One of the most frequent requests I receive from fans of Tolkien and Middle-earth is to speculate on what The Silmarillion might have looked like, “had Tolkien finished it”. This is a really popular topic. I have stumbled across more than one attempt to produce a (pseudo)-canonical Silmarillion text through the years. Canonical contrivances always lead into the Valley of Canonical Collisions. There is no canon, and everyone has their own idea of what should be canon. The problem is of such universal proportions that the Vulcans have a saying: “Only J.R.R. Tolkien can write a canonical Silmarillion; everything else is fan fiction.”
John Garth’s revelation that “The Notion Club Papers” contains a secret message from J.R.R. Tolkien (so I see it) is an interesting find. I could not help but be a failed Thief of Baghdad by leaving the path to the True Treasure to turn aside and reach for glistening little gems. In other words, once I read the Tolkien Society article and John’s blog about the connections Tolkien drew to the “Earendel” poem I could not help myself. I had to start thinking about related and distracting things.
Somewhere in-between the fact that Tolkien mentions Gollum eating a baby Orc in one draft of The Hobbit and the fact that Arundel is a village name of debatable etymology (one fabulous story suggests its name may originate from that of a horse) I have managed to stumble toward an oft-cited quote from The Lord of the Rings: “He that breaks a thing to learn what it is has left the path of wisdom”.
Did J.R.R. Tolkien model the geography of Lindon on Wales? This question has only been asked a couple of times on the Internet, as best I can determine, and no one has really devised a convincing argument in favor of the idea. So it’s not a burning issue but it piqued my interest after I noticed a question on the Tolkien Society’s Facebook page about whether the Lonely Mountain might have been inspired by the Wrekin (a large hill northeast of Birmingham, west of Telford and east of Shropshire).
It has been just over two years since I published my last interview with a Tolkien scholar. I have always wanted to do more but the amount of time I had to put into each interview was considerable and my workload these past two years has been my largest obstacle to creating the kind of in-depth content I want to publish. I do my best with the questions that Tolkien fans ask but some days there just isn’t time to do any research, even for the briefest of questions.
Having had some time to read through Tolkien’s Beowulf in the wake of the Tolkien Society’s launch party, I can see where in my unfamiliarity with the book I confused some points. It didn’t help me that Christopher’s comments were sometimes mixed in with his father’s footnotes but I take full responsibility for mixing up names and attributions liberally in the excitement of discussing the book.
You never really know when J.R.R. Tolkien was joking in some subtle, philological way or if serendipity guided his choice of words. We have found so many interesting stories and associations behind his words that whole generations of future scholarship may have yet to unveil many of the secret references that influenced Tolkien’s writing.
As someone with only minimal training in etymological research I strive to avoid the more complicated discussions about which words arose when, but I cannot help but fall off the cliff into the seas of speculation from time to time when I come across something interesting.
There is a small village in the heart of Ohio — I don’t know its name — but it has a connection to J.R.R. Tolkien and it was, in fact, the complete inspiration for Middle-earth. Don’t believe me? Just wait — one day that village will have a Tolkien festival, local taverns will name themselves for Tolkien place-names, and the county tour books will mention that Tolkien once mailed a letter that was received by a friend of a friend who had a connection to someone in or near Ohio sometime in the late 1950s.
After twenty years of participating in online discussions about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, I feel no need for a retrospective. I rather feel like a traveler on Bilbo’s ever on-going road. Nearly every day I receive new questions from people who reveal a deep delight in Tolkien’s work that goes beyond “I loved this story” and “this book is so cool”. The journey of discovery extends beyond discovering a lost street map for Tharbad or a name list for the Maiaric warriors of the Host of Valinor. These things in themselves matter little to most people but are precious shiny objects for a dedicated few who immerse themselves in a corner of Middle-earth.