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Old 10-10-2021, 03:40 PM   #1
Late Istar
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 2,184
Aiwendil is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Aiwendil is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Considerations from The Nature of Middle-earth

I thought I'd make a thread dedicated to discussion of The Nature of Middle-earth and its implications for this project. I think the chief thing that will need discussion is the material in part 1, "Time and Ageing", and that's what I'm going to discuss in this post, but we can also use this thread to discuss points raised in the other parts.

The bulk of part 1 consists of a series of notes and calculations dating from c. 1959, concerning the inter-related topics of Elvish growth and ageing, rate of population increase, and chronology under the new scheme where 1 Valian year = 144 solar years. I'll assume that everyone here has read the book, so there's no need to give a detailed account of those texts. It's important to bear in mind, though, that not all of the texts given in part 1 date from that c. 1959 period, nor are they necessarily presented in chronological order.

I know this opinion is going to be controversial, but in my view, we can't adopt any of these new chronologies, and should retain more or less the chronology from the last version of AAm. Essentially, my reasons are thus:

1. Christopher Tolkien states (in an endnote to MT XI) that the change in the length of the Valian Year was a consequence of the new cosmogony, and I'm inclined to agree with him:

Originally Posted by Christopher Tolkien
It will be seen that, as a consequence of the transformation of the 'cosmogonic myth', a wholly new conception of the 'Valian Year' had entered. The elaborate computation of Time in the Annals of Aman (see pp. 49-51, 59-60) was based on the 'cycle' of the Two Trees that had ceased to exist in relation to the diurnal movement of the Sun that had come into being - there was a 'new reckoning'. But the 'Valian Year' is now, as it appears, a 'unit of perception' of the passage of the Time of Arda, derived from the capacity of the Valar to perceive at such intervals the process of the ageing of Arda from its beginning to its end.
The reasons for this change, it seems to me, are more or less:

a. The revised cosmogony was intended to make the Legendarium more scientifically plausible; a corollary, then, was making Arda far older than was the conception in the flat-earth version.

b. Since the new cosmology has the Sun predate the Trees, the idea of a Valian year based on the cycle of the Trees but not matching up with the cycle of the sun no longer made any sense.

Given that we have decided not to implement the revised cosmology, it seems to me that we should also not implement the accompanying change in chronology.

2. In any case, the changes to the chronology, like those to the cosmology, seem to me to fall under our principle 2b; they are projected changes that do not clearly indicate how the actual text is to be changed. In a way, these texts (like some of those in MT) can be viewed as outlining for a complete revision of the early parts of the Silmarillion. That revision was never written, and I'd argue that for us to alter the texts we have (AAm, LQ) to achieve that outline would require far too heavy an editorial hand.

3. The ideas presented in "Time and Ageing" are remarkably fluid, and it is by no means clear whether Tolkien ever arrived at a final conception, or (if so) what that was. We can, to be sure, establish a tentative chronology for the writing of a lot of these texts based on internal evidence, but even in the ones that seem to be the latest, we see Tolkien proposing different ideas and generally "thinking on paper". While there are, certainly, a number of persistent ideas through the texts, the details are constantly in flux, and it's unclear what Tolkien's conclusions were.

4. In fact, we know that Tolkien later rejected a substantial part of the c. 1959 ideas. Around 1968, in the two texts given in chapter XIX of NoMe and more allusively in "The Shibboleth of Feanor", we have an entirely different conception of Elvish longevity in the form of "cycles of renewal". The c. 1959 chronology was entirely based on the shifting ideas from that time on the rate of Elvish growth and maturation, childbearing, and so on. With those ideas replaced by a very different one, that chronology would seem to be obviated.

In connection with this, it's also worth noting that a story arose in "Shibboleth" where Feanor was said to be inspired to make the Silmarils by the radiance of Galadriel's hair. This implies, of course, that Galadriel was born before the making of the Silmarils - whereas in the c. 1959 chronology, Galadriel's birth was placed after the making of the Silmarils. This may have been forgetfulness, but taken together with the idea of Elvish cycles of life, it strongly suggests to me that Tolkien did not consider the chronology dating from 1959 to be at all settled or final.

Having said all that, I think there probably are some more minor points arising in these generational schemes and chronologies that we might take up, where they don't specifically depend on ideas that I think we must reject. For instance, these texts clearly state that the three ambassadors to Valinor (Ingwe, Finwe, and Elwe) were not among the first Elves to awaken, and it seems to me that this (and indeed, the element of the elder Elves being more skeptical of the Valinorean invitation) is independent of the new Valian year, and would fit fine with our version.
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