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  • Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published "Silmarillion"
  • Nicholas Birns
Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published "Silmarillion," by Douglas Charles Kane. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Lehigh University Press, 2009. 280 pp. $65.00. ISBN 9780980149630.

Douglas Charles Kane's diligently researched book takes the reader through the process behind an earlier diligent effort, that of Christopher Tolkien (assisted by Guy Gavriel Kay) in editing the 1977 Silmarillion. Kane minutely details the delicate task Christopher undertook in stitching together elements of his father's oeuvre, disparate in genre (from annals and glossaries to full-fledged narratives) and in composition-date (from the 1930s to the 1960s, including work composed both before and after The Lord of the Rings).

Kane goes through all of The Silmarillion, beginning with the "Ainulindalë" and proceeding on until the end of the "Quenta Silmarillion," with the final defeat of Morgoth by Eonwë (the "Akallabêth" and, especially, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," are less extensively treated, as Kane deems there to be fewer textual questions). In each chapter, Kane details exactly what sources Christopher used and the truly astonishing inventiveness he showed in assembling them into a steady narrative. He also supplies extensive charts and tables detailing the editorial process in a blow-by-blow way. This graphic element lends clarity and organization to what might otherwise be an overwhelming amount of detail. Finally, the potential dryness is relieved by absorbing illustrations supplied by Anushka Mouriño; these, more realistic in terms of human portraiture than most Tolkien-inspired art, subtly fortify Kane's tacit argument that the "Silmarillion" material has more moments of gripping interpersonal drama than the published version revealed. Mouriño's depiction of the spirit of Míriel appearing before Mandos and Manwë has a Pre-Raphaelite lushness, and also embodies Kane's point that Christopher's recension excessively cropped back Míriel's role.

One of the questions Kane's study puts to rest totally is the old conjecture about whether The Silmarillion is all Tolkien's work. Other than a very few instances (such as tying the Nauglamir more closely to Thingol [End Page 255] in "The Ruin of Doriath") no significant line in the book was "written by the editor" (24). Kane's well-known online epithet, "Voronwë," is very suitable for his execution of this task, as watchful and respectful as Mardil the Good Steward's rule no doubt was in the wake of the disappearance of King Eärnur. Kane's textual scholarship is rigorous and is a model not only for Tolkien scholars but for scholars of more canonical authors, whose textual study is often pursued with less enthusiasm. Where Kane's treatment is less complete is in his own evaluation of the merits of Christopher's editing and editorial choices. Kane makes some very good points, and convinces the reader there was good material in the sources available to Christopher that he did not sufficiently deploy. Although acknowledging that The Silmarillion choices were motivated by "the most coherent and literary text possible" (26), Kane often gives short shrift to the ways in which these choices were motivated by purposeful literary intent.

In assessing the "Valaquenta," for instance, Kane notes (40) that Christopher Tolkien changed "With Manwë now dwells Varda" to "With Manwë dwells Varda." The deletion of the "now," though, is understood when one realizes the genre to which the "Valaquenta" belongs, a mythography of a tradition long passed on but now very remote. The final redactors (within the Middle-earth framework) of the "Silmarillion" material would have a sense of the existence of the Valar, but not so much their current existence in the same temporal moment; what we have now seems somewhat like an account of the Olympian gods by a writer such as Hesiod who believed in them but had no firsthand experience of their might, and such a tone is appropriate for the distance of the "Valaquenta" from its material (one assumes its ultimate source is from lore passed on through the returning Noldor in Beleriand).

Many of Christopher Tolkien's choices can be explained thus, in literary terms. Kane wonders why the Ents are spliced...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1547-3163
Print ISSN
1547-3155
Pages
pp. 255-260
Launched on MUSE
2009-06-14
Open Access
No
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