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Old 10-12-2022, 09:40 AM   #1
Mithadan
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600,000?

No, not posts on these forums.

I recently reread Letters by Tolkien and two letters caught my attention. I noticed them before long ago, and this issue may have been discussed here in the past, but I could not find any thread on point.

To place these letters in context, in late 1937, The Hobbit had been recognized by Unwin as being moderately successful and Tolkien was essentially asked "do you have any more?" He provided Unwin with early drafts of the Silmarillion, the Beren and Luthien poem, Ainulindale, Ambarkenta and Fall of Numenor, among other things. The short version of the story, which I may explore in another thread, is that Tolkien believed that Unwin rejected the "Gnomish stories" and decided to undertake a sequel to The Hobbit. He spent somewhat more than the next ten years on writing LoTR. By 1949, Tolkien had provided drafts of portions of LoTR to Unwin which were well received, but Unwin had not committed to publishing it. LoTR was obviously a huge work and Tolkien wanted it published in a single volume, which was probably not economically feasible. Notably, there was no contract with Unwin regarding LoTR at this point. Then something odd happened.

Tolkien met with Milton Waldman, at Collins publishing, who expressed an interest in both LoTR and the Silmarillion (which had not been worked on significantly since JRRT began LoTR) if the latter was finished. On March 10, 1950, Tolkien wrote to Stanley Unwin and, on that same day prepared a draft letter to Waldman (it is not clear that the latter was actually sent) with both letters proposing the publication of both LoTR and the Silmarillion which Tolkien described as "each" being about 600,000 words in length. He later sent a lengthy letter to Waldman, after Unwin balked at the idea of publishing both, describing the Silmarillion materials in a fairly detailed outline.

Now we get to the point. 600,000 words each! Now, first of all, Tolkien seriously overestimated the length of LoTR which is reported at just under 300,000 words (likely including the appendices). But even assuming that Tolkien believed that a "for publication" version of the Silmarillion would be of length equal to LoTR, what was he talking about (or envisaging)? The published version of The Silmarillion, excluding Of the Rings of Power, was 282 pages or approximately 80,000 words, more or less. None of his other drafts realistically exceeded this length. Yet JRRT apparently expected the "final" version of The Silmarillion and its related works to be more than three times this length.

Your thoughts?
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Old 10-12-2022, 02:02 PM   #2
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If you look at the sorts of things Tolkien was producing in the early 1950s renaissance of the Silmarillion (I'm specifically thinking of the Tuor and Tķrin texts that went into Unfinished Tales), it's not crazy to think that a whole Silmarillion rewritten to that level of detail compared to the older texts might have been of a similar bulk to The Lord of the Rings: even the little cuts that Christopher made to produce a coherent Silm would add up in parts, and it's quite possible that Tolkien envisaged "the Great Tales" having a Narn-like depth. If you had Beren, Tķrin, Tuor, the Fall of Doriath, and Ešrendil all of a detail in the ballpark of the Narn, I think he'd get there.

But, of course, he never did--never got close either. Tolkien had a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver on timelines with Allen & Unwin; it would seem to me that he extended that tendency at a dramatic level to Collins here.
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Old 10-12-2022, 03:42 PM   #3
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Tolkien was ballparking, and could be wildly off- at one time (in Letters) he estimated a million words!

The actual word count of LR is ~565,000
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Old 10-13-2022, 06:11 AM   #4
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One clue that springs to mind is a couple of notes in HoME X, I think from a slightly later date. Connected to the Athrabeth:

Quote:
The newspapers in which the Athrabeth and the commentary were preserved (see p. 304) bear the inscription:

Addit. Silmarillion.
------------
Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.
------------
Commentary.

On one of these wrappers my father added: 'Should be last item in an appendix' (i.e. to The Silmarillion).
CT implies elsewhere that the 'last item' is the Commentary, indicating that the Athrabeth itself would be part of the text of the Silm proper.

Elsewhere, in a note that falls somewhere in the 1950s, Tolkien wrote:

Quote:
The three Great Tales must be Numenorean, and derived from matter preserved in Gondor. They were part of the Atanatarion (or the Legendarium of the Fathers of Men). ?Sindarin Nern in Edenedair (or In Adanath). They are
(1) Narn Beren ion Barahir also called Narn e-Dinuviel (Tale of the Nightingale)
(2) Narn e-mbar Hador containing (a) Narn i Chin Hurin (or Narn e-'Rach Morgoth Tale of the Curse of Morgoth); and (b) Narn en El (or Narn e-Dant Gondolin ar Orthad en El)
Should not these be given as Appendices to the Silmarillion?
CT says that Tolkien must be distinguishing between long and short forms of the stories here, but I'm not clear on whether he means the Atanatarion would be the long or short versions.

Form mentioned looking at what Tolkien was working on in the early 1950s; as it happens I've been working on a timeline of what he did when. If we take the cutoff date as the first Myths Transformed piece, then the following falls in Tolkien's '600K Silm' period:
  • Ainulinde revision
  • Lay of Leithian revision (not sure about the other Lays)
  • Annals of Aman
  • Grey Annals
  • 1950s Quenta
  • Of Tuor
  • Narn i Chin Hurin
  • Dangweth Pengolod
  • Tal Elmar revision
  • Essay on the Istari
  • Athrabeth first draft

(Note that in my hubris I disagree slightly with CT on the dating of the Athrabeth and the earliest Myths Transformed material. There's a swathe of texts written on 1955 notices which Christopher prefers to date later; but they form a very cohesive set, referring to each other and not to later materials, which I think makes it more likely that they were written at the time the '55 notices were received.)

What Tolkien seems to have envisaged is a Silmarillion written as a collection of texts, not a single narrative. Given the way he wrote the LotR Appendices, I imagine it not presented in chronological order, but one text at a time. You'd read the Quenta, then go back to the beginning with the Annals, then go into more depth with the Narn, then divert into a poem, then off into philosophical essays by Pengolod, and a fireside chat with Finrod. Does anyone know if there are academic texts made in this fashion, collecting all texts from a particular context under one cover? It feels like the sort of thing Tolkien might have encountered.

It looks like the published "Children of Hurin" is about the same 80K words as the published Silm. So let's ballpark the 'finished' Quenta, Narn, and Gondolin all at that length. Add in the Annals + Ainulindale/Valaquenta for another 80K, and perhaps the expanded Lay of Leithian as another. That's already 400K words; if the Athrabeth and other essays were envisaged coming to the same length again, we're pushing very close to 500K without having to imagine any 'new' texts at all.

I think he could have done it, too, were it not for two things. Firstly, the total lack of interest from publishers and basically anyone he showed the material to. Secondly, by the late '50s he became sidetracked onto the 'logical' basis of the Legendarium - first with the Myths Transformed materials (which mostly date from '55-'58), and then by all the Time and Aging stuff in NoME (mostly ca. '59). There's almost no narrative work by Tolkien from the entirety of the '60s and '70s - I can find "Cirion & Eorl" and "The Faithful Stone", but that's about it.

hS
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Old 10-15-2022, 09:55 AM   #5
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Tolkien's correspondence with Unwin and Waldman was in early 1950. Deducting the roughly 10 years during which he wrote LoTR and worked little, if at all, on The Silmarillion, by the time these letters were drafted, Tolkien had been working on the latter for somewhat over twenty years. Cottage of Lost Play was begun around 1917. When the letters were drafted, The Silmarillion was a not entirely coherent narrative of likely less that 100,000 words. While Tolkien may have "counted" incorrectly, I have no doubt that he contemplated a significant expansion of the text in the order of three to six times its existing length. Whether he would have maintained a base text in the form of the almost historical narrative that he had created with added "appendices" of expanded versions of the three great tales, or whether he hoped to expand the text in its entirety cannot be known with certainty. We can glimpse what he intended in the versions of Hurin/Turin and Tour/Gondolin found in Unfinished Tales. That he never actually put his vision down on paper in its entirety is tragic.

I do not think he would have included The Lay of Leithian (except perhaps as snippets) in the Silmarillion. He had abandoned any realistic hope that it might be published even before Unwin "rejected" it. His correspondence predates the Athrabeth but I am willing to believe that it might have ended up in an appendix. I believe Akallabeth would have been included, but not Tal Elmar.

William the wordcount for LoTR that I mentioned came from an on-line source, and I do not know how reliable it is. It is consistent with estimates I have seen that a page of text in a book averages between 250 and 300 words. As I have no intent of sitting down and counting the words myself, I defer to you. But either way, 300,000 or 600,000, considering that it took Tolkien ten plus years to write LoTR, we can assume that it would have taken at least that long to rewrite The Silmarillion to satisfy Tolkien's exacting standards. However, his correspondence with both Unwin and Waldman seems to suggest he wanted both published simultaneously. I cannot conceive that a publisher would sit on LoTR and wait for The Silmarillion.
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Old 10-17-2022, 04:47 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
While Tolkien may have "counted" incorrectly, I have no doubt that he contemplated a significant expansion of the text in the order of three to six times its existing length. Whether he would have maintained a base text in the form of the almost historical narrative that he had created with added "appendices" of expanded versions of the three great tales, or whether he hoped to expand the text in its entirety cannot be known with certainty. We can glimpse what he intended in the versions of Hurin/Turin and Tour/Gondolin found in Unfinished Tales. That he never actually put his vision down on paper in its entirety is tragic.

I do not think he would have included The Lay of Leithian (except perhaps as snippets) in the Silmarillion. He had abandoned any realistic hope that it might be published even before Unwin "rejected" it.
So then why did he work on it? Unless I'm badly misreading, once LotR was completed (not even published!) Tolkien launched straight into a massive expansion project on the Silmarillion. Over the next 5 years, he worked up new Annals for almost the entire First Age; revised and expanded the Lay of Leithian and I think the Lay of the Children of Hurin as well; began long versions of both Tuor and Turin; rewrote/revised Ainulindale and the Quenta; and drafted several philosophical essays, at least one of which (Athrabeth) he later considered to be "Silmarillion material".

We know that, around the time he finished LotR, he was thinking of a Silmarillion of comparable length. His flurry of work at that time looks exactly like an attempt to create that work: a combination of annals, narrative, summaries, poems, and essays that could easily stretch to 500K+ words.

Certainly he didn't have any such work at the time he offered it, but as Form says, Tolkien was a master of over-promising; he seems to have spent his entire life thinking that the Silmarillion material would be quick and easy to knock into shape for imminent publication, and then bogging himself down in the details. I have no trouble believing he expected it would take no more than a year or two to fix up the Lay, revise the Great Tales, and sort out the Quenta and the Annals. Sure, LotR had taken a while, but the Silmarillion material already existed, right? It just needed a little tweaking here and there, it'll be a doddle.

In reality, your 10 years looks about right. By 1955, Tolkien had a final Ainulindale and Annals of Aman, a mostly complete Turin, Grey Annals, and Quenta, and the beginnings of Tuor and the Lay(s). At his 1920s writing speed he could have finished everything off in a year and a half; by the 1950s, I reckon 5 years would be pretty accurate, even if you include Akallabeth. But then he got sidetracked, and it never happened.

hS
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Old 10-17-2022, 07:10 PM   #7
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It's also the case that he rather had the stuffing knocked out of his ambitions when it became apparent that Waldman's vague suggestion of publishing them both was not really serious, and all Collins really wanted was an abridged Rings and no Silmarillion. When he went crawling back to Unwins Silmarillion wasn't even on the table; and this coincides in date (late 1952) with the cessation of new Silmarillion work, until several years later.
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Old 10-18-2022, 02:25 AM   #8
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It's also the case that he rather had the stuffing knocked out of his ambitions when it became apparent that Waldman's vague suggestion of publishing them both was not really serious, and all Collins really wanted was an abridged Rings and no Silmarillion. When he went crawling back to Unwins Silmarillion wasn't even on the table; and this coincides in date (late 1952) with the cessation of new Silmarillion work, until several years later.
Oh wow, I'd missed that. Yeah, it looks like the last "New Silmarillion" text was the "end of the Narn" found in Children of Hurin, and dates to 1951. So if we exclude the philosophical essays, he actually got to that 'halfway point' in under two years, and could plausibly have finished the book in five.

I commented on the Lay before... checking HoME III now, the Lay of Leithian's original rejection was answered by Tolkien with "... in spite of certain virtuous passages [it] has grave defects, for it is only for me the rough material". It certainly seems like his 1950 rewrite was an attempt to resolve those defects.

The original Lay takes 4175 lines to reach the end of Canto XIII. Tolkien predicted about three more cantos, so maybe 5100 lines overall. A quick check suggests the average line length is about 7 words, so call it 36K words. If the rewrite of Canto II from 300 to 500 lines was extended across the whole poem, we'd expect a "1950 Lay" at about 60K words. (The minor revisions to the later Cantos are post-1955, so not relevant to the "1950 Silmarillion".) Given that he specifically namechecked the poem in Letter 131, I think it entirely likely that he wanted to see it published as part of the 600K "Silmarillion".

hS
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Old 11-22-2022, 10:48 AM   #9
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This question, Tolkien's suggestions in his letters to Unwin and Waldman that the Silmarillion and LoTR would be of roughly equal length has been nagging at me. I suppose that the succinct question would be what did Tolkien in the immediate time after he had "completed" LoTR (but not the appendices in their entirety), the roughly 1950-52 time-frame, expect that the Silmarillion would look like? Some might think that JRRT intended a "cover-to-cover" expansion of The Silmarillion along the lines of how the First Age stories found in Unfinished Tales were written. Most believe that the "Three Great Tales" (Beren, Hurin-Turin and Gondolin-Earendil) would be inserted into the Silmarillion framework or added at the end.

The answer may come from Christopher Tolkien in a piece that I, at best, skimmed over when I first read it. When Children of Hurin came out, I was a bit weary of CT's commentary and analyses of his father's drafts and focused, instead, upon the narrative. I was less interested in what was done when or why than simply enjoying the writing. In the introduction to CoH, CT refers to a 1951 letter that he says explained JRRT's intentions, both well before 1951 and, apparently, thereafter. Quoting the letter, in part, CT states that JRRT's intention was to include the expanded versions of the Three Great Tales within the framework of the Silmarillion as it generally had been written. I say generally because even at that time Tolkien was revising the Silmarillion itself, while, during the 1950-52 period, also working on the Three Great Tales.

The 1951 letter was to Waldman and is found in Letters of Tolkien at 131. This letter is a marvel. It is lengthy and not only summarizes the Silmarillion and the Akallabeth, but also states how they fit together with LoTR. Relevant here, the letter states that when he began the Silmarillion: "I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd."

While he calls this intention "absurd," this is precisely what he intended. The letter goes on to distinguish between the mythological portions of the Silmarillion, to be presented in short form as legendary, and portions "less mythical, and more like stories and romances, Men are interwoven." The letter also seems to discuss what he envisioned as four Great Tales to be presented in fullness, not the Three Great Tales we typically refer to. These are the Story of Beren and Luthien the Elfmaiden, the Children of Hurin, the Fall of Gondolin, and "the tale, or tales, of Earendil the Wanderer." To this would be added two Second Age tales, The Rings of Power and the Downfall of Numenor.

I have read the 1951 Waldman letter many times in the past but had focused upon what information it conveyed regarding the "lore" rather than what it said about the drafting of the stories. However, this seems to show why Tolkien, setting aside the practical impossibility of publishing them at the same time, represented that LoTR and the Silmarillion would be of roughly equal length.
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