Tolkien's legendarium is the body of J. R. R. Tolkien's mythopoeic writing, unpublished in his lifetime, that forms the background to his The Lord of the Rings , and which his son Christopher summarized in his compilation of The Silmarillion and documented in his 12-volume series The History of Middle-earth . The legendarium's origins reach back to 1914, when Tolkien began writing poems and story sketches, drawing maps, and inventing languages and names as a private project to create a unique English mythology. The earliest story drafts (of The Book of Lost Tales ) are from 1916; he revised and rewrote these for most of his adult life.
The Hobbit (1937), Tolkien's first published novel, was not originally part of the larger mythology but became linked to it. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (1954 and 1955) took place in the Third Age of Middle-earth, while virtually all of his earlier writing had been set in the first two ages of the world. The Lord of the Rings occasionally alludes to figures and events from the legendarium, but such ancient tales are depicted as being remembered by few until the story makes them relevant.
After The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien returned to his older stories to bring them to publishable form, but never completed the task. Tolkien's son Christopher chose portions of his late father's vast collection of unpublished material and shaped them into The Silmarillion (1977), a semi-chronological and semi-complete narrative of the mythical world and its origins. The sales were sufficient to enable him to work on and publish many volumes of his father's legendarium stories and drafts; some were presented as completed tales, while others illustrated his father's complex creative process. Tolkien research, a continuing examination of Tolkien's works and supporting mythology, became a scholarly area of study soon after his death.
A legendarium is a literary collection of legends. This medieval Latin noun originally referred mainly to texts detailing legends of the lives of saints. A surviving example is the Anjou Legendarium, dating from the 14th century.Quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary for the synonymous noun legendary date from 1513. The Middle English South English Legendary is an example of this form of the noun.
Tolkien described his works as a "legendarium" in four letters from 1951 to 1955, a period in which he was attempting to have his unfinished The Silmarillion published alongside the more complete The Lord of the Rings . On The Silmarillion, he wrote in 1951, "This legendarium ends with a vision of the end of the world, its breaking and remaking, and the recovery of the Silmarilli and the 'light before the Sun'";and in 1954, "Actually in the imagination of this story we are now living on a physically round Earth. But the whole 'legendarium' contains a transition from a flat world ... to a globe".
On both texts, he explained in 1954 that "... my legendarium, especially the 'Downfall of Númenor' which lies immediately behind The Lord of the Rings, is based on my view: that Men are essentially mortal and must not try to become 'immortal' in the flesh",and in 1955, "But the beginning of the legendarium, of which the Trilogy is part (the conclusion), was an attempt to reorganise some of the Kalevala".
"Tolkien's legendarium" is defined narrowly in John D. Rateliff's The History of The Hobbit as the body of Tolkien's work consisting of:
These, with The Lays of Beleriand , written from 1918 onwards, comprise the different "phases" of Tolkien's Elven legendary writings, posthumously edited and published in The Silmarillion and in their original forms in the series The History of Middle-earth by Christopher Tolkien.
Other Tolkien scholars have used the term legendarium in a variety of contexts.Christopher Tolkien's introduction to The History of Middle-earth series talks about the "primary 'legendarium'", for the core episodes and themes of The Silmarillion which were not abandoned in his father's constant redrafting of the work.
The scholars Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter edited a collection of critical essays on The History of Middle-earth named " Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth ". Flieger writes that "...the greatest is the creation of the Silmarils, the Gems of light that give their names to the whole legendarium", equating the legendarium with the Silmarillion (which sometimes denotes the 1977 book published under that name, and sometimes the larger body of un-edited drafts used to create that work).
In the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia , David Bratman writes that "The History of Middle-earth is a longitudinal study of the development and elaboration of Tolkien's legendarium through his transcribed manuscripts, with textual commentary by the editor, Christopher Tolkien."
Dickerson and Evans use the phrase "legendarium" to encompass the entirety of Tolkien's Middle-earth writings "for convenience".This would encompass texts such as the incomplete drafts of stories published before The History of Middle-earth in the 1980 Unfinished Tales .
Shaun Gunner of The Tolkien Society has called the 2021 collection of Tolkien's previously unpublished legendarium writings The Nature of Middle-earth , edited by Carl F. Hostetter, "an unofficial 13th volume of The History of Middle-earth series".
Unlike "fictional universes" constructed for the purpose of writing and publishing popular fiction, Tolkien's legendarium for a long period was a private project, concerned with questions of philology, cosmology, theology and mythology. His biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes that although by 1923 Tolkien had almost completed The Book of Lost Tales, "it was almost as if he did not want to finish it", beginning instead to rewrite it; he suggests that Tolkien may have doubted if a publisher would take it, and notes that Tolkien was a perfectionist, and further that he was perhaps afraid of finishing as he wished to go on with his sub-creation, his invention of myth in Middle-earth.
Tolkien first began working on the stories that would become The Silmarillion in 1914,intending them to become an English mythology that would explain the origins of English history and culture, and to provide the necessary "historical" background for his invented Elvish languages. Much of this early work was written while Tolkien, then a British officer returned from France during World War I, was in hospital and on sick leave. He completed the first story, "The Fall of Gondolin", in late 1916.
He called his collection of nascent stories The Book of Lost Tales.This became the name for the first two volumes of The History of Middle-earth , which include these early texts. Tolkien never completed The Book of Lost Tales; he left it to compose the poems "The Lay of Leithian" (in 1925) and "The Lay of the Children of Húrin" (possibly as early as 1918).
The first complete version of The Silmarillion was the "Sketch of the Mythology" written in 1926(later published in Volume IV of The History of Middle-earth). The "Sketch" was a 28-page synopsis written to explain the background of the story of Túrin to R. W. Reynolds, a friend to whom Tolkien had sent several of the stories. From the "Sketch" Tolkien developed a fuller narrative version of The Silmarillion called Quenta Noldorinwa (also included in Volume IV). The Quenta Noldorinwa was the last version of The Silmarillion that Tolkien completed.
The stories in The Book of Lost Tales employ the narrative framing device of an Anglo-Saxon mariner named Ælfwine or Eriol or Ottor Wǽfre who finds the island of Tol Eressëa, where the Elves live, and the Elves tell him their history. He collects, translates from Old English, and writes the mythology that appears in The History of Middle-earth .Ælfwine means "Elf-friend" in Old English; men whose names have the same meaning, such as Alboin, Alwin, and Elendil, were to appear in the two unfinished time travel novels, The Lost Road in 1936 and The Notion Club Papers in 1945, as the protagonists reappeared in each of several different times.
There is no such framework in the published version of The Silmarillion, but the Narn i Hîn Húrin is introduced with the note "Here begins that tale which Ǽlfwine made from the Húrinien."Tolkien never fully dropped the idea of multiple 'voices' who collected the stories over the millennia.
When Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937 (which was itself not originally intended for publication, but as a story told privately to his children),the narrative of the published text was loosely influenced by the legendarium as a context, but was not designed to be part of it. Carpenter comments that not until Tolkien began to write its sequel, The Lord of the Rings, did he realise the significance of hobbits in his mythology.
In 1937, encouraged by the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien submitted to his publisher George Allen & Unwin an incomplete but more fully developed version of The Silmarillion called Quenta Silmarillion.The reader rejected the work as being obscure and "too Celtic". The publisher instead asked Tolkien to write a sequel to The Hobbit. Tolkien began to revise The Silmarillion, but soon turned to the sequel, which became The Lord of the Rings.
Writing The Lord of the Rings during the 1940s, Tolkien was attempting to address the dilemma of creating a narrative consistent with a "sequel" of the published The Hobbit and a desire to present a more comprehensive view of its large unpublished background. He renewed work on The Silmarillion after completing The Lord of the Rings, 's composition.and he greatly desired to publish the two works together. When it became clear that would not be possible, Tolkien turned his full attention to preparing The Lord of the Rings for publication. John D. Rateliff has analysed the complex relationship between The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, providing evidence that they were related from the start of The Hobbit
With the success of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien in the late 1950s returned to The Silmarillion, planning to revise the material of his legendarium into a form "fit for publication", a task which kept him occupied until his death in 1973. Much of his later writing from this period was concerned more with the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the work than with the narratives themselves. By this time, he had doubts about fundamental aspects of the work that went back to the earliest versions of the stories, and it seems that he felt the need to resolve these problems before he could produce the "final" version of The Silmarillion. During this time he wrote extensively on such topics as the nature of evil in Arda, the origin of Orcs, the customs of the Elves, the nature and means of Elvish rebirth, the "flat" world, and the story of the Sun and Moon. In any event, with one or two exceptions, he made little change to the narratives during the remaining years of his life.
The scholar Verlyn Flieger writes that Tolkien thought of his legendarium as a presented collection, with a frame story that changed over the years, first with an Ælfwine-type character who translates the "Golden Book" of the sages Rumil or Pengoloð; later, having the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins collect the stories into the Red Book of Westmarch , translating mythological Elvish documents in Rivendell.
The scholar Gergely Nagy observes that Tolkien "thought of his works as texts within the fictional world" (his emphasis), and that the overlapping of different and sometimes contradictory accounts was central to his desired effect. Nagy notes that Tolkien went so far as to create facsimile pages from the Dwarves' Book of Mazarbul that is found by the Fellowship in Moria.Further, Tolkien was a philologist; Nagy comments that Tolkien may have been intentionally imitating the philological style of Elias Lönnrot, compiler of the Finnish epic, the Kalevala ; or of St Jerome, Snorri Sturlusson, Jacob Grimm, or Nikolai Gruntvig, all of whom Tolkien saw as exemplars of a professional and creative philology. This was, Nagy believes, what Tolkien thought essential if he was to present a mythology for England, since such a thing had to have been written by many hands. Further, writes Nagy, Christopher Tolkien "inserted himself in the functional place of Bilbo" as editor and collator, in his view "reinforcing the mythopoeic effect" that his father had wanted to achieve, making the published book do what Bilbo's book was meant to do, and so unintentionally realising his father's intention.
In the fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien, the Dwarves are a race inhabiting Middle-earth, the central continent of Arda in an imagined mythological past. They are based on the dwarfs of Germanic myths who were small humanoids that lived in mountains, practising mining, metallurgy, blacksmithing and jewellery. Tolkien described them as tough, warlike, and lovers of stone and craftsmanship.
Eärendil the Mariner and his wife Elwing are characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. They are depicted in The Silmarillion as Half-elven, the children of Men and Elves. He is a great seafarer who, on his brow, carried the morning star, a jewel called a Silmaril, across the sky. The jewel had been saved by Elwing from the destruction of the Havens of Sirion. The morning star and the Silmarils are elements of the symbolism of light, for divine creativity, continually splintered as history progresses. Tolkien took Eärendil's name from the Old English name Earendel, found in the poem Crist A, which hailed him as "brightest of angels"; this was the beginning of Tolkien's Middle-earth mythology. Elwing is the granddaughter of Lúthien and Beren, and is descended from Melian the Maia. Through their progeny, Eärendil and Elwing became the ancestors of the Númenorean, and later Dúnedain, royal bloodline.
The "Ainulindalë" is the creation account in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, published posthumously as the first part of The Silmarillion in 1977. The "Ainulindalë" sets out a central part of the cosmology of Tolkien's legendarium, telling how the Ainur, a class of angelic beings, perform a great music prefiguring the creation of the material universe, Eä, including Middle-Earth. The creator Eru Ilúvatar introduces the theme of the sentient races of Elves and Men, not anticipated by the Ainur, and gives physical being to the prefigured universe. Some of the Ainur decide to enter the physical world to prepare for their arrival, becoming the Valar and Maiar.
In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional legendarium, Beleriand was a region in northwestern Middle-earth during the First Age. Events in Beleriand are described chiefly in his work The Silmarillion, which tells the story of the early ages of Middle-earth in a style similar to the epic hero tales of Nordic literature, with a pervasive sense of doom over the character's actions. Beleriand also appears in the works The Book of Lost Tales, The Children of Húrin, and in the epic poems of The Lays of Beleriand.
Túrin Turambar is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. Turambar and the Foalókë, begun in 1917, is the first appearance of Túrin in the legendarium. Túrin is a Man of the First Age of Middle-earth, whose family had been cursed by the Dark Lord Morgoth. While trying vainly to defy the curse, Túrin brings ruin across much of Beleriand, and upon himself and his sister Niënor. His title, "Turambar", means master of fate.
The Notion Club Papers is an abandoned novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, written in 1945 and published posthumously in Sauron Defeated, the 9th volume of The History of Middle-earth. It is a time travel story, written while The Lord of the Rings was being developed. The Notion Club is a fictionalization of Tolkien's own such club, the Inklings. Tolkien's mechanism for the exploration of time is through lucid dreams. These allow club members to experience events as far back as the destruction of the Atlantis-like island of Númenor, as narrated in The Silmarillion.
Ælfwine the mariner is a fictional character found in various early versions of J. R. R. Tolkien's Legendarium. Tolkien envisaged Ælfwine as an Anglo-Saxon who visited and befriended the Elves and acted as the source of later mythology. Thus, in the frame story, Ælfwine is the stated author of the various translations in Old English that appear in the twelve-volume The History of Middle-earth edited by Christopher Tolkien.
The Round World Version is an alternative creation myth to the version of J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium as it appears in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. In that version, the Earth was created flat and was changed to round as a cataclysmic event during the Second Age in order to prevent direct access by Men to Valinor, home of the immortals. In the Round World Version, the Earth is created spherical from the beginning.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the real-world history and notable fictional elements of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy universe. It covers materials created by Tolkien; the works on his unpublished manuscripts, by his son Christopher Tolkien; and films, games and other media created by other people.
The term Middle-earth canon, also called Tolkien's canon, is used for the published writings of J. R. R. Tolkien regarding Middle-earth as a whole. The term is also used in Tolkien fandom to promote, discuss and debate the idea of a consistent fictional canon within a given subset of Tolkien's writings.
Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth is a collection of scholarly essays edited by Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter on the 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, relating to J. R. R. Tolkien's fiction and compiled and edited by his son, Christopher. It was published by Greenwood Press in 2000. That series comprises a substantial part of "Tolkien's legendarium", the body of Tolkien's mythopoeic writing that forms the background to his The Lord of the Rings and which Christopher Tolkien summarized in his compilation of The Silmarillion.
The Silmarillion is a collection of myths and stories in varying styles by the English writer J. R. R. Tolkien. It was edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien in 1977, assisted by the fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay. It tells of Eä, a fictional universe that includes the Blessed Realm of Valinor, the once-great region of Beleriand, the sunken island of Númenor, and the continent of Middle-earth, where Tolkien's most popular works—The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—are set. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien's publisher Stanley Unwin requested a sequel, and Tolkien offered a draft of the writings that would later become The Silmarillion. Unwin rejected this proposal, calling the draft obscure and "too Celtic", so Tolkien began working on a new story that eventually became The Lord of the Rings.
England and Englishness are represented in multiple forms within J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth writings; it appears, more or less thinly disguised, in the form of the Shire and the lands close to it; in kindly characters such as Treebeard, Faramir, and Théoden; in its industrialised state as Isengard and Mordor; and as Anglo-Saxon England in Rohan. Lastly, and most pervasively, Englishness appears in the words and behaviour of the hobbits, both in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien's monsters are the evil beings, such as Orcs, Trolls, and giant spiders, who oppose and sometimes fight the protagonists in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. Tolkien was an expert on Old English, especially Beowulf, and several of his monsters share aspects of the Beowulf monsters; his Trolls have been likened to Grendel, the Orcs' name harks back to the poem's orcneas, and the dragon Smaug has multiple attributes of the Beowulf dragon. The European medieval tradition of monsters makes them either humanoid but distorted, or like wild beasts, but very large and malevolent; Tolkien follows both traditions, with monsters like Orcs of the first kind and Wargs of the second. Some scholars add Tolkien's immensely powerful Dark Lords Morgoth and Sauron to the list, as monstrous enemies in spirit as well as in body. Scholars have noted that the monsters' evil nature reflects Tolkien's Roman Catholicism, a religion which has a clear conception of good and evil.
The philologist and author J. R. R. Tolkien set out to explore time travel and distortions in the passage of time in his fiction in a variety of ways. The passage of time in The Lord of the Rings is uneven, seeming to run at differing speeds in the realms of Men and of Elves. In this, Tolkien was following medieval tradition in which time proceeds differently in Elfland. The whole work, too, following the theory he spelt out in his essay "On Fairy-Stories", is meant to transport the reader into another time. He built a process of decline and fall in Middle-earth into the story, echoing the sense of impending destruction of Norse mythology. The Elves attempt to delay this decline as far as possible in their realms of Rivendell and Lothlórien, using their Rings of Power to slow the passage of time. Elvish time, in The Lord of the Rings as in the medieval Thomas the Rhymer and the Danish Elvehøj, presents apparent contradictions. Both the story itself and scholarly interpretations offer varying attempts to resolve these; time may be flowing faster or more slowly, or perceptions may differ.
Tolkien's frame stories are the narrative devices that J. R. R. Tolkien chose to use throughout his Middle-earth writings, especially his legendarium, to make the works resemble a genuine mythology written and edited by many hands over a long period of time. He described in detail how his fictional characters wrote their books and transmitted them to others, and showed how later in-universe editors annotated the material.
Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World is an 1983 book of literary criticism by the leading Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, in which she argues that light is a central theme of Tolkien's Middle-earth mythology, in particular in The Silmarillion. It has been admired by other scholars to the extent that it has become a core element of Tolkien scholarship.
Tolkien's Art: 'A Mythology for England' is a 1979 book of Tolkien scholarship by Jane Chance, writing then as Jane Chance Nitzsche. The book looks in turn at Tolkien's essays "On Fairy-Stories" and "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics"; The Hobbit; the fairy-stories "Leaf by Niggle" and "Smith of Wootton Major"; the minor works "Lay of Autrou and Itroun", "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth", "Imram", and Farmer Giles of Ham; The Lord of the Rings; and very briefly in the concluding section, The Silmarillion. In 2001, a second edition extended all the chapters but still treated The Silmarillion, that Tolkien worked on throughout his life, as a sort of coda.
J. R. R. Tolkien created a dilemma for himself with his supposedly evil Middle-earth peoples like Orcs when he made them able to speak. This meant they were sentient and open to morality, like Men. In Tolkien's Christian framework, that in turn meant they must have souls, so killing them would be wrong without very good reason. If he wanted killing them not to be such a problem, then they had to be non-sentient and without any moral sense, like ordinary animals. Both Tolkien and other scholars have been aware of the contradiction implied by this position: if Orcs were essentially "beasts", then they should not have had a moral sense; if they were corrupted Elves, then treating them as "other" to be slaughtered was straightforward racism. Tolkien made repeated attempts to resolve the dilemma.
In Tolkien's legendarium, ancestry provides a guide to character. The apparently genteel Hobbits of the Baggins family turn out to be worthy protagonists of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo Baggins is seen from his family tree to be both a Baggins and an adventurous Took. Similarly, Frodo Baggins has some relatively outlandish Brandybuck blood. Among the Elves of Middle-earth, as described in The Silmarillion, the highest are the peaceful Vanyar, whose ancestors conformed most closely to the divine will, migrating to Aman and seeing the light of the Two Trees of Valinor; the lowest are the mutable Teleri; and in between are the conflicted Noldor. Scholars have analysed the impact of ancestry on Elves such as the creative but headstrong Fëanor, who makes the Silmarils. Among Men, Aragorn, hero of The Lord of the Rings, is shown by his descent from Kings, Elves, and an immortal Maia to be of royal blood, destined to be the true King who will restore his people. Scholars have commented that in this way, Tolkien was presenting a view of character from Norse mythology, and an Anglo-Saxon view of kingship, though others have called his implied views racist.