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Tolkien’s “Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation”

Tolkien (misc.)Posted by Morgan Thomsen Thu, December 11, 2014 04:14:30

When Christopher Tolkien edited a vast amount of his father’s manuscripts for publication in The History of Middle-earth series, he omitted certain texts due to constraints of space and editorial discretion. Generally speaking, these texts are either theological/philosophical or linguistic in nature, and were thus perceived to be of little or no interest to the general reader (see, for example, The War of the Jewels, XI:359). Much of this omitted material, however, have since appeared in specialised publications (most notably in issues of Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon), and the most recently published material appears in the French volume La Feullie de la Compagnie N° 3,* released on 3 December 2014. This material consists of three sets of formerly unpublished or partially published manuscripts by Tolkien, presented here under the collective title Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation. The manuscripts, appearing both in English and a French translation, have been edited by Michaël Devaux, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien and Carl F. Hostetter.

My intention here is not to offer an analysis of the meaning or importance of these texts; it is rather to present a brief description of Tolkien’s writings, and its associated editorial matter, in La Feullie de la Compagnie 3. Information in English about this new material is still sparse, and hopefully this summary could be of use when pondering whether or not to acquire a copy of the book.

Editorial introduction

Deveaux has composed an ambitious introduction, covering some 70 pages, to the Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation. The introduction consists of: (1) a general introduction to the material; (2) a detailed description of the manuscripts; (3) an analysis of the literary styles found in these writings and an “in-universe” analysis of the ideas found in the manuscripts; (4) a section containing both a glossary of Elvish terms appearing in the manuscripts, supplied by Carl Hostetter, and some notes specific to the French translation of certain terms; (5) a discussion of the ideas found in the manuscripts, with references to (real-world) philosophy, theology, geography, and general natural science.

In my opinion it is quite a drawback that the editor has chosen not to include an English translation of this introductory material (even Hostetter’s contribution, originally in English, appears only in French). Firstly, acquiring a copy of La Feullie de la Compagnie 3 is, as of now (and perhaps indefinitely?), the only way to access this new and quite substantial primary material by Tolkien, and non-French readers are much at a loss by not being able to consult the introduction. Secondly, with English being the lingua franca of Tolkien studies, it complicates the possibility of critical scholarship on these texts. And thirdly, relying on my somewhat rusty French, it is evident that Deveaux is a scrupulous Tolkien scholar and keen commentator, whose thoughts on the matter deserve to reach a wider audience.

Tolkien’s manuscripts

After the editorial introduction follow transcriptions of Tolkien’s manuscripts in a bilingual edition (presented side-by-side on opposite pages).†

I. The Converse of Manwë with Eru (ca. 1959)

In his Appendix to Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (published in Morgoth’s Ring, volume X in The History of Middle-earth), Christopher Tolkien noted the existence of “a text entitled The Converse of Manwë and Eru”, consisting of three manuscripts: “This work was planned as two-fold … and a second, more ample version of the ‘Converse’, was given up” (X:361). In Morgoth’s Ring, only the “original shorter recension” (ibid.) of the Converse appeared, reprinted here as manuscript A, The Converse of Manwë and Eru, together with two amendments (ca. 2 pages)‡. Manuscript B, The Converse of Manwë with Eru concerning the death of the Elves and how it might be redressed; with the comments of the Eldar added (ca. 14 pages), is the second part of the two-fold work, described by Christopher as “an elaborate philosophical discussion” (ibid.). And finally, manuscript C, Beginning of a revised & expanded version of ‘The Converse’ (ca. 4 pages), is the abandoned, “more ample” version of manuscript A.

II. Re-incarnation of Elves. The Númenórean Catastrophe & End of ‘Physical’ Arda (ca. 1959 – spring 1966)

The second set of texts, also noted in the Appendix to Athrabeth, is described by Christopher as a “hastily written manuscript on small slips of paper, entitled ‘Reincarnation of Elves’ (X:363). The first section, Re-incarnation of Elves, amounts to ca. 6 pages, and The Númenórean Catastrophe & End of ‘Physical’ Arda covers ca. 2 pages.

III. Some notes on ‘rebirth’, reincarnation by restoration among Elves. With a note on the Dwarves. (1972)

Among the “brief or fragmentary writings closely associated with [the Glorfindel manuscripts]” (The Peoples of Middle-arth, volume XII: 377), Christopher notes “a discussion of the question of Elvish reincarnation” (XII:382), existing in two versions. In The Peoples of Middle-earth, only the first version of the writing, and parts of second version of the final note on Dwarves, is given, while here appears the second version in its entirety (ca. 3 pages).


* It should be noted that the volume is an anthology (it has 502 pages in total), also containing articles in French about Tolkien and his works, some illustrations, and a bibliography of French Tolkien-related publications.

† A facsimile version of two manuscripts pages is reproduced at the very end of the section on Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation.

‡ Here, and below, the page numbers refer to the extent of only the English material, as it appears in La Feullie de la Compagnie 3 (it has a somewhat larger typesetting than employed in The History of Middle-earth). The page numbers are included to give readers an idea of the length of the primary material.

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