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Old 11-10-2020, 08:56 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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Question Broseliand (Beleriand) in the Primary World

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Lay of Leithian: Canto II, original draft
There magic lurked in gulf and glen,
for far away beyond the ken
of searching eyes, unless it were
from dizzy tower that pricked the air
where only eagles lived and cried,
might grey and gleaming be descried
Broceliand, Broceliand,
the borders of the faery land.
In the early days of the Legendarium, it was far more closely bound to the Primary World. The Book of Lost Tales starts with a sailor from Europe washing up on the shores of Tol Eressea, and in at least one version of its ending, Eressea was dragged back to become Britain and Ireland. Given how liberally Tolkien sprinkled Elvish placenames onto places he knew, it's even possible to put together a decent map of Eressea.

But what about Beleriand? In the BoLT the continent is mostly just called "the Great Lands", "the Eastern lands", or simply "the world", but the Lay of Leithian gives it a name: Broceliand, later Broseliand. And that's a real placename! Broceliande is an enchanted forest in Arthurian myth, and is nowadays identified with Paimpont forest in Brittany, northern France.

The present Broceliande is fairly small, nestled to the south of a range of hills running east to west; east of Brittany, the coast of France bends sharply to the south. Tolkien's Broseliand is a large country, dominated by the forest that would eventually be called Doriath. The geography of early Broseliand is unclear, but piecing together from various sections of HoME (notably BoLT 1 p. 81 and BoLT 2 p. 217) it has a general north-south coast, turning east-west in the north, with a mountainous penninsula sicking out westwards. Those mountains are the Mountains of Iron/Shadow and the Bitter Hills; Hisilome and Angband lie north of them, while Broseliand and Sirion are to the south.

So is France Beleriand? More specifically, given that Brittany is tiny, and definitely doesn't have room for the Dark Lord's fortress - and that there is no major north-south river that could be Sirion anywhere nearby - did Tolkien intend, in the earliest stages of the Legendarium, for Broseliand to be in the Bay of Biscay, perhaps lining up with the submerged continental shelf? Melkor's fortress would then have been in the sea to the north, with Jersey and Guernsey as remnants in that area, and the Iron Mountains (occupying the later position of Dorthonion) would be the only surviving land.

This would make sense in terms of some later stories (when Eressea comes back at the end of the Lost Tales, the elves disembark by way of the "promontory of Ros", ie Brittany, which makes sense if it's the remains of their old land), but it's a pretty fragile theory at the moment. I don't know that the BoLT geography lines up well enough, and HoME III seems to imply that Broseliand/Broceliand was only used in the Lay of Leithian (and was dropped before the end of the first text, to boot). Primary World corroborating evidence would be if there was a 'sunken land' myth in the Bay of Biscay or Brittany (the best I can find is explicitly a lost city, Ys), or if the Arthurian stories tell of Broceliande once being much larger. But for now, it's just a very deliberate* name, and an approximate geography.

hS

*HoME II reports that the earliest Silm map mentions that Broceliand is the English name, so yes, it's definitely deliberate.
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Old 11-10-2020, 12:34 PM   #2
William Cloud Hicklin
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It's an interesting idea- except Tolkien hated everything French.
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Old 11-10-2020, 01:08 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
It's an interesting idea- except Tolkien hated everything French.
I know, right? So why did he use the name of a forest in France for his subcreated land?

One thought that springs to mind is that he may not have viewed Brittany as 'really' French. I'm not sure how widely known it is that Brittany was at least nominally independent down to the 1500s, and is one of the old Celtic realms (along with the likes of Wales and Cornwall). Given his liking for at least one Celtic language, he might well have wanted to reclaim a Breton myth from the French.

... except that myth is part of the Arthurian tales, and he hated them too. So why did he do it?

This is why I'm thinking he wanted to link his stories to a real ('real') location: the other option is that he was grounding it in a mythic cycle that he's known to dislike intensely.

(Also, of course: if he wanted to claim Britain as Tol Eressea, pretty much his only choices for Beleriand are a) France, b) Scandinavia, or c) sunk in coincidentally the same place Eressea wound up.)

hS
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Old 11-10-2020, 03:47 PM   #4
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Tolkien didn't hate the Arthurian matter; he regarded it as unsuitable as a "mythology for England" because it a) isn't English (in fact the English are the bad guys) and 2) explicitly involves Christianity, which he regarded as fatal. After all, he wrote a long unfinished poem on Arthur.

He certainly didn't object to the Bretons, since Aotrou and Itroun poses as a Breton lay. (He also was very fond of Sir Orfeo, which was a Middle English version of a Breton tale).
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Old 11-11-2020, 01:28 PM   #5
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I don't believe this signifies anything. At the time, Tolkien was in the habit of reusing place and personal names from the real world and from real world myths in his stories. That's where Mirkwood (an actual real world place) and many of the names in The Hobbit come from. This is just another example of the same.
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Old 11-12-2020, 05:01 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by mhagain View Post
I don't believe this signifies anything. At the time, Tolkien was in the habit of reusing place and personal names from the real world and from real world myths in his stories. That's where Mirkwood (an actual real world place) and many of the names in The Hobbit come from. This is just another example of the same.
Well that's certainly true of The Hobbit! But I think it becomes less true as you work backwards from that point. HoME I includes the poem Kortirion Among the Trees, which is a love-song to the city of Warwick as a relic of the Elder Days; and the House of a Hundred Chimneys from the Book of Lost Tales is strongly identified with Shugborough Hall in Great Haywood (to the point where you can check out the Bridge of Tavrobel in Google Maps).

In a sense, you're absolutely right here: Shugborough Hall is very obviously post-medieval, whereas Tolkien's notes connecting Tol Eressea and Britain (HoME II, The History of Eriol or Aelfwine) would require it to be in place by the time of Hengest and Horsa in the fifth century. So Tolkien definitely wasn't imagining that these exact towns and buildings were in place at the time of his setting. But that's pretty common with myths, I think - you'll find (for instance) stories claiming Merlin built Stonehenge, despite Stonehenge being millennia older than Arthurian myth.

I think the use of the name Broseliand for an enchanted forest can definitely be seen as Tolkien providing a 'true history' for the Christianised Arthurian myth (just as Atalantie provides a 'true history' of Atlantis). What I'm still puzzling over is whether he intended for Broseliand/Doriath to be equated with Broceliande/Brittany, or whether he imagined an older, now-lost forest bearing the name, and the Brittany connection as spurious.

I think I'm going to have to dig through BoLT a bit more to understand the geography. Does Beleriand even get drowned in the original stories? I can't find anything past Earendil's (failed!) mission to Valinor until we hit the Faring Forth.

hS
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