Middle-Earth Revised, Again
Originally Published on: July 27, 2002 In Letter 187 (dated to approximately April 1956, 20 months after The Fellowship of the Ring was published in August 1954), J.R.R. Tolkien told H. Cotton Minchin "as 'research students' always discover, however long they are allowed, and careful their work and notes, there is always a rush at the end, when the last date suddenly approaches on which their thesis must be presented. So it was with this book, and the maps...." He was speaking, of course, about The Lord of the Rings, and the maps associated with the text. In the course of the letter, Tolkien described parts of the project which had to be abandoned: I am, however, primarily a philologist and to some extent a calligrapher .... And my son after me. To us far and away the most absorbing interest is the Elvish tongues, and the nomenclature based on them; and the alphabets. My plans for the 'specialist volume' were largely linguistic. An index of names was to be produced, which by etymological interpretation would also provide quite a large Elvish vocabulary; this is of course a first requirement. I worked at it for months, and indexed the first two vols. (it was the chief cause of the delay of Vol iii) until it became clear that size and cost were ruinous. Reluctantly also I had to abandon, under pressure from the 'production department', the 'facsimiles' of the three pages of the Book of Mazarbul, burned tattered and blood-stained, which I had spent much time on producing or forging. Without them the opening of Book Two, ch. 5 (which was meant to have the facsimiles and a transcript alongside) is defective, and the Runes of the Appendices unnecessary. Well, two of the facsimile pages (nos. 1 and 3) have now been published in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. I have yet to see the second page reproduced. And much material which JRRT had worked on through the years has also been brought forth since 1980, the year in which Christopher Tolkien first published Unfinished Tales. There is now far more information available about Middle-earth, in the form of paintings and doodles, essays and notes, maps, and linguistic analysis, than Tolkien ever dreamed could be possibly published. But what do we have to show for all that? We can research Middle-earth to our hearts' content, but do all these things bring us any closer to realizing what Tolkien had in mind than just The Lord of the Rings itself? A question was recently posed to me which is seldom asked any more: "Which books are considered unimpeachable resources?"...
That is not an easy question to answer. The answer depends on who is doing the considering and what the scope of the research is concerned with. The question above was posed to me after I had said, "People just don't seem to understand that there are clear and definite divisions between the various mythologies."
Well, anyone who wants to take exception with that statement will certainly find plenty of support for doing so. And that just underscores the first point I made: "People just don't seem to understand". Which, by implication, means I think I do understand...something. Of course I think that. And so everyone who disagrees with me thinks of their own knowledge. It's the rest of the readership out there, vaguely wraithlike in their undefined demographic, who self-admittedly don't have a clue and are earnestly seeking good solid information.
The problem is that there really is no good solid information. Not on Middle-earth. Or darned little of it.
What exactly is Middle-earth anyway? If you were to have asked Tolkien, he would have told you that "Middle-earth is just archaic English for [irreproducable characters] the inhabited world of men. It lay then as it does. In fact, just as it does, round and inescapable." (Letter 152), or "the inhabited lands of men 'between the seas'" (Letter 165), "the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to imaginary worlds (Fairyland) or unseen worlds (as Heaven and Hell)" (Letter 183).
And as useful as those explanations are, they provide no real help in understanding or visualizing Middle-earth the way Tolkien understood and saw it. You can't really see it the way he did. In any event, Middle-earth proved to be an extremely fluid vision for Tolkien, unfolding more quickly than he could describe it. He heard the Music from afar and beheld the Vision, but he could not Create what he perceived. He could only sub-create a description of it, and in that he achieved far less than he desired.
If we accept, as a starting point, that Middle-earth is defined only by the books Tolkien himself published in his lifetime, we find ourselves concerned only with four titles: The Hobbit (Second Edition of 1950), The Lord of the Rings (First Edition of 1954-5), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and The Road Goes Ever On. In 1969, Pauline Baynes published a map of Middle-earth for which Tolkien provided her special information. It was the Baynes map which marked the first appearance of Lond Daer Ened, for example.
And if these works are the authoritative resources, life should be fairly simple, if incomplete. But thanks to Donald Wolheim (then with Ace Books in the United States), in 1965 Tolkien had to recreate Middle-earth so that he could properly secure a copyright for it. Wolheim shrewdly guessed that the American university market was ripe for a mass market edition of The Lord of the Rings. So he took advantage of a loop-hole in copyright law to publish unauthorized editions of the book.
After the brouhaha had died down, we were left with the Third Edition of The Hobbit and the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings. In order to qualify for new copyright status, the books had to be substantively altered. Now, a copyright applies only to the expression of an idea, not to the idea of itself. But in literature the expression of an idea can be radically bumped from its normal course as a result of only a minor change in text.
So it was with Tolkien's work, and he did not confine himself to merely minor changes. The plot and characterizations remained the same. Tolkien tightened up the writing in a few places but he mostly altered the backdrop for the story, perhaps so as to preserve as much of the beloved tale as possible, but also (I think) to take advantage of the situation and correct a few flaws in the picture he had painted.
The Hobbit proved to be more of a challenge than The Lord of the Rings. About the latter, Tolkien wrote to Rayner Unwin in May 1965:
I am not relishing the task of
re-editing The Lord of the Rings. I think
it will prove very difficult if not impossible to make any substantial
changes in the general text. Volume I has now been gone through and the
number of necessary or desirable corrections is very small. I am bound to say
that my admiration for the tightness of the author's construction is somewhat
increased. The poor fellow (who now seems to me only a remote friend) must
have put a lot of work into it. I am hoping that alteration of the
introductions, considerable modifications of the appendices and the inclusion
of an index may prove sufficient for the purpose....
Indeed, they did. But he found The Hobbit to be "very poor" (according to Humphrey Carpenter's biography). There are glimpses of Tolkien's dissatisfaction with The Hobbit in some of his letters. He felt he was too condescending to children in the early part of the book, and he would have preferred to rewrite it completely, had there been time to do so.
But 1965 is probably the high mark of post-LoTR era Middle-earthian contemplation for Tolkien. Although he would not produce any more books on the subject, he had been quite active behind the scenes, working on material which would eventually be placed in the hands of his son Christopher.
One of the most recent stories Tolkien had worked on at this point was "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife" (begun around 1960, but a typed version was made in early 1965). Christopher Tolkien says that, of all the texts included in Unfinished Tales, this one was the most incomplete (and presumably he was not thinking of the various scraps and notes he assembled for the chapter on the Istari). An accompanying text, "A description of Numenor", is dated to the same period, as is "The Line of Elros", which contains "several minor chronological puzzles, but also allows clarification of some apparent errors in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings" (Christopher Tolkien, "Introduction" to Unfinished Tales).
Tolkien did not stop there, however. Ninni Pettersen has assembled a chronology for Tolkien's various books and essays. Although one must speculate on certain dates, Pettersen's work is about as good as you're going to get outside the Christopher Tolkien household.
The only other LoTR-compatible text JRRT worked on in the 1965-6 years was the
collection of writings that Christopher assembled into the essay on the
Palantiri (for Unfinished Tales). Although he did not find much to change in
The Fellowship of the Ring, Christopher points out that his father "made
substantial emendations to a passage in The Two Towers, [Book] III [Chapter]
The Palantir ... and some others in the same connection in The Return of
the King, V 7
The Pyre of Denethor ... though these emendations were not
incorporated into the text until the second impression of the revised edition
Tolkien returned to Middle-earth in 1968, but it would not be until early 1969 when he would produce the last substantial body of work associated with The Lord of the Rings. Although I have not mentioned his post-LoTR work on The Silmarillion thus far, it did consume a great deal of his time. Most of the work Tolkien did in the 1950s, after LoTR was published, was concerned with The Silmarillion. And in this last phase of his life, The Silmarillion competed with The Lord of the Rings for his time.
But the canonical Middle-earth did not include The Silmarillion. That is, in 1969, Middle-earth was only canonically, or authoritatively, defined by the books which had been published to that time. The essays Tolkien wrote from 1969 through 1972 about matters in The Lord of the Rings (and, by association, The Hobbit) were largely anchored by the 1965 editions. It is difficult to find incompatibilities between these texts and the published works, although the linguistic essays gouge the canon at almost every opportunity.
In the introduction to Unfinished Tales, Christopher writes:
I judge these fragments [the
Cirion and Eorl essays] to belong to the
same period as
The Disaster of the Gladden Fields, when my father was
greatly interested in the earlier history of Gondor and Rohan; they were
doubtless intended to form parts of a substantial history, developing in
detail the summary accounts given in Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings. The
material is in the first stage of composition, very disordered, full of
variants, breaking off into rapid jottings that are part illegible.
It is much to suppose that J.R.R. Tolkien intended to create, at the end of his life, a companion volume to The Lord of the Rings. And yet, one easily gets the impression that is what he was working toward, with or without clear intention. The works Christopher associates with this project were "Cirion and Eorl", "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", the essay on the Druedain (only part of which was published in Unfinished Tales), "and the philological essays excerpted in 'The History of Galadriel and Celeborn'".
Those philological essays form the basis of the appendices to the History of Galadriel and Celeborn: "The Silvan Elves and their Speech", "The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves", "The Boundaries of Lorien", "The Port of Lond Daer", and possibly the writings behind the final appendix concerning the names of Galadriel and Celeborn. There is, however, another essay from the same period which has received only limited attention: "The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor", published in Vinyar Tengwar 42 (the original title is given as "Nomenclature", so the current title is taken from Christopher's description of the text in The Peoples of Middle-earth).
The material on the Druedain was actually lifted from an essay published in The Peoples of Middle-earth titled "Of Dwarves and Men".
But though these essays and fragments constitute all that is presently published of the secondary canon for (Second and Third Age) Middle-earth, there is, in fact, still more material. Virtually any reply that Tolkien made in his letters to questions about Middle-earth contains information which is seldom if ever actually contradicted by later material. There are some points where Tolkien contradicts himself, either because he did not have the texts available to consult or because he was reporting on transitions.
Another text which has intrigued readers is The New Shadow, published in The Peoples of Middle-earth. Set early in the Fourth Age, but near the end of King Eldarion's reign, the book would have followed a plot to overthrow the rightful king. But Tolkien concluded it would have been nothing more than a thriller, a type of story in which he had no interest, and he ceased to work on it.
And then there are the interviews Tolkien gave concerning his work. While the average commercial newspaper was hardly likely to entice serious comment from Tolkien on Middle-earth's underpinnings, he treated the fan magazines and other small publications with greater dignity. Or, perhaps, they simply had sense enough to ask him the really meaty questions.
There are assuredly older Tolkien fans who collected these interviews in the 1960s and 1970s, and it would be interesting to see them brought together in some publishable form. Regrettably, I only have a partial citation from one, but I will share it here. It can still be found in a few places on the Internet. This fragment was provided to me by Chris Seeman, the editor and publisher of Other Hands (no longer in publication, thanks to Tolkien Enterprises). Chris included this citation in an article he wrote titled: "A Journey in the Dark: Reflections on the identity of Queen Beruthiel".
Chris' source was Daphne Castell's article, "The Realms of Tolkien", published in New Worlds in November 1966 and reprinted in Carandaith in 1969:
...Most of the allusions to older legends scattered about the tale, or
summarized in Appendix A are to things which really have an existence os some
kind in the history of which
The Lord of the Rings is part. There's one
exception that puzzles me: Beruthiel. I really don't know anything of her --
you remember Aragorn's allusion in Book I (page 325) to the cats of Queen
Beruthiel, that could find their way home on a blind night? She just popped
up, and obviously called for attention, but I don't really know anything
certain about her; though, oddly enough, I have a notion that she was the
wife of one of the ship-kings of Pelargir. She loathed the smell of the sea,
and fish, and the gulls. Rather like Skadi, the giantess, who came to the
gods in Valhalla, demanding a recompense for the accidental death of her
father. She wanted a husband. The gods all lined up behind a curtain, and she
selected the pair of feet that appealed to her most. She thought she'd got
Baldur, the beautiful god, but it turned out to be Njord the sea-god, and
after she'd married him, she got absolutely fed up with the seaside life, and
the gulls kept her awake, and finally she went back to live in Jotunheim.
Well, Beruthiel went back to live in the inland city, and went to the bad (or returned to it -- she was a Black Numenorean in origin, I guess). She was one of these people who loathe cats, but cats will jump on them and follow them about -- you know how sometimes they pursue people who hate them? I have a friend like that. I'm afraid she took to torturing them for amusement, but she kept some and used them: trained them to go on evil errands by night, to spy on her enemies or terrify them.
Christopher Tolkien, of course, covered the history of Beruthiel in a note appended to the section on the Istari in Unfinished Tales:
In a letter written in 1956 my father said that
There is hardly any
reference in The Lord of the Rings to things that do not actualy exist, on
its own plane (of secondary or sub-creational reality), and added in a
footnote to this:
The cats of Queen Beruthiel and the names of the other two
wizards (five minus Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast) are all that I
recollect. (In Moria Aragorn said of Gandalf that
He is surer of finding
the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Beruthiel (The
Fellowship of the Ring II 4).
Even the story of Queen Beruthiel does exist, however, if only in a very
primitive outline, in one part illegible. She was the nefarious, solitary,
and loveless wife of Tarannon, twelfth King of Gondor (Third Age 830-913) and
the first of the
Ship-kings, who took the crown in the name of Falastur
Lord of the Coasts, and was the first childless king (The Lord of the
Rings, Appendix A, I, ii and iv). Beruthiel lived in the King's House in
Osgiliath, hating the sounds and smells of the sea and the house that
Tarannon built below Pelargir 'upon arches whose feet stood deep in the wide
waters of Ethir Anduin'; she hated all making, all colours and elaborate
adornment, wearing only black and silver and living in bare chambers, and the
gardens of the house in Osgiliath were filled with tormented sculptures
beneath cypresses and yews. She had nine black cats and one white, her
slaves, with whom she conversed, or read their memories, setting them to
discover all the dark secrets of Gondor, so that she knew those things
men wish most to keep hidden, setting the white cat to spy upon the black,
and tormening them. No man in Gondor dared touch them; all were afraid of
them, and cursed when they saw them pass. What follows is almost wholly
illegible in the unique manuscript, except for the ending, which states that
her name was erased from the Book of the Kings ('but the memory of men is not
wholly shut in books, and the cats of Queen Beruthiel never passed wholly out
of men's speech'), and that King Tarannon had her set on a ship alone with
her cats and set adrift on the sea before a north wind. The ship was last
seen flying pas Umbar under a sickle moon, with a cat at the masthead and
another as a figure-head on the prow.
Beruthiel's history foreshadows the explosive effort J.R.R. Tolkien put forth only a few years later in an attempt to flesh out the history of the Third Age. The essays from 1969-71 were "the rush at the end". It was almost as if Tolkien sensed that time was finally running out for him, and he felt compelled to jot down everything possible. But he left just enough to both tantalize and almost sate the average reader who wants to know more.
Typical reviews of Tolkien's career note with appropriate solemnity that it fell upon his son Christopher's shoulders to bear the burden of bringing a Silmarillion to publication. And that book, while a worthy text in itself, only approximates what might have been, had J.R.R. Tolkien only lived another few years (or however long it would have taken him to finish it).
But few people seem to have noticed that he never actually finished working on the first part of the mythology, the sequel to The Hobbit which his publisher was so impatient to receive. Who is to say that, had he lived longer, Tolkien would not have divulged a full history of the events of the Kingdom of Arnor? It might only have required a few questions from interested readers to prompt Tolkien into explaining the history of Bree, who the kings of Cardolan and Rhudaur were, and why their dynasties failed so quickly.
And who knows? Maybe one day he would have returned to the New Shadow with a fresh outlook, and might have produced something heroic, if not entirely mythological, beyond the scope of a mere thriller.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.
And be sure to download your free copy of Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd edition at Free-eBooks.Net!