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

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.


*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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