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Chronology of the Conception of Middle-Earth

The Shire

Jun 12 2013, 3:45pm

Post #1 of 2 (236 views)
Chronology of the Conception of Middle-Earth Can't Post

There are many biographies of Tolkien detailing his life, but one thing I've been particularly interested in is the beginnings and the evolution of the legendarium. So I decided to "distill" these biographical points into a more-or-less complete chronology, guided by some excellent books like 'Tolkien and the Great War' and of course the HoME series.

The chronology, which I post below, can also be found here: http://www.facebook.com/...arth/436453736436481

If there are any errors, or anything important that I missed out, please let me know. The chronology goes as far as the writing of The Hobbit.


1896-1900 - After the death of his father, Tolkien lives with his mother and his brother in the village of Sarehole, near Birmingham. The rural lanscape, with its farmlands and the old mill, inspire the future creation of the Shire. Tolkien's mother Mabel cultivates in him the love of languages and writing.

1911 - While at King Edward's School in Birmingham, Tolkien reads the Finnish epic Kalevala. He falls in love with the sound of Finnish names, the remote primitivism, and the Northern air. After going up to Oxford later that year, he checks out a book on Finnish grammar from the Exeter College Library, hoping to read the Kalevala in the original. Finnish will serve as a major influence for Tolkien's fictional elvish language Quenya. In the summer of 1911, before entering Exeter College, Tolkien also visits the Swiss Alps on a walking holiday. The snow-clad mountains with their sharp peaks, and the narrow valley of Lauterbrunnen, will ultimately serve as the inspiration for Rivendell and the Misty Mountains.

1913-1914 - Tolkien studies English Language and Literature at the college, becoming enamoured with the Germanic and Norse languages and legends. He comes across the Anglo-Saxon poem Crist, which contains the line Éelá Éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended, translated as "Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / above the middle-earth sent unto men." This sparks Tolkien's imagination concerning the meaning and the possible origin of the name Earendel.
24th September 1914, Tolkien writes the poem The Voyage of Eärendel the Evening Star. It is the first of his poems on the subject of Eärendil and describes his voyage from "Westerland", through "the darkling West" and ultimately beyond the world itself.
October 1914, Tolkien works on a verse-and-prose retelling of the Story of Kullervo (from Kalevala), a story about a young fugitive who unwittingly seduces his sister, leading to the tragic deaths of both. The story becomes the germ for the later tale of Túrin Turambar.
27 December, Tolkien paints a picture titled The Land of Pohja, inspired by the episode in Kalevala where the evil mistress of the land steals the Moon and the Sun, which were resting in the trees, thus covering the land in darkness. This episode will inspire Tolkien's myth of the destruction of the Two Trees and the stealing of the Silmarils.

1915 - Tolkien starts working on his "fairy language" that would become Quenya. The Quenya lexicon is gradually filled with words, names and places that would become part of Tolkien's legendarium.
27-28 April 1915, Tolkien writes the poem You and Me / and the Cottage of Lost Play, dedicated to Edith. The cottage and its setting, as described in the poem, will serve as the prototype for the Cottage of Lost Play in The Book of Lost Tales.
30 April 1915, Tolkien writes the poem titled Kôr, about a wondrous city upon a hill by the sea. Kôr enters Tolkien's legendarium as the city of Elves in Eldamar, later to be called Tirion upon Túna.
10th May, Tolkien paints a picture titled The Shores of Faëry showing the white city of Kôr on the black hill, framed by trees from which the Moon and Sun hang like fruit.
8-9 July 1915, Tolkien writes the poem titled The Shores of Faëry, describing the painting and setting of Kôr. Later noted by Tolkien as the "first poem of my mythology", it names, for the first time outside the Quenya lexicon, essential and permanent features of the legendarium: the Two Trees, the mountain of Taniquetil, and the land of Valinor.
12 September 1915, while stationed with his battalion in Staffordshire, Tolkien writes the poem A Song of Aryador, describing an encampment of men in Aryador (Gnomish: "land or place of shadow"), which would later become Hithlum in Beleriand. Also mentioned are the shadow-folk, the Elves that live in that land.
November 1915, Tolkien writes the poem entitled Kortirion among the Trees, dedicated to Warwick. The Quenya lexicon calls Kortirion "the new capital of the Fairies after their retreat from the hostile world to Tol Eressëa", the Lonely Island, and tells us that Kortirion was named after Kôr, the city in Valinor from which the Elves came over the western sea.

1916 - By March 1916, Tolkien's Quenya lexicon takes a more solid shape. It describes Ilúvatar, some of the Valar, and their home in Valinor at the feet of lofty, snow-capped Taniquetil. Valinor is lit by the Two Trees that bore the fruit of Sun and Moon. The lexicon describes the different kinds of Elves who lived in Valinor, and how they came to live on the Lonely Isle of Tol Eressëa. The lexicon also features monsters: Tevildo the prince of cats, Ungwë-Tuita the Spider of Night, Fentor lord of dragons who was slain by Inglimo (the future Turambar), and has various other words for monsters, including orc.
After marrying Edith on 22 March and finishing his military training, Tolkien is sent to the war in France on 4 June. During his service there, he finds time to jot down some ideas on his mythology "in army huts, crowded, filled with the noise of gramophones," or "in grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire." Tolkien's experience of the war, of death and desolation it leaves behind, of the machines used to kill (including the first tanks ever seen by the world), leaves a huge impression on him and his future mythology.
October 1916, Tolkien contracts trench fever and is sent home to Britain on 8 November.
November 1916, probably while still at hospital in Birmingham, he continues to work on Quenya lexicon, and introduces its sister-language, Gnomish or Goldogrin (Gnome is Tolkien's early word for a Noldor Elf). Tolkien makes Eärendel half man-half Gnome, the son of a human father Tuor and a faëry mother Idril. Idril's father is Turgon, the king of the Free-noldor, who ruled over Gondolin. In hospital and on leave after returning from war, Tolkien writes his first tale set in Middle-Earth: The Fall of Gondolin. The tale introduces the chief enemy, Melko (later to be named Morgoth) who enslaved most of Gnomes in "Hells of Iron", and his servants Balrogs.

1917 - Winter of 1916-1917, Tolkien writes another tale, The Cottage of Lost Play, making it the framework story that would tie The Fall of Gondolin and the future stories into a cycle of myths called The Book of Lost Tales. In The Cottage of Lost Play (named so after the poem of 1915), a human mariner Eriol comes to a cottage in Kortirion, on the Lonely Isle of Tol Eressëa, and hears from the Elves their history, the Lost Tales of Elfinesse.
April 1917, having recovered from ilness, Tolkien is stationed with the Humber Garrison in Yorkshire and continues to work on the Gnomish lexicon.
?May 1917, Tolkien and his wife Edith take a walk through a nearby woodland, where in a glade with flowering hemlocks she dances and sings for him. This image stays with him and inspires his vision of the next tale to be written.
August 1917, while at hospital in Hull due to poor health again, Tolkien writes The Tale of Tinúviel, the early version of the Tale of Beren and Lúthien. Probably around that time, Tolkien's lexicons and name-lists become enriched with more names for the Valar, as well as some key events that will remain part of the legendarium.

1918 - Tolkien keeps working on his Gnomish and Quenya lexicons, where he outlines ideas for further 'Lost Tales'.

1919 - Tolkien invents a phonetic alphabet and names it Sarati, or the "Alphabet of Rúmil" after the Elvish sage in his stories who devised letters to record Quenya texts. This alphabet later develops into the Tengwar script, invented by Fëanor.
Some time during this year, Tolkien writes the cosmogonical myth Music of the Ainur and works on other 'Lost Tales', but largely abandons them by 1920, leaving some of the tales only as plot-outlines and sketches. The tales written in this period tell of the conflicts between the renegade Melko and the rest of the Valar when he tries to seize the rule of the world; Melko's destruction of the Two Trees which gave light to Valinor, home of the Valar and of many Elves; his theft of the precious Silmarils from the Elves and his flight into Middle-Earth (not yet so-called); and the long and bitter war of the Elves with Melko in the hope of recovering the Silmarils. Tolkien's earlier insights into the Finnish story of Kullervo now find their place here, in the tragic story of Túrin Turambar. Many of the 'Lost Tales' are subsequently rewritten from their earlier versions, and there are plans to rewrite the whole cycle, but this is never achieved.

1920-1925 - While posted at the University of Leeds, Tolkien continues to refine his invented languages. He also sets to work retelling the story of Turambar as a long narrative poem. This work will continue for 5 years. The Lay of the Children of Húrin, as it is called, marks an important stage in the evolution of the Matter of the Elder Days, and contains passages that strongly illumine his imagination of Beleriand; it was, for example, in this poem that the great redoubt of Nargothrond arose from the primitive caves of the Rodothlim in the 'Lost Tales', and only in this poem was Nargothrond described.

1925-1931 - In the summer of 1925 (and now a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University), Tolkien abandons his work on The Lay of the Children of Húrin and begins working on the poetic retelling of the The Tale of Tinúviel, titled The Lay of Leithian. The Lay of Leithian presents further development in Tolkien's mythology: Beren, who was a Gnome (a Noldor Elf) in the original tale, is now a mortal man; and Beren's captor, the demonic cat Tevildo, is replaced by Thű the Necromancer, who will eventually become Sauron in the published Silmarillion. Tolkien continues to work on the Lay until it is left incomplete in September 1931. Tolkien would return to the Lay of Leithian again in either 1949 or 1950, revising it from the beginning, but very soon abandoning it again.

1926 - While still working on The Lay of Leithian, Tolkien makes a 'Sketch of the Mythology', which can be considered the first version of 'The Silmarillion'. Originally written as an outline to explain the background to the poem Children of Húrin to Tolkien's old tutor and friend R.W. Reynolds, it now becomes the basis from which all further work on the Legendarium is derived. Tolkien's vision of his imaginary world has moved forward a great deal since the conception of the original 'Lost Tales', and those tales have been ultimately put away and forgotten.

?1928-1932 - It is guessed that during the summer of 1928, at the earliest (but perhaps in 1929 or, most probably, in 1930), while Tolkien is marking School Certificate papers, he comes across a blank side of a page and on it spontaneously writes the sentence "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit". Tolkien had been writing or telling stories to his children throughout the 1920s, and this new creature hobbit becomes the hero of a new tale, at first completely unrelated to the Middle-Earth legendarium. The wizard Gandald and the dwarves are modelled on the characters from Norse legends (even borrowing most of the names from them). As Tolkien works on the story, it is gradually drawn into his legendarium with the addition of Elrond the half-elven (son of none other than Eärendil), orcs, remote memories of Gondolin, and other elements. The first version of the story is finished by 1932, and Tolkien even draws a map outlining the geography of the tale, but it remains just a story for his children.

1930 - Tolkien writes a new version of 'The Silmarillion', titled Quenta Noldorinwa, or simply The Quenta. The Quenta moves closer towards The Silmarillion in its published form, both in structure and in language. The essential character of the work is now fully in being, echoing the shape and fall of sentences, even of whole passages, in the published Silmarillion, although it is a much shorter work. After the hasty 'Sketch of the Mythology', it remains the only complete version of 'The Silmarillion' that Tolkien ever makes. His work on the next version, the Quenta Silmarillion, would be interrupted towards the end of 1937 in order to begin The Lord of the Rings. When, after many years, Tolkien returns again to the Quenta Silmarillion, he undertakes complex revisions and enlargements of the earlier parts, but never again achieves a complete and coherent structure.


Jun 12 2013, 5:49pm

Post #2 of 2 (150 views)
Very nice work [In reply to] Can't Post

You've put a lot into this and pulled a lot of sources together. I couldn't tell if your halt at 1930, with details that go on to 1932 and 1937 but also defined as "as far as the writing of The Hobbit", is meant to cover the decade of the 1930s altogether; The Hobbit was finished as a complete book only in the later 1930s. Anyway, I was inspired by your post and would like to contribute to "what comes next": several important developments before 1937 that should probably rate a mention even in this kind of outline:
  • The frame of the linked Silmarillion tales goes from Elves telling stories that are recorded by a lost English sailor, to tales translated by the sailor from the writings of an Elvish scholar.
  • The style of writing goes from a kind of precious and ornate mock-medieval, a la William Morris, to a more sober and dry "heigh style". This is found in the transition between the Book of Lost Tales, and the Quenta.
  • Tolkien stops creating his histories from lexicons of vocabularies, and instead tends to do so while writing chronological accounts of events in timeline form, the so-called Annals.
  • He develops a second complete Elvish script, this one being modeled on carven runes rather than inked letters.
  • He develops a physical model of his world, including different layers of atmospheres and waters that are progressively unsurvivable by mortals.
  • His pantheon of Gods is reduced, simplified, and made less colorful and less "human". They play a progressively less interesting role in the legends.
  • He changes the origin of his universe, from a world fully created by the Song of the Valar, to a world physically built by the Valar according to a vision that the Song gave them.
  • He begins to explore the idea of time travel in what is at first a separate set of stories, but which soon ties into his long-standing frame of the English mariner who discovers the island of the Elves and receives the Quenta Silmarillion from them. These time travel ideas eventually are transformed into the story of Numenor, and after the second World War this narrative is absorbed into the post-Lord of the Rings legendarium as a so-called Second Age.
I'm sure you're aware of most of this, if not all. Again, your post is a very nice piece of work.

squire online:
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