Is the Silmarillion canon?

Discussion in '"The Silmarillion"' started by Prince Ashitaka, Feb 4, 2018.

  1. Prince Ashitaka

    Prince Ashitaka Member

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    On another thread earlier I asked whether the History of Middle Earth books were canon. It was suggested it was not.

    It got me wondering is the Silmarillion canon? At the end of the day it was comprised and put together by Christopher Tolkien and not JRR Tolkien himself.

    I also read somewhere that JRR Tolkien was still revising and had unfinished material for Silmarillion. When Christopher Tolkien came to compiling the Silmarillion he actually selected more revelant manuscripts rather than the more recent ones.

    What's everyone's thought on this?
     
  2. Yalerd

    Yalerd Thinker

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    Fantastic question!

    I would say yes. You're right that the Silm wasn't totally finished to JRRT, so what makes it any different from the Histories books?
    My answer is because Christopher published it. It seems to me that CT was beyond loyal to his father's works. You see it with the Beren and Luth book that just came out. He had to include every version of the story in there because he truly didn't know himself which was closer to what his father preferred or maybe was just fond of. The fact that he published The Silm stories tells me that he knew his father was pretty set on most of the content.

    But yea, certainly up for debate
     

  3. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    With respect to both The History of Middle-Earth (HME) series and the constructed Silmarillion, I suspect you'll get different opinions from as many people as respond.

    I've chatted with folks who argue that even The Hobbit isn't canon (or at least the first edition), or on the other side of this coin, some who feel that everything Tolkien put to paper is canon.

    It depends upon how one defines canon, and as I replied in the other thread, I don't consider HME canon, but I certainly draw from parts of it to imagine my internal history of Middle-earth (or "what really happened" so to speak). "Truth" might be another matter, possibly considering certain Hobbit poems for example, but the poems in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are certainly canon for me, in any case.

    But say another person draws from HME to imagine the Elder Days, is his or her history going to match my version exactly? Probably not, I think.

    In a sense I'm constructing my own Silmarillion, without having to worry about all the considerations that Christopher Tolkien arguably had.


    With respect to the Silmarillion, if CJRT had not published all that he did afterwards, obviously for readers it would have been the only detailed "default resource" concerning the Elder Days.

    But that said, and adding The Children of Hurin too, I don't think Christopher Tolkien thinks of these works as canon. The constructed versions give readers the valuable "book experience", and in that goal I think CJRT has done a commendable job.

    Critiquing his choices with respect to what "could have been" is another matter, and one could even raise Christopher Tolkien's own stated regrets regarding the Silmarillion. But to the question more directly, I don't consider these constructed versions canon. Only works published by Tolkien himself, plus the map by Pauline Baynes, are canon in my opinion.

    But not surprisingly, there will be a goodly measure of overlap (with Silmarillion, Children of Hurin) with what I imagine the history of the Elder Days to be!

    If any of that made sense :)
     
  4. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    Would it be weird to consider the Silm stories mentioned in The Lord of the Rings as Canon? I cannot for the life of me remember them all, but since The Lord of the Rings is the epitome of Middle-earth, and seen as "Canon" by virtually everyone, I would consider the Elder Days stories mention therein as canon, or those referenced.

    *whew* that was long winded!

    CL
     
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  5. Prince Ashitaka

    Prince Ashitaka Member

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    The reason why I brought this up was that Christopher did not always choose the most recent revision because they were not compatible with the earlier versions (for example pretty much everything up to the theft of the Silmarils). He tried to stick to the parts that were compatible and that makes sense. Most of the changes were details that, if taken all the way, would mean they would have to rewrite the full thing. I think he did well there. Tolkien even left most of the “recent revisions” useless because they are incomplete or don’t fit the previous narrative.

    This throws into question whether Silmarillion is canon because the most recent text are not included.
     
  6. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    I would consider that perfectly reasonable!

    When I imagine the Elder Days, or any days in Middle-earth, what is said in Tolkien-published text comes first for me, and "shapes the history" in the sense of weeding out even later, arguably variant descriptions found in posthumously published texts.

    Example: Celeborn was never a Teler of Aman (an idea found in post-Lord of the Rings text) in the internal history of Middle-earth.

    Not in my book anyway ;)

    My history allows for "variant history" due to different perspectives and different authorship,
    and even different matters of "truth", but this is built on variant internal texts, not simply variations that occur in the natural course of writing and revising.

    Although granted, the matter of internal variation versus external revision can be a hazy landscape!

    As it happens, [held to be canon] "by virtually everyone" is another factor in my definition of canon. As I noted above, I've encountered some who don't consider The Hobbit, or certain of the three editions, to be canon...

    ... but I don't think this position is easily defended.
     
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  7. Azrubêl

    Azrubêl Drúadan

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    Hmm interesting points raised by all the posts here so I will give my broad interpretation on it:

    1) My impression is that Christopher got the Silmarillion "up to speed" so that it is simply considered canon, as is the Lord of the Rings. I think this is the case with Children of Hurin as well - canon because it was edited and ironed out by Christopher.

    2) Unfinished Tales, the Histories, etc I think are not strictly canon per say, but if they are interpreted correctly, in reference to the Silmarillion, there is a lot of expanded canon material in them.

    3) I don't think "canon" necessarily means that it was published by the Professor but that it is part of his literary universe and consistent with it. So, for this reason, I consider The Hobbit to not strictly be canon. It is different in some details from the rest of the canon, but more significantly I think is the rather different universe that it takes place in - it feels and reads like an earlier iteration of Middle-earth. The places and people and songs are rather different than LOTR altogether.

    I wonder though, would Tolkien himself reject any idea of actual canon? He seemed contentedly, from before the War to the end of his life, to be revising and expanding and honing his work, consciously changing it as if it was just because he was at a different place in his life and he saw things differently then.
     
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  8. 1stvermont

    1stvermont Member

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    I am asking this same question as to what is canon so I know my next step on what to read. To me canon is what was published by J.R.R and what was intended to be published by him before his death. But how can we know?
     
  9. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    I think Tolkien considered already published work canon, so much so that, for example:

    "It was the "moon-runes" that Elrond declared (at the end of the chapter A Short Rest) to have been invented by the Dwarves and written by them with silver pens, not the Runes as an alphabetic form -- as my father noted with relief. I mention all this as an illustration of his intense concern to avoid discrepancy and inconsistency, even though in this case his anxiety was unfounded." Christopher Tolkien, note 8, Of Dwarves And Men, The Peoples of Middle-Earth

    And yep, I chose an example from the very canonical Hobbit on purpose ;):p;)

    Of course JRRT doesn't have to worry about inconsistency with respect to stacks of stories that are still unpublished and sitting in his garage or wherever. And it's only natural, in my opinion, that he revise, expand, reject, branch out, over decades...

    ... but once Bilbo's door is described green in an author-published work (meant to be read by a once and future readership), Tolkien can't then describe it blue when writing the same story from Gandalf's point of view; unless he adds that Gandalf's colour blind, or Bilbo painted it just before the Wizard arrived...

    ... or something :D
     
  10. Prince Ashitaka

    Prince Ashitaka Member

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    I presume Tolkien would reject the notion of canon. As you mentioned he's constantly revising and changing things. He revised the Hobbit again but it never got officially published, from what I read.
     
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  11. Rána

    Rána Wayward

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    I agree with that, but we've made The Silmarillion canon so I'm not really sure what can be done about it. Looking around on some of the wikis that are available, people have pulled material from deeper sources and have attached it to articles like it's canon. I've been digging around in Morgoth's Ring because it has more writing on the Valar and Elves; I notice that some passages stay with me and others fall out of my mind. The parts where I feel like it expands on things that I already "know" from Silm/Hob/LotR... I suppose I build those parts into my understanding of the canon. The pieces that confuse my understanding of the stories don't quite stick. I think the way to build the canon is to have discussions like this thread and piece together the smoothest flowing bits.

    But my personality is one that encourages people to handle the material and make an earnest attempt to fill in some of the gaps, to add details to enhance the beauty of the saga; however, I'm sure there are many that would disagree with that sentiment. But it's such a lush world and the parts that JRR officially published are so few, I think it begs to be developed by a caring hand.

    Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor contains some of my favorite bits. I know later writings are shaped to have a more scientifically accurate account of the sun and moon. I'm really glad that it's published the way it is in The Silmarillion.
     
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  12. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Hullo, love the name by the way.

    The revision you refer to was abandoned quite early, and made in order that The Hobbit better agree with The Lord of the Rings. In my opinion though, this illustrates that JRRT wanted better consistency within canonical works, rather than illustrating a rejection of the idea of canon.

    Years after The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien wrote a few pages about a neat little idea with respect to Elwing and naming, with a splash of Beorian etymology... but then he rejected most of it.

    Why? Tolkien ultimately realized that he had already published, in The Lord of the Rings Appendices, that ros "foam, spray" was a Sindarin word, not a Beorian word, and so the rest of the idea (hinging on the Beorian etymology) couldn't work, and had to be scrapped.

    Now granted Tolkien didn't always stop himself from niggling already published work, but the fact that he considered the internal ramifications of doing so illustrates to me that he acknowledged published work as canon...

    ... which I think would be natural for any subcreator/writer!

    Christopher Tolkien on the Galadriel/Celeborn historical knot, with my emphasis here: "It may be noted here that Galadriel did not appear in the original story of the rebellion and flight of the Noldor, which existed long before she did; and also, of course, that after her entry into the stories of the First Age her actions could still be transformed radically, since the Silmarillion had not been published."

    Aside from Christopher Tolkien seemingly forgetting (for a moment here) that The Road Goes Ever On had been published (as it contains some history about Galadriel), his general statement rings very true to me, allowing Tolkien his niggling nature mostly with respect to still private writings however.

    Tolkien can have Galadriel do a lot of things in the hazy pages of the First Age, but if he suddenly decides it would have been more "realistic" to have had Pippin die, crushed under a troll (heavens no! but just for a theoretical example)...

    ... then JRRT would have a lot of explaining to do ;)
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2018
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  13. Yalerd

    Yalerd Thinker

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    I'm pretty sure JRRT regretted his Sun and Moon mythos the most. But I like it too
     
  14. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    I don't consider the constructed Silmarillion canon, but I think that Tolkien's Silmarillion would have retained this tale of the Sun and Moon.

    I think Tolkien realized that he did not have to actually write a more scientifically acceptable version, because the answer to his dilemma came in the form of authorship, transmission, and in general, variant points of view. Christopher Tolkien comments, Myths Transformed text 1
    (my colour emphasis).

    "It is remarkable that he [his father] never at this time seems to have felt that what he said in this present note provided a resolution to the problem that he believed to exist:

    "What we have in the Silmarillion etc. are traditions... handed on by Men in Numenor and later in Middle-earth (Arnor and Gondor); but already far back -- from the first association of the Dunedain and Elf-friends with the Eldar in Beleriand -- blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas." JRRT​

    "At this time" is emphasized because I'm convinced Tolkien ultimately adopted this path, solving his problems without need of a revised Silmarillion (again, at least regarding the Sun and Moon, as he hadn't updated the whole of Quenta Silmarillion in any event).

    Tolkien dropped the Elfwine transmission, which had given an Anglo-Saxon mariner, Elfwine, direct contact with the Elves of Tol Eressea. Elfwine would have faithfully translated "Elvish texts" into Old English, and it seemed a bit strange for the Elves of the West to be so misguided, being, generally speaking, in contact with the Valar.

    But again, no great need to rewrite The Silmarillion regarding this. Tolkien could rather reimagine its transmission and authorship, thus preserving some of his beautiful ideas and descriptions -- this transmission ending (at least back in the time of Frodo anyway) with Bilbo's translations. Bilbo's the new, and shorter, Elfwine!

    As far as the initial shape of the Earth, in my opinion Tolkien had his Drowning of Anadune for that, a Mannish text. And as far as the Sun existing before the Elves awoke, Tolkien could have employed an Elvish-text, his Elvish fairy-tale (mixed with counting) lore, called The Legend of the Awakening of the Quendi, or Cuivienyarna.

    Christopher Tolkien again comments (here on the fairy tale). "It seems that my father had resolved (at least for the purposes of this "fairy-tale") the problem of the name "Star-folk" of the Elves in a beautifully simple way: the first Elves awoke in the late night under skies of unclouded stars, and the stars were their earliest memory."

    So different perspectives, authors, blendings or mixed traditions. It's not "in your face" though (or I think it would not have been, in my opinion); for example, when you read the Cuivienyarna you might not notice that the Sun exists already (possibly because we mortals are used to stories with a Sun in them, or "dawn" or whatever). And if you prefer that the Sun doesn't yet exist...

    ... well it's "just" an Elvish fairy tale.

    Or is it ;)
     
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  15. Rána

    Rána Wayward

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    I just ran across this paragraph in Morgoth’s Ring:
    Particular difficulties are encountered in the later work on The Silmarillion, in that so much of the typescript material was not made by my father, and he seems often to have corrected these texts without going back to the earlier ones from which they were taken; while when there were both top copy and carbon copy he often kept them in different places (for fear of loss), and one copy is often emended differently from the other, or one is not emended when the other is. Moreover he was liable to emend a text after other texts had been derived from it. (MR143)​
     
  16. Prince Ashitaka

    Prince Ashitaka Member

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    Thanks ;)

    And thanks for your detailed insight really shines light on this topic.
     
  17. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Thanks for your thanks, Prince Ashitaka!

    I once memorized a bit of dialog from Kill Bill... love the sound!

    Rana, it's things like this (like what you posted above) that really help me stamp "canon" on only Tolkien published material. JRRT was not as orderly as I would have guessed before reading HOME (he could be pedantic, which he admits and which I love), but not necessarily orderly all the time.

    I think sometimes Tolkien wrote new texts without necessarily checking his own work (in print or otherwise), which is why we get JRRT rejecting the ideas hinging on Beorian ros for example, and why we get seeming variations with respect to Celebrimbor's history (for another example), not relatively long after Tolkien himself made this Elf a Feanorean in the revised Second Edition (1960s).

    Seems odd to say that Tolkien forgot something so "obvious", but we aren't living his life of course, and especially when the mind has been in a certain mode for years -- in other words, Celebrimbor's more detailed history had not been published for years, and thus would have been open to various iterations -- so in the half hour (or whatever) of jotting down a new essay, that "fact" might come to mind more readily than a one line revision, even fairly recently published.

    Sometimes I goof up 'cause I think I'm so sure of something that I don't need to consult my notes to me!

    "When my father wrote this he ignored the addition to Appendix B in the second Edition, stating that Celebrimbor "was descended from Feanor"; no doubt he had forgotten that that theory had appeared in print, for had he remembered it he would undoubtedly have felt bound by it." Christopher Tolkien, note 7, Of Dwarves and Men, The Peoples of Middde-Earth

    Well, one can never know for sure perhaps, but I would agree that Tolkien "should" feel bound by this, or, get on his best creative horse and explain how or why the legendarium contains two versions of this history! In other words, keep it internal at the very least. Don't upset canon unless you've got a really good reason to.

    As a general fan of all the corpus, give me every Celebrimbor you got!

    As an imaginator/reader however, I'll have no Celebrimbor but he be Feanorean!

    It might be different if there was evidence, let's imagine, that Tolkien was aware he was stepping on Appendix B, and still desired to publish another Celebrimborian history, but even then, for myself, I can only "know" Tolkien chooses to publish when he publishes.

    I can round up some quotes (or at least one that comes to mind concerning the meaning of the term Noldor) where Tolkien seems intent on doing X but years later, does not (for whatever reason). And even if Tolkien goofs and publishes an unintended inconsistency...

    .. then I think I, and Tolkien too, have to deal with it (internally) :D

    Anyway, just more of my droning opinions.
     
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  18. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

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    I think The Silmarillion is “kind of” canon. It’s close, but not “canon” in the sense that it is “inarguably” what Tolkien meant.

    The reason I say this is that Tolkien himself regarded only the material published in The Lord of the Rings (and presumably in the second edition of The Hobbit, which was revised to back-fit it to The Lord of the Rings) as material that could derail a potential expansion of the corpus of his work. I cannot find the explicit reference I would like, but if anyone else would like to hunt for it, I believe CJRT cites it in one of the later volumes of History of Middle-Earth: Morgoth’s Ring, War of the Jewels, or Peoples of Middle-Earth. These include most of JRRT’s work after the publication of LotR, the internal consistency of which JRRT found himself bound to maintain. The only other work published during his lifetime that he himself oversaw was The Road Goes Ever On, in which, for instance, he explains the appearance of Gildor and the Noldorin pilgrims who encounter Frodo and his friends in the Woody End, forcing the Nazgûl who is about to capture Frodo and the Ring to retreat.

    In the Introduction to Unfinished Tales, CJRT writes
    My opinion on this (and I’ve seen it expressed elsewhere by others) is that what JRR Tolkien published himself during his lifetime is “canon”. The Lord of the Rings is canon (with one “n”). The revised Hobbit is canon, with the admonition that the first Hobbit is a sort of canon because it reveals the story that Bilbo first told Thorin & Co. (and Gandalf) about how he acquired the Ring (as a present when Gollum lost the riddle-game). The Road Goes Ever On must be considered canon because JRRT published it himself. Guy Gavriel Kay at the ripe old age of 20 years assisted CJRT in gathering, selecting, and editing material for publication in The Silmarillion. (You can read something of Kay’s experience here, but be aware he provides little detail.)

    What else is canon is questionable. Some people hold to the notion that what Tolkien wrote last is “canon”, making Celeborn a Telerin prince who ran off with Galadriel, and making Galadriel a self-willing exile who never did anything wrong; I hold to the view that Celeborn was a Sindarin prince and Galadriel was banned from returning to Valinor because she, too, was part of the Rebellion of the Noldor. I justify that on the grounds that it is consistent with LotR, while the last thing written is not. The precise genealogy of Gil-galad’s descent from Finwë, High King of the Noldor, is a famous example. I like the genealogy Finwë > Finarfin > Orodreth > Gil-galad, making him the nephew of Finrod and Galadriel. Other folks prefer other explanations. I think one is about as good as another, as long as Gil-galad is the last patrilineal descendent of Finwë in Middle-earth. (Galadriel was the only member of the House of Finwë to survive to the end of the Third Age and return to Valinor.)

    The counter-argument is that JRR Tolkien altered material in the Forward and Appendices during his lifetime, so “canon” can be expanded. I think this misses the point: the Appendices are not the meat of the story. The story is “fixed”, as it were; unfortunately, I cannot put my finger on the passage where Tolkien himself says that, but I believe I remember that he does, and Christopher Tolkien says much the same: as he puts it in the passage I quoted, “new elements set into the existing edifice will in such cases tend to contribute less to the history of the invented world itself than to the history of its invention.”

    Since JRR Tolkien himself considered the story of The Lord of the Rings the work his subsequent writings needed to match, and his son agrees, I think The Lord of the Rings along with the revised Hobbit are the canon. I happen to think we can add The Road Goes Ever On because Tolkien published it during his lifetime, too. I suppose we have to include The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, too, since it was published even before Road; but though both Bombadil and Road explain or expand upon minor matters in LotR - the name of the tower at Dol Amroth is Tirith Aear, according to preface of Bombadil, for instance - nothing contradicts anything in the story of LotR.

    Nevertheless, the world’s foremost living authority on JRR Tolkien is his son Christopher. I think his opinion on his father’s work bears considerable weight.

    Apologies for length.

    Added: Galin has the citation I could not find, and had I read his post more closely, I would have cited him citing it in the body of my post:
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2018
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  19. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Alcuin! Back? Huzzah!

    And I like your thinking here. I think we can also allow every edition Tolkien published as canon, as internal texts accepted as part of the legendarium, especially the first edition Hobbit. In author published explanations, in my opinion Tolkien himself stamps rather firmly that the first edition Hobbit is to be considered part of the legendarium. For example:

    "But many copies contain the true account (as an alternative), derived no doubt, from notes by Frodo or Samwise, both of whom learned the truth, though they seem to have been unwilling to delete anything actually written by the old hobbit himself."
    Prologue, Fellowship of the Ring

    I note also Tolkien's original (and better in my opinion) Foreword to the first edition The Lord of the Rings.

    This could be the slightly confusing part of my argument: I don't think internal untruths or internal variation/inconsistency -- within Tolkien published material -- should call the canonicity of a work into question.

    I tend to doubt, for example, that Perry-the-Winkle baked bread for a troll, but whether he did or not, the poem is internal, Hobbit-written, part of the legendarium, even if other trolls we meet don't seem to agree with this depiction.

    Now obviously, Hobbit-fancy can easily explain this in any case. It's just a poem. And to my mind, Tolkien explains/suggests that the first edition notable variation concerning the finding of the One, is a result of Bilbo being untruthful do to the Ring's influence. A wholly internal explanation, despite that many readers now know the external truth.

    The first edition Hobbit is author published, and thus Tolkien cannot simply sweep it away with silence. And he naturally does not want to undermine his own art of world-building or subcreation, so he finds a way for the reader to believe that we still have one green sun here, not an orange sun, and then a blue one.

    GRR Martin, for instance, takes advantage of the unreliable narrator. It's canon that Ramsay Bolton said X, for example...

    ... but is it true?
     

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