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Old 04-17-2021, 07:17 PM   #1
Boromir88
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"Canonicity II": Has Yours Changed?

I was going to revive this relic and gem of a thread: 'Canonicity': The Book or the Reader?, but then I got to thinking how over my time on this forum my own canon, and thoughts about it have changed quite dramatically. Then in other threads, there has been a few discussions about canon, so I feel like it will be a good topic to ask how has your thoughts about canon changed over the years? Or maybe it hasn't changed at all?

As a teenager and young adult first getting enchanted into the "Lore", I had a strict, or what you might call a Hobbitish view of canon:

Quote:
"...they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions"~Prologue to Lord of the Rings
Everything had to be neat, clean, categorized and explained; absolutely no contradictions. As I started reading more than The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit however, trying to come up with "no contradictions" canon, was I daresay impossible. I think it actually soured my experience, and "broke the enchantment" (to refer to another thread from the days of old).

Interestingly, it was actually an interview Leonard Nimoy did (oh I think it was 7-8 years ago) talking about Star Trek fans and the remake of the Star Trek movies that were coming out that changed my views on Tolkien's canon. Leonard Nimoy said:

Quote:
“Canon is only important to certain people because they have to cling to their knowledge of the minutiae, open your mind! Be a ‘Star Trek’ fan and open your mind and say, ‘Where does Star Trek want to take me now’"
I thought Mr. Nimoy's words were completely fitting for the Star Trek universe. Even though that is a different world, why can't the same question apply? "Where does Tolkien want to take me now?"

I would say I've done a complete 180. If "Hobbitish canon" is the "no contradictions view" what would be the opposite? Perhaps, "fan canon?" Because I'm in the "whatever you personally get out of the story that leads you to enjoy it as much as I have" camp. 15 years ago I probably never thought I would change this much, but my "enchantment" has been glued together again. I find it funny that it was actually a quote from a brilliant Star Trek actor that revived my enjoyment of Tolkien.

I have to attribute it to how my "Hobbitish" impulse eventually restricted my enjoyment. Anyone else go through this over the years or change how they balance canon with their own personal fan-canon?
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:33 PM   #2
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I have definitely mellowed on my definition of canon in the past decade and a half from a rigid "it's what's written in the books with the latest published iteration settling any disputes" position. I mean, that's still basically my principle, but it isn't as rigid.

Mostly, I think, with a little more life behind me and with a fair amount of pondering things that might matter a bit more (like, the canon of Scripture), I find that I don't quite know how to define canon. Is it "what actually happened in Middle-earth," which is a bit nonsensical a question for fiction. Is it "what Tolkien intended," which requires an answer to the question of WHEN and also admits of no obvious authority (Tolkien being dead and all). I've had to settle on "well, canon is what I think happened." This is generally consistent and it does have an authority I can appeal to... it just takes all the ammunition out of telling someone else they're wrong, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
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Old 04-18-2021, 03:49 AM   #3
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But without Hobbitish Canon how else can we spend hours and days and even years debating whether or not Balrogs have wings based on a few words?

Oddly I May Say while I won’t go so far as to say I’m Hobbitish now I will say I’ve grown more strict. Not to the point of “this is how it is and nothing else” but I understood Lord of the Rings needed to be adapted for screen, some things that worked on the page simply don’t on screen. However The Hobbit trilogy just made up so much to fill three movies it soured the films. I could have accepted two two hour films MAYBE three two hour films, however there simply isn’t enough lore in the Hobbit to warrant a trilogy as long as LoTR.

Perhaps my more strict interpretation of the books is just a rebellion against the films. It could also be the fact I haven’t had time to sit down and watch the films whereas I can listen to the books in my car so the books have become my main intake of the material.

I dare say, though, Tolkien was human and has left plenty of room for interpretation and debate and head canon. I think the recent thread Letter of the Law is a prime example of this. Indeed, forums like this sort of prove the inconsistent lore is not only present but important to the survival of a story.

Someone recently mentioned Tolkien wrote the books as translated Historical Documents. True enough but using this as a base we have certain agreed to facts as well as “new translations”, unreliable narrators, and one author who wrote millions of words on this world from Silmarilion to LoTR to UT and even his letters that expand it all even further, of course there’s contradictions and ways to enjoy it and discuss. Now contrast this with a far older historical text, Encyclopedia Britannica, I could be wrong but there’s no forums dedicated to debating its contents because it’s just a recitation of facts that no one really disputes. I’m sure scholars have updated it as facts arise, but the changes are not from people’s interpretation or Head Canon.

So at the end of the day like Gandalf choosing Bilbo for being both Tookish and Baggins...ish?*(Thanks Inzil we need a mix of the two to maintain the magic. Too strict there’s no discussion, too loose and you get Radagast covered in Bird Poo and an albino orc just popping into existence.
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Old 04-18-2021, 07:04 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
Mostly, I think, with a little more life behind me and with a fair amount of pondering things that might matter a bit more (like, the canon of Scripture), I find that I don't quite know how to define canon. Is it "what actually happened in Middle-earth," which is a bit nonsensical a question for fiction. Is it "what Tolkien intended," which requires an answer to the question of WHEN and also admits of no obvious authority (Tolkien being dead and all). I've had to settle on "well, canon is what I think happened." This is generally consistent and it does have an authority I can appeal to... it just takes all the ammunition out of telling someone else they're wrong, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I think that's where the Tolkien fandom differs from other fandoms, like Star Wars or Star Trek. This website is pretty much my only experience interacting with other Tolkien fans. I've joined other forums, but I think they were all purged in the spambot attacks or I just never contributed. What I've found here is there really is a lot of debate and differences over "what is canon?" Which feels different from Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms.

I think there is "Author canon" (or for us, Tolkien canon) that is everything the author ever wrote or said in his life is considered canon. Even within that there are different opinions. Formendacil says he places more weight on what Tolkien wrote last. There are others (from the great Canon thread) that would probably say it's whatever ideas Tolkien held onto the longest, or others who accept Lord of the Rings as the only authorial canon. If another one of Tolkien's stories contradicts the Lord of the Rings, then whatever is written in Lord of the Rings is "true." That's just a few general arguments over "what is an author's canon?" And it is hard to define when there are so many differences within a fandom.

Then Morsul brings up an interesting point and that is "adaptive canon." How do adaptations of Tolkien's works change the canon? Whether I like to admit it or not, the LOTR movies changed my reading of the books (not The Hobbit, because it gets so far removed from the story, that I wouldn't even call it "adaptive canon.") Legate commented to me elsewhere that when he first saw the trailer to FOTR, he hated the look of Boromir. Sean Bean in a strawberry blonde wig was not at all how Boromir was 'supposed' to look. But after watching the film he thought Boromir was treated the best, or was the best representation of his book counterpart.

That was interesting because Sean Bean's Boromir is in my opinion, softer and a less haughty Boromir. However, when you do read the text you get glimpses that even if he's obstinate and argues a lot over where to lead the Fellowship, there was a relationship and high level of respect shown between him and Aragorn. That's the Boromir who gets highlighted in the films and now I honestly don't think it's possible to read the book and not go in with the preconceived vision "Sean Bean is Boromir."

I called it "fan canon" in my first post, but actually I think I prefer "head canon." "Head canon" would be, in my opinion, represented in the linked Letter of the Law Thread. That may not be a perfect example, but it is one's personalized interpretation of the text. Therefore, it's your own interpretation of what is "true." Head canon has no weight, except to yourself, but I've always found the acceptance of it on the Barrow-downs refreshing.

That's not to say "anything goes" here. Like, "I think Galadriel is actually a man who cross-dresses, because it's said that she competed with the greatest athletes of the Noldor in her youth. And a woman could not compete on the same level as male athletes." I mean if I were to seriously make that argument here, I know I'd have to come with far more ammunition than a single quote about Galadriel equaling the mightiest Noldor athletes.

But my point is there seems to be a lack of "fandom canon," which is I think positive as a community. For example, I think the Star Wars fandom (and I could be wrong because I've never been personally engaged into that community, just observations from others who are) there is a canon that seems "whatever is widely agreed on by the majority is the Truth." Here, I've never had the feeling. I mean, to me it's simple Balrog's don't have wings, but there's never been a "community canon" that shouts down opposing opinions. So, like Form I find it hard to define what canon is, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
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Old 04-18-2021, 01:47 PM   #5
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For me, no, my standard of canon has not really changed although my opinions about some things within that canon have changed.

For me the biggest change I've had since my early days is an increasing understanding of what I consider to be flaws in Tolkien's writing, either conceptually or structurally, although in these latter days I tend to worry less about those.

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Here, I've never had the feeling. I mean, to me it's simple Balrog's don't have wings, but there's never been a "community canon" that shouts down opposing opinions.
I don't know about that. I've seen debates in the Tolkien community get pretty consistently heated sometimes.
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Old 04-20-2021, 03:12 PM   #6
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I don't think it has, in the sense that I don't really care - or, to put it a little less brusquely, the quest for an established canon, the attempt to canonise an authoritative text of Tolkien's legendarium and weed out uncanonical variants, doesn't interest me very much.

The discussion here reminded me of Mnemo's old thread Tolkien and Negative Capability, and revisiting it I found I can still largely subscribe to what I wrote back then. Also I still think the distinction of writing vs worldbuilding is relevant here. Let me try to explain.

If your focus of interest is in Middle-earth as a secondary world to be fleshed out in fan fic or role-playing games, you'll want to keep it coherent and lore-friendly. You'll have to make up your mind whether sentient demonic cats are a thing in this world, or only sentient demonic wolves, and whether the vampire Thuringwethil was a werebat or something more Dracula-like; and if you want to use Tevildo and Oikeroi you can't have Sauron and Draugluin/Carcharoth in the same setting.

If, on the the other hand, your interest is in Tolkien's writings as works of literature, the existence of widely differing versions is in itself not a problem; but there's a further bifurcation. If you approach the Professor's writings as a philologist trying to establish a definitive text of What Tolkien Intended (or at least What Tolkien intended at a given time) you're back at the quest for coherence, sorting canonic wheat from uncanonic chaff.

But if you just read Tolkien for your own aesthetic pleasure (and if you haven't guessed it, this is my preferred approach) all that ceases to be a problem, and you can appreciate each and any stage of the legendarium for its own merits. You can have Tevildo and Carcharoth living happily side by side in your imagination (as far as this is possible for felines and canines); you can have the fairy-tale BoLT story of Melko being chased up the Great Pine of Palúrien (again, much like a cat!), but also the metaphysic speculations of Morgoth's Ring, and I wouldn't want to forego either.
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Old 04-20-2021, 04:40 PM   #7
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For me, anyway, my attitude is very process-oriented. Tolkien's corpus, published and un-, is a collective artifact which was the work of one author's lifetime. Sometimes he changed his mind. Sometimes he made mistakes. That is what I find fascinating. I just don't see much point in efforts to rather artificially determine One Truth when there is no underlying truth- it's all fiction.
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Note on 'adaptive canon'- no way. Does not and can not exist, any more than The Ten Commandments is 'adaptive' Scriptural canon.
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Old 04-20-2021, 05:00 PM   #8
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My Cannon is Tolkiens published works and i think the published Silmarillion must be or no consensus can be made. I hold post LOTR writings that went unpublished by J.R.R as close to cannon as can be.


For me, I do what J.R.R did in his letters time and again, resolve supposed contradictions and mistakes. And don't hold every word he ever wrote as cannon, only published materials he finished and Christophers published Silmarillion.
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Old 04-21-2021, 03:16 PM   #9
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For me, canon equals author-published material.

With respect to "in story" texts: the rest is JRRT in the process of making more canon

With respect to the revised foreword to The Lord of the Rings, this is an external text (JRRT writing as the author), and thus not canon for me. In general I think it's open to something like the Death Of Author principle.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
Everything had to be neat, clean, categorized and explained; absolutely no contradictions. As I started reading more than The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit however, . . .
But there are un-neat, unclean, unexplained things, along with arguable contradictions, in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including an unreliable narrator in Bilbo, for example.


Quote:
. . . trying to come up with "no contradictions" canon, was I daresay impossible. I think it actually soured my experience, and "broke the enchantment" (to refer to another thread from the days of old).
I'll put it this way: some of the posthumously published corpus started chipping away at the story, undermining it, and thus, breaking the enchantment. Folks naturally want the/a story, and Tolkien, likewise naturally, didn't want readers to see its process . . . which is not a jab at Christopher Tolkien for publishing anything. Christopher Tolkien wasn't trying to create canon in any case, nor undermine it, I would think.


I've invented (or maybe not) a term "false contradiction", and I mean something like this (for a mostly made up example).

A) Tolkien publishes a limited history of Rohan in Appendix A.

B) Tolkien writes a long history of Rohan, but mistakenly contradicts a couple of things in Appendix A.

C) Tolkien writes another extended history of Rohan. This time nothing arguably conflicts with Appendix A, but this version rather noticeably conflicts with "text B" in many areas.

Certainly there are contradictions when we compare the three texts, but is it fair to a subcreator/writer to claim that the History of Rohan is "now" (post-posthumously-published-papers) full of contradictions?

I say it's full of false contradictions. Tolkien was working toward the history of Rohan.

Or in other words, more of A, author published work
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Old 04-22-2021, 03:40 PM   #10
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Boromir88, you picked quite a classic thread to piggyback upon. I didn't wander all the way through, and I don't think I contributed to it way back when. But I do recall my own posts on the subject, and, looking back, I may have changed my views a bit.

I once posted a "scale" of canonicity; (1) works published during JRRT's lifetime; (2) The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales; (3) late volumes from HoME. I might change this a bit now. In term's of the "author's canon," meaning what JRRT intended, clearly some iteration of The Silmarillion was to be part of the canon. Because I think that he intended the Three Great Tales from the First Age (Beren and Luthien, the children of Hurin and the Fall of Gondolin, together with Earendil, all "mannish tales") to be expanded in the fashion seen in Unfinished Tales (grievously without Beren), I would tend to give those iterations greater weight. I at one time believed that one might be able to glean JRRT's final intent from study of HoME, particularly the last few volumes, for a full picture of the Silmarillion, but now think that at least some of Morgoth's Ring, while fascinating, was in the nature of an exploration regarding whether the fundamentals of the Silmarillion could be changed.

So perhaps I am retreating to a reader-centric view of canon, particularly since I am of the school that likes to find consistency (or explanations that work within the framework of the mythos) in his writing. I also appreciate his works as a history and literary evolution. In short, everyone gets to pick and choose a bit.
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Old 04-23-2021, 11:16 AM   #11
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Great treasure troving, Boro

A bit of irrelevant information about the original Canonicity thread: As it turns out our Mr. Fordham Hedgethistle was a grad student in an English department of which a friend of mine was the head. Oh the things Facebook helps us learn! I vaguely teased him a bit but did not challenge him or dox him, as that I thought would be really unfair or unethical.

But what a small world the internet is.
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Old 04-30-2021, 01:18 PM   #12
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I think there is a tendency often to very much exaggerate the degree of Authorial Intent to be attached to the published text of the Lord of the Rings, as if "This is FINAL and OFFICIAL and represents Tolkien's consciously determined LAST WORD." The more I work with Tolkien's manuscripts, the clearer it is to me that this is not at all the case; that the text published in 1954-55 represents merely a contingent state, a transverse cut across an ongoing development that became "fixed" not because Tolkien had decided that it was finished, final and complete, but because it was physically taken out of his hands so that he couldn't continue to monkey with it. Even in the course of the typescript for the printers - weeks and months past deadline - he was rewriting things. Even on the galley proofs (which for normal authors exist to correct typos), he was rewriting things. Had not Rayner Unwin practically put a gun to his head and made him give up the papers, he probably would have spent the last two decades of his life continuing to alter and reshape The Lord of the Rings just as he did with The Silmarillion.
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Old 04-30-2021, 05:19 PM   #13
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Yes but William, what about the art of subcreation? Something has to be the story, and even Tolkien bowed to that.

And if JRRT wants to niggle away for years, no problem, but he's still working toward a story to be published. And if he could change his mind about something right up to the point that that something was physically taken from him -- I'd say all the more reason to consider author-published work as canon. At least we know "that much" about a given thing: it prevailed into the Secondary World.


And even when JRRT just couldn't help himself, he still realized that stepping on already published work is simply not the same as continuing to niggle or revise aspects of the subcreated world that nobody knows about. The Secondary World exists on bookshelves for a once and future readership.

Quote:
"It may be suggested that whereas my father set great store by consistency at all points with The Lord of the Rings and the Appendices, so little concerning the First Age had appeared in print that he was under far less constraint. I am inclined to think, however, that the primary explanation of these differences lies rather in his writing largely from memory. The histories of the First Age would always remain in a somewhat fluid state so long as they were not fixed in a published state; and he certainly did not have all the relevant manuscripts clearly arranged and set out before him."

Foreword, The Peoples of Middle-Earth
To me, this is another way to say that Tolkien (and quite naturally in my opinion), treats fixed work as canon.


Ursula Le Guin did some fancy dancing with Earthsea, for another example I've used in the past. But she herself published the later books of course, leaving no question as to whether she truly wanted to shine such a new light on Earthsea.
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Old 05-01-2021, 09:16 AM   #14
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Quote:
Quote:
"It may be suggested that whereas my father set great store by consistency at all points with The Lord of the Rings and the Appendices, so little concerning the First Age had appeared in print that he was under far less constraint. I am inclined to think, however, that the primary explanation of these differences lies rather in his writing largely from memory. The histories of the First Age would always remain in a somewhat fluid state so long as they were not fixed in a published state; and he certainly did not have all the relevant manuscripts clearly arranged and set out before him."

Foreword, The Peoples of Middle-Earth
To me, this is another way to say that Tolkien (and quite naturally in my opinion), treats fixed work as canon.
Or is Christopher saying that, without a bound book ready to hand and his manuscripts in disorder, his father's memory couldn't keep it all straight? This would apply especially to the 'late writings' 1968-73, since not only was Tolkien elderly, but due to an unfortunate accident his papers had become hopelessly jumbled during the move to Bournemouth. To take one example of his fading mental powers: the Glorfindel essays state that he was now stuck with the name because it had appeared in print in the Lord of the Rings, therefore Glorfindel of Rivendell must necessarily be the same person as Glorfindel of Gondolin and an explanation of how this was possible was necessary. But of course, there was nothing whatsoever preventing him from just renaming the Gondolin hero; it seems he was getting somewhat confused (or he could have let it ride, as he did with Legolas and Galdor)
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Old 05-05-2021, 10:10 AM   #15
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Or is Christopher saying that, without a bound book ready to hand and his manuscripts in disorder, his father's memory couldn't keep it all straight?
I think he's saying that as well -- after the first sentence about consistency with already published works

Which brings up another issue: if Tolkien simply forgets something already in print and "steps on it" in a late text, has he truly, consciously revised that something?

Quote:
This would apply especially to the 'late writings' 1968-73, since not only was Tolkien elderly, but due to an unfortunate accident his papers had become hopelessly jumbled during the move to Bournemouth. To take one example of his fading mental powers: the Glorfindel essays state that he was now stuck with the name because it had appeared in print in the Lord of the Rings, therefore Glorfindel of Rivendell must necessarily be the same person as Glorfindel of Gondolin and an explanation of how this was possible was necessary. But of course, there was nothing whatsoever preventing him from just renaming the Gondolin hero; it seems he was getting somewhat confused (or he could have let it ride, as he did with Legolas and Galdor)

I think the late Glorfindel text II contains a good example of Tolkien following his canon: in this text he negates the idea that Glorfindel might have been Sindarin -- negating it due to what is already in print -- if Glorfindel of Gondolin is supposed to be the same person as Glorfindel of Rivendell of course. In other words, The Lord of the Rings comes first, or in other other words, JRRT will naturally try to figure out the scenario giving top priority to already published description.

In other other other words, don't break the enchantment here.

And in my opinion, in this late text Tolkien is simply choosing to see if a satisfactory answer can emerge without altering the name of the Elf of Gondolin, and if not, he has the option of altering it.

I think a good example of Tolkien's shaky memory here might be the late detail that Gondolin was occupied by a people of almost entirely Noldorin origin, which is closer to the original conception of Gondolin's folk than description found in The Grey Annals.

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Old 08-07-2021, 09:43 PM   #16
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To make a Biblical analogy: for most Christians - with the significant exception of Protestantism - there are 14 chapters in the OT Book of Daniel. In the Jewish Bible, there are 12. Protestantism very early adopted the Jewish reckoning. Chapters 13 and 14 (and about 2/3 of chapter are Greek additions to the body of the book, which is in Hebrew. These "Additions to Daniel" are 3 of the works commonly known to Protestants as "the Apocrypha". Catholics call the 12 Hebrew chapters "proto-canonical", and the Greek additions "deutero-canonical" - all 14 chapters are recognised as equal in canonicity, but the Hebrew parts of the book enjoy a certain priority over the Greek additions.

Similarly here. IMHO:

1) TH, LOTR, and the 5 works in the Silmarillion count as fully canonical. When editions of a work disagree or are in error, I take the most recent as (unless otherwise indicated) the surest guide to the author's latest canonical intentions - later ideas not published or not published as books, do not have the same authority. They would count as protocanonical, with the possibility of a gradation even within those works.

2) In second place come unfinished pieces such as those in UT. I think of them as canonical in a lesser degree - they are canonical, in so far as they agree with, or at least do not contradict, the works in group 1. I would reckon some of them as at least deuterocanonical.

So the works in UT about Numenor would count as deuterocanonical - the discussion of Celeborn and Galadriel, might not. The Disaster of the Gladden Fields disagrees with Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age over why the disaster happened. As ORPTA makes an error about the relative dates of the Finding of the Ring & the ending of the Kings in Gondor, I accept ORPTA as canonical, but not as always.correct; and I would supplement it by TDGF, and treat TDGF as (in this respect) more reliable. A work of generally more authoritative status can therefore be supplemented, and even corrected, by a work of lower status.

The three incompletely consistent deaths of Isildur, in LOTR, ORPTA & TDGF, are rather like the three incompletely consistent deaths of Antiochus IV in the Apocrypha; or like the two deaths of Judas Iscariot in the NT.

How many (legitimate) Rulers of Numenor were there ? According to the 1977 Sil and Appendix A of LOTR, 24; according to UT, 25. The list in UT explains and corrects those in Sil & LOTR, so I go with UT. Aldarion and Erendis adds a lot of detail, including many names, to the canonical info about Numenor; so I accept those details as accurate and canonical.

3) In third place I would put the Book Of Lost Tales. I don't regard any of it as canonical. It is all certainly of great interest, but as evidence of the development of Tolkien's imagination and of the development of the stories; not as a source of lore about the feigned history and the world in which it is set. The archaic literary style is not what separates it from the first 2 groups. What makes it different, is that many of the ideas "are in serious disharmony" with ideas in those other books.

4) After that, I would put HOME volumes 3 to 12.

If groups 1 and 2 are like the parts of the Catholic canon of the Bible, perhaps groups 3 and 4 are like the Jewish legends and speculations that grew up around the Biblical material - not canonical material, not even secondary to that, but in a circle of ideas even further removed from the "epicentre" of full canonicity. If full canonicity is like the epicentre of a splash in a pool, group 4 shares in the same imagination as created the first 3 groups; but is of much lower authoritativeness.

I think the question of canonicity is well worth discussing; but I think it cannot be separated from questions of authoritativeness and authenticity.
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Old 08-31-2021, 08:48 AM   #17
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I'm not sure about ranking The Silmarillion with such priority. It was after all NOT published by JRRT; and Christopher, quite openly, had to make a large number of decisions about which version or which text to include or exclude, some of which he later came to regret.

Just for one: Is Gil-galad "canonically" the son of Fingon? I would say no.
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Old 09-01-2021, 10:31 AM   #18
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For me, anyway, my attitude is very process-oriented. Tolkien's corpus, published and un-, is a collective artifact which was the work of one author's lifetime. Sometimes he changed his mind. Sometimes he made mistakes. That is what I find fascinating. I just don't see much point in efforts to rather artificially determine One Truth when there is no underlying truth- it's all fiction.
This is, I think, a valid view for what I will call studying the Tolkien corpus as literature. But it does not help if you are more interested in the study of the 'Legend' itself rather than its literary value. You are of course fully right that there can not be a 'canon' since there is no true story behind - it's all fiction. That is why I do not like the name canon and canonicity for discussions like this one, but as yet nothing better had come up. Nonetheless in my point of view, the Legend of Middle-earth would never have been such a success in publication, if it would not have provoked the reader to look ever deeper into it. It is for sure part of Tolkien's successful literary techniques to create that kind of depth behind the told story - most of it in a kind 'real', since he had already written the background stories (e.g. Elrond recalling the End of the First Age or Aragorn singing part of the Lay of Leithian), some feigned since he only later drafted them (like the Cats of Queen Beruthiel or the Five Wizards). I think that only a fraction of the people out there that have bought one or more of Christopher Tolkien's editions of his father's earlier or later works have done so to study JRR Tolkien's corpus as literature. Another fraction (and it might be the greater one) were more interested in the stories itself. When ever I was at a meeting of Tolkien enthusiast, I could determine these fractions. You might call them LIT. and FAN. (you can choose if it is short for 'fantasy' or 'fanatic' or both). Even if the meeting was focused on LIT. in the audience you would find some FAN. and anyhow by some speaker you would mark that they have started their interest in Tolkien or fantasy as genre as FAN. even so they have come to speak now as LIT. (So you could argue that LIT. would be more grown ups while FAN. would be more childish or that for LIT. the 'spell' has been broken while FAN. do everything to maintain it - but both would be polarising more than seems necessary.)

Let's come to my approach to what is here call 'canonicity'. I am with William Cloud Hickling about The Silmarillion, but for a quiet different reason. For me there are only 4 sources in priority 1 - books published by JRR Tolkien:
- The Lord of the Rings (including the Appendices
- The Hobbit
- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
- The Road Goes Ever On

It is a strange mix and the books have even in themself some failures never corrected (e.g. Ghan-buri-Ghan counting the Rider of the Mark) and some inconsistencies from one to the other (e.g. Thorin and Co needing much less than a day ride from Mitheithel to Trolls while Strider needs several days or Galadriel have set a ban on her return or not between LotR and RGEO).

Prio 2 is sources given out to a restricted public by JRR Tolkien e.g.:
- Letters by JRR Tolkien (not so much what he sent to his family or his publisher, but more so what he sent to readers asking questions.
- Parts of The Lost Tales that JRR Tolkien published in today arcane publications. This includes some of the poetry from that period.
- Parts of The Lost Tales that JRR Tolkien read to some public audience (so not the Inclings or similar private groups). Here I think mostly of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin.
...

Prio 3 are sources published in a documentray style by Chirstopher Tolkien and others e.g.:
- Unfinsihed Tales
- The History of Middel-earth
- Beren and Lúthien
- Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin
- The History of the Hobbit
- [b]Param Eldalamberon[/(b]
...

Only in Prio 4 will be found books published by Christopher Tolkien as belles-lettres:
- The Silmarillion
- The Children of Hurin

And to come back to the topic of the thread: Yes, this has changed over time. As you may guess the above priority are a mix of attitude of the author against the text (ready for full publication or for restricted audience, a draft, ...) and level of information we have about the content of the text and the circumstances of composition. Earlier my view on 'canonicity' was rather based on the time of composition modified a bit by 'completeness' of the given information (a later rewritten small detail would only change that detail and not render the full described older story un-valid). It was like looking on a pastiche-picture: In some parts the original canvas with its first painting would still be seen, in other there was layer upon layer of new material. Some overlapping each other, some extending the picture. With each new layer covering what was beneath (a bit like the First Lord of the Ring map). But some layers would only be like a thin net: fine threads of narrative drafts with some knots where more substantial information is given, while other would be like a piece of new canvas glued on the old picture (full retelling of a tale).
Today we have to add some transparency to that picture: the higher the priority given above the more 'dense' that piece of pastiche is. Thus, with in the same priority time of composition is still the sorting criterium. But looking through the more transparent parts, they would look 'denser' if the layer beneath shows the same and more blurred if it is different. A later low priority source could thus still have an effect on an earlier high priority source, but it is no longer covering it. But sources of high priority will cover the deeper (older) layers well enough, and these layers may only peep trough where the high priority sources leave some gaps.

To take up the discussion from above: A FAN. will study the sources to discover what parts are still to been seen (looking form atop the pastiche) or he would make a parallel (horizontal) cut (lifting up some layer) and look on a the remaining layers for the fascination of that layer itself. A LIT. would rather make a crosscut to follow the development of some elements that return in many layers or he would cut out a single layer to analyse the technique used in that layer.

I hope this makes some sense at all, but the example of the pastiche was the best I could come up with. And for sure for greater clearness, the LIT. and FAN. characterisation is painted much more black and white than it is in real life. So if anyone found this characterisation embarrassing, please take this as an apologise. It was not meant in any harmful or disrespecting way. It is just a difference a percieve that often leads to misunderstanding on both sides, especially in canon-discussion like this.

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Old 09-03-2021, 05:38 PM   #19
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You [William Hicklin] are of course fully right that there can not be a 'canon' since there is no true story behind - it's all fiction.
Why not canon with respect to fiction? As in "material considered to be part of a fictional universe" (American Heritage Dictionary)

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That is why I do not like the name canon and canonicity for discussions like this one, but as yet nothing better had come up.
Agreed here. And I feel as if -- whether or not it's true -- that when I say "not canon" with respect to a given work, folks are possibly attaching some "negative" meaning to the characterization that I don't intend.

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Old 09-03-2021, 06:52 PM   #20
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If there is not some negative connotation to "not canon," (triple negative, woo hoo!) then we are about to enter the Twilight Zone. The LoTR and Hobbit movies did enough violence to the Tolkien "canon" (if anyone can suggest another word for it, I'm open to considering it; but it's been used in discussions here since around 2001). Now we will soon have one or more series that are, at best, loosely based upon the mythos.

Try visiting even the most "reputable" wikis for Star Trek, Harry Potter and Star Wars and you will find entries for video game storylines, fan-produced movies, etc. In a short time, we will see at least one Middle Earth series set in the Second Age and possibly some version of the Silmarillion as well. I am hoping they will be well-crafted. I will not refuse to watch them (until I cannot bring myself to do so, as is generally the case with the Hobbit movies). But will their interpretations someday be part of a future canon (maybe the word is legitimate or faithful?) debate? Will people someday read Tolkien's actual writings and be disappointed that they differ from the Hollywood depictions?

In my mind, this is why a discussion of "canon" is an abundantly appropriate topic for discussion here.
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Old 09-03-2021, 09:19 PM   #21
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If there is not some negative connotation to "not canon," (triple negative, woo hoo!) then we are about to enter the Twilight Zone.
Fair enough. Emphasis on "negative" characterization that I don't intend, I guess. And granted, that's hard or even impossible to know (unless I explain what I intend, and explain it well enough), but that's why I agree that "canon"
is perhaps not the best word here.

Like WCH, I too can look at the whole corpus and find it fascinating in various ways. And as a reader imaginatively engaging with "the story" as true, being under the intended spell of the writer, I can also know (to take an oft-cited case) which version of Celeborn's history is true -- and why paint that idea -- the idea the author chose for a once and future readership -- with the same colour as every other idea about Celeborn that happened to pass through Tolkien's mind at some point?

I've seen plenty of threads that begin with questions about something within Tolkien's world. To borrow the Gil-galad question: who is Gil-galad's father?

Since Tolkien didn't himself publish the answer, let the debate begin. Personally I take JRRT's last known thoughts on the matter -- as I think "the arrow of time" is the best I can do to try and follow where the Subcreator is going. But if Tolkien himself had published Fingon, what would the "canonical" answer be? Fingon, or a list of every idea Tolkien ever had about Gil-galad's parentage?

And obviously there are posthumously published texts that contain plenty of things that don't conflict with already published text. That said, however great or interesting these texts might be, however fascinating and worthy of attention they are, in my opinion they still haven't passed the same test as the author-published material has.

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Will people someday read Tolkien's actual writings and be disappointed that they differ from the Hollywood depictions?
Maybe so.

For myself, I wouldn't consider a wiki "reputable enough" if it can't, or doesn't, distinguish Hollywood depictions, for example, from Tolkien's books.

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Old 09-04-2021, 07:42 AM   #22
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For myself, I wouldn't consider a wiki "reputable enough" if it can't, or doesn't, distinguish Hollywood depictions, for example, from Tolkien's books.
I would generally not advocate considering a wiki to be "trustworthy." I was merely observing a fact; that on the internet generally, and in many "sources" in particular, the lines between original work and later "interpretations" are becoming increasingly blurred.

For those of us that cherish the original works, there is a value to defining (or attempting to define) a "canon" for our own appreciation and also for the reference of others.
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Old 09-07-2021, 09:10 AM   #23
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Findegil's discussion of LIT and FAN views, along with the release of NoME, have helped me crystalise my own view of canon, which is: it depends on context!

In some contexts, I hold to the LIT view that everything JRRT wrote is the Tolkien Canon. I have a document somewhere with all his statements on the nature of the Halls of Mandos - not to try and find 'the truth', but to see how his views evolved over time. NoME has made it clear to me that the "Myths Transformed" material, for instance, formed a major part of Tolkien's thinking in his last decade and a half, so this has to be considered in any view of the "Tolkien Canon" as a whole.

Straddling the middle ground between LIT and FAN is my desire to know what Tolkien's final view of Arda was. His ideas were constantly evolving, but he did have a view of the world when he died. It's not unfair to call that version the "truest" version of the Legendarium - the version that's truest to Tolkien's ideas. The issue, of course, is that he didn't record all his ideas - we have to reconstruct them from notes and scraps. The "Myths Transformed" material is a huge part of this - in his head, Tolkien would have had some concept of what he would do with the Lamps, or the Tale of the Sun and Moon, or the voyage of Earendil into the sky... but he doesn't seem to have written it down. This is a "Canon" we have to search for, like literary archaeology to discover something that is otherwise lost with the death of its creator.

But then there's the FAN view, which is: what was the latest and most complete story? Broadly, this is Hobbit+LotR+Silm+UT, but I'm entirely willing to add details from earlier versions or later notes that don't conflict with/break the story. Gil-Galad can be Orodreth's son, for instance - it changes nothing. But "Myths Transformed" goes right out the window, because it totally shatters several chapters of both the published and latest versions of the Silmarillion.

While the third "canon" is clearly the furthest from what Tolkien ultimately intended... Tolkien's works are fiction. "Myths Transformed" never became fiction; it stopped at worldbuilding, with no clear view on how to integrate it into the fiction. As the canon for Middle-earth as a story, this is the only one that works. (Unless you want to work in the Lost Tales canon, of course...!)

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Old 09-07-2021, 01:48 PM   #24
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And then of course there is also the "common-base-of-assumptions" definition, not really the same as FAN above, which would essentially mean the published Silmarillion augmented by UT because that is what the vast majority have actually read. Not all that many, relatively speaking, have read Morgoth's Ring much less Nature of Middle-earth.

After all, generally the Arthurian "canon," at least in the English-speaking world, has come to mean Malory
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Old 09-07-2021, 02:34 PM   #25
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( . . . ) Tolkien's works are fiction. "Myths Transformed" never became fiction; it stopped at worldbuilding, with no clear view on how to integrate it into the fiction.
My opinion here is that MT-ideas were not ultimately intended for the fiction of Quenta Silmarillion, but for works like the Awakening of the Quendi (pre-existing Sun) and The Drowning of Anadune (always round world) -- with "touches" in QS still being possible, like the Dome of Varda in LQSII for example. In other words, the "solution" to JRRT's problem (noted by Christopher Tolkien in MT) ultimately fit well with his "new" Numenorean slash Bilbo transmission, and a multi-perspective legendarium. Or in other, other words, I suggest that Tolkien realized he didn't have to drastically revise QS specifically, as it was now a mostly Mannish text.

That said, I've only read a few short sections of (G)NOME so far -- so I reserve the right to change my mind later!


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Old 09-08-2021, 02:16 AM   #26
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And then of course there is also the "common-base-of-assumptions" definition, not really the same as FAN above, which would essentially mean the published Silmarillion augmented by UT because that is what the vast majority have actually read. Not all that many, relatively speaking, have read Morgoth's Ring much less Nature of Middle-earth.

After all, generally the Arthurian "canon," at least in the English-speaking world, has come to mean Malory
Very true! I think generally (Gil-Galad being an exception) you can add in things from the notes to the "common-base-of-assumptions" without people querying it, eg in fanfic or art. But if you're going with "canon" as "what are people familiar with", then yeah, that's separate. (I'm betraying more about my own way of thinking than I meant to, aren't I? :O)

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My opinion here is that MT-ideas were not ultimately intended for the fiction of Quenta Silmarillion, but for works like the Awakening of the Quendi (pre-existing Sun) and The Drowning of Anadune (always round world) -- with "touches" in QS still being possible, like the Dome of Varda in LQSII for example. In other words, the "solution" to JRRT's problem (noted by Christopher Tolkien in MT) ultimately fit well with his "new" Numenorean slash Bilbo transmission, and a multi-perspective legendarium. Or in other, other words, I suggest that Tolkien realized he didn't have to drastically revise QS specifically, as it was now a mostly Mannish text.
You may be right! And there's certainly a potential to view "the canon" as being a set of sometimes-contradictory accounts and legends of the same events. LotR, QS, MT, and even Lost Tales and Notion Club can all be in the canon, much like the different contradictory Norse or Greek mythology texts should all be considered.

The question is what you do with that view. In the real world, you can look at the texts and accounts from some culture to see how it evolved over time, but in this case the documents are all written by one hand, and not in the same order as they would "actually" have been. Hmm... I get the feeling Tolkien would have appreciated someone taking all his books, manuscripts, and notes, and treating them as a collection of found texts and received stories. Ignore the date he "copied them out", and just use the text itself to trace the history of the tellers! But I think you'd have to be an expert in literary analysis even to attempt it.

(Given that said analysis wouldn't include the actual existence of Elves, it would be interesting to see whether "round-world" or "flat-world" came out as the earliest, most primitive version...!)

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Old 09-08-2021, 07:32 AM   #27
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Tolkien was contemplating metatextualism before post-modernism was a thing. But he was never able really to carry it through (although there is a taste of it in the LR Prologue).

Personally I think it would have been very hard to pull off, even if he had been younger and more vigorous in the 1960s. Somehow he would have had to come up with some sort of really creative "garbling of the traditions" to suture over certain great big fat hairy problems, like Venus = a boat with a guy wearing bling,* and a very physical Frodo in an apparently material ship arriving in a seemingly concrete Eressea.

But he was certainly determined that Arda = Our Solar System and Ambar = Our World; in NoME he explicitly states, writing in 1960, that the Seventh Age was 1960 years old (i.e. = Aetate Domini)

------------------------------------------

*The easy solution doesn't work- "Venus is just a hunk of gas-wrapped rock, and later garbled legend equated it with Earendil." The problem with that is that it rose for the first time as a brand new star within the living memory of certain persons still alive at the end of the Third Age, like Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond and Cirdan, not to mention the Wizards.
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Old 09-08-2021, 01:01 PM   #28
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Personally I think it would have been very hard to pull off, even if he had been younger and more vigorous in the 1960s. Somehow he would have had to come up with some sort of really creative "garbling of the traditions" to suture over certain great big fat hairy problems, like Venus = a boat with a guy wearing bling,* and a very physical Frodo in an apparently material ship arriving in a seemingly concrete Eressea.

Is there anything in (G)NOME where Tolkien considers the matter of Earendil problematic? I'm just asking,
I've only read a few sections of the book so far.


Anyway, I'd say publish the Awakening of the Quendi as written in WJ -- pre-existing sun.
And publish The Drowing of Anadune as written in Sauron Defeated -- always round world.

You didn't say otherwise, but Quenta Silmarillion doesn't have to be the vehicle for Western Elvish tradition. In my opinion DA is a creative garbling, and contains the "needed" -- if briefly stated -- Western Elvish perspective of the original shape of the world.


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*The easy solution doesn't work- "Venus is just a hunk of gas-wrapped rock, and later garbled legend equated it with Earendil." The problem with that is that it rose for the first time as a brand new star within the living memory of certain persons still alive at the end of the Third Age, like Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond and Cirdan, not to mention the Wizards.

But none of these people wrote Quenta Silmarillion. And why would Bilbo's translation of a Numenorean, or largely "Mannish" Silmarillion, need not be "corrected" by the Noldor of Rivendell, or Cirdan, or Gandalf, and so on?

It wasn't Tolkien's job as translator to correct the poem about a troll baking bread for a Hobbit


In Morgoth's Ring, Myths Transformed, Christopher Tolkien writes concerning his father: "It is remarkable that he never at this time seems to have felt that what he said in this present note provided a resolution of the problem that he believed to exist:"

The present note here is text I of Myths Transformed.

And I agree it is "remarkable", but with emphasis on "at this time" as well.

And later . . .

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Old 09-11-2021, 01:23 PM   #29
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By the way WCH, just to note it, I edited in a response to another part of your post above, just in case you want to respond to something I said there.

I'm not sure you'll want to, and in any event we've (basically) been over similar ground before, like in your thread: "Transmission theory: what the heck was Tolkien thinking?" for example.

http://www.forum.barrowdowns.com/sho...t=transmission

Anyway, note noted!
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