The world described by Tolkien is real, and all of us shall one day reach the Undying Lands…
Sarehole Mill, Birmingham, England, opposite which Tolkien lived as a child in the 1890s, became Sandyman’s Mill (the Old Mill) in The Lord of the Rings, and is the fixed reference point for our reconstruction of the Chronology, Geography and History of Middle-earth. For the Calendars, Valar, Rings and Songs, we rely mainly on Tolkien’sLegendariumand other source texts, as described below.
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The list of Tolkien’s writings given here is by no means exhaustive, and one of the great joys of
Tolkien scholarship is that it is always possible to find new textual sources. Rather, the works listed below should be regarded as an
essential, central corpus. It must always be born in mind, however, that
the term ‘canon’ – sometimes used of Tolkien’s works – does not imply
that the writings in question contain no internal contradictions, because
they most assuredly do. These contradictions are occasionally even more illuminating than the text itself.
1. The Book of Lost Tales Part One 2. The Book of Lost Tales Part Two 3. The Lays of Beleriand 4. The Shaping of Middle-earth 5. The Lost Road and Other Writings 6. The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.1) 7. The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.2) 8. The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.3) 9. Sauron Defeated (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.4) 10. Morgoth’s Ring (The Later Silmarillion v.1) 11. The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion v.2) 12. The Peoples of Middle-earth 13. The History of Middle-earth Index
The works in the list below – which, again, is not exhaustive, and
probably could never be – have drawn on the same source of inspiration as Tolkien did, so should be regarded as both authentic
and useful. The Prose Edda is a compilation of the myths and legends of the Norse peoples, while the Oera Linda Book is a Frisian chronicle covering a period from the 22nd to the 1st century BC. The ‘Abaloc’ series of novels tells of the medieval migrations of Elves to North America, and the Songs of the Quendi reveal more about the true nature of the Elves.
Few characters in Tolkien’s works have generated as much controversy as
Tom Bombadil, and it is perhaps no surprise that he is omitted from
most adaptations (with the notable exception of ‘Tim Benzedrine’ in the
Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings), yet he is actually one of the most important characters of all.
In a 1954 draft letter in reply to Peter Hastings, manager of the Newman
Bookshop in Oxford (which, however, he never sent), Tolkien
said that if Tom Bombadil did not have an important role, he would not
have been included:
don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it.
But many have found him an odd or indeed discordant ingredient. In
historical fact I put him in because I had already ‘invented’ him
independently (he first appeared in the Oxford Magazine) and wanted an
‘adventure’ on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he
represents certain things otherwise left out.” (Letters, #153)
Just who, or what, is Tom Bombadil? Is he a nature spirit, a Vala gone
native, or what? An early theory – first articulated, it would appear,
by the above mentioned Peter Hastings (in order to criticise it), and
that has remained popular since – was that Tom was none other than the
creator-god, Eru Ilúvatar. Tolkien, however, tried to squash this idea.
In a 1956 draft reply to Michael Straight, editor of New Republic, he wrote:
“There is no ‘embodiment’ of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology” (Letters, #181)
And again, in a 1958 letter to Rhona Beare, a student at the University of Exeter, Tolkien said:
“The One does not physically inhabit any part of Ea.” (Letters, #211)
But if Tolkien was merely the conduit (or, as he put it, ‘translator’)
of this material, then he may not have been fully aware of all its
implications. Or, on the other hand, maybe he was simply unwilling to
reveal all that he knew, because it is clear that Tom Bombadil is,
indeed, Eru Ilúvatar. Tom Bombadil – a somewhat frivolous name given to
him by Hobbits – was the oldest being in the world, and had been
dwelling in it since before even the Valar. Among his many names and
titles, all of which referred to his primaeval status, was one given to
him by the Men of Rohan – Orald – an Old English word meaning ‘most ancient’ and cognate with German Uralt and Frisian Wr-alda – this latter, in turn, being the name given to the creator-god in the 19th century Frisian chronicle known as the Oera Linda Book (it is also cognate with the modern English ‘world’). Furthermore, one of the titles the Oera Linda Book gives to Wr-alda is All-father, which is the exact translation of Ilúvatar, and is also a title of Odin (Woden) in the Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson’s famous 13th century collection of Norse myths and legends.
Moseley Bog, Sarehole, Birmingham. Situated directly behind the house on Wake Green Road in which Tolkien lived, with his mother and brother, between the ages of four and eight (1896 to 1900), Moseley Bog, formerly known, and referred to by Tolkien, as The Dell, was the inspiration for the Old Forest in The Lord of the Rings – on the edge of which dwelt Tom Bombadil and his wife, Goldberry, the River-daughter.