Why did JRRT never publish The Silmarillion?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
At the end of the last class, Corey suggested that we would be exploring this question soon.

Great! It is a fascinating question.

I don’t intend here to jump the gun on this question, but just to provide some background as we come to consider it.

So, TLOTR was published starting in 1954. Finished in 1955. Thereafter, there were rumors that JRRT was working on ‘The Silmarillion’, but nothing was published before JRRT’s death in 1973. Those fans who were hoping for more were disappointed. But, then rumors started that JRRT’s Silmarillion might be finished by his son Christopher. Hope arose. In 1977, ‘The Silmarillion was published.

Tolkien fans assumed that JRRT had been working hard at writing a version of ‘The Silmarillion’ that he was happy with, but that he had died before completing it.

They assumed, that the published ‘Silmarillion’ was a mostly completed work by JRRT, just polished off and finished up by Christoper.

This assumption seemed to be confirmed by Christopher’s introduction to ‘The Silmarillion’. ."In this work the concluding chapters (from the death of Turin Turambar) introduced peculiar difficulties, in that they had remained unchanged for many years, and were in some respects in serious disharmony with more developed conceptions in other parts of the book." That sounds a lot like 'JRRT had finished the whole Silmarillion except the last bit, which Christopher had to edit to make it fit'.

So, not surprisingly, Tolkien fans generally accepted ‘The Silmarillion’ as canon. Text from ‘The Silmarillion’ was used to explain mysteries from TLOTR, and ‘Silmarillion’ lore was generally considered to be ‘true’ and ‘explanatory’ of TLOTR.

It was not until later, really until ‘The History of Middle-earth’ began to be published by CT, that it became apparent that this just was not so. Far from JRRT having virtually completed a text of ‘The Silmarillion’ which he was happy to have published, and only his death preventing him from finalizing this, it became apparent that JRRT had failed to produce a version of ‘The Silmarillion’ that satisfied him, and that for the last 13 or so years of his life he had given up on attempting to complete a publishable ‘Silmarillion’.

(Anyone who has insight on exactly when JRRT gave up on producing a publishable version of ‘The Silmarillion’, and also exactly when in the publication history of ‘The History of Middle-earth’ this became clear to fans, please chip in. I am hazy on both of these time-lines.)

Now, many Tolkien fans never read ‘The History of Middle-earth’ volumes (which are quite dense). Never realized that JRRT never reached a version of ‘The Silmarillion’ which satisfied him. Continued to regard ‘The Silmarillion’ as canon. While others, who had thought it canon, now rejected the notion, as they realized that it was not.

So, I believe that we cannot regard ‘The Silmarillion’ as canon, and that readings of TLOTR that are biased or based on Silmarillion material are flawed. There is no Manwe in TLOTR. There is no Ulmo. There is no knowledge of Elvish Fea and Hroar. There are no Maiar. None of ‘The Silmarillion’ can be absolutely trusted as applicable to TLOTR, as it is pretty clear that if JRRT had ever created a publishable ‘Silmarillion’ that he was happy with, it would have been very different (in indeterminable ways) from ‘The Silmarillion’ that we have got.

I think it absolutely fascinating to go back to JRRT’s famous 1936 lecture, “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics”, and read JRRT, the great foreshadower, foreshadowing the fate of his own masterpiece.

In this lecture JRRT told a parable of a man who had a field full of old stones from older buildings. From those stones he built a tower. Others, perceiving that the tower had been built of older stones, pushed it over, to examine the stones for hidden carvings or inscriptions. "And even the man's own descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been about, were heard to murmur: 'He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones just to build a nonsensical tower! Why did not he restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion!' But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea."

Oh Christopher! Did you ever read these words and wonder?

What a foreshadowing analogy! Tolkien built his great masterpiece of TLOTR with ‘old stones’ from his earlier works. His own son, decided to ‘restore the old house’ (after JRRT had rejected doing so). CT did not exactly ‘push over’ JRRT’s tower to do so. But he did damage it. The Great Tower of TLOTR, from which JRRT could ‘see the Sea’. Was de-mystified. Turned into a game of lore, rather than a work of art for many fans. Trivialized and submerged into deeper histories and mythologies, originally only hinted at, but not all too explicit, which JRRT had decided not to publish and not to pollute TLOTR with.

JRRT, in the same lecture, criticized the critics of ‘Beowulf’ in the same way that he might criticize many readers of TLOTR. "Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy far more assiduously than it has been studied as a work of art."

So, I am very excited to hear from Corey that we are going to explore why JRRT never published ‘The Silmarillion’. There have been many theories proposed. But, I see understanding that he was never satisfied with his attempts to marry ‘The Silmarillion’ and TLOTR as crucial in being able to recover TLOTR as a work of art, which has been submerged for may fans into a false perspective of ‘lore’.

So, I certainly look forward to perspectives on why JRRT never achieved a version of ‘The Silmarillion’ which he was happy to publish.

Hope this background is helpful.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I think that, while you make a valid point about JRRT never finalizing a version of The Silmarillion, you do take that a bit far. Certainly, it is true that Manwë is not mentioned by name in the Lord of the Rings, that I recall. But JRRT never dropped the character of Manwë from his writings in the Silmarillion material. In all of the various versions, the leader of the Valar maintains a similar role and viewpoint, taking certain set actions in the story. There are variations, no doubt. (Is Nienna his little sister, or is she rather connected to the Feanturi? for one example in Morgoth's Ring) But I think it would be false to conclude that Manwë 'doesn't exist' in Lord of the Rings, either. When writing LotR, JRRT knew very well who Manwë was. And, in fact, the process of writing and editing and publishing LotR did lead him to revisit Manwë and consider him in new ways.

I am very much fine contextualizing the published Silmarillion with the other texts we have access to (for instance, in the History of Middle-earth). I think it's important to know what parts of the story were written when, to get a better idea of how the story grew to the forms it did. And, certainly, it's fine for people to read the Lord of the Rings by itself and never read the Silmarillion, if that's what they would like to do. But I do object to the idea that people are simply 'mining' the Silmarillion for factoids that they can apply to Lord of the Rings. I love the Silmarillion for the story it tells. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Lord of the Rings while reading it.
 

Alcarlótë

Active Member
So, I believe that we cannot regard ‘The Silmarillion’ as canon, and that readings of TLOTR that are biased or based on Silmarillion material are flawed.
There is no widely accepted and precise definition of canon as far as Tolkien's works are concerned. And regardless of the Silmarillion's status, a reading of LotR that's based on the Silmarillion isn't flawed if it is presented as if that's the only correct way of interpretating it. Taking Tolkien's feelings on the matter as the judge on what interpretations are allowed consistently will leave you with not much to read in an "unflawed" way, since Tolkien wasn't wholly satisfied with TLOTR itself.

It's okay to say you don't like certain readings, but in the end there's no convincing way to argue that others must judge readings of TLOTR based on your view. There's no objective way of defining "valid" methods of reading, only ones people agree to follow for the sake of having the same frame of reference and a shared basis for arguments. Just explain and argue for the merits of your way of reading, there's no need to belittle others.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Alcarlote,

I certainly hope that i am not belittling others. I also agree that there is no widely accepted and precise definition of canon as far as Tolkien's works. I am simply explaining why I consider considering The Silmarillion as canon to be a mistake, to explain why the publication history of CT's material, and the assumptions of the readers (not disabused by CT's Silmarillion foreword) have contributed to that mistake, and suggesting that JRRT's own thoughts on Beowulf, if applied to TLOTR, indicate that he too might have thought it a mistake.

By the way, nothing against The Silmarillion. I love it. I just don't think it should be too closely linked to TLOTR.
 

wirepaladin

New Member
Valar, Eru, and Morgoth are all in the appendices of LOTR.

For the better part of the circulation and coming to reside in the popular imagination, The Silmarillion did not exist. When it came out, that it wasn't ever finalized by Tolkien and therefor not "canon" (not really a term in pop culture like it is now) was not an issue. Either you read it, and it added to your appreciation of LOTR, or you didn't because it was even more obtuse than Tolkien's other writing.

That's how I remember it.

When I finally got around to reading The Silmarillion, decades after reading LOTR initially, but coming off a fresh reread, I didn't find I spent much time applying things backward. It was an epic that explained some things and made the world of Middle Earth deeper, which at that point already held a place of it's own in my imagination.

In a more abstract way, I've always been impressed that Tolkien was able to write a setting with such a deep feeling of world and "reality" without having anyone refer to gods, not even for oaths. That there were no sects or creeds apparent is something that always made the setting fantastical to me.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi wirepaladin,

The Valar are certainly in the appendices, as is Morgoth. I do not remember Eru (by that name) in the appendices. There is a reference to the One, when, "the Valar laid down t"heir Guardianship and called upon the One, and the world was changed."

I don't think I ever said that Eru and Morgoth were not in TLOTR. I said, "There is no Manwe in TLOTR. There is no Ulmo. There is no knowledge of Elvish Fea and Hroar. There are no Maiar."

Sure, I love reading The Silmarillion. I just think that one should be very cautious about using material from The Silmarillion of explain or illuminate material from TLOTR.
 

wirepaladin

New Member
Yes, I read your initial. It prompted me to do a text search on a Kindle edition, as I was curious about what was in the text. Interestingly, the search also turned up Aule as a named Valar, but not Ulmo or Manwe, as you have already pointed out. That they aren't named specifically when the Valar are named as a group and Aule and Iluvator are named suggests to me that Tolkien very much had his full legendarium behind his writing process - all the named Valar, Maiar, etc. are present if not called out in the text.

"There are no Maiar." Curiously then, what is Sauron? As you point out, the word doesn't appear in LTOR. Whatever spirit being he is has no definition, but that there are spirit beings in some kind of hierarchy is clear. The vocabulary may not have been presented, but the concepts are there.

I do agree, caution is warranted. The Silmarillion is, what decades?, of further refinement to what this ideas mean for him and the setting. I would further suggest to the cautious reader - there is no canon. Canon only exists for the reader and is useful for grounding a discussion in the text so our individual interpretations can be expressed, discussed, and modified as warranted.

Your question about why did JRR not have a version he wanted published is a good one. From listening to the discussions and my own reaction to the reading, The Silmarillion, despite having complete stories within it, doesn't really tell a story. I get the impression he wanted something that had consistency and told a complete story, and those just weren't coming together. It's all good writing, I enjoyed it, but it doesn't stand alone the way The Hobbit or LOTR do.
 
What about the Tolkien's analyses of Namárie and Elbereth poems in The Road Goes Ever On published during his lifetime with his knowledge? There is a Manwe in there. As well as other references to Silmarillion matter I think not found in LotR used to interpret some matter from LotR.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Yes, I read your initial. It prompted me to do a text search on a Kindle edition, as I was curious about what was in the text. Interestingly, the search also turned up Aule as a named Valar, but not Ulmo or Manwe, as you have already pointed out. That they aren't named specifically when the Valar are named as a group and Aule and Iluvator are named suggests to me that Tolkien very much had his full legendarium behind his writing process - all the named Valar, Maiar, etc. are present if not called out in the text.

"There are no Maiar." Curiously then, what is Sauron? As you point out, the word doesn't appear in LTOR. Whatever spirit being he is has no definition, but that there are spirit beings in some kind of hierarchy is clear. The vocabulary may not have been presented, but the concepts are there.

I do agree, caution is warranted. The Silmarillion is, what decades?, of further refinement to what this ideas mean for him and the setting. I would further suggest to the cautious reader - there is no canon. Canon only exists for the reader and is useful for grounding a discussion in the text so our individual interpretations can be expressed, discussed, and modified as warranted.

Your question about why did JRR not have a version he wanted published is a good one. From listening to the discussions and my own reaction to the reading, The Silmarillion, despite having complete stories within it, doesn't really tell a story. I get the impression he wanted something that had consistency and told a complete story, and those just weren't coming together. It's all good writing, I enjoyed it, but it doesn't stand alone the way The Hobbit or LOTR do.
Exactly my argument. Silmarillion is not a distict work from TLOTR, as it does not stand on its own. Without TLOTR is makes no sense, it is dependant work, actually a prequel in a much more profound way that The Hobbit ever was. The Hobbit stands on its own and does not need the TLOTR to make sense, the Simarillion does, as it has no own resolution.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Exactly my argument. Silmarillion is not a distict work from TLOTR, as it does not stand on its own. Without TLOTR is makes no sense, it is dependant work, actually a prequel in a much more profound way that The Hobbit ever was. The Hobbit stands on its own and does not need the TLOTR to make sense, the Simarillion does, as it has no own resolution.
The Silmarillion (as published by Christopher Tolkien) is not a novel. It does not have a resolution (although one might argue that the War of Wrath is a resolution of sorts, at least to 'The Quenta Silmarillion', ignoring 'The Akallabeth' and 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age'.) It does not need a resolution.

Instead, 'The Silmarillion' is more like a collection of myths and legends, or a collection of stories. These might be linked together in an historical frame (as in Greek Mythology, Norse Mythology, or The Bible) but they do not need to have 'a resolution'.

Does the Old Testament have a resolution? No.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
The Silmarillion (as published by Christopher Tolkien) is not a novel. It does not have a resolution (although one might argue that the War of Wrath is a resolution of sorts, at least to 'The Quenta Silmarillion', ignoring 'The Akallabeth' and 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age'.) It does not need a resolution.

Instead, 'The Silmarillion' is more like a collection of myths and legends, or a collection of stories. These might be linked together in an historical frame (as in Greek Mythology, Norse Mythology, or The Bible) but they do not need to have 'a resolution'.

Does the Old Testament have a resolution? No.
But it (OT) still has a point - or many points. As it is not only a story, but also chronicle, birth register and an instruction manual, beyond being a fascinating historical document.

The Silmarillion seems pointless without TLOTR as there are the peoples missing for whom those myths are myths and none of them is so completely detached from the frame to stand on its own.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Hmm...

Maybe that is why i liked the book of lost tales far better. You are right that without the lord of the rings the silmarillion is kinda out of context...

But i felt that had a strange quality on its own.It was like reading some Alien cultures version of the bible. I neither disliked that nor did i ever feel that the silmarillion took anything away from the hobbit or lord if the rings, those books are still there, stinding on their own, working very well.I never got my head around that some people think texts can be destroyed by other texts (or movies or tv shows...) i don't have to read them if i don't want to.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
But it (OT) still has a point - or many points. As it is not only a story, but also chronicle, birth register and an instruction manual, beyond being a fascinating historical document.

The Silmarillion seems pointless without TLOTR as there are the peoples missing for whom those myths are myths and none of them is so completely detached from the frame to stand on its own.
'The Quenta Silmarillion' is just the same. It also is a story (or several stories - Eru v. Morgoth, Valar v. Morgoth, The story of the Silmarils, The story of the rebellion and history of the Noldor, The story of Men becoming involved, all resolved by Earendil, Elwing, and the War of Wrath.). It is also a chronicle, birth register, and instructive manual.

I wouldn't say that 'The Silmarillion is pointless without TLOTR. It stands alone quite well ('Akallabeth' and 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age', perhaps less so.)

'The Silmarillion' works fine on its own (though it is sort of a strange and unusual genre of literature).

TLOTR also works fine on its own and certainly does not need 'The Silmarillion'. (In fact, one could argue that 'The Silmarillion', though fine on its own, is detrimental to TLOTR, and disconnected from it.) The two should not really be as 'connected' as they often are.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
'The Quenta Silmarillion' is just the same. It also is a story (or several stories - Eru v. Morgoth, Valar v. Morgoth, The story of the Silmarils, The story of the rebellion and history of the Noldor, The story of Men becoming involved, all resolved by Earendil, Elwing, and the War of Wrath.). It is also a chronicle, birth register, and instructive manual.
Simarillion is not the same as the Bible, the Bible has whole books and chapters on genealogy, family law, liturgy and how to run a sactuary, economics, medical examination and technical building intructions, among others.

I wouldn't say that 'The Silmarillion is pointless without TLOTR. It stands alone quite well ('Akallabeth' and 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age', perhaps less so.)
'The Silmarillion' works fine on its own (though it is sort of a strange and unusual genre of literature).

TLOTR also works fine on its own and certainly does not need 'The Silmarillion'. (In fact, one could argue that 'The Silmarillion', though fine on its own, is detrimental to TLOTR, and disconnected from it.) The two should not really be as 'connected' as they often are.
Never saw anything detrimetal to TLOTR in the Silmarillion.

But I've heard some people saying that TLOTR in itself is detrimental to The Hobbit (by taking itself too seriously, being too heavy and gloomy or something and somehow "spoiling" the pure "fun" and innocence of "The Hobbit"). So even such people do exist, hovever far fetched this would seem to me. (I've read TLOTR first, as such I've found The Hobbit afterwards a little dissaointing, but as a teenager I had then little patience yet for children's books.)

As Haerengil stated, Lost Tales stories do stand on their own but the Silmarillion as published is a dependant work, more like a commentary on TLOTR - exactly as it has been described in TLOTR's appendicies - but clearly not satisfying to anyone who is not familiar with the TLOTR first. It is more the work of a scholar than a storyteller.
 
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Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Simarillion is not the same as the Bible, the Bible has whole books and chaters on genealogy, family law, liturgy and how to run a sactuary, economics, medical examination and technical building intructions, among others.
The book of Genesis is a collection of old tales, sometimes contradicting each other or repeating a story several times in different contexts and different characters. Where there were different versions of a story, they often left both in. And it and the other early books were edited and redacted several times over centuries, before canonization, adding and subtracting passages. So yes, the Bible may stand on its own, but it is a mashup.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
The book of Genesis is a collection of old tales, sometimes contradicting each other or repeating a story several times in different contexts and different characters. Where there were different versions of a story, they often left both in. And it and the other early books were edited and redacted several times over centuries, before canonization, adding and subtracting passages. So yes, the Bible may stand on its own, but it is a mashup.
Still getting historical, political, judical, theological and cultural context right of situations orally transmitted for several hundert up to thousand years down the line before it having been actually written down. That gives it a layered depth which the Silmarillion cannot match - as its chain is much shorter - far less generations of transmission: Valar - 1 or 2 generations of elves - Elrond - Bilbo.
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
The book of Genesis is a collection of old tales, sometimes contradicting each other or repeating a story several times in different contexts and different characters. Where there were different versions of a story, they often left both in. And it and the other early books were edited and redacted several times over centuries, before canonization, adding and subtracting passages. So yes, the Bible may stand on its own, but it is a mashup.
Would love to get into this lol may have to start another thread
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Still getting historical, political, judical, theological and cultural context right of situations orally transmitted for several hundert up to thousand years down the line before it having been actually written down. That gives it a layered depth which the Silmarillion cannot match - as its chain is much shorter - far less generations of transmission: Valar - 1 or 2 generation of elves - Elrond - Bilbo.
Of course one man's work, though revised over a lifetime, cannot match the depth of the Bible, the stories and wisdom of thousands of years. Frankly, it's crazy to expect it to. Tolkien was not trying to write another Bible, just another mythology for a fantasy world.

Would love to get into this lol may have to start another thread
I'm not really a scholar, so I can't go too deep, but I have a wonderful book of notes and commentary, and am taking a class where other students have other notes and commentaries. I'm also not religious, if that makes a difference. But I'm always interested in learning more.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Of course one man's work, though revised over a lifetime, cannot match the depth of the Bible, the stories and wisdom of thousands of years. Frankly, it's crazy to expect it to. Tolkien was not trying to write another Bible, just another mythology for a fantasy world.
This is one of the reason why I do object Flammifer's characterisation of the Simarillion as such. It does not work as a "Bible" not does it seem intended to.
Imho I do not think elves transmit instructions of the Valar in any written form. I think those would be taught, if at all, only to interested younger elves in a Master pupil relationship similar to that of Yoda teaching Luke on Dagobah.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
This is one of the reason why I do object Flammifer's characterisation of the Simarillion as such. It does not work as a "Bible" not does it seem intended to.
Imho I do not think elves transmit instructions of the Valar in any written form. I think those would be taught, if at all, only to interested younger elves in a Master pupil relationship similar to that of Yoda teaching Luke on Dagobah.
I do not characterize 'The Silmarillion' as 'a Bible'. I compared 'The Silmarillion' to mythologies, including The Old Testament. I could also contrast it.

'The Silmarillion' compares to The Bible (and other myth and legend cycles) in that it is a history and a chronicle. Not just a history of Earth / Arda, but a history of events in heaven as well.

It contrasts with these myth cycles in that (in frame) it is not formed from oral story tradition, or inspirations and visions, but from accurate accounts by eye witnesses (or semi-accurate, as in frame, the accounts came from the Sindar in Beleriand predominantly, and might have not fully reflected the Noldorian interpretation of events there.).

'The Silmarillion' is a history and a chronicle, which stops and lingers around the persons and stories of key characters and significant events. In this aspect it is very similar to many well known cycles of myth and legend.

Where it differs from the cycles we know, is that it is not as vague and interpretable as those. They all can be interpreted as full of the errors and contradictions inheirent in oral traditions being recorded by multiple different authors, and, interpreted as fact or metaphor or anywhere in between, due to the dubious and indeterminate nature of the sources (unless holding that divinity intervenes to make the whole chronicle accurate regardless). "The Silmarillion', in frame, has to be interpreted as considerably more accurate and literal.

The other main difference between 'The Silmarillion' and 'The Old Testament' is that whereas The Old Testament has stories illustrative of the Human Condition, and suggestive (or instructive) as to how Humans should behave, 'The Silmarillion' stories are illustrative of the Elvish Condition, with suggestions as to how Elves should behave.

Of course, as we learn in 'The Nature of Middle Earth', one reason why JRRT never published 'The Silmarillion' is that he seems to have concluded that 'The Silmarillion' in the state that Christopher Tolkien published it, was insufficient in illustrating the Elvish Condition, as JRRT concluded that he himself did not sufficiently understand the Elvish Condition to be able to illustrate it well. Hence all the math and thought given to understanding the life cycle of Elves, their perception of time, their relationship between Fea and Hroa, etc. etc. whcih never had been constructed when JRRT wrote (translated) those parts of the chronicle and history which Christopher later published.
 
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