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The Later Quenta Silmarillion: A Reader’s Map

In 1977, Christopher Tolkien published a long-awaited book containing his father’s legends of the ‘Elder Days’ of Middle-earth, The Silmarillion. The central and longest section of this book was the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’, the ‘tale of the Jewels’, which told the history of Elves and Men from the earliest days through the end of their war against the first great Dark Lord, Morgoth. While Tolkien had for years worked on and meant to publish the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ on his own, when he died the work was still incomplete. His son had to edit together the published work from his father’s drafts (with a small amount of invention to fill in gaps), attempting to create a final product consistent in both narrative content and in style.

In the years following, Christopher then published the immense History of Middle-earth, which in twelve volumes presented selected editions of the various works and drafts as his father had actually written them. This in many ways gives us the best of both worlds: a published Silmarillion presenting a full and consistent narrative; and a set of inconsistent but fascinating and often-powerful ‘Silmarillion’ writings that point the way to what the elder Tolkien might have done, if only he had had the energy and time to finish his great work (a target that Christopher could see, more or less, but could not realize without a very substantial amount of original invention on his part, which he refrained from).

Still, The History of Middle-earth does not always present the materials in the most straightforward or user-friendly mode for someone wishing to read these sources as narratives. This is because the primary goal of the books is to tell the ‘story of the story’, which is a fair and worthy goal, which I personally very much appreciate. It is, however, possible to an extent to extract from these books something a narrative, or really several partial narratives, of the later versions of the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ which Tolkien worked on. I think there is a lot to be said for these drafts, some of which were omitted or adjusted in the published Silmarillion for reasons of tone and consistency, and which may appeal to readers to whom The History of Middle-earth seems either dull or daunting.

What I’m trying to do with this Map is give a contextualized outline, in page numbers of specific books, of how someone might read as much of ‘The Later Silmarillion’ as possible. There are at least two major types of difficulties involved with this — the facts of the texts themselves, and the particulars of their editorial presentation — each of which I’ll try to make clear in a section, before giving the outline itself. The overall goal here, I should make clear, is not to offer a true substitute to the published Silmarillion — an impossibility — but to introduce anyone who might be interested to some of the texts in The History of Middle-earth in a (relatively) friendly manner, and to give an idea of where Tolkien got to and was going with his ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ in his later years.

How the Quenta Came to Be

This bit isn’t essential to the Later Silmarillion, but I think it’s important to understand a bit of the larger context here before launching into material mostly found in the later volumes of a very long series.

Tolkien first began work on the material that would be told in The Silmarillion during the first World War. In the first phase of work, he wasn’t trying to write anything really comparable to the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’. Instead, he started by working on The Book of Lost Tales, which was intended as a sort of story-cycle. There was a frame device, based on an Anglo-Saxon mariner who had accidentally come upon the island of Tol Eressëa, and was told various tales and histories from the Elves he encountered there. Each ‘lost tale’ is a fully developed story in its own right, though taken together they do trace out a larger legendary cycle.

In subsequent years, Tolkien moved in basically two directions with his ‘Legendarium’. On the one hand, he became more focused and detailed, taking particular tales and telling them in much longer, standalone forms. The earliest such attempt was the long narrative poem The Lay of the Children of Húrin. On the other hand, Tolkien also began to produce shorter, synoptic versions of the whole legendary history. This second impulse began almost by accident: in the mid-1920’s, Tolkien sent this Lay to a friend for comment, and to help him understand the context, he included a long letter explaining the imaginary history of the Elves.

This explanation, called ‘The Sketch of the Mythology’, proved to be the seed for all the later ‘Quentas’ that Tolkien would write. Tolkien kept a copy of the Sketch around and revised it over the course of several years, until around 1930 he decided to rework and expand it as the ‘Qenta Noldorinwa’, ‘the brief History of the Noldoli’. As the title suggests, this was no longer a piece of real commentary about his mythology, but a part of that mythology, conceived of as a primary literary work in its own right. This was a vital development in the history of The Silmarillion, and set the stage for much of Tolkien’s later work on his Legendarium.

The ‘Qenta Noldorinwa’ was a relatively short work. It was complete (a rarity for Tolkien, who perennially left projects unfinished), but brief in style. In sharp contrast to the ‘Lost Tales’, physical descriptions are minimal, characters’ motivations are expressed shortly, if at all, and there is very little direct dialogue. These features would survive through all later versions, and are still characteristic of the 1977 Silmarillion.

Later in the 1930’s, Tolkien began to retell the Legendarium again, in a work that was basically a further expansion and development of the ‘Qenta Noldorinwa’: Tolkien gave this project the title ‘Quenta Silmarillion’. In this work, Tolkien developed the narrative content and refined the style considerably. Much of the tone of the published Silmarillion seems to be modelled on this work, and it provides the baseline for the ‘Later Quenta Silmarillion’ work.

The Texts of the ‘Later Quenta Silmarillion’

In 1937, Tolkien began work on his ‘Hobbit sequel’, which would end up turning into an enormous project, The Lord of the Rings, occupying most of his creative energy for over a decade. The ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ was left in the (unfinished) state he had reached in 1937. After The Lord of the Rings was completed — but before it was published — Tolkien returned to the ‘Quenta’, and began revising it. Christopher Tolkien calls this phase of work, from the early 1950’s, LQ1, that is ‘The Later Quenta phase 1‘. In places, Tolkien came up with new narrative elements, and revised or rewrote his older material fairly substantially. Other portions were left only lightly revised, if at all. The later parts of the cycle, which had been left incomplete in 1937, remained untouched.

At the same time, Tolkien was working on another set of texts telling the history of the Elder Days. Since the early 1930’s, he had been creating and revising a set of ‘Annals’: the ‘Annals of Valinor’ covering the earlier history of the Elves, and the ‘Annals of Beleriand’ recounting the later war against the Dark Lord Morgoth in Middle-earth. The earlier versions of these are not exactly full and flowing narratives: they consist of year-by-year entries, followed by very brief summaries of what happened that year. They helped Tolkien keep track of how the different parts of his histories fit together, but were even briefer and less detailed than the most abbreviated ‘Quenta’ versions.

However, Tolkien had a hard time keeping things short. Especially in the LQ1 period, he did a lot of work on these ‘Annals’, and they grew in scale and style to basically become indistinguishable from the ‘Quenta’ in many respects (often the the only meaningful difference is that the ‘Annals’ continued to have year numbers breaking up the story). To distinguish these much richer later versions, Christopher Tolkien refers to them by the titles ‘Annals of Aman’ (built on the earlier ‘Annals of Valinor’) and ‘The Grey Annals’ (developed from the ‘Annals of Beleriand’). By the time these reached their latest versions, they come close to constituting an alternative ‘Quenta’, and indeed Christopher speculates that his father was regarding them basically as extra drafts of the ‘Quenta’.

Tolkien worked so hard on the ‘Quenta’ during this period in part because he really wanted to publish it alongside The Lord of the Rings. This proved impossible, and when Tolkien was forced to acknowledge this, he seems to have stopped working much on the ‘Quenta’ for a few years. He returned to it in again the late 1950’s, in a period of work Christopher calls LQ2, ‘The Later Quenta phase 2‘. Tolkien wrote some vivid expansions of portions of the ‘Quenta’ at this time, resulting in several new chapters in the earlier and middle sections. These new parts are often more richly told and detailed than was the norm of the old 1937 ‘Quenta’, however, which led to parts of them being somewhat abbreviated in the 1977 Silmarillion, to keep the work from being overbalanced. Many other portions were left completely unrevised, and the unfinished sections towards the end remained incomplete.

So much explanation of the texts has been necessary to make it clear what the textual difficulties in this Reader’s Map are. For one thing, there are basically two sets of texts: the ‘Annals’ and the ‘Quenta’. Below, I will provide two Maps, one for each set, and readers can choose which one they would rather follow: A) the slightly more consistent ‘Annals’, which also extend further into the narrative, but are somewhat briefer in style in places, interrupted by year-numbers, and don’t contain some of the latest developments; or B) the ‘Quenta’, which shows very uneven revisions between the 1937, LQ1, and LQ2, but which presents some really excellent passages and some of his latest work on the main Legendarium narrative, and was clearly Tolkien’s ‘core text’ for presenting the grand sweep of the Elder Days. Beyond this, readers should be aware that whatever they go with, these are all works in progress, and any attempt to provide a guide to even a portion of the mythology involves the inclusion of inconsistencies. These materials consist of Tolkien’s evolving work on the ‘Quenta’ rather than finished texts really comparable to The Silmarillion of 1977.

The Editions

Volumes 10 and 11 of The History of Middle-earth, Morgoth’s Ring and The War of the Jewels, bear the subtitles ‘The Later Silmarillion’ parts 1 and 2, and much of the Reader’s Map refers to texts in these two books. In general, Christopher Tolkien chooses to present the relevant texts in a single version, usually based on a specific typescript (or less commonly, a manuscript) of his father’s. Sometimes these versions contain bracketed sections in the main body of the text to show where the elder Tolkien revised a passage, and many more revisions and alterations are included in the copious endnotes characteristic of the series. For the reader of the ‘Later Silmarillion’ as a narrative, these things can largely be skipped over and ignored (though I should say that they can be very interesting in their own right, especially if you want to know more about the larger development of the Legendarium).

Harder to deal with are the middle portions of the ‘Later Quenta’, mostly found in volume 11. Here there are several chapters that Tolkien only lightly revised from their forms in the 1937 ‘Quenta’, although this stretch is then followed by a few very interesting and largely new sections produced in the later, LQ2 phase. To avoid repetitiveness, Christopher does not present these middle chapters in full, but just gives a series of notes indicating changes from the 1937 ‘Quenta’, which is itself published in volume 5 of the History, The Lost Road and Other Writings. This makes it basically impossible to read this part straight through in its (slightly) revised form. You will either need to just read the 1937 version as-is in volume 5, or else go to the trouble of comparing the two versions. In Map B below, I give the a set of references to where in volume 5 you’d need to stop reading and check volume 10 or 11 for a moment, but this is obviously and unavoidably cumbersome.

So what books do you need to read the ‘Later Quenta’? Mostly just Morgoth’s Ring and The War of the Jewels, and, if you want really the fullest text, The Lost Road. For a very small amount of material from the ‘Quenta’, you will also need the published Silmarillion as the only source.

When reading the page number guidelines, the text meant is always that in larger font, unless otherwise specified. Smaller font is usually commentary. The texts are of course far from ‘clean’ narratives even disregarding commentary. Many sections in square brackets represent rejected or overwritten passages, and for these purposes should just be skipped over. Same for anything marked ‘deleted paragraph/entry/etc.’. Marking all of these would be cumbersome, and probably not that useful, but anything longer than a single paragraph that needs to be skipped is noted explicitly in the Map. Actual footnotes, rather than endnotes do usually belong with Tolkien’s text, and should usually be read.

Another awkwardness comes in a few places where a given paragraph was rewritten or inserted in the middle of a passage, with the new text printed in an endnote or commentary passage. These can often only be described with references like ‘the Xth line in the first paragraph on page Y’ — an unfortunately long and difficult way of navigating to what is often only a rather short piece of text. This sort of thing is most common in the sections where the base text is found in volume V, with X and XI giving briefer updates.

I should note that Tolkien worked on a number of texts meant as parallel accompaniments to the ‘Quenta’, such as the Ainulindalë. I have taken no note of these in the Map, even when such texts originated as chapters of the ‘Quenta’ that were split off later (as is the case for the Valaquenta). This is largely because these texts are already available in the published Silmarillion, or because their exact relationship to the Quenta is unclear (e.g. the Athrabeth).

The Map

Each reading note consists of a short description, a volume label, and a page range. Notes in square brackets give any additional guidelines (such as pointers to the paragraph numbers which the editor put into most of these texts for ease of reference). The volumes are abbreviated as X for Morgoth’s Ring (i.e. the Roman numeral 10 for the 10th volume), XI for The War of the Jewels, and V for The Lost Road. The published Silmarillion is referred to so rarely I simply name it in full. Any mention of a ‘part’ or ‘section’ of a chapter refers to a discrete bit of text (sometimes as short as a paragraph, sometimes dozens of pages long) that is meant to be read continuously without skipping around. Every skip or jump to a new place in the books, even a short jump of a page or two, is indicated as a new ‘part’.

Version A – The Annals

This is the simplest way to get a relatively coherent and extensive narrative of the Elder Days as Tolkien worked on them in the earlier 1950’s. You will begin reading ‘The Annals of Aman’ (AAm), which have been editorially divided into six sections in Morgoth’s Ring. This will then need to be followed by ‘The Grey Annals’ (GA) in The War of the Jewels. These have some chronological overlap with ‘The Annals of Aman’, but their focus is in Middle-earth rather than Valinor. There is some repetition here, though it doesn’t go on for very long, and the texts are rarely identical. I have marked the first pages of ‘The Grey Annals’ in italics to show where they overlap, with the bits afterwards being wholly new.

AAm section 1 – X pp. 48-49 and 51-56
AAm section 2 – X pp. 70-75
AAm section 3 – X pp. 80-87
AAm section 4 – X pp. 92-101
AAm section 5 – X pp. 106-120
AAm section 6 – X pp. 129-134
GA partial overlap with AAm – XI pp. 5-8, through entry 1152
GA early years 1 – XI pp. 9-19
GA early years 2 – XI pp. 26-27
GA main body 1 – XI pp. 29-88 [end with paragraph 286]
GA main body 2 – XI pp. 89-103 [begin with paragraph 292]

This will take you through the end of the story of Túrin, which is as far as the combined ‘Annals’ go.

Version B – The Quenta

This Map presents a reading order melding LQ1 and LQ2. The first chapter of LQ1 was later removed from the ‘Quenta’ and became its own work, The Valaquenta, so I leave it out here (if you want to read it, you can find it in the published Silmarillion). The chapter numbers are based on my own understanding of Tolkien’s latest intentions, and don’t match the reference numbering used in The History of Middle-earth (which is, for good reasons of practicality, based on earlier versions of the ‘Quenta’).

Chapter 1, Of Valinor and the Two Trees – X pp. 152-156
Chapter 2, Of the Coming of the Elves – X pp. 158-165
Chapter 3, Of Thingol and Melian – X pp. 172-173
Chapter 4, Of Eldanor and the Princes of the Eldalië – X pp. 174-179
Chapter 5, Of Finwë and Míriel – X pp. 256-263
Chapter 6, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor part 1 – X p. 185 [paragraph 46c]
Chapter 6, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor part 2 – X pp. 272-273 [the large text under 46c]
Chapter 6, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor part 3 – X pp. 186-187 [paragraph 47 and most of 48, until the sentence ‘Wherefore in a while he was allowed to go freely about the land…’]
Chapter 6, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor part 4 – X p. 273 [the large text under 48]
Chapter 7, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor – X pp. 274-280
Chapter 8, Of the Darkening of Valinor part 1 – X pp. 283-289
Chapter 8, Of the Darkening of Valinor part 2 – X pp. 292-293 [paragraph 1]
Chapter 8, Of the Darkening of Valinor part 3 – X p. 107 [paragraphs 118 through 121]
Chapter 8, Of the Darkening of Valinor part 4 – X pp. 293-295 [beginning with paragraph 6]
Chapter 9, Of the Thieves’ Quarrel – X 295-297

The next several chapters are not printed in full in their later forms. If you want to read them in a narrative form, you have to read them in V (The Lost Road), and if you want to have later changes included you need to constantly reference X and XI. To make this a little easier, I’ve listed out the chapters as they occur in V, but sometimes I’ve followed a line with extra italicized notes pointing to the later changes, where these seem like they might be significant or interesting enough to potentially warrant breaking out of the flow of reading. Actually rewritten or added sections are just included in the Map, as I’ve been doing, though these are unfortunately fairly numerous and make for awkward reading. Note that many names were a bit different in V — in particular the Noldor were often called ‘Gnomes’. If you want to skip this part, go to the Map guidelines for chapter 15.

Chapter 10, Of the Flight of the Noldor part 1 – V pp. 233-237 [begin with paragraph 63, end with 71]
Chapter 10, Of the Flight of the Noldor part 2 – X p. 196 [the small text under 72]
Chapter 10, Of the Flight of the Noldor part 3 – V pp. 237-238 [paragraph 73]
Chapter 11, Of Men – V pp. 245-248
Chapter 12, Of the Siege of Angband part 1 – XI p. 176 [the small text near the top, under ‘The new opening reads:’]
Chapter 12, Of the Siege of Angband part 2 – V pp. 249-253 [this bit begins in the middle of a sentence in paragraph 88, at the 9th line with the words ‘and it is renowned in song, for the Gnomes were victorious…’; read through paragraph 99] – on V p. 250 (91, middle), at ‘the Sun rose flaming in the West’, see XI p. 177 (91); on V p. 252 (98, end), at ‘Therefore the house of Fëanor were called the disposseed’, see XI p. 177 (98); on V p. 253 (99, end), at ‘he truested not that the restrain of Morgoth would last forever’, see XI p. 177 (99
Chapter 13, Of The Founding of Nargothrond and Gondolin part 1 – V p. 253 (100)
Chapter 13, Of The Founding of Nargothrond and Gondolin part 2 – XI p. 178-179 [the small-type paragraphs beginning ‘And it came to pass that Inglor and Galaðriel…’ and ‘Now Turgon rememberd rather the City set upon a Hill…’]
Chapter 13, Of The Founding of Nargothrond and Gondolin part 3 – V pp. 254-255 (102-104)

The text of chapter 14 is exceedingly complicated in its presentation, and outside what may be regarded as the primary narrative. Tolkien advised one (unknown) reader that ‘This is a geographical and political insertion and may be omitted’ (XI.196), and readers looking to concentrate on the story could take these words to heart. Tolkien also said that if read, this chapter should be accompanied by a (normal, geographical) map. Such a map can be found on XI pp. 182-185, or in the published Silmarillion. For those who wish to tackle the chapter, here is the Map (otherwise skip to chapter 15):

Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 1 – V pp. 258-259 [paragraph 105, until the 9th line on p. 259, stopping before the sentence beginning ‘Behind their walls…’] – on V p. 258, after the first sentence of 105, read the small-type paragraph at the top of XI p. 192 (‘These matters, which are not in the Pennas…’) as a footnote
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 2 – XI p. 196 [the small-text paragraph at the bottom of the page beginning ‘Behind their walls…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 3 – V 259-260 [start in the middle of paragraph 105, beginning on the 11th line of p. 259, ‘But he made a great tunnel under them…’, and read paragraph 106, stopping before the sentence ‘And Nivrost was a pleasant land…’ in the second line on p. 260]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 4 – XI p. 192 [the small-type paragraph in 106 beginning ‘And Nivrost was by some held to belong rather to Beleriand…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 5 – V pp. 260-261 [from the 5th line down on p. 260, ‘To the East of Hithlum…’, and stopping after the word ‘Ossiriand:’ at the start of the third line of paragraph 110 on p. 261]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 6 – XI pp. 193-194 [the small text beginning at the bottom of p. 193 ‘first between Sirion and Mindeb…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 7 – V pp. 261-264 [beginning in the 10th line of paragraph 110 with ‘Next southward lay the kingdom of Doriath’, and stopping in the 8th line of paragraph 116 before ‘But Turgon the wise, second son of Fingon, held Nivrost…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 8 – XI p. 195 [the small text near bottom, in the section for 116, beginning ‘(But Turgon the wise…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 9 – V pp. 264-265 [paragraph 117 up to the 8th line of 119, stopping before the words ‘But Inglor was King of Nargothrond…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 10 – XI p. 197 [the small-type paragraph under 119 beginning ‘But Finrod was king of Nargothrond…’]
Chapter 14, Of Beleriand and its Realms part 11 – V pp. 265-266 [from the middle of the last sentence of paragraph 119, ‘…Brithombar and Eglorest were rebuilt…’, through the end of 121]

At this point, Tolkien undertook more wide-ranging revisions, and the next chapters can be regarded as part of the ‘Later Quenta’ with no reservations.

Chapter 15, Of Turgon and the Building of Gondolin part 1 – XI pp. 198-199 [the three larger text paragraphs, beginning ‘It hath been told…’, ‘Therefore, after the Dagor Aglareb…’, and ‘Now Turgon dwelt still for the most part in Nivrost…’] – on the marginal note in the third of these three paragraphs, see the small-text paragraph at the top of XI p. 201
Chapter 15, Of Turgon and the Building of Gondolin part 2 – XI pp. 44-45 [start in the middle of paragraph 111 with Ulmo’s dialogue, ‘Now thou shalt go at last to Gondolin…’, until nearly the end of 113, ending before ‘But Nivrost was empty of folk…’]
Chapter 15, Of Turgon and the Building of Gondolin part 3 – XI pp. 199-200 [the paragraph starting at the bottom of p. 199 with ‘And through many long years…’]
Chapter 16, Concerning Dwarves part 1 – XI p. 203 [paragraph 1] – a very slightly revised opening sentence is found near the bottom of XI p. 214
Chapter 16, Concerning Dwarves part 2 – XI p. 210 [the small-type paragraph in the middle beginning ‘the Naugrim are not of Elf-kind…’]
Chapter 16, Concerning Dwarves part 3 – The Silmarillion pp. 43-44 [start with the second sentence of the chapter, and read through the sentence ‘Then Aulë took the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, and laid them to rest…’] – see the comments on XI p. 210 about the editorial changes in this chapter as published
Chapter 16, Concerning Dwarves part 4 – XI pp. 204-206 [in paragraph 2, at the top of p. 204, with the sentence ‘And since they came in the days…’ {read as ‘And since they were to come in the days…’, cf. XI p. 211}, and end before the section Of the Edain]
Chapter 17, Of the Coming of the Edain & their Houses and Lorships in Beleriand – XI pp. 215-225

From here on, the ‘Quenta’ is only lightly revised, and the Grey Annals are the only relatively late writing in a Quenta-like style (until they themselves break off, of course). If you wish to switch to them at this point, begin reading at XI p. 52, paragraph 145, and then follow the ‘Version A’ Map above to its end.

A few relatively superficial alterations were made to the remaining texts of the 1937 ‘Quenta Silmarillion’, but no substantial reworkings were undertaken, and the material is often inconsistent with Tolkien’s newer conceptions. I will nonetheless give the Map for the remaining sections of the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’, as it existed in 1937, with references to where the few emendations made can be found. For anything not found here, the latest version written was the early Qenta Noldorinwa, composed c. 1930.

Chapter 18, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin – V pp. 279-289 – revisions noted XI pp. 238-243
Chapters ?19-22, Of Beren and Lúthien – V pp. 292-306 [this unfortunately is not presented in a particularly readable format; one must currently use the notes in this section in conjunction with the published Silmarillion to get a sense of how these chapters might have appeared in the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’; Beren and Lúthien will surely become the standard point of reference for these chapters when it is published in May 2017]
Chapter ?23, Of the Fifth Battle- – V pp. 306-313
Chapters ?24-??, Of Túrin Turambar – V pp. 316-321
The Final Chapters – V pp. 324-334 – revisions noted XI pp. 246-247 

And that’s the end of the Map. If anyone notices any mistakes, or has any other thoughts, please let us know in the comments.

[A version of this Map first appeared as a post on The Lord of the Rings Plaza ]

About the Author: Nelson Goering
Nelson Goering grew up in the Ocooch Mountains in Wisconsin, and earned his BA at Grinnell College, Iowa. He completed his DPhil in comparative philology from Oxford in 2016 with a thesis on the linguistic aspects of Germanic alliterative metre. His wider research interests centre on the linguistics of the older Germanic and Indo-European languages. He is a lifelong reader of Tolkien, and is particularly interested in the intersection of Tolkien’s philological academic life with his creative works.