Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Third Silmarillion

So, the day before yesterday one of those annoying online ads along the lines of 'if you liked that, you'll certainly like this' actually came through with something I'm interested in learning about: the forthcoming boxed set of THE GREAT TALES by JRRT, the stand-alone volumes THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, BEREN & LUTHIEN, and the soon-to-be forthcoming FALL OF GONDOLIN, all of them edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee.

I was struck by how this fulfills one of Tolkien's plans for his never-completed book.

Of the several different ways Tolkien thought of presenting THE SILMARILLION, the first was a synoptic QUENTA accompanied by several smaller associated pieces: Annals, the Ainulindale or Valaquenta, Akalabeth and something on the languages, and so forth. This is pretty much THE SILMARILLION as we got it in 1977: a concise, coherent account drawn from multiple layers of drafting.

But another way to see the book is as a collection of disparate materials: poems, tales, annals, essays, histories, philological excursions, and all. Think Translations from the Elvish, by B.B.  And this is pretty much what we got the second time around, with THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH in all its twelve volume glory.

And now another iteration, this one alluded to in his LETTER TO WALDMAN, will see print: the Great Tales each as a stand-alone book in the series known as THE SILMARILLION.* We're fortunate not just that all this material survives and has been published but that we have multiple ways of accessing it to see which suits this reader or that reader best.

These are good times to be a Tolkien fan, or scholar.

--John R.
--current reading: Seabury Quinn stories (bad, but not as terrible as I remembered from a previous try).
--current audiobook: Nero Wolfe.

*all the more so if the rumor proves true and this third volume also includes what little was set down of the fourth and final Great Tale: THE TALE OF EARENDIL, bringing the set to as complete a state as is now possible. In any case, we'll soon know.


Wurmbrand said...

There are good reasons for the recent Beren and Luthien volume to be presented as it is. However, someone coming to it after reading The Children of Hurin will likely be put off-balance, since CH is a continuous narrative while B&L assembles materials composed by Tolkien at different times, drawn from the volumes of the HoME. CH works on the reader as a somber story, while BL is a convenient packaging of fragments, with, yes, imaginative appeal, but largely an appeal to the reader intellectually interested in Tolkien's creative process. Perhaps I overstate the differences between the two books, but they really are different. Someone buying The Great Tales and reading CH may have his or her expectations dashed by B&L. The typography, Alan Lee artwork, etc. will likely have led the reader to expect something that's actually much less like CH than would be supposed.

Me? I value both of them for what they are!

John D. Rateliff said...

Good point, W.
I do think it'll be an easy adjustment for folks to make, given how rarely Tolkien repeats himself. Any reader approaching THE GREAT TALES is likely to expect every Tolkien book to be somehow significantly different, one from another.
--John R.