The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin: Substantial Worries

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by Mariano Pignatelli
(Argentina, Cordoba)

I’m from Argentina, and I’m nineteen years old. My worry about The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin is that in the prologues of both books Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, says that he “edited” and “made a selection” of all writings of his father, so how can we know that it is not personal production or subjective conceptions of his father’s work?

I mean, when he says in many parts there are “holes”, unfinished stories and different versions and lengths of the same part of the “ancient days”, what is it that he really wants to tell readers?

I already read The Silmarillion and now I’ve purchased The Children of Húrin, but I don’t want to read it because it seems to me that it is not truly Tolkien’s stories. What I want is a book in which Tolkien’s son will publish the original text without any personal intrusion even if there are many “holes”, unfinished stories, or different lengths.

I say all this because in the prologue of The Silmarillion, he says that there exists longer versions of these stories (to me the most important because it tells of the creation of the world, Arda or Ea).

I suppose that in The Children of Húrin he also cut some parts or avoided others. Please give me your thoughts.

A Response from the Webmaster:

Thanks for your thoughts, Mariano. I will try to make as uncomplicated an answer to your questions as I can.

You are certainly not the first to express doubts about Christopher Tolkien’s “role” as the editor of his father’s work, particularly as it pertains to ‘The Silmarillion’. Christopher Tolkien acknowledged that in the interest of creating a ‘cohesive narrative’, he made selections from his father’s work.

When JRR Tolkien died, he left behind an extremely complex and interwoven set of texts (often heavily edited and nearly unreadable). These texts often consisted of three or four differing versions of the same tales.

So Christopher Tolkien’s task was a monumental undertaking to excavate these disorganized (usually handwritten) texts and form them into a cohesive tale (as was his father’s original intention).

The result was ‘The Silmarillion’, but, like you, many many readers were unhappy with the son’s editorial role, and wanted to know what was the work of the son, and what was the work of the father?

Christopher Tolkien responded, over the next fifteen years, by publishing nearly everything his father had ever scratched down on a notepad in ‘Unfinished Tales’ and the twelve volume ‘History of Middle-earth’.

In these, Christopher Tolkien provided running editorial commentary, but he did not change the text of the tales as they were written.

Now, we have the publication of The Children of Hurin, in which Christopher Tolkien has taken the various pieces and versions of the ‘Narn I Chin Hurin’ and piece them together into a single long narrative.

Since we have the original versions of most of the various texts used (published in ‘Unfinished Tales’ and ‘The History of Middle-earth’) we can see that Christopher Tolkien made almost no substantial changes to the final text, save for editing some of his father awkward wording choices.

If you would like to read the early tales of JRR Tolkien nearly untouched by the hand of an editor, I would direct you to ‘Unfinished Tales’ and the twelve-volume series, ‘The History of Middle-earth’. You can find more information on these books elsewhere on this site.

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