Why JRRT’s convoluted wrestle with Elf aging?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Through ‘The Nature of Middle Earth’ we have seen the vast extent of JRRT’s increasingly elaborate and intricate models of Elf to Human aging equivalents.

JRRTs notes and calculations on Elvish time and aging take about 160 pages of ‘The Nature of Middle Earth’, and 22 chapters.

Making matters more confusing, Carl Hostetter seems to have organized his ‘Part One: Time and Aging” in a somewhat confusing way. It is mostly organized chronologically, according to when JRRT (seems to have) written the notes. That is: Chapter I is from 1957; Chapters II – XVII are from 1959; Chapter XVIII is from 1965; Chapter XIX is from 1969; But then, chapter XX (which seems to be the conclusion) is from back in 1959.

What is apparent, is that Chapter XVIII, from 1965 seems to chuck out the elaborate Elf aging and Elf / Human equivalency system, which JRRT so elaborately and painstakingly constructed in 1959, He reverts to a greatly simplified system, where there are only two stages of Elf aging: Growth Years (=3 loar) and Life Years (=144 loar). No differences in aging between Aman and Middle-earth.

In Chapter XIX, from 1969, JRRT seems to consider an entirely new system of Elvish life cycles, not proposed previously. This was the concept that after maturity, Elves entered a series of (shortening) cycles alternating between periods of ‘quiet’ and ‘renewed vigour’.

Chapter XX, from 1959, is a summary of JRRTs thoughts on Elvish Time and Aging in 1959. But, its positioning at the end in Hostetters ‘Part One’ might give the impression that it is a summary of all of JRRT’s thoughts on the subject.

It is clear to me, that by 1965, JRRT had become dissatisfied with the 1959 conclusions, and was re-thinking the whole subject.

I think that JRRT never came to a clear resolution how Elves age, and how their ages relate to mortal ages.

We have touched on many of JRRT’s problems with this subject in the class, but let’s try to reconstruct JRRT’s logic and motivations. This is a very preliminary attempt. Please add builds.

  • JRRTs problems:
  • He wanted to conform to published works (only LOTR and ‘The Hobbit’ at this time.)
  • He wanted to build his world such that it could ‘realistically’ fit as the distant and pre-historic past of our own world.
  • He wanted to explain how Elves are present (really – though rarely) in Medieval times, and (perhaps – very rarely) in our own times but not at all commonly, and reduced to legend.
  • He wanted a few Elves to be ‘awakened’ in Middle-earth, but many to be a host for the Great March.
  • He wanted to explain why, over millennia of time, Elves had not expanded and multiplied to be exceedingly numerous in Middle-earth at the time of the Third Age.
  • He wanted a correlation between the life ages of Men and Elves, which would fit logically with the romances between Men and Elves.
  • He wanted whatever system he devised to fit characters and dates which had been already published, and also (if possible) to fit stories he had already constructed (but not published).

  • Constraints (self imposed) on acceptable solutions:
  • Ideally no contradictions with published works (really only TLOTR). Though he toyed with being able to attribute minor variations to ‘scribal error’
  • Great reluctance to have to change stories conceived of, but unpublished (though much more willing to try out story variations to make them fit possible Elvish Time and Aging schemes, than to consider any variation to published work.)
  • Schemes should be internally consistent, and consistent (more or less) with logic and with Middle-earth being our world long ago.

  • Hypothetical Conclusions:
  • JRRT was not satisfied with the vast amount of work, math, and thinking he did on this subject in 1959.
  • He was dissatisfied for the same reason Prof Olsen raised in class. The system had become too convoluted and complex. Different Elf / Human age equivalents at different life stages. Different in Aman and Middle-earth. Different in different periods in Middle-earth. Too convoluted for good world-building. Too likely to challenge the readers’ engagement with the secondary creation. Poor mythology. Poor story-telling.
  • That’s why JRRT changed and simplified the scheme in 1965. (He back-tested this 1965 scheme against the stories of Galadriel, Celeborn, Celebrian, Elrond, and Arwen, and seemed satisfied. However, there is no record that he back-tested this scheme against the accounts of the Elvish population growth and history from ‘awakening’ through the Great March which he devised in 1959, and which would have probably required some re-thinking.)
  • Was the 1969 conception only thoughts to explain why Cirdan had a beard when no other Elves did? Or was it answering other problems?
  • I don’t think JRRT ever resolved Elf Time and Aging to his total satisfaction.
Anyway, that is a first attempt to sort through, summarize and interpret the very dense text of ‘Part One: Time and Aging’ from ‘The Nature of Middle-earth. Please add thoughts and builds.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
He was dissatisfied for the same reason Prof Olsen raised in class. The system had become too convoluted and complex. Different Elf / Human age equivalents at different life stages. Different in Aman and Middle-earth. Different in different periods in Middle-earth. Too convoluted for good world-building. Too likely to challenge the readers’ engagement with the secondary creation. Poor mythology. Poor story-telling.
I know. In class I kept thinking, as more and more variations in elf aging was created, of the problem with a geo-centric system - as observations became more detailed, orbits got so convoluted that someone was bound to think of a solar-centric system that solved these problems.

Nice summary, though I haven't gotten that far.
 
I have a problem of understanding the first part of NoME:
Why did Tolkien make himself such a hard time finding the correct aging ratios in order to be congruent with the Tale of Years and Annals of Aman and Beleriand. He simply could have changed and revise those dates instead. Nothing of that was published, right?
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I have a problem of understanding the first part of NoME:
Why did Tolkien make himself such a hard time finding the correct aging ratios in order to be congruent with the Tale of Years and Annals of Aman and Beleriand. He simply could have changed and revise those dates instead. Nothing of that was published, right?
If those were already "canon" in his own "head-canon" he might feel unwilling to changing those too, even if not yet published.
 
Most of those texts date from 1959 so they have been produced within a couple of months. I guess for us Tolkien readers every paragraph first feels like having been produced over a long time as we are acustomed from LotR. But those chapters are brainstorming drafts so there is not as much time consumption in them as we might feel.
Furthermore, in 1959 Tolkien retired, so he suddenly had time to spend like never before. He must have been enjoying to niggle with those challenges and was not interested in simplifying the restrictions from the past. I kind of feel that he was more interested in enjoying his hobby than to finish and publish the Silmarillion.
 
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