The missing / shifting frame?


Well-Known Member
The absence of the Pengolodh / Aelfwine frame from the published Silmarillion has been much discussed (and perhaps mourned) by Prof. Olsen.

If TLOTR and the Silmarillion are to be married, however, that frame has almost certainly got to go. The only way to retain it would be for Tolkien to have found and translated two sources (Aelfwine's Anglo-Saxon account of his conversations with Pengolodh, and The Red Book of Westmarch's Westron account of The Hobbit and TLOTR), that just happened to cover events and histories that connected and were congruent.

In TLOTR, Tolkien has already set up the frame that The Red Book of Westmarch contains Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish.

It would seem to be a fairly easy frame shift to replace Aelfwine with Bilbo as the receiver of these stories. He could ask questions, when puzzled during translation, of Elves in Rivendell (Lindir, Erestor, Glorfindel, Elrond, etc.) and their answers could be the same as Pengolodh's, just shifting the frame from Pengolodh and Aelfwine to Rivendell Elves and Bilbo.

This seems an obvious, fairly easy, and almost necessary (since introducing the Red Book with Bilbo's Translations as the source material), shift of frame.

Yet, I see no evidence that Tolkien ever considered this? Did he? Does anyone know?

If not, why not? What speculations occur?


Well-Known Member
Only thing i could think of would be the Notion Club papers...

If they were the authors of both books via the remote sources, Aelfwine and The Red Book.

However of course they do not have any connection to the red book that i knew of, theyre not from the lotr publishing time.
So it seems we have to live with the fact that JRRT replaced Aelfwine fully by the red book and bilbos translations.


Well-Known Member
I think that Tolkien remained ambiguous and undecided about replacing Pengolodh and Aelfwine as narrator and questioner. Yes, he makes a note at some point that the perspective of the Elvish lore should be that of Men, and considers making the transmission sources Numenorean (thence into the Red Book, via Pippin's or others researches in Gondor I assume). He writes a version of the Silmarillion stuff (I believe) excising the Pengolin frame (though only superficially and never totally), and he never writes the material from a Numenorean perspective. The perspective remains firmly Elvish.

So, I don't think JRRT replaced Aelfwine 'fully' by The Red Book. CT was the one who decided to cut the frame completely from the Silmarillion (and later said that he regretted it).

However, what puzzles me is why, if the transmission document had changed to be The Red Book (which seems necessary to maintain TLOTR consistency) why not just exchange the Rivendell Elves and Bilbo for Pengolodh and Aelfwine? It would seem to be obvious and to require fairly little retcon?


Well-Known Member
By the way, I think a trace of JRRT's ambiguity about the source of the Silmarillion exists in TLOTR.

In Appendix F, under the heading Dwarves, we find, "The Dwarves are a race apart. Of their strange beginning, and why they are both like and unlike Elves and Men, the Silmarillion tells, but of this tale the Elves of Middle-earth had no knowledge..."

This indicates that if the Silmarillion tells the tale of the origin of Dwarves, but the Elves of Middle-earth had no knowledge of this tale, then some or all of the Silmarillion must not have been available to Bilbo in Rivendell to translate. At least part (perhaps all) of the Silmarillion must have come down from other sources.

Numenorean accounts from Gondor? Anglo-Saxon accounts from Aelfwine? Who knows?

Scott Hodgman

New Member
Verilyn Flieger wrote an essay for Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth, titled "The Footsteps of Ælfwine." Very fascinating essay that touches on part of your question. I find it quite compelling myself. Ælfwine shifts from a unique person to a type of person: the Elf-friend, someone that participates in both worlds. The deeper JRRT engages his own work, the more he participates in Faërie. In one fleeting sense, he becomes Ælfwine–the Elf-friend. He is himself is the framing device now juxtaposed onto a new type of Elf-friend. One that transcends a single person, but is a blessed title one bears–albeit transitory. (As is any mortal that experience enchanted by Faërie.)

The essay develops well her thesis with a wealth of supporting details.