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Old 12-18-2018, 03:46 AM   #1
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
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Question Transmission theory - what if it's ALL true?

There are four main transmission theories mentioned in Tolkien's work:

-The Lost Tales, told to Eriol/Aelfwine by the elves of Tol Eressea, and written down by him in the Golden Book of Tavrobel.

-The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings..., Bilbo's Translations, a volume of Hobbitish commentary and genealogy, and some Gondorian history, all bundled together as the Thain's Book copy of the Red Book of Westmarch.

-A vision of the fall of Numenor, as fictionalised in the Notion Club Papers. We know the Great Wave was an actual dream-vision of Tolkien's, and we also know he wrote multiple stories about mentally time-travelling to Numenor (see: The Lost Road).

-Numenorean versions of the Quenta Silmarillion and associated documents, per Myths Transformed.

The Translations from the Elvish project I believe spent a while arguing over which version to follow, but what if they're all true? What if Tolkien was working from four different sources?

-The Numenorean texts could well have been bundled with the Red Book. Either they took the place of Bilbo's Translations, or - my preferred option - Bilbo the poet mostly translated the epic poems: Leithian, the Narn, and a Lay of Earendil that covered the Fall of Gondolin through to the War of Wrath.

-The timeline fits!
--Tolkien finds the Golden Book, written in Old English, at Great Haywood in 1916/17. He begins his translation work, writing out the Lost Tales.
--He finds the Red Book in the mid-to-late 1920s. The first thing he translates is some of the poems - perhaps Bilbo's Westron features some kind of highlighting of names (like Egyptian cartouches) which allows him to easily spot 'Tinuviel' or 'Turambar'.
--Following the Beleriand chain, he jumps to the Numenorean texts and tries to translate the Quenta Silmarillion. He ends up re-translating it over and over throughout his life.
--In the '30s, perhaps looking for something easier, he works on 'There and Back Again', written in Bilbo's familiar style.
--In 1937 he sets to work on the 'Downfall of the Lord of the Rings', but struggles initially with the differences between Frodo's and Bilbo's writing. The more Elvish bent of the 'Downfall' helps him get to grips with the similarly-Elvish Quenta, however, so both continue to improve.
--In the late '30s, he has a vision of travelling back to Numenor, and attempts to write pieces of it down; the Lost Road is the first effort, followed by the Notion Club Papers in the '40s, and later direct retellings of the Adunaic stories he saw.

The best/most bizarre aspect of this? It means that the Lost Tales are the most accurate history of the First Age. You thought Beren and Luthien fought Sauron? Nope, that's a Numenorean Faithful retelling meant to link their enemy to the Dark Lord. They actually fought a giant cat. What can you do?

Actually, Beren is the place where this kind of falls apart. Beren in the Lost Tales is an elf, but Aragorn - who grew up with Beren's great-grandson - tells us that he was mortal. Except... the Red Book is specifically noted to include Gondorian corrections, including the addition of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen. Could it be that they simply added that section in wholesale, for the Gondorian market? It definitely fits...

The other issue, still with Beren, is the Lay of Leithian. The poetic Narn matches the Lost Tales version pretty well, and the Lay of Earendil was never translated, but the Lay of Leithian is a retelling of the later, Numenorean-Quenta story, not the original Eressean Tale. What do we conclude?

-More Numenorean meddling. Kind of unsatisfactory, and would they really muck about with the poetry?
-The Lay is actually a late text (Arnorian?), following the Numenorean account. But then why would Elrond keep it alongside the First Age Narn?
-Tolkien mistranslating or filling in a missing chunk. But surely we can trust Tolkien to be a faithful translator!
-Or... maybe no-one really knows the story properly. Doriath was pretty sealed-in, and Elwing was pretty young when she left; if no-one who actually knew her grandparents survived, maybe the Eressean version is garbled. And while we're at it: who wrote the Lay? My pet theory is that it's Mr Namedrop himself, Tinfang Gelion the definitely-as-good-as-Daeron. That would mean it was written in Ossiriand (beyond the Gelion, hence the name), and probably based on a lot of guesswork and creative interpretation. Beren specifically is noted as not being very sociable after his return.

So it all just about works.

Why go into all this? Because I just love the idea that all the talk of finding the most realistic version of Tolkien is completely wrong - that the 'true' story is the utterly bonkers Lost Tales account, with its colour-coded elves, giant cats, dwarves who are incarnations of time, and Melkor being chased up a big tree.

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