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.
 
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