything contained in the published “Silmarillion” included in “The History of Middle Earth”; or did Christopher actually add anything of his own to the “Silmarillion”?

    3. Likewise, does “Unfinished Tales” duplicate material found in “The History of Middle Earth”; and how much, if anything, did Christopher add?

    4. Do you suppose that Tolkien intended to publish his tales of the First Age, and the other stories of the “Silmarillion”; and, if so, in what form?

    The question of how one should present the work of a dead author who has left more than one recension of that work is one that concerns me greatly. Since my teens, I have been obsessed with the symphonies of Anton Bruckner (1824–1896). As you may know, he constantly revised his work, so that several of his symphonies exist in more than one version by his own hand. Furthermore, some of his well-meaning disciples saw fit to produce more ‘palatable’ versions of their own. Since the 1930s, there has been an effort to publish scores that represent the composer’s “original intentions”. Therein lies the difficulty. The approach of Rober Haas was to compile ‘performing versions’ of the symphonies, which combined elements of more than one version by the composer himself. Since then, beginning with Leopold Nowak, the tendency has been to publish multiple scores in an attempt to represent every version that Bruckner produced. It means that I have on my shelves no fewer than five different scores of the Third Symphony; and they, by no means, represent every extant version.

  2. Lector Orientalis,

    In haste:

    1). If by the entirety of Tolkien's writing you mean the whole legendarium, then no not absolutely everything is contained in the twelve volume History of Middle-earth. The ''history of the Hobbit'' for example was published only recently by another scholar (can't remember his name, and I never bothered to read them); although the History of Middle-earth contains most of it.

    2). The published Silmarillion is compendious and while being the stuff most consonant with The Lord of the Rings, much was left out - see, for example, the post I did a while ago entitled The Thieves' Quarrel - very different from that found in The Silmarillion. Some stuff was composed by Guy Gavriel Kay following Tolkien's ''style'' (baldly) and earlier accounts from the 1930s, such as the stuff about the Nauglamir (which was left very incomplete by Tolkien). My grief with The Silmarillion is that it is compendious, too flat, shorn somewhat of the ''mystery'' of The History of Middle-earth, and simply doesn't read like a mythology - almost it reminds me of the compilation of Missals and Breviaries from older, far worthier, liturgical books (what do you get from that?).

    3). Regarding Unfinished Tales, I am not sure what to say. Most of it is entirely consonant with the published Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (except the different accounts of the Hunt for the Ring), and to my knowledge Christopher Tolkien added nothing - it was an attempt to supplement The Silmarillion with stuff he couldn't incorporate into that work.

    4). Yes Tolkien intended most certainly to publish The Silmarillion in his life, together with The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately Allen & Unwin decided very early on that the work was not publishable, though I doubt very much that it was in the form of the 1977 book.

    My own view is that it would have been better if The Silmarillion had never been published. The History of Middle-earth is far grander and reads more like a mythology, and the frank commentaries by Christopher Tolkien (who is the greatest of all Tolkien scholars) at least indicate the mind of the great man far better than conjecture and guess work in the 1977 Silmarillion. Nowadays I read The Silmarillion with a sense of regret, whereas I simply adore The History of Middle-earth. I hope this helps?

  3. Find some appropriate funding-body, Patricius, and produce a doctoral thesis on Tolkien; that’s an order!

  4. Lector Orientalis, you're not the first person to suggest that! I will, however, need to get my Bachelor's Degree first.

    One thing I neglected to explain was the reason The History of Middle-earth reads more like a mythology than The Silmarillion - it is the fact that legends exist in so many versions, which calls to mind the Finnish sagas, the Kalevala, Greek and Roman mythology and the Elder Edda. Having a ''definitive'' version reminds me too much of the general tendency in the Roman Church to codify everything - vis the compilation of Missals, the codification of Canon Law (which represents an inversion of traditional praxis). Later in his life Tolkien attempted to revise the entire legendarium along a more ''scientific'' method (doing away with much of what was beautiful and indeed original in the cosmogonical drama and myth, such as the Tale of the Sun and Moon). Thankfully he abandoned it, and it never came to fruition. You will find this in The History of Middle-earth. I tend to view this decision as a move towards orthodoxy on Tolkien's part; the realisation that just because some things are vague and perhaps ill-defined (as the Sacred Canons were in the palmy days before 19th and 20th century Romanism) does not mean that they are of little worth.

    Read The History of Middle-earth anyday. I mostly read The Silmarillion as a reference in case I get names confused - something very easy with Tolkien!

  5. I doubt whether HoME would ever have been published had it not been for the Silmarillion.

    I know that in one of the later volumes CJRT says he rues the decision to "construct" the fall of Doriath stuff around the schema they already had in place for the Silm, but the alternative would have been much more complex, costly and lengthy process.

    I appreciate that you prefer HoME; but the Silmarillion is a reasonable "compendium" or introductory work without which HoME would be inaccessible to many and perhaps would never have appeared in print. There are many stories which are still remarkable and moving in the Silmarillion. Certainly, for example, the Lay of Leithian would not have been publishable, but the prose version of Beren and Lúthien is (that doesn't seem too bad to me either, since the story started out in prose form anyway!!).

  6. mystra,

    I have no doubt at all that The Silmarillion serves a purpose, but it is rather weak, imho, compared with The History of Middle-earth. Yes the Lay of Leithian was first in prose form in the Tale of Tinuviel, but I am of the view that Tolkien can be appreciated chiefly in verse. The Lay of Leithian (in the octo-syllabic couplets of romantic verse) and the Lay of the Children of Hurin (in alliterative verse) are perhaps the best I've ever read of modern poesy. If only Kenneth MacMillan had turned them into a ballet...

    There was a time when I dreamed that none of Tolkien was ever published, but that it was all stored away in manuscript form (illuminated with Tolkien's own illustrations) in the Bodleian, and only I knew of its existence. Going by some of the obscene merchandise and the film trilogy this is not such a bad ideal...

  7. Actually Patrick I think you will find you no longer even need a Batchelor's degree in order to register for a Ph.D.

  8. Rubricarius, I expect I'm not alone in thinking that that's not a good thing!