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Old 03-10-2018, 10:43 AM   #1
R.R.J Tolkien
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Does the Silmarillion Contradict Third age History? How Powerful Were Those First age

Does the Silmarillion Contradict Third age History?

“Pure myth and legend....cosmological myth ”
-Letters of J.R.R Tolkien 122

The third age should have propriety in our understanding middle earth as Tolkien said was his best work and his published work. When he was working on the sillmarillon to finalize for publishing in letters 247 he said “They must have to be integrated with Lord of the Rings” and “the legends [sillmarillion] have to be worked over and made consistent.” Anysupposed or perceived contradictions in any of his works should first be sought to be harmonized. In the letters of J.R.R Tolkien the author spent a great deal of time doing just this. In letters 19 he said he was doing a “construction of elaborate and consistent mythology.” in letters 163 Tolkien said he made LOTR to fit into the preexisting history of the sillmarillion and hobbit. He would answer questions from fans about middle earth drawing from works later published in the silmarillion with no hesitation of any inconstancy.

“The Lord of the Rings was not not so much a sequel to the hobbit as a sequel to the silmarillion, every aspect of the earlier work was playing a part into the new story.”
-J.R.R Tolkien The Authorized Biography Humphrey carpenter Houghton Mifflin company NY 2000

“It [LOTR] is not really a sequel to the hobbit, but to the sillmarillion”
-J.R.R Tolkien letters 124

In letters 69 Tolkien did a great deal of rewriting as he found the moon was doing some impossible things based on the placement he had it at various days. As a perfectionist he wanted every last detail perfect and consistent. Many would ask him questions of apparent contradictions and he would find a way to properly understand them and resolve the supposed contradiction. In 214 he said of supposed contradictions “Facts that may appear in my record, I believe, in no case due to errors, but omissions, and incompleteness of information.” 214 shows the depth and level he would go to to resolve small contradictions.

“He says he has to clear up an apparent contradiction in a passage of lord of the rings that has been pointed out in a letter by a reader, the matter requires his urgent consideration...talking about his book not as a work of fiction but as a chronicle of actual events; he seems to see himself not as an author who has made a slight error that must know be corrected or exspalined away, but as a historian who must cast light on an obscurity in a historical document.”
-J.R.R Tolkien a Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

“His perfectionism....he felt he must ensure that every single detail fitted satisfactory into the total pattern.”
-J.R.R Tolkien The Authorized Biography Humphrey carpenter Houghton Mifflin company NY 2000

Some see contradictions between the published silmarillion [edited and complied by Christopher Tolkien] and the Lord of the rings. If we are to take them as cannon, than I think we need to harmonize any supposed contradictions. I think a useful way of doing this is to view sections of the silmarillion as traditions based on truth that also incorporate hyperbole language given their legend/myth status by Tolkien. Tolkien viewed elven written history [the sillmarillion] as legendary writings rather than the third age historical accounts. However Tolkien said in letters 130 “I believe that legends and myths are largely made of truth.”

“What we have in the Silmarillion...are traditions...blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas.”
-J.R.R Tolkien

“Moreover my father came to conceive the silmarillion as a compilation , a compedious narrative, made long afterwords from sources of great diversity [poems annuals and oral tales] that have survived in tradition”
-Christopher Tolkien Forward to the Silmarillion

Tolkien's writings use hyperbole language especially in his yet unpublished silmarillion. This is not false, just a style of writing. Over long periods of history tales grow and over time exaggerated characters and beasts become more powerful than they were. Yet even within the text they are often not as mighty as presumed. Often various times you will hear someone was the “greatest” or “tallest” etc.

“Tolkien uses profoundly figurative language – particularly when describing distant events in semi-legendary past.”
-John Garth

How Powerful Were the Maiar, the Valar, and the First age Creatures?

Examples abound in the silmarillion of the results of hyperbole and the effects of tradition and legends coming long after the events. Where mighty warriors and creatures are exaggerated [this also occurs in LOTR to a lesser extent]. I think this language is used often of great creatures of the first ages. However there is also information that gives them a more historical/realistic portrayal as tolkien desired.

“A secondary world which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true” it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken, the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the primary world from outside.”
-J.R.R Tolkien quoted in J.R.R Tolkien a Biography by Humphrey carpenter p 194-195

“I wanted people simply to get inside this story and take it as actual history.”
-J R R Tolkien quoted in J.R.R Tolkien The Authorized Biography Humphrey carpenter Houghton Mifflin company NY 2000


Thoe numerous, Balrogs [maiar] were not even said to be melkors strongest weapons in the war of wrath. Dragons [creation of Melkor] were his most powerful servants and they were the most effective in the great battle. Fingor king of Noldor fought 1v1 vs Gothmog [captain of Balrogs and most powerful balrog ever] and Gothmog was unable to kill Fingor 1v1. It was only when other balrogs who encircled the elf king, distracted him, and this enabled Gothmog to kill Fingor. Previously Morgoth and his balrogs fled from Fingolfin and his kin.

Later Gothmog was killed by elven lord Ecthelion.Ecthelion jumped and wrapped his legs around the demon, driving the spike of his helmet into Gothmog's body. This caused Gothmog to lose his balance, and he, along with Ecthelion, fell into the Fountain of the King. Gothmog's fire was thus quenched, showing a weakness, water. Glorfindel killed a balrog with his sword to the stomach. In “of the return of the Noldor” Feanor for a long time fought alone against multiple Balrogs before being killed. After Feanor's sons fought off the balrogs.

"[Balrogs] existed in 'hundreds' (p. 170), and were slain by Tuor and the Gondothlim in large numbers: "thus five fell before Tuor's great axe Dramborleg, three before Ecthelio's sword, and two score were slain by the warriors of the king's house."
-The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, commentary by Christopher Tolkien on "The Fall of Gondolin"

Melkor and Sauron

“His might was greatest of all things in this world.”
-of the ruin of Beleriand

Melkor was the “greatest” “most powerful” and knowledgeable of all the valar the strongest beings outside of Eru [God]. Yet even with him we see weaknesses. He rarely left his strongholds out of fear of valar or the combined strength of the elves. Ungoliant the giant spider was able to match Morgoth in battle, and lost the silmarill to Beren and Luthian.

Morgoth fought at least once when the high elf king Fingolfin challenged him to a 1v1 fight. Morgoth [Melkor] feared Fingolfin and Melkor did not want the fight but had to accept given the horn blasts of Fingolfin being so loud that all his servants would know of his fear. In the 1v1 dual the elvin king wounded melkor eight times including one on his foot that bled and caused morgoth to forever limp. Morgoth gave a cry of anguish and his nearby chieftains “fell on there faces in dismay.” It was not until “the king [fingolfin] grew weary” [having traveled a long distance to challenge melkor] that Morgoth was than able to kill him. Following the fight Thorondor king of the eagles, marred Morgoths face and stole the body of the king from him. Morgoth limped on one foot and never fully recovered from his wounds.

“Severely wounded by fingolfin and Thoronder in 455 and lost a silmarill to Beren and Luthian in 467”
-Robert Foster Tolkien's World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth

Sauron, a Maiar, was Melkors mightiest and strongest servant. Yet Sauron was defeated by the large hound Huan [said to be the size of a large horse] a creation of the valar. Later Sauron feared the Númenóreans [men] and would not give battle. In the second age with extra power from the one ring, Sauron “wrestled with Gil-Galad and elendil [elf and human], and they were both slain.” In the third age Sauron was overthrown by a hobbit that was able to sneak deep within Mordor and destroy the ring after being fooled to attack at the black gate.

The Valar and Maiar

Valar were the strongest creations by eru. However it seems much of their power has to do with the potential for creation and not all the valar seem to be “fighting” valar. And in letters 181 Tolkien said they “shared in its [earths] making, but only in the same terms as we make a work of art or story.” and within the valar there is “beyond compare” differences in power. compare in power highest to lowest&f=false

They rarely engaged in battle with any other than Morgoth besides the war of wrath in the first age. In this battle dragons drove back the valar and it was not a victory for the elves and valar until the eagles and Earendil [man/elf] came and saved the day. The “good” Maiar often were forced to retreat from area such as Melian in Doriath not from Morgoth, but orcs and morgoths servants. In Valinar the Noldor elves “thirst for more knowledge , and in many things surpassed their teachers” [valar]. In Tolkiens letters 130 he said of the attack on valinar by men “The Numen-oreans directed by Sauron could have wrought ruin in Valinor itself.”

In the third age Saruman's army was defeated at helms deep, and his fortress and garrison was taken and destroyed by ents while he hid in fear in his tower. And ultimately, he was slain by Grima Wormtongue. Gandalf was unsure of his ability vs the witch king. Elrond was part maiar yet galadrial was the most powerful elf of the third age.

“Lady Galadrial....was of the Noldor and remembered the day before days in Valinor, and she was the mightiest and fairest of all the elves that remained in middle earth.”


“Probley first bred by Morgoth when he returned to Angband with the Silmarills”
-Robert Foster Tolkien's World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth

Many of the large fire breathing dragons of the first age showed vulnerabilities. A large number were killed in battles and the mighty dragon Glaurung was wounded by an axe in of the fifth battle. Turin [a man] killed Glaurung with a single thrust of his sword to the belly. In the third age the last of the great dragons Smaug was killed by an arrow shot from Bard. Likewise Fram killed the dragon Scatha. Ancalagon the largest and mightiest of all dragons to ever live in middle earth was killed by Earendil [ man/elf] blow with his sword. The size of Anacalagon most of all creatures in middle earth appears to have been exaggerated.

Ancalagon the Black: a case study

Dragon Scale- Why its Impossible to Size up Tolkien's Middle-earth

Tolkiens Drawings are not to be trusted as an absolute for size of a creature that anacalagon is based on as the above links show. In letters 141 he says “the shape and proportions of “the shire” as described in the tale cant [by me] be made to fit into shape of a page, nor at the size be contrived to be informative.” In his letters 10 he said “the pictures seem to me mostly only to prove that the author [himself] cannot draw” “inability to draw” and “defective.” in 27 he said “if you need drawings of hobbits... I must leave it in the hands of someone who can draw. My own pictures are unsafe guide” in letters 13 he said “illustrations I am divided between knowledge of my own inability and fear of what.. artists [doubtless of admirable skill] might produce.” and his pictures were “amateurish” and “silly.”in 23 he said “I wish you could find someone to redraw the pictures properly, I don't believe I am capable of it.” in letters 9 he called his drawings “poor” and “small skill” that he had “no experience” and they were “amateur illustrations.” Most of his drawings of course were never meant for publication.

First age vs Third age Elves

“History of the elves, or the silmarillion...rational incarnate creatures of more or less comparable stature with our own.”
-J.R.R Tolkien letters 130

Since morgoth, balrogs and sauron feared the elves at various times in the first age, and since various elves killed balrogs and challenged morgoth, must the first age elves be more powerful than the third age elves? I dont think so. When the silmarillion speaks of elves being more powerful in the first age, it is referring to their collective strength. The elves had a larger population in the first and and their numbers dwindled over time.

In “of the ruin of doriath” the dwarves of Nogrod defeated the mighty kingdom of elves of doriath, captured their city, Nauglamir, and the silmarillion. They than were ambushed by some elves and the rest were destroyed by ents. In of the fifth battle men of dor-lomin and the dwarves of Belegrost won renown at the battle and fought the best rather than any elves. Many times men rose high in elf kingdoms and in warfare and were better fighters than elves. At times the best individual fighter in middle earth was a man. The eldar fled the numonrians who charged for battle in aman, tuna, and the coast of valinor. This is not surprising given in letters 153 Tolkien said “Elves and men are evidently in biological terms one race.” in 181 he says “Elves and men are just different aspects of the humane...elves and men are in their incarnate forms kindrid.”

Durins Bane

The Balrog of Moria known as Durins Bane was slain by Gandalf the gray [first age Olorin] the “wisest” of the Maiar. This account Is used as the best example of Tolkiens change in opinion on Balrogs over time from the first age balrogs to the mighty balrogs of the third age, Durins bane. I think this one example is given to much weight to force a contradiction between Tolkiens views on balrogs.

After publishing Fellowship of the ring a fan asked a question of Tolkien in the letters 144 of Tolkien, Tolkien did not view the third age balrog as different than his unpublished sillmarillion view of balrogs. He said “the balrog is a survivor from the silmarillion and the legends of the first age.” He always sought to reconcile seeming differences and we should as well. The balrog is the best known balrog and arguable the second most powerful [behind Gothmog] in the history of middle earth. His actions against the dwarves show this. He was one of the few balrogs to survive the war of wrath and escaped the valar and the imprisonment of morgoth. The balrogs of the first age were killed by some of the most powerful elves to ever walk middle earth and could easily have been weaker balrogs than Durins Bane.

Also I think the movies exaggerated the balrog in appearance and power. He appears in the movie upwards of 20 feet yet the fellowship of the ring indicates he was not much larger than a man, and the sillmarillion another balrog was described as twice the size of a man, or around 12 feet.

What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater…
-Book Two, Chapter V, The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm

"it pierced the Balrog's belly nigh his own face (for that demon was double his stature) ..."
-Lost Tales, Part II, p. 194

The balrog in the movies also had horns nowhere mentioned in the books. And he also had wings, a highly debatable subject. The real balrog an ancient demon, may have looked something like this.

“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food...I am fond of mushrooms.” -J.R.R Tolkien
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