Douglas Kane, an avid member of many Tolkien-related websites and forums under the alias Voronwe_the_Faithful, has accomplished what many so-called “Tolkien-scholars” can only dream of. His book, entitled Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion, has been accepted for publicaton by Lehigh University Press. Here follows a brief description of the book:
Voronwe leads TuorIn The History of Middle-earth , Christopher Tolkien documents in amazing detail the development of the lifelong work of his father, J.R.R. Tolkien, that would become The Silmarillion . However, neither Christopher Tolkien himself, nor anyone else, has ever thoroughly documented the final step: his actual creation (several years after his father’s death) of the published work.
That has finally changed. ARDA RECONSTRUCTED: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion reveals a tapestry woven by Christopher Tolkien from different portions of his father’s work that is often quite mind-boggling, with inserts that seemed initially to have been editorial inventions shown to have come from some remote other portion of Tolkien’s vast body of work. I demonstrate how material that was written over the course of more than 30 years was merged together. I also make a frank appraisal of the material omitted by Christopher Tolkien (and in a couple of egregious cases the material invented by him) and how these omissions and insertions may have distorted his father’s vision of what he considered—even more then The Lord of the Rings —to be his most important work. It is a fascinating portrait of a unique collaboration that reached beyond the grave.
When asked whether the Tolkien Estate had granted Kane permission to publish a book containing any copyrighted material, he responded: “No, I don’t have permission from the Tolkien Estate. I have limited the material that I have directly quoted as much as I can, paraphrasing material rather than directly quoting it wherever possible, and I believe that the result clearly falls within the ‘fair use’ exception to copyright law.” He also states that he did not have access to the Bodleian Library or other material currently in Christopher Tolkien’s collection: “I would say that the main source that I am missing is the material stored in Christopher’s head. It is of course impossible for me to truly duplicate his thought processes, or report on private conversations that he undoubtably had with his father that colored his decisions. There are many decisions that he made that he did not (in my opinion) adequately explain. Certainly he was in a better position than anyone else to interpret and anticipate his father’s intentions, but without his explicit statements, I could do no more than speculate about why he did certain things, and express my own views as to whether they were the right things to do, and why.”
Earlier this year Kane acquired the illustrative talents another member of some of the aforementioned Tolkien-related websites under the alias Breogan. Says Kane: “I greatly admire Breogan’s work. So I took a chance and checked with the publisher to ask whether it would be possible to include some illustrations. To my surprise, they said yes, so long as they are black and white, so I have asked Breogan to work with me on that, and she has agreed!
I was given the opportunity to sit down with Kane and ask him some questions, below is a transcript:
Will you describe your first experience reading aboutand if/how it affected you?
Sons of FeanorTo be honest, I only have vague memories of my first experiences reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, more than 30 years ago when I was twelve or thirteen. I definitely was entranced by the world that Tolkien created. I’m sure that there was some element of “escapism” in the sense that it was an opportunity to lose myself in a whole different universe, in which I somehow felt more comfortable than I did in the “real world”. But even back then, I’m sure that there was an element of being attracted to the moral message of Tolkien’s work. I don’t think that it would be an overstatement to say that reading and thinking about and discussing Tolkien’s writings has been one of the main influences on the development of the moral code that I live by (or at least try to live by).
I have clearer memories of my first exposure to The Silmarillion itself. I was a young man in my early twenties, and I had already read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit many times. I remember having a conversation with an acquaintance about the spiritual quality of Tolkien’s work. I mentioned something about Aragorn and Frodo and he replied in a somewhat scoffing tone something to the effect of “no, I mean his really spiritual stuff” (despite my affinity for The Silmarillion, I still don’t agree that The Lord of the Rings is not part of Tolkien’s “really spiritual stuff” but that’s another subject). I was vaguely aware that there was another book available called The Silmarillion that was referred to briefly in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings. I decided that I better check it out. From the opening line of the book, “There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar . . .” I was hooked. I had never encountered a work like this before, and I am sure that I never will. It has certainly had a greater influence on me than any other single work of literature that I have read before or since.
After devouring The Silmarillion I moved quickly to The Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth. When Christopher Tolkien began documenting his father’s work in The History of Middle-earth (HoMe) I soaked up each volume as quickly as I could find it. I found it all utterly fascinating; what a wonderful opportunity to observe the creative process of such a unique person! I became ever more astounded at the true breadth and scope of Tolkien’s work, and the secondary universe that he invented. I was a philosphy major in college, and I was perhaps most interested in learning more about the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of Tolkien’s work that were reflected in such works as The Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth and The Laws and Culture of the Eldar, as well as in some of the more expansive versions of some of the tales that make up The Silmarillion (and in his published letters, as well).
What made you decide a book should be written and published concerning the construction of The Silmarillion?
Well, that’s a complicated question to answer. I didn’t originally set out to write a book, and honestly I really never expected to have the work be published. It began with a question that came up at a messageboard that I help to run, thehalloffire.net. The question was “who wrote The Silmarillion?” We knew, of course, that Christopher Tolkien had edited his father’s work with the assistance of Guy Kay. And anyone who has read the volumes of HoMe would be able to gleam that there were some changes that the editors had made, some of which Christopher expressed regret over. But as remarkably extensive a job as Christopher did in tracing the history of his father’s work on ‘The Silmarillion‘ he provided just as remarkably little insight into the final step of the process, in which he created the final publish work with Guy Kay’s help. I thought it might be possible to get a sense of the scope of the changes that were made by comparing the text of the published book with the source material published in HoMe (and to some extent elsewhere). Originally, there were a group of us that were going to work on the project, but I was the only one that actually did so. I traced the source material paragraph by paragraph, attempting to detail every change that was made, large or small. In the course of doing so, I also started to comment on some of the trends that I was observing. This was all done in a public thread at thehalloffire.net, with people occasionally commenting on my work. More and more the comments started to move towards remarking about how fascinating the observations were, and that I really should consider seeking a wider audience for the project.
I continued to perservere through to the end, I think as much through sheer stubbornness as anything else. At that point I decided to go ahead and work it into an actual manuscript and seek a publisher for it. That took considerable more work. Once I was done with that, I sent out sample chapters to a bunch of different publishers, both those that had published works about Tolkien and also some other university presses that focused on literary criticism. I contacted about 50 publishers, and only two asked to see the full manuscript. One was the Lehigh University Press. They sent the manuscript to a well-known Tolkien scholar to read and review it. He eventually responded that he did not feel it was publishable in that form, but that there was the germ of a good book inside it. He provided extensive suggestions for revising the work and Lehigh asked me if I would be willing to attempt to do so. Because I saw the wisdom in his suggestions, I agreed to try, and set out to completely revamp the work. He suggested removing all of the details of the small changes that I discussed, in order to focus on the major changes. He also proposed removing all of the tracing of the source material by paragraph out of the text and into table format. Finally, he advised greatly elaborating on the commentary and explanations about the changes that I made, so that it became more a work of literary criticism and less just the raw data underlying the literary criticism. It really did require completely revamped the manuscript in response to his suggestions. Eventually I completed the changes and sent it back to Lehigh. They had the same scholar read it again, and this time he recommended publication.
How long did you spend on research before you began putting pen to paper?
That’s another complicated question to answer, as my response to the previous question suggests. On one level, all of my years of reading, analyzing and discussing Tolkien’s work could count as research for this project. On a different level, I didn’t spend any time researching before I began putting pen to paper (or rather typing on the computer) because I immediately started drafting the work as soon as I first responded to the original question. But I think that the best answer to the question is that the time that I spent actually tracing the source material and the changes that were made would count as “research”. I began the project in April of 2006, and I finished that first phase in November of that year. It then took me another two months of concentrated work to complete the original manuscript. The revision in response to Lehigh’s reader’s comments took me about three months.
How long have you known Breogan and what made you decide to utilize her artistic talents on this project?
I’ve never “met” Breogan, other than on-line. It is one of the wonders of the internet that I was able to develop such a close collaboration with someone who lives halfway around the world, and who I have never physically met. But I long have admired her work that I have seen at TORC [theonering.com], at thehalloffire.net, and at other places. There was a portrait of Andreth and Aegnor that she had done that I particularly admired, and when I presented a paper about my work at last years Mythopoeic Society conference, I asked her for permission to use that painting as part of my presentation, which she graciously granted. When I posted at TORC that my book had been accepted for publication, she (I think somewhat jokingly) made a small type comment in the thread asking if I needed an illustrator. Up to that point, I had not considered the possibility of including illustrations, but since I loved her work so much, I thought that it couldn’t hurt to ask the question. To my surprise, Lehigh responded that while color printing would be too expensive, I could include a number of black and white illustrations. I contacted Breogan and she agreed to work on some paintings for me. I discussed some scenes that I thought would be good to illustrate (mostly scenes that had been removed from the published text), and she set out to work on them. Her work is so extraordinarily detailed and lovely! But most importantly, it reflects my own imagination of Tolkien’s work remarkably well. There are a lot of great Tolkien illustrators, but for my book, I honestly believe that Breogan is the best possible choice, and I thank the powers that be for allowing me the privilege of working with her.
Do you have any plans to write anything further on the subject of Middle-earth or on any other subject?
Who knows? I don’t have any specific plans at this point, but I would never say never. My publisher has certainly encouraged me to think in terms of this being “my first book” and not necessarily my last. And I have made some wonderful contacts in the Tolkien scholarship world. Not surprisingly, the people involved in Tolkien scholarship — both the “big names” and the lesser known folk — are all really nice, fun, interesting people. For now, I just want to finish shepharding Arda Reconstructed to the finish line, but I definitely don’t rule out other projects. I certainly expect to continue to read, and think about, and discuss Tolkien’s work for the foreseeable future!
In a recent issue of Parma Nole, the Official Journal of Heren Istarion, The Northeast Tolkien Society, there appeared a version of the Introduction to Arda Reconstructed (not the final version that will appear). Kane elaborates further on the nature of his forthcoming work of non-fiction:
AthrabethI do not attempt to trace in this book the full history of the development of the tales that would become The Silmarillion (although I do describe some of that history where it is helpful in understanding the choices made by Christopher [Tolkien] in the creation of the published text). In addition to the extensive discussion of that history contained in the volumes of The History of Middle-earth, there are excellent summaries of the history of the material for each chapter in the entries for those individual chapterse in the Reader’s Guide. The essays by Scull, Hammond, Noad, and David Bratman in Tolkien’s Legendarium also provide helpful insights regarding that history.
As Christopher [Tolkien] states in the Foreword to The War of the Jewels (the second of the two volumes of The History of Middle-earth that covers the “later Silmarillion”), “the published work is not in any way a completion, but a construction devised out of the existing materials. those materials are now made available . . . and with them a criticism of the ‘constructed’ Silmarillion becomes possible. I shall not enter into that question . . . .” The purpose of this work is to “enter into that question”: to document the major changes, ommisions, and additions that were made to Tolkien’s work by Christopher [Tolkien] (and Guy Kay) in preparing The Silmarillion for publication, and to trace how the disparate source materials were used to create what is in essence a composite work.
According to Kane, Arda Reconstructed should at least be available through Amazon USA, as most of Lehigh’s other books are. He also states that his contract allows them to sell the book internationally, but does not know at this time whether that will happen. On the subject of the book’s release date Kane says, “The book does not yet have a confirmed release date, and it is likely not to be until some time next year (hopefully earlier rather than later).”