The History of Middle-earth Summaries

The Cottage of Lost Play

By Dawn Felagund

The Cottage of Lost Play was probably written around 1916-1917 and details the first leg of the journey of the wanderer Eriol after he sails from the Great Lands to the island of Tol Eressëa.

After arriving upon Tol Eressëa and travelling for many days, the evening hours came upon Eriol, and he wished to rest. He arrived at a town upon a hill at the center of the island and found a cottage lit enticingly from within. Upon sight of the cottage, his wanderlust died, and he inquired if he might stay there.

He was told that the cottage was built by Lindo and Vairë and--despite its tiny size--was home to many people and many children. All who entered must become very small themselves, and consenting to this, Eriol was taken as a guest in the cottage.

His hosts welcomed him and invited him to supper. The children were summoned to supper with the sound of a gong; later, they will be summoned for stories with three chimes of the gong. As the supper began, Eriol inquired about the cottage.

Lindo his host explained that Alalminórë is the centremost and fairest realm of the island, and that the town is called Koromas or Kortirion. Here, in a circle of elms, lives Meril-i-Turinqi, a descendent of Inwë. The Eldar had come to the island after Inwë led them forth to the lands of Men, and his son Ingil gathered on Tol Eressëa the fairest and wisest of the Eldar, among whom were the fathers of Lindo and Vairë. Ingil had been the one who built the tower of Kortirion.

As the meal ended, all but Eriol filled their cups with a drink called limpë that keeps the Eldar young and full of song. As Lindo explained, only Meril-i-Turinqi may offer this to visitors, and those who drink of it must remain on the island until the Faring Forth.

After this, the gong sounded three times, and all departed to hear stories. Eriol asked to hear stories of the island. Vairë told of how in the days of Inwë, in Valinor near to Kôr, there had been a wondrous garden and, at the end of a path called Olórë Mallë (the Path of Dreams), a cottage called the Cottage of the Children. Mistakenly, in the legends of Men, this is called the Cottage of Lost Play.

During their dreams, the earliest children of Men could visit the Cottage of the Children, and the Eldar sought to guide them here, for the children that strayed beyond to the city of Kôr either failed to return--and were a grief to their parents--or could not forget the wonder of that realm and were regarded as strange by other Men. Those who did return from Kôr went on to pen songs and stories that were a delight to many generations of Men.

Most of the children, however, were content to play in the cottage and its gardens. But when the fairies left Kôr, the path to the cottage was blocked, and there was no longer a safe way for the children to visit. Without this, the thoughts of Men became bleak, and Meril-i-Turinqi asked Lindo to devise a solution. This was how the cottage that Eriol had found--the Cottage of Lost Play--came into existence.

The children who had wandered to and remained in Kôr were brought to the Cottage of Lost Play, where they rehearse the songs and stories of the Eldar. On occasion, they are sent into the lands of Men and, sometimes, do not return. Those who do return bring strange and often sad tidings. These children are sent to whisper to sleeping children in the lands of Men and ease their loneliness.

Eriol recalled that his ancestors had spoken of visiting such a place as Vairë had described. Afterward, he had been seized with restlessness and had died while trying to find the place again. Vairë agreed that he likely had come to Eldamar.

The Cottage of Lost Play is interesting, as it shows the beginnings of some of the legends that will comprise The Silmarillion and also includes some ideas that J.R.R.T. quickly abandoned. The whole "Eriol story"--of which Cottage is part--was an attempt by J.R.R.T. to provide a distinctly English fairy story. He attempted to tie his mythology in with the actual history of England, and the original conception of his myth ended with the English occupation of Britain.

Based on J.R.R.T.'s notes, it is fairly clear that he connected Eriol with the brothers Hengest and Horsa. While the existence of these men as historical figures is called into question, they are credited with the conquest of Britain in the 5th century A.D. In J.R.R.T.'s version of the tale, these (possibly) historical figures were connected to the mythological figure of Eriol. Eriol was a son of Eoh, who had been slain by his brother Beorn. Eriol later went on to father two sons--Hengest and Horsa--who would avenge Eoh's death and conquer Britain.

Tol Eressëa itself would become England, and two particular English towns were held synonymous with places in Tol Eressëa. While the "Faring Forth" is not discussed in great detail this early in the story, Christopher Tolkien does mention briefly in the commentary that it was a time when Tol Eressëa was uprooted and brought near to the Great Lands with the intention of rescuing the Eldar who were stranded there. At this time, Men invaded the island, claimed it as their own (as the land that would become England), and as the Elves were forced into hiding, their fading began.

The early versions of the tale, then, are set before the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, and were never completed. Later, the story underwent some changes: Eriol became Ælfwine, who sailed to Tol Eressëa during the Anglo-Saxon period of English history.

There were several aspects of the early mythology that were quickly abandoned by Professor Tolkien. The first--and perhaps most noticeable in this particular tale--was the notion that children are able to visit Valinor in their dreams and the idea that the roads to Valinor will one day be "thronged with…Men." This stands in stark contrast to the ideas presented in The Silmarillion, where mortal Men are strictly barred from any entry into the Blessed Realm.

Also abandoned was the notion that the Elves become diminutive in stature and "filmy" in appearance as Men become dominant and the Elves begin to fade.

However, even in this very early work, one can find allusions to the legends that will later feature in The Silmarillion. When the town of Kortirion was built after the Elves returned from the Great Lands, this refers to the return of the Eldar after the war with Melkor at the end of the First Age. (With one small inconsistency: Inwë--who becomes Ingwë in the later stories--is said here to die during the battle. In The Silmarillion, though many of the Vanyar go to Beleriand to fight Melkor, Ingwë remains in Valinor.) A reference is also made to Eärendel's voyage to Kôr (Tirion), and the mention of the "Magic Sun" of Valinor might suggest an early version of the Two Trees.

Because the Elvish language was evolving rapidly at this time, many of the names used in this particular story later evolved into names more familiar to those who have read The Silmarillion.

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: The Cottage of Lost Play
© Dawn Felagund