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Old 12-18-2018, 03:46 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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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.

hS
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Old 12-21-2018, 05:20 PM   #2
Rhun charioteer
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Well if the legendarium is true, that means a lot of cool things happened. Also we'd probably be able to find evidence of numenor under the ocean.
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Old 12-24-2018, 06:49 PM   #3
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I haven't really thought through all the details, but I like this theory. I've always liked to believe everything Tolkien wrote could be considered "canon" and the inconsistencies are due to translating from different sources.
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Old 01-02-2019, 07:18 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Rhun charioteer View Post
Well if the legendarium is true, that means a lot of cool things happened. Also we'd probably be able to find evidence of numenor under the ocean.
Slight topic shift, but sure: if the entire body of the Legendarium comes from genuine historical documents, what non-documentary evidence would we expect to find?

1. The Changing of the World. A massive event like the sinking of Numenor and the world being made round would leave a huge scar on the planet. Something like, maybe... the mid-Atlantic Ridge? Is this where Iluvatar spliced the new, spherical world together?

STATUS: CONFIRMED.

2. Multiple humanoid species in the fossil record. In addition to H. sapiens, Tolkien would lead us to expect a gracile elvish form (though these might be tricky to find, immortality being what it is), a more robust Orcish form, and a diminutive Hobbit/Dwarf form. And, what do you know: there are multiple rugged hominids in the fossil record (notably Neanderthals), and at least one half-sized species (Flores Man, nicknamed Hobbits). There's even evidence of Neanderthals cross-breeding with humans - the half-Orcs of Saruman.

STATUS: CONFIRMED.

(We wouldn't expect to find trolls, of course - they turn to stone in sunlight. Dragons could be found, but they mostly lived in Beleriand - pardon me, Broseliand - which is under the North Atlantic. On which note...)

3. Evidence of sunken lands in the North Atlantic (ie, Broseliand). Legends of this kind abound, for instance the Lowland Hundred of Welsh myth. Notably, however, both the shallows around the Isles of Scilly (off Cornwall) and the English Channel itself were once above the sea. It might even be possible to connect Scilly to one of the Broseliandic islands (Tol Fuin, for instance), except for the next point.

STATUS: CONFIRMED.

4. The relocation of the British Isles in Saxon times. The Golden Book is quite clear on this: Britain, including such locations as Warwick and Great Haywood, was over in the Undying Lands until about the 500s AD. Which seems problematic, given how well attested the Roman ownership of the islands is.

Or... is it? Mapping the locations in the Golden Book, we find that they're all in the west of Great Britain. Clearly, the elves crashed an Eressea made of Ireland, Wales, and south-west England into a more slender island that was already there; the 'Roman' evidence from those parts is actually Elvish. As a bonus, this explains why the Romans never bothered to invade Ireland: it didn't actually exist at the time.

STATUS: CONFIRMED.

5. Memory of a land of bliss across the Western Sea. How many do you need? The Irish, the Greeks, there's no end of these stories. The Slavic heaven was located 'far away beyond the sea, at the end of the Milky Way' - a perfect description of Valinor.

STATUS: CONFIRMED.

hS
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Old 01-02-2019, 07:34 AM   #5
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2. Multiple humanoid species in the fossil record. In addition to H. sapiens, Tolkien would lead us to expect a gracile elvish form (though these might be tricky to find, immortality being what it is), a more robust Orcish form, and a diminutive Hobbit/Dwarf form. And, what do you know: there are multiple rugged hominids in the fossil record (notably Neanderthals), and at least one half-sized species (Flores Man, nicknamed Hobbits). There's even evidence of Neanderthals cross-breeding with humans - the half-Orcs of Saruman.
I think Neanderthals are closer to Dwarves. I mean, are Tolkien's Orcs really "robust"? I think of them (apart from Sauron and Saruman's specially-bred soldier-Orcs) as undersized and wretched.

I associated burly Orcs more with things like Warhammer and WarCraft.
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Old 01-02-2019, 08:02 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
I think Neanderthals are closer to Dwarves. I mean, are Tolkien's Orcs really "robust"? I think of them (apart from Sauron and Saruman's specially-bred soldier-Orcs) as undersized and wretched.

I associated burly Orcs more with things like Warhammer and WarCraft.
You may be right.

In which case, Homo naledi is probably the Orcs. ^_^

And if you don't like that one, I'll go with 'their subterranean dwellings make preservation unlikely'. ^_~

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Old 01-02-2019, 08:51 AM   #7
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gandalf85 wrote: I haven't really thought through all the details, but I like this theory. I've always liked to believe everything Tolkien wrote could be considered "canon" and the inconsistencies are due to translating from different sources.

I think Tolkien certainly wanted a multi-perspective legendarium, but creating such a thing is an art in itself, and glomping everything together (admittedly an over simplified description here, for brevity) ignores this.


While I find this fun and interesting to think about as a what if, in the end I can't accept this view of the legendarium. For me it turns something I find important, and something I think Tolkien found important, into a haphazard, unconsidered heap of inconsistencies -- and possibly a mountainous heap when one really starts paying attention.
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Old 01-10-2019, 10:37 AM   #8
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I think Tolkien certainly wanted a multi-perspective legendarium, but creating such a thing is an art in itself, and glomping everything together (admittedly an over simplified description here, for brevity) ignores this.


While I find this fun and interesting to think about as a what if, in the end I can't accept this view of the legendarium. For me it turns something I find important, and something I think Tolkien found important, into a haphazard, unconsidered heap of inconsistencies -- and possibly a mountainous heap when one really starts paying attention.
This is certainly a valid point, and to address my own idea critically, the Legendarium of the Book of Lost Tales changed repeatedly during the writing of it. So to adopt this approach in practice, you'd first need to conjure up a consistent 'canonical' BoLT - which Tolkien never wrote.

But... I still think that treating all Tolkien's writings as authentic ancient texts opens up a wealth of possibilities. To return to Beren, this setup gives us three wildly differing accounts of his romance with Luthien - the version told on Eressea, the poem held by Elrond, and the Numenorean account of the Quenta. Christopher Tolkien has done an admirable job of showing how and why the story developed between them - but as fans, I think there's immense potential in asking why, in-universe, the story was changed in these ways.

Is the Eressean version an aberration, heavily bowlderised for the children at the Cottage of Lost Play - one in which the tricky subject of elf-mortal relationships is sidestepped? Or did Elrond and Elros conspire to create a fictional, mortal Beren, to give themselves a link to the First House of Men? Have the Eresseans obliterated any mention of werewolves - or have the Numenoreans injected Sauron into a tale that he had no part in, to justify their wars against him? Or are these differences not deliberate, but a failure in transmission, with the stories actually being different reconstructions from the rumours out of Doriath and Ossiriand? (And that, in turn, would tell us about the mindsets of the people doing the reconstructing...)

Don't get me wrong - I will always stand by the 'canonical' Legendarium as the best, and if theorising about anything in it, 9 times out of 10 I'll be talking purely about that. But sometimes it can be fun to look at things from a different angle - the very multi-perspective legendarium you describe.

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