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Narrative Layers in Tolkien

“We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.” Peter S. Beagle, The Tolkien Reader

From the dustjacket and foreword of Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales, vol. 1:

“A story must be told or there’ll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving.” (quoting the Letters of J.R.R.Tolkien)

“In the Tales are found the earliest accounts and original ideas…of the geography and cosmography of the invented worlds…Further books in this series are planned to extend the history of Middle-earhta s it was refined and enlarged in later years, and will include…the Ambarkanta or Shape of the World, the Lhammas or Account of Tongues, annals, maps, and many other unpublished writings of J.R.R.Tolkien.”

“Where The Silmarillion differs from Tolkien’s earlier works is in its refusal to accept novelistic convention. Most novels (including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) pick a character to put in the foreground, like Frodo and Bilbo, and then tell the story as it happens to him. The novelist of course is inventing the story, and so retains omniscience: he can explain, or show, what is ‘really’ happening and contrast it witht he limited perception of his character.” (quoted from The Road to Middle-earth by Professor T.A. Shippey.)

From the same source:

“One quality which [The Lord of the Rings] has in abundance is the Beowulfian ‘impression of depth,’ created just as in the old epic by songs and digressions like Aragorn’s lay of Tinuviel, Sam Gamgee’s allusions to the Silmaril and the Iron Crown, Elrond’s account of Celebrimbor, and dozens more. This, however, is a quality of The Lord of the Rings, not of the inset stories. To tell these in their own right and expect them to retain the charm they got from their larger setting would be a terrible error, an error to which Tolkien would be more sensitive than any man alive.”

Related:

  • Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil
  • Borges’ trick of writing reviews of fictional books
  • Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
  • The Book of Sand

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