As you may have figured out by now, I’m a huge Tolkien nerd. I’m trying very hard to amass all his stuff before it goes out of print, and I’m working on a massive indexing project that may one day be commercially available, or may just be my own little nerdy pet. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about canon lately. As you may know, a lot of Tolkien’s work was published posthumously by Christopher Tolkien. J.R.R. also had a ton of notes and things, some of which are published, and there’s a published volume of letters, and all sorts of stuff.
Most people into his work have an opinion on what’s really part of the canon. Some say that we can only count on what was published before he died, others say we can only count on what was actually published, others use notes to interpret the canon. Of course, it doesn’t really matter all that much, because there is no Middle Earth, but in the universe in my head I’ll admit to being tempted to use whatever fits. I happen to be of the opinion that Glorfindel in Rivendell is the same Glorfindel in Gondolin, for example. It doesn’t bother me that Tolkien hadn’t thought of that until after he’d written the Lord of the Rings. It was an evolving universe that was never completed, so I say it’s legit to interpret however you want to interpret, like you might do with a painting or a poem.
Of course, it has to stop somewhere. I’m not particularly interested in Quenya poems by some dude on the street, or writings by people whose last name is not Tolkien. And Tolkien’s own work has a lot of internal inconsistencies, but when I’m working on my indexing project I still plan to include stuff from the Histories, even though most people don’t accept that as canon except to the extent that it informs the original works and is consistent. I’m not a literary scholar, so I don’t know how kosher that is, but I figure that if you want to know about Tolkien’s world, you want to know about everyone in it, right?
When I was a kid, I believed (and still do to some extent, though now I just admit that I know nothing about the afterlife but am looking forward to finding out what it’s like) that when we die we all go to heaven and it’s simultaneously the perfect place for every individual. So like my mom could be in a beautiful garden with my Daddy and I and yet somehow simultaneously Daddy could be with us in a perfectly green, energy-efficient house that he designed. Or whatever. But I just remembered that belief and thought, “hmm, I wonder if when I die I’ll go to Valinor.”
I’ve been watching short bits of Fellowship of the Ring before bed, and I’ve just been struck by how much those films can just get me, even though I’ve seen them so many times and every time I put them in I think “is this really going to be worth it?” I think the great thing about those films, though, is that they put such a deep, amazingly detailed literary universe in full colour, twelve hours of viewing, cinematic form. The scenes I find myself getting really excited about are those that just barely hint at the significance of, for example, Aragorn’s lineage. It’s funny to think that twelve hours of footage really just scratch the surface, but it’s true. There’s something extremely rewarding about reading thousands of pages of material but then feeling like the keyholder to the legacy, the one who gets all the jokes. It’s the same sort of feeling you get when you read the trilogy after having recently read the Silmarillion, when suddenly ever few words are pregnant with meaning. I sound like a complete nerd, I know, but I wonder if any other author’s quite managed this, to the point of feeling real triumph every time you re-read. Of course, if anyone knows of a comparable experience, please do let me know! For now, I’m off to re-read. Or, ooh! Maybe I can finally get started with the Unfinished Tales. *rubs hands together in nerdy glee*