I’ve seen a lot of confusion floating around about why The Hobbit is inconsistent with LOTR/Unfinished Tales canon. So I’m gonna sit down and tell you all a story which will hopefully clear this mess up once and for all.
First of all, The Hobbit was not the first thing Tolkien wrote. He started as a young man in officer training (so I’m talking pre/during World War I here) writing poems about Kôr and the gods of the elvenlands. This is where the idea of Eriol and the Red Book of Westmarch comes in—the basis of reference for Bilbo in a few scenes and generally how The Silmarillion is supposed to be understood. Everything that we consider canon is taken from the Red Book.
This poetry goes back WAY before any thing close to The Hobbit came around. In fact most elves and what not didn’t really exist. Brownies were around, as were pixies, and magical potions, as well as lyrical story tellers on a magical island. Some of the canon for the Valar was there, but it was greatly edited over the years. During this time Eönwë, the herald of the Valar, was actually the son of Manwë and Varda. The capture of Melko (not Melkor) was almost a direct reflection of the myth of the chaining of Fenris from the Norse pantheon.
Let’s skip ahead a bit. Most of the content in Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion was basically set in stone years before writing The Hobbit. He had written, or at least drafted, this content before he even got his professor ship at Oxford in 1925.
The Hobbit comes into play when he was doing some paperwork for extra cash during the summers, and he started writing on the back of one student’s assignment. There’s the beginning of The Hobbit. Ramblings. BUT we must keep in mind that everything in Tolkien’s legendarium (plus The Hobbit) was a project for him to philologically make a mythology for England. That being said hobbits equate to the English where as all other figures equate to beings that exists etymologically in related languages (dwarves, orcs, elves etc). Why dragons? Because of heroic poetry and lyrical cycles. Tolkien was a philologist and mythologist, and translated many works such as Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, The Fall of Arthur, and dozens of other Old English and Old Nose medieval texts. This is happening in the late 1920s.
OKAY. Now that we’ve established a time line: The Lord of the Rings worked as a ‘sequel’ to The Hobbit, basically due to demand after The Hobbit’s publication in 1933. But when I say sequel I mean that reoccurring characters showed up, and the general idea of the heroic cycle and a new mythological history for England remained the same. Editors still wanted a true sequel to The Hobbit as well as the LOTR cycle, but it didn’t happen. What happened with the LOTR-Hobbit relation was that The Hobbit was not meant to be a part of the series—it was published, like I said, in 1933, where as FOTR was published in the 1950s. And while we could argue that the same gap occurred with the publications of The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the entirety of The Complete Histories of Middle-earth, you must remember that these were published posthumously and unfinished.
Hobbits do not appear in any of the outside canon of The Hobbit. The druedain are the closest relation, but are scarcely touched upon and are in no ways actually related. The Hobbit, as a book in Tolkien’s canon, was a chance of publication entirely, brought upon by Tolkien’s friends and contemporaries pushing him to publish.
I hope this fills in any gaps you might have! If you have questions please direct them to my ask box.
Earlier in the year (I think it was last month) I reblogged a post about gender confusion of Ilúvatar due to the reader having a Finnish copy of The Silmarillion. They said they had issue because A) Finnish has no gender-specific reference words as such and B) Ilúvatar is remarkably similar-sounding to Ilmatar, the Finnish mother-goddess.
Now, Imatar is an air spirit of sorts, who floats long the endless oceans and is then magically impregnated by the sea and airs and lays the cosmic egg that bears Väinämöinen, the main hero and god of the Finnish epic The Kalevala.
I bring up Ilmatar and her holy airs and seas specifically because I believe she was a greater influence on the “The Coming of the Valar” in the Book of Lost Tales (also in “The Cottage of Lost Play), and more specifically the early map of Kôr, the Outer Lands, the Great Seas, and Utumna.
Tolkien’s early maps show predominance of Vai, the universal Ocean or Great sea that the world rests upon, as well as Vaitya, Ilwe, and Vilna, the three airs. Vilna in fact appears twice on this map, once as the first great air above what would become Eä, and the second reference below Vai. Here is where Ilmatar comes in.
Ulmo in this passage states (and here I am paraphrasing) that the ‘lesser seas’ he grants to Ossë includes what would appear to be in fact all oceans and great seas upon the world. To me this then asserts that the universe itself (or the world at least) is made up entirely of cosmic water—which then also explains how Eärendil is able to actually sail to the thrones of the Valar after they have removed themselves from the confines of our physical earth. This also asserts that Ulmo is more of a cosmic god, working in ways similar to Manwë, although Manwë still maintains powers over the airs Vaitya, Ilwe, and Vilna. Ulmo could then be one of the greater creation gods who maintains the rotation of the earth upon its mantle of holy cosmic water.
Returning to Ilmatar once again, this equality of airs and seas begets a holy trifecta (including Varda into the power triangle with holy stars and further control of middle point between airs and seas where stars are fixed) and implies a mother goddess—Varda (I could go into how Varda forms the Triple Goddess, but I’ll save that for another day). Ilmatar and
Väinämöinen would also explain a tendency towards Elves and their attraction to singing and water, as Väinämöinen is known to sing things in and out of existence in Kalevala, which is also what Ilúvatar asks the Valar to do in the creation of the world. Singing is also tied to sea-longing, as the songs of gulls is said to give Legolas the longing for the sea and to sail to the Undying Lands.
As a last point I can’t help but also think on Galadriel as a mortal stand-in for the Triple Goddess or Ilmatar figure, as she is given Nenya, the ring of water, and has one of the most complex relationships with the seas and airs due to her banishment. Again, I will save this for another time, but it’s satisfying to think of and chew on.
ARTIST Howard Shore
ALBUM Complete Recordings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Rivendell