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The Lays of Beleriand

The Lays of Beleriand

Автор J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Lays of Beleriand

Автор J. R. R. Tolkien

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11 мая 2021 г.


This is the third volume of the History of Middle-earth, which comprises here-tofore unpublished manuscripts that were written over a period of many years before Tolkien's Simlarillion was published. Volumes 1 and 2 were the Book of Lost Tales, Part One and The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two. Together, these volumes encompass an extraordinarily extensive body of material ornamenting and buttressing what must be the most fully realized world ever to spring from a single author's imagination.

"I write alliterative verse with pleasure," wrote J.R.R. Tolkien in 1955, "though I have published little beyond the fragments in The Lord of the Rings, except The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth." The first of the poems in The Lays of Beleriand is the previously unpublished Lay of the Children of Hurin, his early but most sustained work in the ancient English meter, intended to narrate on a grand scale the tragedy of Turin Turambar. It was account of the killing by Turin of his friend Beleg, as well as a unique description of the great redoubt of Nargothrond. The Lay of the Children of Hurin was supplanted by the Lay of Leithian, "Release from Bondage", in which another major legend of the Elder Days received poetic form, in this case in rhyme. The chief source of the short prose tale of Beren and Luthien is The Silmarillion. This, too, was not completed, but the whole Quest of the Silmaril is told, and the poem breaks off only after the encounter with Morgoth in his subterranean fortress. Many years later, when The Lord of the rings was finished, J.R.R. Tolkien returned to the Lay of Leithian and started on a new version, which is also given in this book.

Accompanying the poems are commentaries on the evolution of the history of the Elder Days, which was much developed during the years of the composition of the two Lays. Also included is the notable criticism in detail of the Lay of Lethian by C.S. Lewis, Tolkien's friend and colleague, who read the poem in 1929. By assuming that this poem is actually a fragment from a past lost in history, Lewis underlined the remarkable power of its author's imaginative talents and academic competence.

11 мая 2021 г.

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on the 3rd January, 1892 at Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, but at the age of four he and his brother were taken back to England by their mother. After his father’s death the family moved to Sarehole, on the south-eastern edge of Birmingham. Tolkien spent a happy childhood in the countryside and his sensibility to the rural landscape can clearly be seen in his writing and his pictures.

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The Lays of Beleriand - J. R. R. Tolkien


This third part of ‘The History of Middle-earth’ contains the two major poems by J. R. R. Tolkien concerned with the legends of the Elder Days: the Lay of the Children of Húrin in alliterative verse, and the Lay of Leithian in octosyllabic couplets. The alliterative poem was composed while my father held appointments at the University of Leeds (1920–5); he abandoned it for the Lay of Leithian at the end of that time, and never turned to it again. I have found no reference to it in any letter or other writing of his that has survived (other than the few words cited on p. 3), and I do not recollect his ever speaking of it. But this poem, which though extending to more than 2000 lines is only a fragment in relation to what he once planned, is the most sustained embodiment of his abiding love of the resonance and richness of sound that might be achieved in the ancient English metre. It marks also 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. It exists in two versions, the second being a revision and enlargement that proceeds much less far into the story, and both are given in this book.

My father worked on the Lay of Leithian for six years, abandoning it in its turn in September 1931. In 1929 it was read so far as it then went by C. S. Lewis, who sent him a most ingenious commentary on a part of it; I acknowledge with thanks the permission of C. S. Lewis PTE Limited to include this.

In 1937 he said in a letter that ‘in spite of certain virtuous passages’ the Lay of Leithian had ‘grave defects’ (see p. 366). A decade or more later, he received a detailed, and remarkably unconstrained, criticism of the poem from someone who knew and admired his poetry. I do not know for certain who this was. In choosing ‘the staple octosyllabic couplet of romance,’ he wrote, my father had chosen one of the most difficult of forms ‘if one wishes to avoid monotony and sing-song in a very long poem. I am often astonished by your success, but it is by no means consistently maintained.’ His strictures on the diction of the Lay included archaisms so archaic that they needed annotation, distorted order, use of emphatic doth or did where there is no emphasis, and language sometimes flat and conventional (in contrast to passages of ‘gorgeous description’). There is no record of what my father thought of this criticism (written when The Lord of the Rings was already completed), but it must be associated in some way with the fact that in 1949 or 1950 he returned to the Lay of Leithian and began a revision that soon became virtually a new poem; and relatively little though he wrote of it, its advance on the old version in all those respects in which that had been censured is so great as to give it a sad prominence in the long list of his works that might have been. The new Lay is included in this book, and a page from a fine manuscript of it is reproduced as frontispiece.

The sections of both poems are interleaved with commentaries which are primarily concerned to trace the evolution of the legends and the lands they are set in.

The two pages reproduced from the Lay of the Children of Húrin (p. 15) are from the original manuscript of the first version, lines 297–317 and 318–33. For differences between the readings of the manuscript and those of the printed text see pp. 4–5. The page from the Lay of Leithian in Elvish script (p. 299) comes from the ‘A’ version of the original Lay (see pp. 150–1), and there are certain differences in the text from the ‘B’ version which is that printed. These pages from the original manuscripts are reproduced with the permission of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and I thank the staff of the Department of Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian for their assistance.

The two earlier volumes in this series (the first and second parts of The Book of Lost Tales) are referred to as ‘I’ and ‘II’. The fourth volume will contain the ‘Sketch of the Mythology’ (1926), from which the Silmarillion ‘tradition’ derived; the Quenta Noldorinwa or History of the Noldoli (1930); the first map of the North-west of Middle-earth; the Ambarkanta (‘Shape of the World’) by Rúmil, together with the only existing maps of the entire World; the earliest Annals of Valinor and Annals of Beleriand, by Pengolod the Wise of Gondolin; and the fragments of translations of the Quenta and Annals from Elvish into Anglo-Saxon by Ælfwine of England.



There exists a substantial manuscript (28 pages long) entitled ‘Sketch of the Mythology with especial reference to The Children of Húrin’; and this ‘Sketch’ is the next complete narrative, in the prose tradition, after the Lost Tales (though a few fragmentary writings are extant from the intervening time). On the envelope containing this manuscript my father wrote at some later time:

Original ‘Silmarillion’. Form orig[inally] composed c. 1926–30 for R. W. Reynolds to explain background of ‘alliterative version’ of Túrin & the Dragon: then in progress (unfinished) (begun c. 1918).

He seems to have written first ‘1921’ before correcting this to ‘1918’.

R. W. Reynolds taught my father at King Edward’s School, Birmingham (see Humphrey Carpenter, Biography, p. 47). In a passage of his diary written in August 1926 he wrote that ‘at the end of last year’ he had heard again from R. W. Reynolds, that they had corresponded subsequently, and that he had sent Reynolds many of his poems, including Tinúviel and Túrin (‘Tinúviel meets with qualified approval, it is too prolix, but how could I ever cut it down, and the specimen I sent of Túrin with little or none’). This would date the ‘Sketch’ as originally written (it was subsequently heavily revised) definitely in 1926, probably fairly early in the year. It must have accompanied the specimen of Túrin (the alliterative poem), the background of which it was written to explain, to Anacapri, where Reynolds was then living in retirement.

My father took up his appointment to the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in the winter term (October–December) of 1925, though for that term he had to continue to teach at Leeds also, since the appointments overlapped. There can be no doubt that at any rate the great bulk of the alliterative Children of Húrin (or Túrin) was completed at Leeds, and I think it virtually certain that he had ceased to work on it before he moved south: in fact there seems nothing to oppose to the natural assumption that he left ‘Túrin’ for ‘Tinúviel’ (the Lay of Leithian), which he began according to his diary in the summer of 1925 (see p. 159 and footnote).

For the date of its commencement we have only my father’s later (and perhaps hesitant) statement that it was ‘begun c. 1918’. A terminus a quo is provided by a page of the earliest manuscript of the poem, which is written on a slip from the Oxford English Dictionary bearing the printer’s stamp May 1918. On the other hand the name Melian which occurs near the beginning of the earliest manuscript shows it to be later than the typescript version of the Tale of Tinúviel, where the Queen’s name was Gwenethlin and only became Melian in the course of its composition (II. 51); and the manuscript version of that Tale which underlies the typescript seems itself to have been one of the last completed elements in the Lost Tales (see I. 204).

The Children of Húrin exists in two versions, which I shall refer to as I and II, both of them found in manuscript and later typescript (IA, IB; IIA, IIB). I do not think that the second is significantly later than the first; it is indeed possible, and would not be in any way uncharacteristic, that my father began work on II while he was still composing at a later point in I. II is essentially an expansion of I, with many lines, and blocks of lines, left virtually unchanged. Until the second version is reached it will be sufficient to refer simply to ‘A’ and ‘B’, the manuscript and typescript of the first version.

The manuscript A consists of two parts: first (a) a bundle of small slips, numbered 1–32. The poem is here in a very rough state with many alternative readings, and in places at least may represent the actual beginnings, the first words written down. This is followed by (b) a set of large sheets of examination paper from the University of Leeds, numbered 33 ff., where the poem is for the most part written out in a more finished form – the second stage of composition; but my father wrote in line-numbers continuously through (a) and (b) – lines 1–528 in (a), lines 528 ff. in (b). We have thus one sole text, not two, without any overlap; and if (a), the slips, ever existed in the form of (b), the examination sheets, that part has disappeared. In part (b) there are many later emendations in pencil.

Based on this manuscript is the typescript B. This introduces changes not found in A or its emendations; and it was itself emended both in ink and pencil, doubtless involving several movements of revision. To take a single line as exemplification: line 8 was written first in A:

Lo! Thalion in the throng   of thickest battle

The line was emended, in two stages, to

Lo! Thalion Húrin   in the throng of battle

and this was the form in B as typed; but B was emended, in two stages, to

Lo! Húrin Thalion   in the hosts of war

It is obvious that to set this and a great many other similar cases out in a textual apparatus would be a huge task and the result impossibly complicated. The text that follows is therefore, so far as purely metrical-stylistic changes are concerned, that of B as emended, and apart from a few special cases there is no mention in the notes of earlier readings.

In the matter of names, however, the poem presents great difficulty; for changes were made at quite different times and were not introduced consistently throughout. If the latest form in any particular passage is made the principle of choice, irrespective of any other consideration, then the text will have Morwin at lines 105, 129, Mavwin 137 etc., Morwen 438, 472; Ulmo 1469, but Ylmir 1529 and subsequently; Nirnaith Ornoth 1448, but Nirnaith Únoth 1543. If the later Nirnaith Ornoth is adopted at 1543, it seems scarcely justifiable to intrude it at lines 13 and 218 (where the final form is Nínin Unothradin). I have decided finally to abandon overall consistency, and to treat individual names as seems best in the circumstances; for example, I give Ylmir rather than Ulmo at line 1469, for consistency with all the other occurrences, and while changing Únoth to Ornoth at line 1543 I retain Ornoth rather than the much later Arnediad at line 26 of the second version – similarly I prefer the earlier Finweg to Fingon (1975, second version 19, 520) and Bansil, Glingol to Belthil, Glingal (2027–8). All such points are documented in the notes.

A has no title. In B as typed the title was The Golden Dragon, but this was emended to Túrin Son of Húrin & Glórund the Dragon. The second version of the poem was first titled Túrin, but this was changed to The Children of Húrin, and I adopt this, the title by which my father referred to the poem in the 1926 ‘Sketch’, as the general title of the work.

The poem in the first version is divided into a short prologue (Húrin and Morgoth) without sub-title and three long sections, of which the first two (‘Túrin’s Fostering’ and ‘Beleg’) were only introduced later into the typescript; the third (‘Failivrin’) is marked both in A and in B as typed.

The detail of the typescript is largely preserved in the present text, but I have made the capitalisation rather more consistent, added in occasional accents, and increased the number of breaks in the text. The space between the half-lines is marked in the second part of the A-text and begins at line 543 in B.

I have avoided the use of numbered notes to the text, and all annotation is related to the line-numbers of the poem. This annotation (very largely concerned with variations of names, and comparisons with names in the Lost Tales) is found at the end of each of the three major parts, followed by a commentary on the matter of that part.

Throughout, the Tale refers to the Tale of Turambar and the Foalókë (II. 69 ff.); Narn refers to the Narn i Hîn Húrin, in Unfinished Tales pp. 57 ff.




Two pages from the original manuscript of The Lay of the Children of Húrin

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