The Loremasters of Fëanor: Historical Bias in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Transformative Works

Here is the video of my presentation at the New York Tolkien Conference on Saturday, June 13. I am unfortunately hiding behind the monitor on the podium for most of the video–the perils of recording with a handicam in rooms that aren’t necessarily ideal for recording–but the audio is relatively clear throughout, and that’s really what matters. You’ll just have to take my word that I looked beautiful. :)

Below the jump is a synopsis of my paper, as well as the data that I displayed on the Powerpoint that you probably can’t read unless you have the eyesight of the Elves.

Who Wrote The Silmarillion?

Why, J.R.R. Tolkien did, right? Well, yes … and no. Yes, of course, Tolkien actually wrote down The Silmarillion. However, he almost always wrote from the point of view of an in-universe narrator or loremaster. This point of view can be rather hard to detect in the published Silmarillion, but as I explain in my paper, that is because Christopher Tolkien made the editorial decision to remove the attributions to the in-universe authors. In 1958, JRRT indicated on a scrap of paper that he intended to recast the Silmarillion stories as Númenorean in transmission rather than Elven (Myths Transformed). He subsequently eliminated the Elven narrators from the text of the Later Quenta Silmarillion; however, he did not revise that text otherwise to suggest a change in narrator. Whether he reconsidered later on or just never got to it, we’ll never know. On the strength of his expressed intentions in the 1958 note and the surface edits to the Later QS, Christopher decided to exclude the narrators from the published Silmarillion, a decision that he later regretted as “an excess of vigilance” (Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 153).

Given that, I think it is safe to continue to treat the Quenta Silmarillion as a document of Elven origin written with its original in-universe narrators in mind. Chief of those narrators and the subject of my study is Pengolodh. We actually know quite a bit about Pengolodh, and he is an interesting choice of narrators for the bulk of the history about the First Age. The essay Quendi and Eldar (HoMe XI) gives us quite a bit of his background.

  • He is of mixed Noldorin-Sindarin ancestry, so he likely has a bias toward these groups.
  • He was born in Nevrast after the arrival of the Noldor and before the settlement of Gondolin. Almost nothing happens during this time period. Seriously, look at the Grey Annals (HoMe XI). Nothing happens.
  • Since the people of Nevrast migrated to Gondolin after about 100 years (Grey Annals), this does conveniently mean that Pengolodh was probably too young to attend Fingolfin’s Feast of Reuniting and very likely not only never met a son of Fëanor (Fëanor himself is long dead at this point) but also probably never met Fingolfin or Fingon.
  • Gondolin was, of course, distinguished by its isolation. JRRT even notes in Quendi and Eldar that Pengolodh was naive of languages other than Quenya, due to Gondolin’s isolation. He was presumably pretty dang naive of history too. One can only speculate where he learned what he professes to know.
  • Gondolin was also ruled by Turgon, who was “unappeasable in his enmity for Fëanor and his sons” (Shibboleth of Fëanor, HoMe XII). This likely not only cemented a bias against the Fëanorians in young Pengolodh but also may have placed certain lines of historical thought off-limits, or at least politically unwise.
  • Pengolodh’s known sources include the people of Sirion. If there was anyone who hated the House of Fëanor more than Turgon? There they are.

All of this makes JRRT’s use of Pengolodh as his primary narrator for the Quenta Silmarillion an interesting choice, considering that Pengolodh lived in isolation for the most exciting parts of the First Age and had multiple good reasons why the information he did learn was extremely biased.

Historical Bias and The Silmarillion

In 1992, Alex Lewis presented a paper entitled “Historical Bias and the Making of The Silmarillion” at the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, the proceedings of which were copublished by Mythlore and Mallorn. The crux of Lewis’s argument is that Bilbo’s sources for the Red Book of Westmarch–which comes to us as The Silmarillion–likely relied heavily on Elrond. Lewis makes a good case that the historical bias observed in The Silmarillion matches Elrond’s lineage, with favoritism shown to Elrond’s ancestors. Those who aren’t related to Elrond get less page-time and endure more criticism. The slide below from my Powerpoint presentation shows the results of Lewis’s analysis in chart form.

Chart showing that Elrond's relatives receive less bias in The Silmarillion

Lewis did not have access to the complete History of Middle-earth series when he authored his paper. The same biases that he documented could be equally attributed to Pengolodh. (Who, after all, shared many of the same allegiances that Elrond did.)

Tolkien fanfic writers have been writing an average of 6.1 years, one-third for more than a decade, and about half use Unfinished Tales and History of Middle-earth as sources

I found Lewis’s paper quite by accident. Whenever I find a new Tolkien source, the first thing I usually do is look up Fëanor. When I first discovered the Wheaton College Tolkien database, the first thing I did (of course) was look up Fëanor, and this was how I discovered Lewis’s paper. With over a decade in the Tolkien fan fiction community, I was quite familiar with the concept of historical bias in Tolkien’s works. This was the first time I’d seen it given scholarly treatment. And, indeed, it is one of the only times–to the best of my knowledge–that scholars have tackled this topic. In fact, Lewis’s paper has been cited only six times–despite being from a prominent source–and never in a peer-reviewed publication. Although most Tolkien fanfic writers put Tolkien scholars on pedestals and find much to learn from them, this was one of the occasions where the fandom side of the community was working with an issue that had yet to receive much in the way of scholarly attention.

The images to the right (which use preliminary data from my Tolkien fan fiction survey–still ongoing! hint hint! :) ) actually come from the handout for my 2015 Mythmoot presentation on Tolkien-based transformative works. They show the same information that was presented in less attractive form in my Powerpoint. What they show is that Tolkien fan fiction writers in general not only possess considerable experience in working with the texts–unlike other fandoms where writers may produce fan fiction for only a few months before moving on to a new fandom–but also work with Tolkien’s more challenging, posthumous texts, such as Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle-earth series. Although few fan fiction writers would call themselves experts and even fewer scholars, in many cases, that is exactly what they are.

Historical Bias and Tolkien Fan Fiction

I felt as though historical bias formed the basis of generating fan fiction for many writers. Documenting this, however, is a challenge. The term “historical bias” is not widely understood, so I could not ask about it directly in my survey, and it takes many forms that made it difficult to formulate an indirect question about it. Authors’ motives aren’t always clear from stories themselves. Given these challenges, I decided to look at the popularity of different characters identified by Lewis as receiving positive or negative bias in The Silmarillion. The graph below shows the results.

Characters who receive negative bias in The Silmarillion are more popular among fanfic writers than those who do not

What this graph shows is that characters who receive negative bias in The Silmarillion (in red) are more popular among fan fiction writers than those who receive positive bias (in blue). A few points about this data:

  • The frequency with which a character appears in the text did not predict popularity, so the claim by fanfic writers that they like developing characters that Tolkien didn’t focus on–97% of fan fiction authors agreed or strongly agreed with this motive in my survey–isn’t so simple. Bias was a better predictor of popularity than
  • Likewise, character complexity and a darker tone aren’t predictors either. Thingol is doubtlessly a complex character, and Túrin has probably the darkest story of any character in the legendarium. Both receive positive bias from Pengolodh. Neither are very popular.
  • A character who receives positive bias becomes more popular if he is strongly associated with a character who receives negative bias. This is the light blue group: Elrond, Finwë, and Fingolfin. Remove the stories involving negative-bias characters from their stats and their numbers drop to more closely resemble the rest of the positive bias group.
  • Some of the most popular characters in the positive bias group are women. Mapsburgh points out that these characters also receive bias by virtue of being women. Their accomplishments are downplayed in The Silmarillion in a similar way that the heroic deeds of the Fëanorians are. This suggests that, again, writers are detecting that bias (whether they realize it or not) and are perhaps driven to tell these women’s full stories.

Characters who are subject to negative bias, therefore, seem to attract the attentions of fan fiction writers the most.

Bias as a Springboard for Fan Fiction

I identified several ways in which historical bias and fallibility can serve as a starting point for fan fiction.

  • To correct discrepancies within/between texts. Fallible in-universe loremasters and narrators can make mistakes in terms of what happened; these stories correct these mistakes or resolve discrepancies between different drafts/versions.
  • To represent characters/groups who lacked access to the in-universe transmission of the texts. These stories bring characters into focus who either aren’t well-represented in the texts (e.g., the Avari) or who are subjected to negative bias (e.g., the Fëanorians).
  • To represent groups who are traditionally ignored by the historical record. These stories assume a historical bias that erases the contributions of groups that lack access to traditional power, such as women, characters of color, and LGBTQ+ characters. My survey results show that representing these groups is important to a significant number of fan fiction writers. Percentages who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Fan fiction allows me to explore the perspectives of  …”
    • female characters: 78%
    • characters of color: 41%
    • LGBTQ+ characters: 61%
  • To amend and revise cultural/character traits depicted in the texts that are the likely result of bias. These stories consider why the in-universe loremasters might have favored one culture over another and been inaccurate in their depictions of groups like the Avari or Easterlings.
  • To consider actual events that are depicted mythically. These stories infer what really happened when the in-universe loremasters have clearly exaggerated for literary or mythical purposes. Other stories consider the realistic basis behind magical or mythical phenomena.
  • To challenge the moral compass of the texts. These stories offer alternate ways of looking at the morality of the texts under the assumption that the moral perspectives offered by the in-universe loremasters are not absolutes but merely one way of interpreting historical events.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but is based on my own experience working with historical bias as a basis for fan fiction and uses described to me by other writers.

Conclusion

Alex Lewis concludes that the historical bias in The Silmarillion is part of what creates its sense of realism. I’d go a step further and assert that historical bias creates the sense of depth that so many readers find attractive about Tolkien’s world and that Tolkien himself desired to create, finding it attractive in works like Beowulf that inspired him as a young man. Once one reads the texts as a single representation of one person’s perspective, the story deepens ad infinitum, becoming all but boundless.

What is interesting to me is how little attention historical bias has been given by the scholarly community. Because I keep a foot in both pools (though more on the fandom side), I know that each side has its topics that don’t necessarily interest the other side. This seems to be one that has achieved a measure of importance in the fan fiction community without exerting much influence on the scholarly side–at least, not that I’ve been able to find.

Should it? I suppose that is the question at the heart of this study. I do think historical bias is valuable to some–not all–studies of Tolkien’s world. The fact that he seems to have deliberately constructed it certainly suggests it should not be ignored.

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17 Responses to “The Loremasters of Fëanor: Historical Bias in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Transformative Works”

  1. Janet/Oshun says:

    This is terrific. I love it. I particularly agree with your conclusion, “What is interesting to me is how little attention historical bias has been given by the scholarly community. Because I keep a foot in both pools (though more on the fandom side), I know that each side has its topics that don’t necessarily interest the other side. This seems to be one that has achieved a measure of importance in the fan fiction community without exerting much influence on the scholarly side–at least, not that I’ve been able to find.”

    On the other hand, I noted in my presentation that it never ceases to amaze me how little attention is paid to The Silmarillion and History of Middle-earth texts in general in the scholarly community. Further, those scholars who do dip their toes most frequently into the that pool of boundless resources tend to be the ones that I like best. In what other field of literary criticism do scholars write so exclusively focused on one area of work to the exclusion of others?

    I know. I know. I can answer that bias myself. Those other works were published after he died. Still, if one is digging for further information and detail, influences and inspiration, who best to consult than the author himself to seek answers to those questions?

    • Dawn says:

      Thank you so much!

      I think that treating historical bias as an important part of the texts opens a lot of cans of worms, from a scholarly perspective. The very thing that makes it so appealing for fanfic purposes–the opening of possibilities and different perspectives–makes it difficult to arrive at the kind of pat interpretation favored by those who trying to tease out the meaning of the texts. But I was still surprised at the lack of anything to be found on it, including the ignorance of Lewis’s paper, which being prominently published, I thought someone would have cited. (Aside from overzealous grad students like myself!)

      The HoMe et al are also less fun, I imagine, to most people. (We’re weird! But we both know and accept that, I think. :D) Most of it is Silm, and the LotR stuff seems quaint but was ultimately rejected, and with a finality we don’t have for any of the Silm stuff. (If told he had six months to live and get the Silm in order, who knows what he would have chosen!) And there is a wider audience, too, for stuff about LotR. And the fact that familiarity with the HoMe tends to defy reaching a definitive interpretation, perhaps, also has something to do with it.

      Bobby remarked on the same thing about the Letters yesterday. I was saying how I thought they were underused and how much I enjoy reading them. He noted how all of his favorite Tolkien scholars make wide use of them. Again, the author’s own words are pretty valuable, imo …

  2. […] to see on the Powerpoint behind me unless you have eyes like the Elves–can be found on my blog The Heretic Loremaster. I’d love to hear comments there or here; I am hoping to make this topic into something […]

  3. just_jenni says:

    For me the question is WHY did Tolkien use loremasters to tell his stories? Was it because he was building a mythlike world such as those depicted in the Iliad, etc. and even the Bible? He surely realized that any text that has been translated has included the biases of the translators, without exception, and therefore created his own works that would reflect this reality.

    I am going to take a HUGE leap here and suggest that he really did want other writers to come along after his death and ‘revise’ the stories sketched out in his world, i.e. fanfic. (Of course it wasn’t called that at the time. His vision was probably quite serious. Not that a lot of fan fiction isn’t, of course.)

    • Dawn says:

      I think he was very deliberately imitating historical sources. For example, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to do a comparison of the various annals and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In the early medieval period he studied as a scholar, history and myth/legend/literature were rarely separate entities, and I think he was trying to imitate that. Texts like Beowulf and the Norse works that were blended as such were very often an inspiration, and I think that by imitating that style, then he was also hoping to create the depth that drew him into those texts.

      I am reluctant to declare JRRT’s support of fanworks. Fans often bring up the “other minds and hands” quote from his letter to Milton Waldman as proof that He Would Have Approved of What We Are Doing Here. :) But the letters show it to be much more complicated. People did attempt fanworks in his lifetime–Tolkien fanfic being at least as old as LotR–and he was very often disapproving of the shape those works took, even if not finding them illegal or unethical. I don’t think the latter would have occurred to him. In Letter 292, he calls a man who proposed a sequel to LotR a “young ass” and speaks dismissively of a young woman who had a similar idea. I doubt that these stories were anything on the order of what Internet fandom attempts! :) He is also extremely critical of artwork being done for his books, although these were of course professional endeavors; nonetheless, I’ve always felt they show him resistant to the kind of flattery that many writers seem to feel to see the visualizations of their stories in the minds of others. And there is, of course, his disdain of the fan who sent him the cup inscribed with the ring poem that he used as an ashtray.

      So I do take him at his word when he tells Waldman he imagined others working with his world, and I do think the historical/mythical mimicry he undertook in his works contribute to that (and are perhaps meant to), but I think the publication of LotR quickly showed him that few people thought as he did, and he was almost inevitably to be displeased by the fanworks produced by those who just didn’t “get it.” I think he probably imagined an audience of fellow Inklings (with whom he also disagreed, vehemently at times!) taking up his stories.

      Not that I think that his approval is necessary. It is very possible that the original writer of Beowulf would, for example, have been disturbed by Elves in the role of good guys and would have disapproved of this “transformation” of those early works. (He mentions Elves in a list of enemies; JRRT avoided translating it as such.) I think transformative works, by their very nature, have to grow beyond the imagination of the original author, a process that is not likely to be necessarily pleasing to that author.

  4. just_jenni says:

    Yes, I think it makes sense that Tolkien was trying to emulate historical sources in his own works. I truly believe he was trying to make his own mythology come across as ‘real’ as possible and this was another way to make it seem like genuine mythology (as much as that can be possible, but you know what I mean).

    While I agree with you that Tolkien was not overtly suggesting that other writers try their hand at filling some of the gaps in his works, posthumously or otherwise, I did get an inkling that he might have been vaguely thinking about it when he wrote what he did in his letter to Milton Waldman.

    I’d love to know what exactly he said about the ‘young ass’ and the woman who suggested LoTR could be continued. Of course he thought that his work on that story was finished, but could not have understood that for those who loved that story deeply, they would want it to go on and on forever. He couldn’t get the compliment, I guess.

    We all go through changes throughout our lifetimes, in the way we think as well as the way we look. And of course, we all have periods where we are in different moods. I suppose at the time Tolkien could have been in his ‘grumpy JRR’ mood or period, after which the kindly, accepting and less combative persona could have taken over. Sadly, we will never know, but at least his fanfic works will go ever on and on.

    Oh and btw, I forgot to comment on YOUR comment about yourself as ‘that fanfiction woman’. After I LOL’d for quite a long time, I thought about what a tremendous legacy you have created in the SWG. It’s awesome!

    • Dawn says:

      The letter about the “young ass” is really short, so I will post it here in its entirety and hope the Tolkien Estate doesn’t shoot me full of arrows or send me a C&D or anything dramatic like that.

      292 To Joy Hill, Allen & Unwin
      [Tolkien had been sent details of a proposed ‘sequel’ to The Lord of the Rings that a ‘fan’ was going to write himself.]

      12 December 1966
      76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford

      Dear Miss Hill,

      I send you the enclosed impertinent contribution to my troubles. I do not know what the legal position is, I suppose that since one cannot claim property in inventing proper names, that there is no legal obstacle to this young ass publishing his sequel, if he could find any publisher, either respectable or disreputable, who would accept such tripe.

      I have merely informed him that I have forwarded his letter and samples to you. I think that a suitable letter from Allen & Unwin might be more effective than one from me. I once had a similar proposal, couched in the most obsequious terms, from a young woman, and when I replied in the negative, I received a most vituperative letter.

      With best wishes,
      Yours sincerely,
      J. R. R. Tolkien.

      I’ve always gotten the impression from his letters (though not yet documented) that JRRT became jaded by the popularity thrust upon him by the success of LotR. The earlier letters, in which he replies to fans of The Hobbit and early readers of LotR, have a very different tone than, for example, the one above. He didn’t seem to have a lot of patience with people who didn’t see what he was trying to do, and that is most fans of his work. I see that as the natural outcome of a complex, challenging work–which I think both LotR and the Silm are–but I don’t think he “got” why radical hippies and anti-war activists and feminists wanted anything to do with his work. They were seeing it through a totally different lens than that through which it had been written, and this seemed to frustrate him. His tone went from being tickled by adoration of his work to that summed up by his supposed labeling of his fans as a “deplorable cultus.” (I say “supposed” because I’ve never been able to actually identify the source for this; Wikipedia links to a Time article from 2002, but no one seems to ever mention where the original quote came from.) When he imagined those “other minds and hands,” he didn’t even yet have a publisher for LotR; he hadn’t reached the point of actually becoming acquainted with his fanbase.

      I thought about what a tremendous legacy you have created in the SWG. It’s awesome!

      Thank you! :)

  5. just_jenni says:

    Dawn, thanks so much for copying that letter for me. Now I want to read ALL his letters, only to gain a tiny bit of insight into the thoughts of this wonderful man. Too bad we don’t know what exactly the ‘young ass’ or the ‘vituperative’ woman had in mind but I’m sure that after spending years, if not decades, on his masterpieces, only to have a couple of asses dash their sequels off fairly quickly and have the effrontery to send them to him with a hope of being published, his hackles must have been well and truly up. Just judging from his response these sequels must have been pretty bad (by his standards).

    I see JRR Tolkien’s letters have been published and Amazon has them! This is wonderful news. Thank you for making me interested in reading them. :)

  6. […] another room or just stayed at home, you can still listen to Dawn Walls-Thumma talking about “The Loremasters of Feanor: Historical Bias in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Transformative Works.” This link will take you to a page that also includes the text of her talk and the slides […]

  7. Tyelkormo says:

    One more aspect in the wider context of this aspect that I’ve been coming up with in some talks I held about weapons and armor in Middle Earth:

    Some people point out that we see barely any development in the technology of arms and and armor. I suggest that this is an artifact of the date of the writing of the text we have. In the Morgan bible, just as one example, we see Biblical scenes illustrated with the arms and armor of the time of the writing. Mallory describes Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in shining plate armor contemporary to his own time – and in the 16th century painting “The Battle of Alexander at Issus” (or rather “Alexanderschlacht” in its original german name), Albrecht Altdorfer depicts the combattants at Issus in full 16th century plate – despite the fact that it happened almost two millenia before. Now the events in the Silmarillion are, of course, even further back, but the situations are not one to one comparable – there is ample reason for innovation going somewhat slower.

    In any case, the fact that we indeed have no modern scholarly historiographic record of the events, but rather chronicles and lays that have to be taken with the same care as scholars take historical chroniclers is all too often overlooked. But then again, that care is all too often forgotten by amateurs when looking at historical chroniclers as well, taking what was meant to praise a king or condemn the enemies of one’s patron as true historical record…

    Now, of course, there’s a catch – what do we do with Tolkien’s statements published in the HoME that are not in the context of lays or other in-world texts? 😉 Infallible words of the omniscient creator? Problematic, as the good Professor changed his mind about a lot of things over the course of time….

    • Dawn says:

      That’s an excellent point about weapons and armor, and one I had not considered. When I write fanfic about The Silmarillion, I consider that the Elves developed primitive weapons while at Cuivienen. (I think, too, that Tolkien made a note at some point about the likelihood of this? I’ll have to look back.) In my own “Felakverse,” this activity was suppressed and downplayed once they reached Valinor, although some continued to develop weapons for recreational martial arts, skills that could be easily applied to more deadly uses down the road. I’ve written stories this way because I’ve always had a problem with this technology developing seemingly overnight (and solely at Melkor’s provocation). It seems highly unlikely, and I’ve always assumed some kind of finagling of the historical record at work, though the point you make here is totally new to me!

      Now, of course, there’s a catch – what do we do with Tolkien’s statements published in the HoME that are not in the context of lays or other in-world texts? 😉 Infallible words of the omniscient creator?

      As a writer myself, I am leery of putting a lot of weight behind notes that are not realized in revisions in the text. Tolkien and I actually have a very similar creative process, and like him, I change my mind constantly on what is going on in my stories. Most of these things are whims that never actually make it into the story.

      I’m running into this problem in my current paper, actually, because Tolkien expressed a desire to change the in-universe narrator of much of the Quenta from Pengolodh to a Numenorean narrator. (I mention this is the video, briefly.) But as far as I can tell, he never actually changed the Quenta to reflect this, aside from removing references to Pengolodh. So it’s still Pengolodh’s words without direct attribution to Pengolodh but with an expressed intention of using a Numenorean narrator … what to do?? :) I ended up sticking with Pengolodh as the narrator since the text seems to be written with him in mind. So I suppose that’s where my preference lies: taking into account Tolkien’s expressed intentions but letting the texts have the final say.

      • Tyelkormo says:

        Well, given that swords have basically only two purposes – a symbolical one and a lethal one – I can fully accept that Melkor introduced the Noldor to the concept. Whereas axes, bows and spears are also tools and hunting weapons, a sword is really only good at one thing – killing people. Tolkien even acknowledges that pointing out that the Numenoreans basically relegated swords to a purely symbolic role, having no need for man-killing instruments until the very people they introduced to metal-working used, upon Sauron’s corruption of their people, that same technology against them.

        Similarly, while a shield can be used to display heraldic devices, and was used in that fashion by the Noldor, there are other ways to do so (e.g. on the cloak or a surcoat) which do not require you to carry around and unwieldy object.

        So walking around with a sword and shield is a pretty good way of saying “Come get some!”. While I don’t doubt that the Noldor had evidently things like spears and bows, as they evidently hunted, I think Melkor knew precisely what he was doing when he suggested they make swords and shields (and Tolkien, when he wrote those passages)

        As for Pengolodh, are you sure it’s Pengolodh’s words? 😉 Or are we seeing what Aelfwine wrote down of them? Or yet again are we seeing what Bilbo copied in Rivendell, and was then transcribed again by generations of scribes in Arnor or Gondor? If we look at Gregory of Tours, he is one of the main sources on Merovingian history, but there are no original manuscripts left, and the earliest manuscripts are incomplete and with some mistakes – supposedly more reliable copies are from the 11th century, but that’s a considerable time after Gregory himself put down his History of the Franks. How much of it is Gregory speaking and how much one of the monks copying his work? And that’s not even touching the aforementioned problem of Gregory’s intent – which was not simply presenting a scholarly account of historical events. Luckily, we have earlier partial copies and so can trace some points through time. But with Pengolodh? 😉

        • Dawn says:

          In one of those convenient coincidences, the section of MR that I was reading this afternoon for my paper also included the references to weapons that I remembered. (Probably why I remembered it, since I had skimmed it as well before presenting this paper at the NYTC.) In The Later Quenta Silmarillion (II), JRRT added that the Eldar had swords on the Great Journey, which were “made by Aulë and sent as gifts by Oromë” (§52a). They apparently kept these weapons upon arrival in Aman, but they were unused and forgotten until Melkor began to sow discord among the Noldor, at which point they began to sharpen them anew. Prior to the LQSII, “the Elves had before possessed only weapons of the chase, spears and bows and arrows.” JRRT apparently found this inadequate; he made a marginal note on this section of The Annals of Aman: “No! They must have had weapons on the Great Journey.” Christopher didn’t like the revision. He writes at a bit of length against it and the need for it. (All of this is summed up on p. 281 of MR.)

          I agree with JRRT on this one, though. (Although I also agree with Christopher in finding the device of Oromë dropping off a load of swords as awkward.) I always wrote my Elves at Cuivienen as possessing rudimentary swords: not given them by the Valar but fashioned through extremely primitive metalworking. They were being regularly attacked at Cuivienen and saw their loved ones going missing; I think that defense would have been a foremost concern. I liked the LQSII version where the swords are dusted off and sharpened; it suggests a reversion to that defensive mentality, once again due to the attacks–subtler this time, but still attacks–of Melkor.

          As for Pengolodh, are you sure it’s Pengolodh’s words?

          Well, Pengolodh is explicitly attributed beginning with the Earliest Annals of Valinor up the point of the LQSII, where attributions are removed but the text is not edited to suggest it was written from a different point of view, despite Tolkien asserting that he intended to do so (in Myths Transformed, written around the same time as LQSII). There were subsequent people, yes, who translated and/or wrote down Pengolodh’s words.

          But it was Pengolodh who Tolkien wanted to change, and that is the crux of my conflict. In 1958, he wrote on a scrap of paper that “[i]t is now clear to me that in any case the Mythology must actually be a ‘Mannish’ affair … handed on by Men in Númenor and later in Middle-earth” (MR, p. 370, emphasis in the original). Maybe he wanted to change the subsequent loremasters as well–although Ælfwinë remains in the LQSII, which includes Laws and Customs among the Eldar, which is attributed to him–but those scraps of paper are lost if he did! 😀

          But the desire to change Pengolodh is the crux of my problem in trying to understand historical bias in The Silmarillion. It’s one of those (common) instances where Tolkien’s stated intentions as the “omniscient creator” that you noted are at odds with what the texts themselves show, in this instance probably for the very practical reasons that the revisions so cavalierly jotted onto that scrap of paper would have constituted a significant rewriting of the text, and we know that JRRT was thinking about significantly rewriting other aspects of the legendarium as well. He just didn’t get to it. But given the texts themselves, I feel comfortable in considering Pengolodh (not the unidentified “Mannish” narrator) as a source, no matter JRRT’s stated intentions.

          • Tyelkormo says:

            “They were being regularly attacked at Cuivienen and saw their loved ones going missing; I think that defense would have been a foremost concern.”

            Maybe. But if you do that, the easiest, quickest and safest solution is to use spears – easier to make, easier to use, and with longer reach.

          • Dawn says:

            I am no weapons expert, but even I know that there are combat situations in which a reach weapon is not appropriate or ideal.

            Naturally it’s “maybe.” This is all conjecture for fan fiction. But it is not out of the question that the Elves at Cuivienen would have developed weapons–a variety of them.

  8. Joe says:

    I dropped by to listen to your talk because I’ll be at NYTC2016 and I wanted to know what to expect. You set a high bar!

    The most impressive thing to me was the timing of your transition to the women. I was just saying to myself, “Of course the bad guys get all the fanfic written about them — villains are more interesting than heroes” and winding myself up to object to your entire thesis, when you pivoted to talking about how female characters who, despite the positive bias they receive in JRRT’s texts, show the same popularity trends. Convinced me right away. Well done!

    • Dawn says:

      Thank you, Joe! I’m glad you liked the talk. I’m hoping to present again this year, if I can get my proposal in. I just handed in my MA thesis, so I’m taking a much-needed mental break but should be able to get myself back on track soon.

      I think the issue of heroes and villains is interesting in the Tolkien fanfic community. About 21% of writers in my survey agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “It is important to keep my stories consistent with Tolkien’s moral beliefs” and about 15% agreed or strongly agreed with “It is important to me to write stories that I think Tolkien would have approved of.” Those numbers aren’t huge, but I’m fairly confident that they’re a good bit higher than they would be in other fandoms. And on the LotR/TH side of the Tolkien fanfic community, the heroes are overwhelmingly more popular subjects of fanfic. This made me question what it is about the Silm that makes its “bad guys” so popular. Of course you know my answer. :)

      Thank you again for watching my talk and for your kind comment! Hopefully I will see you in New York!

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