The History of Middle-earth Summaries

Foreword to The Book of Lost Tales I

By Dawn Felagund

The Book of Lost Tales was J.R.R. Tolkien's earliest work. Many of the ideas in the Tales were later rejected or the stories abandoned entirely, but in the Tales, we can see some of the roots for the stories and legends that later made up Middle-earth.

The Book of Lost Tales I as we have it was published six years after The Silmarillion and was published posthumously. The Foreword addresses many of the issues that arose in the wake of The Silmarillion's publication and also explains the purpose of the History of Middle-earth project. The History of Middle-earth series seeks to show the evolution of the published stories as we know them and to do so with minimal complication for readers. The series includes complete or mostly-complete works of J.R.R. Tolkien interspersed with commentary from his son Christopher Tolkien, the author of the Foreword.

Perhaps most interesting about the Foreword, however, is its discussion of some of the issues and complications associated with The Silmarillion's publication after J.R.R.T.'s death, particularly as it relates to The Lord of the Rings. Anyone who has ever struggled with understanding--or liking--The Silmarillion should be heartened by this Foreword: Here, the "experts" themselves admit that it is a challenging book and that its publication after LotR is particularly problematic. C.T. describes a sense of outrage in many readers who, expecting another LotR, found themselves with a book of cursory myths written in a "Biblical," archaic style.

What is it that makes The Silmarillion such a challenge? J.R.R.T. himself admitted that the lack of Hobbits would be perceived by many as a loss, even by those without a particular liking for them. The Silmarillion lacks the "mediating" characters of LotR, those who take the strange world of Middle-earth and interpret it in a way that we residents of Modern-earth can easily understand. The Silmarillion, on the contrary, is said to "move the heart and the imagination, directly," without the intervention of a narrator(s).

Some critics have also speculated that The Silmarillion destroys some of the depth of LotR. The songs and stories barely alluded to in LotR create a sense of depth, of a very distant past that is barely glimpsed and so stirs the imagination. Some have wondered if expanding upon these stories was a wise course of action; if this might have destroyed some of the magic of those stories as they appear, briefly, in LotR. C.T. replies to this concern by acknowledging that many readers of LotR will have no need to delve further into the history of Middle-earth, but that it would be a mistake to deny those whose curiosity was awakened by LotR by claiming that the history his father had created was but an illusion rather than detailed stories in their own right. He further adds that there is depth in The Silmarillion as much of the history, songs, and lore is only barely alluded to and lends to a sense of times and places outside of The Silmarillion proper.

There is also discussion as to who is the true "narrator" of The Silmarillion and of the stories contained within The Book of Lost Tales. J.R.R.T.'s original idea had an explorer from England called "Eriol" (or "Ælfwine") journey to Tol Eressëa and hear the tales from the Elves themselves. As his work progressed, however, J.R.R.T. seems to have lost sight of this idea. There is allusion made that suggests that his later thinking may have placed The Silmarillion as part of the Red Book of Westmarch that Bilbo compiled and wrote and later gave to Frodo. At the time of publishing The Silmarillion, this was C.T.'s private belief, but he avoided putting The Silmarillion into this context for its readers, a decision that he later came to regret. The conclusion of C.T. and other scholars of Tolkien's work and world is that The Silmarillion was part of the Red Book of Westmarch, written by Bilbo using the written and living sources available to him in Rivendell.

Finally, C.T. sheds some light on the evolution of J.R.R.T.'s mythology that would become fixed in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and later, The Silmarillion. Middle-earth and its mythology was something evolving over the course of its author's lifetime, and in committing The Silmarillion to print, perhaps lends a mistaken impression of finality. Some of the ideas in the HoMe books were not rejected, even if they didn't make it into the published version as C.T. saw it.

About the Author

Dawn Felagund is the founder and owner of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild and has written about one hundred stories, poems, and essays about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, some of which have been translated and published in fan magazines around the world. Dawn is a graduate student in the humanities, and her academic work on Tolkien's cosmogony and the Tolkien fan community has appeared in Mythprint and Silver Leaves (in press) and has been presented at Mythmoot II, Mythmoot III, and the New York Tolkien Conference. Dawn can be emailed at

All References by Author

History of Middle-earth Summaries. The History of Middle-earth project is an ongoing attempt to summarize the entire book series and put together the many ideas, commentaries, and footnotes of the series into easy-to-follow summaries.

Silmarillion Chapter Summaries. Designed as a resource for leading readings of The Silmarillion, the chapter summaries are also a nice review for those returning to unfamiliar sections of the book or who would like guidance while reading it for the first time.

A Woman in Few Words: The Character of Nerdanel and Her Treatment in Canon and Fandom. A review of the canon facts available on Nerdanel and discussion of why she remains so popular with fans despite her scarce appearances in the texts.

The History of Middle-earth Summaries: Foreword to The Book of Lost Tales I
© Dawn Felagund