Tolkien’s Tales of the Elder Days (Guest Post by Linda White)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Elder Days Tales

You may have some familiarity with The Silmarillion and seen these newer works being published that are part of it. But maybe you are not sure where they came from, or how they fit in to the larger work. Here is the scoop: you can pick up any one of the three separate works from The Silmarillion that have been released as standalone volumes and enjoy it on its own. They are The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien, and The Fall of Gondolin. Some say the reading order should be publication order, but you would not be wrong to read Beren and Luthien first.

But what are they, and how did they get here? And why are some more complete than others? Here we’ll take a look a little bit at what I have come to understand as the evolution of the Tales of the Elder Days.

JRR Tolkien worked on the stories in The Silmarillion for years. He worked on the individual stories, and he worked to bring the entire opus together into his long-sought mythology of England. But after the success of The Hobbit, his publishers wanted “another hobbit story” and not a deep epic about elves and men. So during the years from the publication of The Hobbit in 1937 to the publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1954, his attention veered away by necessity more towards hobbits, which he strived to bring into the story of his larger mythology. However, this took much longer than he thought it would, and he was not able to spent time to pull together the pieces of The Silmarillion into a definitive arc. After the unbelievable success of The Lord of the Rings, he worked on The Silmarillion in bits and pieces, in between interview requests, answering fan letters, and the other demands of his sudden fame.

His publisher, Allen & Unwin, did not seem to be interested in anything other than the stories surrounding The Hobbit. They did not want Farmer Giles of Ham, and they didn’t want any pieces of The Silmarillion. So it was that his original stories, his magnus opus, was not published during his lifetime. The Silmarillion was finally published in 1977 as a total, but not quite completely polished, work.

At this point, his son Christopher was the literary executor of his estate, and seemed to share an affinity for the stories. He certainly had grown up knowing about them, if not reading them. After the publication of The Silmarillion, there seemed to be nothing left to do. But wait. There were mounds more of papers, sketches, snippets on scraps of paper, and different versions of some of the tales. More than had been included in the published edition of The Silmarillion.

Ultimately, it was decided that the most complete, and arguably, pivotal tales in the saga could be published in their most complete forms, and in the case of Beren and Luthien at least, along with little snippets of the story that differed somewhat from the most complete form of the tale.

Eventually, there would be three stories published, in separate editions over a period of years. These can be collectively called the Tales of the Elder Days, as Christopher Tolkien refers to them in his Introduction to the first one, The Children of Hurin. This one was published in 2007, and it is probably the most complete of the three that would be published as a stand-alone book.

Even though it refers to other stories that occur in The Silmarillion, much as The Lord of the Rings refers back to events in The Silmarillion itself, The Children of Hurin can be read as a complete story unto itself.

The next book to be published was Beren and Luthien in 2017. This particular tale is presented as more fragments, with commentary interspersed from Christopher Tolkien. Imagine trying to sort through all the papers and snippets, and make them into some kind of coherent whole. And yet, Christopher knew how important this story was to Tolkien. After all, Tolkien had the names carved on the tombstone of he and his wife, he Beren, and Edith, always, his Luthien. It was one of the first tales he had written after returning from the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during his convalescence the following year.

Soon after the publication of Beren and Luthien as a standalone, the world received The Fall of Gondolin in a similar lovely volume. As this seems to be the final episode in the First Age, and since Christopher Tolkien has retired as Director of the Tolkien Estate, it seems unlikely that we will get anything further in this series. However, since he retired in 2017 – and at 93 who can blame him? – and was known to be notoriously tight with rights to Tolkien’s works, it is highly likely that there will be more adaptations, more ways to enjoy the work that exists. The first inkling of this is the upcoming Amazon series, for which Amazon Prime is doling out teasers in incredibly maddening tiny tidbits.

Yet, it is unlikely that we will see any really new work. Christopher Tolkien had an understanding of and familiarity with his father’s work which is unlikely to ever be equaled. We still have The Lost Tales, which are the very first versions of these stories. And there are more Tolkien scholars delving deeply into every aspect of the work of Tolkien. But whether there will ever be any other tales taken from the larger works, expanded and edited, is doubtful.

Still, it is incredibly satisfying to have these three volumes to read, each of them a standalone and yet part of a whole. Each of them includes information pertinent to that particular story, and is the furthest one can delve into that part of the history of the First Age.

*This post is comprised of knowledge gleaned from many sources, and I can’t specifically cite segments, as I have integrated what I know and paraphrased most of it. These sources include The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth, and various articles and posts online. The quote about the publisher wanting “another hobbit story” is from somewhere in The Letters of JRR Tolkien.

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About the Author

A long-time reader and book collector, Linda is also a writer and is working on her first novel. She can be found on Instagram @lindabookmania where she loves to talk Tolkien, Harry Potter, and all things

fantasy. She runs the blog BookManiaLife and a website for writers called The Publishing Bones, as well as a boutique agency, BookMania. When not reading or writing, she might be gardening, hiking or dabbling in book arts.

Find me at and and on Twitter @LindaWonder

Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin and JRR Tolkien’s Heroes (Discussion)

Tolkien's Heroes


As I was reading The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien recently (read my review here), I was struck by a passage in the final version of the story where the protagonist Tuor walks into an abandoned city/throne room, finds a dazzling set of arms left behind, and promptly claims them as his own.  For the briefest of moments, I was confused.  Who finds expensive armor and just puts it on? But then I realized that Tuor’s sense that this was right, that the armor was meant for him (…turns out it was, actually) is something I love about Tolkien’s work.  Tuor is a hero with confidence, someone who knows he can achieve and is determined to set out to do it.  In this moment, the readers see Tuor as he is meant to be seen, a stern and mighty hero, destined to change the fate of Middle-Earth.

This isn’t something I see a lot of in other fantasy, which tends to emphasize the uncertainty of the hero/heroine as a way to help readers “relate” to a protagonist who is objectively doing extraordinary things.  Tolkien’s work, in contrast, often does not shy away from emphasizing the heroic nature of its characters (think, for instance, of Aragorn).  That isn’t to say that these characters don’t work hard or face challenges or have doubt.  They do.  But the world building of Middle-Earth and the existence of a higher power invests the characters with a steadiness of spirit I don’t always see in other protagonists.

Before I explain more, here’s the passage from The Fall of Gondolin I’m thinking of:

As he stood before the great chair in the gloom, and saw that it was hewn of a single stone and written with strange signs, the sinking sun drew level with a high window under the westward gable, and a shaft of light smote the wall before him, and glittered as it were upon burnished metal.  Then Tuor marvelling saw that on the wall behind the throne there hung a shield and a great hauberk, and a helm and a long sword in a sheath.  The hauberk hone as it were wrought of silver untarnished, and the sunbeam gilded it with sparks of gold.  But the shield was of a shape strange to Tuor’s eyes, for it was long and tapering; and its field was blue, in the midst of which was wrought an emblem of a white swan’s wing.  Then Tuor spoke, and his voice rang as a challenge in the roof: ‘By this token I will take these arms unto myself, and upon myself whatsoever doom they bear.’   And he lifted down the shield and found it light and wieldy beyond his guess; for it was wrought, it seemed, of wood, but overlaid by the craft of elven-smiths with plates of metal, strong y et thing as foil, whereby it has been preserved from worm and weather.

Then Tuor arrayed himself in the hauberk, and set the helm upon his head, and he girt himself with the sword; black were sheath and belt with clasps of silver.  Thus armed he went forth from Turgon’s hall, and stood upon the high terraces of Taras in the red light of the sun.  None were there to see him, as he gazed westward, gleaming in silver and gold, and he knew not that in that hour he appeared as one of the Mighty of the West, and fit to be the father of the kings of the Kings of Men beyond the Sea, as it was indeed his doom to be; but in the taking of those arms a change came upon Tuor song of Huor, and his heart grew great within him.

The Qualifications of a Hero

I read a lot of YA fantasy, so it makes sense that the protagonists, who are young people  finding their way in the world, often tend toward being uncertain about their roles as heroes.  Many of them don’t want the tasks that have been pressed upon them.  Many of them are “ordinary” people without particular skills that would “qualify” them to save the the world, the kingdom, their friends, etc.  Authors often think this helps make them “relatable” to readers, who generally also do not have badass archery skills or training in martial arts or a family with a history of greatness.  These are the stories of the Everyman rising up to do what needs to be done.  (Also, a lot of readers just hate the perceived arrogance of Chosen Ones.)

However, the difference between Tolkien’s heroes and these other fantasy heroes isn’t just their age or uncertainty or “unsuitableness” to be heroes because Tolkien has his Everyman heroes, too, most notably the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.  The difference is how confident even the Everyman can be when there is a sense of a guiding force in the universe.  Gandalf mentions this explicitly in The Lord of the Rings:

I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, than the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it, and that is an encouraging thought.

Although the characters of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (the two of Tolkien’s works that are most familiar to readers) don’t have religious rituals, the world of Middle-Earth is a deeply religious one, ruled over by Iluvatar and shaped by the Valar .  Iluvatar’s existence and the sense that he actively intervenes in the fate of Middle-Earth (not a trait shared by all deities) allow the characters to believe that, even if the journey is difficult, they will find the strength and resources to do what needs to be done.

It is this belief, I think, that allows Tuor to don that armor with such confidence.

A Higher Power

I’ve talked briefly before about how I don’t see a lot of religion in fantasy, not in the sense that the characters’ believes or actions are actively shaped by their faith.  (Sure, a character might stop by a temple or take the name of a god in vain, but I rarely see characters who say, for instance, “I am going to do x” or “I am not going to do y because of my faith.”)  And in a world where no higher beings exist, or the characters don’t think those deities care about humans or intercede on their behalf, then heroes must rely on their own skills, their own determination, and the help of their friends or allies to succeed at their missions.

Tolkien’s heroes, however, believe that Iluvatar and the Valar will intercede on their behalf, maybe not directly, but enough that they can always have hope, even in the darkest of places.  After Tuor takes his armor, he goes out to the sea and receives a mission from that Vala Ulmo to journey to the hidden city of Gondolin and warn King Turgon that he must march against Morgoth, if there is to be a chance of defeating the Dark Lord.

Tuor is willing but a bit skeptical, and Ulmo tells him:

“If I choose to send thee, Tuor son of Huor, then believe not that they one sword is not worth the sending.”

Even when things go wrong, Tuor, like Frodo, can find solace in the fact that he was meant to undertake the journey.


So, while I initially began reading Tuor as oddly presumptive and arrogant, I quickly came around to the idea that his confidence is warranted; he has the guidance and love of higher powers who will help him on his journey.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.  It doesn’t even mean the the journey will succeed.  It simply allows him to have faith in his own mission and his ability to do what must be done.