V. A. Tolkien And His Work
- Was there a change of tone between Book I and the rest of The Lord of the Rings?
Yes. Originally, the world of the Hobbit was not the same as the world of the Silmarillion (Tolkien threw in a few names from it, like Gondolin and Elrond, for effect, but there was no explicit connection). Thus, when he began LotR, he thought he was writing a sequel to The Hobbit, and the tone of the early chapters, especially Ch 1, reflect this (it has the same "children's story" ambiance as The Hobbit). With the coming of the Black Riders and Gandalf's discussion of Middle-earth history and the Ring a change began towards a loftier tone and a darker mood, though much less serious elements remained (e.g. Tom Bombadil). After the Council of Elrond LotR was overtly a sequel to the Silmarillion.
Oddly, Tolkien added new details but never changed the overall tone of Book I. He later claimed that the change in tone was intentional, that it was meant to reflect the changing perceptions of the hobbits as they became educated about the Wide World. This was certainly not his intention as he was writing. On the other hand, the tone of "The Scouring of the Shire" is very different from that of "A Long-expected Party", possibly indicating the altered perspective of the observers.
- Why did Tolkien fail to publish The Silmarillion during the eighteen years which followed the publication of The Lord of the Rings?
No definitive answer is possible, but several serious obstacles can be listed. They included:
- Technical difficulties. Tolkien's unmethodical habits of revision had made the manuscripts chaotic; it seemed impossible to make everything consistent. Characters introduced in LotR had to be worked in. Beyond these detailed questions, he contemplated many alterations, even to fundamental features of his mythology.
- The problem of depth. In LotR, his references to the older legends of the First Age helped produce the strong sense of historical reality. In the Silmarillion, which told the legends themselves, this method wouldn't be available.
- The problem of presentation. LotR had been basically novelistic, presenting the story sequentially from one character or another's point of view. But the Silmarillion was and was meant to be a bundle of tales which had more in common with the ancient legends he studied than with LotR. He feared that if he presented it as an annotated study of ancient manuscripts that probably many readers would have difficulty enjoying the tales as stories.
- No Hobbits. He feared (correctly) that many people expected another Lord of the Rings, which the Silmarillion could never be.
V. B. General History of Middle-earth
- What exactly happened at the end of the First Age?
The Noldorin Elves had made war on Morgoth (referred to as "the Great Enemy" by Aragorn in "A Knife in the Dark") to recover the three Silmarils, which he had stolen, and had been totally defeated. The Valar then used their full power against Morgoth. In the resulting cataclysm Beleriand, the land in which the tales of the Silmarillion took place, was destroyed and sank under the Sea. There are thus various references to "lands under the waves".
On the LotR map, Beleriand would have been far to the west, beyond the Blue Mountains (Ered Luin), which also appear at the far right of the Silm map. It is difficult to make an exact correlation because the mountain range was much altered, having been split when the Gulf of Lune created. Nogrod and Belegost, the ancient dwarf-cities, are located on the Silm map, and existed as ruins in the Third Age, but where they fall on the LotR map is not known (they were said to be "near Nenuail", which is only slightly helpful). Lindon was definitely the same land as Ossiriand, where Beren and Luthien once dwelt. [The Atlas of Middle-earth includes a map showing how Eriador and Beleriand lay relative to each other.]
- In terms of the larger worldview, what exactly took place at the Fall of Numenor?
The world was changed from a flat medieval world to the round world of today. Middle-earth was meant to be our own world (see FAQ, Tolkien, 6), and Tolkien's overall conception was of a progression, with "Mythological Time" changing into "Historical Time". The events accompanying the Fall of Numenor were a major step in the process.
Originally, the "fashion" of Middle-earth was the flat world of the medieval universe. Valinor (the equivalent of Heaven in that the "gods" dwelt there) was physically connected to the rest of the world and could be reached by ship. When Numenor sank (see LFAQ, Humans, 1) "the fashion of the world was changed": the flat world was bent into a round one, with new lands also being created; and Valinor was removed "from the circles of the World", and could no longer be reached by ordinary physical means. The Elves alone were still allowed to make a one-way journey to Valinor along "the Straight Road". (An elven ship on such a journey would grow smaller and smaller with distance until if vanished rather than sinking over the horizon as a human ships do.)
References to "bent seas", "bent skies", "the straight road", "straight sight", "the World Made Round", and the like all refer to the change in the world's "fashion". (The palantir at Emyn Beriad "looked only to the Sea. Elendil set it there so that he could look back with 'straight sight' and see Eressea in the vanished West; but the bent seas below covered Numenor for ever." (RK, p. 322)