AN INTRODUCTION TO PAUL CORFIELD GODFREY'S CYCLE OF WORKS BASED UPON THE LEGENDARIUM OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN

My own interest in the works of Tolkien goes back now for over sixty years.  I think it was in 1956 that I was given a copy of The Hobbit by my then sister-in-law Lois Mitchison (daughter of the novelist Naomi Mitchison whose recommendation of The Lord of the Rings originally appeared on the dust-jackets of the first edition).  At that time I was so overwhelmed by it that I spent a considerable amount of time creating a dramatic adaptation of sections of The Hobbit and dragooning all my neighbours and friends into performing parts.  I might note in passing that my perverse admiration for villains rather than heroes was clearly prefigured in my preference in these dramatic recitals for the character not of the clearly sympathetic Bilbo Baggins but for the morally flawed and unsuccessful Thorin Oakenshield; this may be regarded as having some bearing on my later treatment of the similar characters of Fëanor and Túrin.

 

Following this initial attempt at a Tolkien stage-work, it may seem odd that I did not then proceed to an acquaintance with The Lord of the Rings, which had just then been published; but, be that as it may, I did not.  In fact, I did not read The Lord of the Rings until ten years later, when my enthusiasm for the works of Middle-Earth was at once rekindled.

 

During these years, although I had learned to read music, undergone some lessons in elementary harmony, and had even undertaken some embarrassingly naive compositions, the fact that my mother was a visual artist had the result that my own aesthetic leanings in those years had also tended towards the visual arts.  I will not say that reading Tolkien afresh at the age of sixteen awoke my musical sensibilities (other things happened at that time which I am inclined to think may have had considerably more significance), but it is certain that my first major orchestral work was intended to be a suite of short

symphonic sketches and songs inspired by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  I still have some of the drafts for this work (which was never completed) and, although a woeful and often embarrassing lack of experience is apparent, a not

inconsiderable number of the musical motifs and themes in these drafts often found their way (in a transmuted guise) into later works.  The initial idea for the theme of Sauron in Beren and Lúthien is one such.

 

Slowly but surely over the years these “symphonic sketches” grew, and by the early 1970s I had drafted a grandiose design for performing The Lord of the Rings (incorporating The Hobbit) as an opera cycle which would have extended over thirteen

evenings!  Although none of the operas ever reached completion, both the evenings which would have constituted The Hobbit were fully drafted and the opera The Black Gate is closed (Book IV of  The Lord of the Rings) was substantially scored—again, possibly, my liking for the flawed character attracting me to Gollum’s crisis at an early stage.  Some of the sections written then I still find worthwhile; other ones, less so.

 

In any event, the whole idea foundered when I approached United Artists, who had then recently acquired film rights to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, enquiring about the possibility of arranging performances of The Hobbit section of the cycle, to be encountered with a flat refusal to consider the possibility.  Much of the material already drafted, and now abandoned, has since found its way into other works; and some of the other items, particularly the song settings, have only very recently found their way into recordings.  However, some of the purely orchestral material for The Hobbit was performed in London in 1971, and other parts of it have emerged in my Third Symphony Ainulindalë and my rondo for solo piano Akallabêth, subsequently re-emerging in material for The Silmarillion.  Other later works written in the late 1970s and 1980s, such as the setting of Shadow-Bride (performed in London in 1977) and Daeron (performed in South Wales in 1985) also formed material which was subsequently incorporated into The Silmarillion. Both have also been recorded more recently.

 

When The Silmarillion was first published, I found the tale of Túrin Turambar immediately attracted me as the possible

foundation of a dramatic work.  It was at once less discursive and extensive than others of the tales in The Silmarillion, and (presumably as a result of its early separation, initially as a long alliterative poem and then later as a story in its own right) was generally fairly self-contained.  However, the very brevity of much of the writing meant that dramatic situations would have to be largely the manufacture of the composer, and I was at this stage reluctant to undertake the sort of tinkering with the

author’s intentions which would be involved (the later adaptations required for Beren and Lúthien, and even more

extensively for The Fall of Gondolin, left little choice in the matter).  The later publication of the Unfinished Tales resolved the problem; there was now plentiful (in places, indeed, excessive!) material which could be employed.  And, as soon as I realised this, I wrote at once to Rayner Unwin as Tolkien’s publisher, but was told in no uncertain terms that the Tolkien family would refuse any rights unless they were able to hear some of the musical material and approved it. Faced with that challenge, I corralled a friendly pianist and produced a recording of the prologue to The Children of Húrin, myself both singing the role of Morgoth (with my head in a bucket to provide amplification) and speaking the role of the defiant Húrin. Much to my amazement, now as well as then, Rayner Unwin and Christopher Tolkien appreciated what I was driving at and were positively co-operative in helping me to sculpt a useable libretto from the alternative versions of the material including some manuscript drafts that were at the time unpublished.

 

An additional problem now presented itself.  I had originally thought of the proposed work as a straightforward opera,

presented in conventional scenes; but it soon became clear that, since some excision of the various episodes in the original story was essential to keep the work within reasonable bounds (in The Children of Húrin Mîm and the outlaws were early casualties) there was also a need for a narrative element which might provide some commentary, and this was resolved by

incorporating some choral episodes into the interludes between scenes.  This choral element was somewhat increased as work on the score progressed, until in later works like Fëanor it completely takes over the whole action for the first three scenes.  The result is something of a hybrid; although The Silmarillion could well be staged as a series of operas, it could also be

performed in a purely concert version and thus might be attractive to choral societies as an alternative to similar semi-dramatic works such as The Dream of Gerontius or The Damnation of Faust.  The chorus thus assumes the role of the teller of the tales, filling both a functional and a dramatic role.  Against this background the soloists assume the dramatic function.

 

When the score for The Children of Húrin was completed, the Tolkien Society of Great Britain arranged for a performance – with piano accompaniment – as part of the festivities at their ‘Oxonmoot’ in 1982. We rehearsed for the recital at Priscilla Tolkien’s house in Oxford, using the piano that had belonged to Tolkien’s wife Edith, and with Tolkien’s daughter herself in the chorus. At that time I had no intention of proceeding further with any settings of texts from The Silmarillion, but was immediately besieged with requests that I should undertake such further work; and I was assured by Priscilla that among her father’s manuscripts there were substantial amounts of further material that might be employed. Following the performance I was sent a draft libretto by Denis Bridoux for a proposed Beren and Lúthien.  This was wildly different in almost every way from the final text as used in the cycle, which derives from my own drafts made at that time; scenes that he had included, I had omitted, and vice versa; and the two versions had not even been able to agree in a three-act structure where the breaks between acts should fall.  Nonetheless this in its turn set me thinking, and expanded my thinking in a somewhat alarming direction.  I had already been perturbed by the sheer weight of explanation which had perforce been omitted from Húrin and, idly toying with the idea, sketched out in one evening a complete four-opera cycle.  Between them these four legends contained a brief summary of the whole history of the First Age of Middle-Earth.

 

I immediately dismissed the idea as nonsense; I wrote to Helen Armstrong of the Tolkien Society in January 1983 that there was nothing like enough text for a first act of Fëanor and far too many characters involved for straightforward explanation to be possible; also that there was no text at all for the end of The Fall of Gondolin (unless one returned to a wholesale reworking and rewording of the early 1917-1920 drafts), and that there were dreadful gaps in structure everywhere.  But over a period of more than ten years Christopher Tolkien almost annually produced in The History of Middle-Earth substantial volumes of unpublished poetry and prose which expanded upon the legends in a manner that yielded the words for three further sets of what I called ‘epic scenes,’ making up what I then viewed as a complete cycle of four evenings. The three ‘great tales’ (as Tolkien called them) of Beren and Lúthien, The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin were preceded by an prefaratory work entitled Fëanor which served as an introduction to the legends, and indeed to the Silmarils themselves.

 

I would like to make some observations on the manner in which I approached the Tolkien texts.  It was immediately apparent when I came to look at the story of The Children of Húrin that it would be impossible to render the work fully self-contained without also including  substantial  explanatory   references  to  other sections of The Silmarillion, which in their turn would seriously unbalance the work; music is not at its best when dealing with extensive explanations, even in Wagner.  Such basic premises of the plot as who Morgoth was, how Húrin’s family came to be in Dor-lómin, or even how Húrin came to be in Morgoth’s power at all, had to be taken on trust.  Some other names could be glossed for the benefit of “non-specialist”

audiences (for example, “the earth” could be substituted for “Arda” where it occurs) but others, such as Angband or Doriath, could not, and again these had to be taken as read.

 

Faced with these explanatory problems, Christopher Tolkien did at one stage suggest to me that any attempt to preserve

narrative appearances should be foregone; but I was anxious as far as possible to maintain a dramatic unity and, moreover, amongst all these considerations to retain wherever feasible the exact wording of the author (again, in Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin, where the original texts were written at different periods and in vastly different styles, other

compromises had to be sought).  Obviously all these were incompatible criteria, but with the assistance of Christopher

Tolkien I contrived to overcome some of them.

 

The composition of the music to explicate all this took me some fifteen years, during which I was also of course involved in the writing and performance of other works. But I was not altogether prepared for the reception that the complete cycle would receive when it was completed. The very name of Tolkien appeared to conjure up the notion of a massively unperformable construction on a gargantuan scale – similar considerations seem to have deterred the many attempts made over the years to film The Lord of the Rings until Peter Jackson took up the challenge later – and although I attempted to meet these objections by preparing smaller-scale versions of individual sections, nobody seemed to be willing to even attempt to tackle any part of the whole. Even when Simon Crosby Buttle approached me some three years ago we initially only considered the performance of some sections of the score with chamber accompaniment, and it was not until three further factors entered the equation that our ambitions began to expand. In the first place Simon discovered the potential of the sampled (as opposed to synthesised) orchestra and suggested that we should look at the possibility of using these sounds as the basis of recordings. Then his enthusiasm for the work began to attract the attention of other singers in the Welsh National Opera, several of whom were willing to take part in these recordings – purely as an attempt to realise the music, and not with any thought of commercial profit. And the final part of the equation came from Prima Facie Records who, agreeably surprised by the level of sales of their CD featuring some of my chamber music and songs (including some Tolkien settings) agreed to release any new recordings on an international market. Quite suddenly other elements began to fall into place: Ted Nasmith, who had already produced sets of illustrations for various published editions of The Silmarillion, agreed to provide cover artwork as part of a profit-sharing exercise, and arrangements were made to recompense the singers for their time and effort (originally freely volunteered) from any profits that arose from the sales of the CDs.

 

I had never expected that there would be any further expansion necessary to a work that was already extended enough in its duration and its sheer scale. Indeed, in the introduction to the score of The Fall of Gondolin I quite specifically stated that the admittedly inconclusive ending of that work brought my labours in the field of The Silmarillion to an effective end, if only because Tolkien himself had failed to provide any usable material for the final segment of his legend. Much of the material he had written back in the early 1920s had related to wildly different versions of the legends and bore little resemblance to the final shape of that mythology; and his final work in that sphere, a brief and somewhat mysterious rewriting of the final pages made in the late 1930s, still showed evidence of earlier versions of the tales which had not yet been perfectly adumbrated into the work as a whole. Under the circumstances it seemed to me best to provide an admittedly artificial conclusion to The Fall of Gondolin which could be regarded as rounding out the cycle in a manner that for Tolkien enthusiasts would never be more than a stop-gap but which might hopefully be regarded as forgivable under the circumstances.

 

Some eight years later I did provide a sort of extension to that text in the form of my setting of Bilbo’s Lay of Eärendil as

presented in The Fellowship of the Ring, which served in some ways to provide an oblique glance at the later development of the mythology in its final stages. This was partially written in order to provide a brief synthesis of some of the Silmarillion music which by that stage I was regarding as unlikely ever to be performed, and also because I had long been attracted by the notion of making a setting of what is after all Tolkien’s longest continual piece of completed lyrical writing in the whole of his mythology.

 

However at the time when the recording of the cycle of epic scenes was already drawing towards completion after four or five years of continual work, Simon Crosby Buttle suggested to me that there might indeed be a case to be made for providing a full fifth segment of ‘epic scenes’ which would bring the Silmarillion cycle to a conclusion in a manner closer to that which Tolkien had intended. I was initially sceptical. For reasons that I had explained in my introduction to the score of The Fall of

Gondolin written twenty years earlier, I did not regard there as being sufficient material to provide a satisfactory musical

framework to cover these episodes. Simon set out to try and prove otherwise, and produced a lengthy and in many ways most remarkable compendium of material which demonstrated to my mind with some conclusiveness that I might have been over-hasty in my reluctance to look at the existing material in a more constructive light. The result is perhaps dramatically unbalanced, with the story of Eärendil in the centre overweighing the remainder; but at the same time this may have been something close to what Tolkien himself might have intended, and there was an additional consideration that could be brought into play here.

 

This arose from my treatment of the ‘love scene’ in Beren and Lúthien, where I had employed Aragorn’s much later song from The Fellowship of the Ring as a framework surrounding a series of brief vignettes drawn from Tolkien’s other dramatic writing on the same legend. These were then subsumed into a musical whole which in the case of the Beren and Lúthien scene took the form of a musical rondo. It occurred to me that Bilbo’s lengthy narrative poem could be similarly employed, although the sheer discursiveness of the music meant that it would be much more symphonically organised and that the narrative chorus

surrounding the scenes would assume a greater degree of both musical and dramatic significance. This central section of the legend could then be surrounded by earlier material extending the plot of Fëanor to a point where the intervention of the sons of Fëanor in the ‘matter of the Silmarils’ could be fully explored, but would also then provide a lead into material relating to the end of the First Age of Middle-Earth (which Bilbo’s song completely omits). It also seemed to me then that it might be legitimate to extend the story of the First Age further bringing it up to a point where it would actually make contact with the plot of The Lord of the Rings, which would of course already be familiar to most listeners.

 

The interesting thing in all of this is that Tolkien himself may perhaps have had some similar notion. There has long been a mystery attached to the history of his treatment of the text of Bilbo’s Lay of Eärendil, where Christopher Tolkien suspected

that he may have continued to revise and work on the poem even after the final version had been sent to the printers. But one of the peculiar things about this is that the version as initially published omits all references to the actions of the Sons of Fëanor in the raid of Eärendil and Elwing’s dwelling at the Mouths of Sirion, which leads to their exile and their mission to Valinor. It may well be that Tolkien, who had already excised Eärendil’s encounter with Ungoliant from earlier versions of his poem, was further abridging the legend and may have intended to reduce the role of the sons of Fëanor to a greater degree. This in turn would have meant drastic alterations to the course of the plot regarding the final fate of the Silmarils, the relationship

between Maedhros and Maglor, and (as we can see in late sketches) the abandonment altogether of one or another of Fëanor’s young twin sons, who in later versions meets a very different fate much earlier in the development of the mythology. It is unclear indeed how these matters might ever have been resolved, although some vague glimpses may be seen from the fact that references to “the Sons of Fëanor” are altogether omitted from the text of the first edition of The Lord of the Rings (they were introduced in the second edition ten years later).

 

Inevitably, given the fragmentary nature of the source material, the text for The War of Wrath lacks dramatic cohesion. The Epilogue in particular caused considerable problems. At one stage I contemplated the use of ‘Bilbo’s Last Song’, either in the form that Tolkien revised it in the late 1960s or in its earlier 1930s version as Vestr am haf, but eventually I concluded that the poem itself was too bound up with the events of The Lord of the Rings to be satisfactory in a Silmarillion context. I accordingly took up a suggestion by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull that I should investigate the possibilities of using some of Tolkien’s early poems, and I saw potential in the lengthy poem Kortirion which he had written in 1915 but had subjected to later revision including a final overhaul in the 1960s when the verses were considered for inclusion in the published collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Tolkien himself rejected such an idea – “they would overbalance the boat” – but it seemed to me that some selection from the lengthy poem, celebrating the continuing presence of the ideals represented by the Elves in the modern world, would make a perfect conclusion to a cycle which sought to encapsulate The Silmarillion as a whole, and to The War of Wrath in particular where the Prologue had included a setting of The shores of Valinor, one of the very earliest of Tolkien’s verses on the subject of Middle-Earth. The parallels were underlined by the use of the original Anglo-Saxon verse couplet about Earendel which had first inspired the author, given in the Elvish translation which he had contrived for use by Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. The completed cycle now therefore not only encapsulates the historical scope of Tolkien’s writing on the First Age but also seeks to go further and bind together his work on the ‘matter of Middle-Earth’ through the whole of his literary career.

 

PAUL CORFIELD GODFREY

IN TOLKIEN'S OWN WORDS

The initial impetus to write these further observations came when I noticed, during the recording of Morwen’s farewell to Túrin in The Children of Húrin, that one pronoun in Tolkien’s text had been accidentally altered during the transfer from the original manuscript score to the computerised version used to print the vocal parts. Helen Greenaway, the singer concerned, was happily philosophical about my discovery: “We do want it to be correct...someone’s bound to notice!!!” This in turn chimed with an observation of Marion Milford, singing the same role in Oxford in 1983, that she had found it slightly alarming to be performing for an audience where she was convinced that every listener knew every word of the text better than she did. And this in turn sparked off the thought that nobody had ever really commented upon the fact that my adaptation of Tolkien’s original words for The Silmarillion had frequently entailed some minor adjustments of the precise words that the author had used; nor had I at any time written anything to explain those adjustments.

Now in the case of many authors such alterations of their precise words and phrasing would not be of any great significance; but that is decidedly not so with J R R Tolkien. With the publication of The History of Middle-Earth we can see how over the course of composition he precisely honed the words in The Lord of the Rings, constantly making changes in word order and vocabulary in order to achieve the exact effect which he sought. Even after the books were published, he continued to tinker with the text in a manner which is precisely and elaborately enumerated in their Readers’ Companion to The Lord of the Rings by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, published in conjunction with their revised edition of 2004-5. But many of those later amendments seem to have arisen from happenstance, either factual discrepancies arising from earlier drafts or simply printer’s errors or unauthorised resetting. Only rarely did they arise from other considerations, as when Tolkien toned down one of Aragorn’s more waspish responses to Gimli at Helm’s Deep.

Tom Shippey has pointed out in his two monographs on Tolkien The Road to Middle-Earth and Author of the Century that the result achieved by the author was quite distinctive. The tone, the exact words and even the grammatical order of sentences varied according to which of the characters was speaking: this ranged from the ‘high style’ of Denethor and Théoden, through the more practical and business-like hobbits and the staccato delivery of the dwarves, to the debased forms of Gollum and the Orcs. At the same time other characters, such as Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo, seemed to be able to metamorphose from one style to another depending on whom they were addressing. And Tolkien himself pointed out his deliberate use of the second personal singular (“thee, thou”) as an important distinction when Denethor contemptuously confronts Gandalf for the last time, or when Éowyn abruptly shifts case from the formal to the intimate during her plaintive appeal to Aragorn.

In The Silmarillion too Tolkien makes extensive use of the archaic forms of the second person pronoun, but because of the nature of the texts here their use is far less clear-cut than in The Lord of the Rings. The earliest versions of the stories in The Book of Lost Tales are exclusively in the mediaeval style, using “thou” and “ye” according to whether the persons addressed are singular and plural. Even in later works written after the completion of The Lord of the Rings, such as Of the Ents and the Eagles, Tolkien adhered to the older style; although this fact is obscured by the fact that Christopher Tolkien, when editing the text for inclusion in the published Silmarillion, amended the use of the second person pronoun to conform with modern usage. Here the general principle appears to be that the Valar continue to employ the old style (what might be regarded as the vocabulary and grammar of the King James Bible) while all the other characters adopt the usage of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Morgoth however seems to use the “thou, thee” mode of address as a sort of studied insult, like Denethor denigrating Gandalf, whether he is talking to Ungoliant or Húrin (both texts written after the completion of The Lord of the Rings) although in his conversations with Fëanor he adopts a more oblique and circumspect manner making plentiful use of the third person. In my own versions of the text for the “epic scenes from The Silmarillion” I have adopted Christopher Tolkien’s similarly pragmatic approach, although in the Prologue to The Children of Húrin I have allowed Morgoth to occasionally slip into a more modern style – “but upon all whom you love” rather than “but upon all whom thou lovest”. That does however match Tolkien’s own usage in the Narn i Chîn Húrin. Elsewhere the Valar constantly employ the old-fashioned style of address, and indeed in the final phrases of their dialogue I allow Morgoth to revert to that style when cursing Húrin, using the version of his words cited in The Silmarillion rather than those in the Narn.

 

An even more serious consideration in the text of the epic scenes is however the matter of rhythmic syntax. Tom Shippey draws attention, inevitably, to the curiously poetic style Tolkien employed in The Lord of the Rings when describing the adventures of the hobbits with Tom Bombadil. The verse and the prose seem to be almost inextricably intertwined, with some passages of narration rendered as poetry while other stretches of dialogue not only contain a persistent metrical impulse but even internal rhyming schemes. But this ambiguity is not solely confined to the Bombadil scenes. Throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien the poet continually makes his presence felt by the pattern of underlying rhythms which inform vast stretches of the dialogue (especially with characters who employ the “high style”) but even in prose narration. “Helms too they chose” was singled out for criticism by Hugh Brogan in a letter to Tolkien as an example of unjustified archaism, and although Tolkien responded with a robust defence of the notion of “high style” he refrained, perhaps deliberately, from pointing out the clear musical cadence which underlies the otherwise extreme reversal of the usual and expected word order. Indeed there is a precise echo of exactly this same rhythm a whole volume later when in The ride of the Rohirrim he again reverses the expected word-order: “Forth rode the King” and “Forth rode Théoden.”

In the sketches for The Lord of the Rings published in The History of Middle-Earth one can frequently see Tolkien deliberately selecting his words in order to achieve such an effect; at other times he seems to have done it almost instinctively. But the result, whether intentional or no, can be clearly heard in places during the BBC radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings where Tolkien’s largely unchanged dialogue is delivered by sympathetic actors, admittedly by some more effectively than by others.

But of course when we consider the texts for The Silmarillion, with the possible exception of the later versions of The Fall of Gondolin and The Children of Húrin (both left unfinished and unrevised at the author’s death), none of the constituent materials of the mythology received the same measure of metric honing from Tolkien. It is for that reason that I have taken it upon myself to revise the exact wording in many places of the text of the epic scenes, as well as rendering various poetic passages into prose during sections of Beren and Lúthien. At all such times I have been guided not only by the need to ensure comprehensibility (which entailed the alteration of some words) but also by the wish to create a rhythmic patterning in the text which can be reflected in turn in the music itself. At one time during the 1970s, I consciously adopted in some of my Tolkien settings a very precise metrical notation of the sung rhythms, which was intended to avoid the sense of rhythmic monotony which I feared might otherwise set in; but I soon abandoned such attempts, because I found that singers became more preoccupied with reproducing the exactly written rhythms rather than the meaning of the words, which was not only counter-productive but also obscured the very effect I was seeking to achieve. Some amendments were consequently made to the actual written notes when the printed scores were being prepared in the 1990s.

Where however I could not contrive a solution was in the matter of the re-assignment of dialogue. Now that Tom Shippey has drawn our attention to it, readers of The Lord of the Rings cannot fail to realise the manner in which Tolkien’s precise style is employed to delineate specific characters. When words are transferred from one character to another, there can be a falsity imported into the dialogue which can seriously distort that characterisation. In Peter Jackson’s film of The Lord of the Rings much of the re-assignment is carefully done, but even so I do find that the assumption by Éowyn of Faramir’s vision of the drowning of Númenor rings a false note (and Éowyn in any event is not of Númenorean descent), and Gandalf’s description of the shores of Valinor to Pippin during the siege of Gondor (taking a narrative passage from the end of the book, in a completely different style) similarly jars in its context.

In The Silmarillion on the other hand the differentiated tone of the speech assigned to the individual characters is however almost entirely absent, except in the case of the late Gondolin and Húrin texts already mentioned. I had little compunction therefore in the wholesale transfer of sections of dialogue from one character to another, especially when passages from The Lay of Leithian were being simultaneously transmuted from poetry to prose; thus Lúthien at the end of Scene Six takes over one extensive stretch of dialogue from Huan, and Beren in Scene Three commandeers one verse in rhyming couplets from Lúthien sometime much later in the story. It is in this context, also, that the two lovers can appropriate Sam’s In western lands from The Lord of the Rings without seeming totally ludicrous – or at least so I hope – in order to plug an inexplicable gap left in Tolkien’s narrative poem. In the final sections of The Fall of Gondolin such adaptations of material originally written by Tolkien for substantially different contexts form the greater part of the sung text; and I am gratified that objection from the realms of Tolkien fandom has not only been absent, but that even a reviewer such as Chris Seeman has gone so far as to commend the use of extraneous verse in that connection.

So, at the end of the day, it may not be true that even if “someone’s bound to notice”, they will necessarily take exception to the alterations which I have made to the text – and hopefully now, if belatedly, justified. Under the circumstances there may indeed be no “correct” solution to the many problems that Tolkien bequeathed in his tangled web of sketches and differing versions, especially if none of them ever reached what he might have regarded as a final and completed form. One notes that even when The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were already set up in print ready for publication, he continued to tinker with the proofs and make some quite substantial alterations. One cannot doubt that he would have done the same with The Silmarillion even if the text had reached a much more ‘finished’ form than we possess.

That is even more of a consideration when we look at the tangled history of the poetic narrative of The Lay of Eärendil, where even the author seems to have been totally confused as to what exactly the final form of the verse should take. But that is another question entirely, which is explored in exhaustive detail both in a complete chapter of Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle-Earth and discussed further by Hammond and Scull in their Readers’ Companion. When I myself came to set the poem as an appendix to my Silmarillion cycle, I made some additions and alterations to the text as published in The Fellowship of the Ring without adhering slavishly either to that version or the possibly final revision (as given in Hammond and Scull’s Companion and The Treason of Isengard). In this I was guided both by the wish to provide a greater clarity of narrative line (Tolkien’s published text is far from clear exactly in what manner Elwing is ‘flying’ to Eärendil, or indeed what she is flying from) while adhering to the formation of text to which I had, I admit, become accustomed over many years.

And these considerations loom even larger when we come to consider the text for the final segment of The Silmarillion which I recently completed with the title of The War of Wrath drawn from Tolkien’s own title for the final chapter of his narrative – which exists only in one very sketchy outline and a more expanded epilogue, both of which in many ways disagree with the original version of the mythology. Initially, as I have elsewhere explained on several occasions, my thoughts were that there was far from sufficient textual material to furnish the elements for such a work, and it was only after the recording of the complete cycle was already under way that Simon Crosby Buttle sought to persuade me otherwise. The text as set owes much to his persistence and his suggestions for elements that could and should be included. But the discrepancies and evolution of the motives of the sons of Fëanor, for example, are subjects which seem to have been in a state of continual change throughout the course of Tolkien’s writings, which remain uncertain even as to such basic considerations as how many of the sons actually survived to become involved in the wars of Middle-Earth.

The question of ‘tone’ in the construction of the text becomes, of course, even more of a serious problem with this material. Particular consideration needs to be given to what Shippey in his later book identifies as Tolkien’s almost chameleon-like approach to the English language – compare the tone of the Book of Lost Tales to the encounter between Caranthir and Eöl in Maeglin, or Saruman’s political newspeak, or at its most extreme Théoden, Merry and Pippin at Isengard where completely different styles jostle each other to comic effect in consecutive paragraphs. Shippey’s comments on the ‘chaotic committee meeting’ that constitutes the council of Elrond are particularly trenchant here – and how far indeed should I seek to parallel those shifts (Gimli, Saruman, Boromir, Elrond, Isildur, Denethor all speaking different types of English and others such as Aragorn and Gandalf moving from one to another) in different forms in musical terms. Even Smaug in The Hobbit switches in a split second from the tone of a supercilious English country squire to that of an avenging demon, and Tolkien manages the transformation with superb sleight of hand.

But with the actual story of Eärendil the only vaguely mature version of any of the story is what Christopher Tolkien described as the ‘mysterious’ reworking of the final pages which were apparently written at about the time that the Quenta Silmarillion was finally abandoned in 1937.  Tolkien’s text is fine as far as it goes, but it has the annoying habit of cutting away into reported speech at climaxes, especially when Maedhros overbears Maglor during their argument. And the following response of Eönwë constitutes a rather bald summary; I cannot believe that in any extended dialogue Tolkien would not have found a clearer way of exploring the moral dilemma which here confronts the Valar. It is unfortunate too that Tolkien’s dialogue totally peters out at this point.

I have worried in the past about the sheer amount of the story which has had perforce to be consigned to the chorus in their role as narrator (the first triptych of Fëanor only the most prominent example, there are others in scenes two and six of The Children of Húrin which are particularly pertinent here).  In my own text for The Silmarillion I allowed myself considerable freedom in adapting Tolkien’s original material to its context, but I carefully avoided adding anything extraneous or new to that material even when excision of discrepancies might have required it. Christopher Tolkien also allowed two contradictory reasons for the echoes of Lammoth to appear in the published Silmarillion, although elsewhere he deliberately made alterations to avoid such clashes. I allowed a greater latitude to my own treatment here – Norse mythology has several explanations for Wotan’s loss of an eye, none of them compatible with another unless he had a multitude of eyes to sacrifice in various causes – and I would imagine that Bilbo, who is presumably supposed to have compiled the text of The Silmarillion, would have found such discrepancies in his sources also (especially in historical periods before the birth of Elrond, or about which the latter could not be expected to have personal knowledge). In my selection of text for musical setting, however, I deliberately sidestepped any such concerns allowing a vague legendary feel to substitute for precise motivation: not only the departure of Tuor over the sea after the fall of Gondolin, but also Túrin’s capture by the Orcs, how Finrod came to Middle-Earth, how exactly Lúthien overcame Sauron, and so on.

By comparison with the earlier sketches for these scenes, Maedhros certainly adopts a more quiescent attitude not only in his later dispute with Maglor, but also (in the passage from the Grey Annals quoted in the published Silmarillion) in his conversation with Fingolfin. And Amrod and Amras too, in the very brief glimpse we get of them in the late essay The Shibboleth of Fëanor (where one of them is actually killed) seem to have very quiescent personalities which accord ill with their enthusiastic participation in the sack of Sirion (very briefly summarised in a passage written over forty years earlier). Indeed I strongly suspect that if Tolkien had ever returned to this period of ‘history’ we would have found that the prime movers in the attack on Arvernien would have been assigned to Curufin and Caranthir, who were clearly being set up as the more ill-intentioned of Fëanor’s sons in Tolkien’s later writings, not only in Beren and Lúthien but also in Maeglin – we find him arguing with himself over Caranthir’s motivation in notes on the latter. That would have meant of course the complete rewriting of the extremely sketchy texts on the fall of Doriath, which are in themselves a tangled web of contradictions.

Tom Shippey frequently points out places where Tolkien himself had great difficulty in finding the right words and style to express his meaning. And there remain some missing elements, with the curiously dispassionate view of Elrond and Elros’s parents to the eventual fate of their captive children not the least of these. Mandos in some early drafts of The Silmarillion is given extraordinary prophetic powers, and there are some very curious and interesting passages in the debate of the Valar after the death of Miriel (see Morgoth’s Ring) which directly reference the coming of Eärendil. But the narrative of the battle in which Morgoth is finally defeated is definitely unsatisfactory as it stands, and it is odd that in the version of The Drowning of Andûne written in conjunction with the Notion Club Papers during 1946 Tolkien appears to have reverted to the earlier 1930s version of the myth where Eärendil’s voyage fails to elicit intervention from the Valar who specifically state that they are forbidden to interfere in the affairs of Middle-Earth – in direct contradiction, or so it seems, to Elrond’s statement to his assembled council written some eight years before, although it might be regarded as underlying Bilbo’s poem as mentioned earlier. It is not the only occasion on which Tolkien seems to have backtracked on his own invention, although (like Morgoth’s absence from the destruction of the Trees in a late 1950s revision) he seems to have reverted to his original idea when it came to construct a new opening paragraph for the Appendices in the second edition of The Lord of the Rings in 1966. Maybe by that stage he had simply got himself confused, which would be readily understandable.

It is certainly the case that The War of Wrath can immediately be seen to consist of a far more disparate collection of miscellaneous Tolkien texts than any of its predecessors in the cycle of epic scenes based on The Silmarillion, even more so than the already discursive pages at the end of The Fall of Gondolin. It is more in the nature of an assembly of vignettes than the four connected series of narratives that constitute the original cycle. But the unity of the musical treatment and the return of some characters from earlier in the First Age will, I very much hope, compensate for any lack of cohesion.

And then there remains the matter of the words themselves. I realise of course that by opening up this discussion I have to some considerable extent created a rod for my own back. When I was delivering a talk to the Tolkien Society in the summer of 2020 one observant listener pointed out my alteration of the final phrase in the passage beginning The leaves were long where I had made a substitution to avoid the exact repetition of the same rhyme in the last line of the verse. That, although it might have been regarded as cavalier treatment of the poet, was deliberate. On the other hand, the alteration of the opening line in my setting of Shadow-Bride, so that the solitary man walked rather than dwelt alone (in direct contradiction of the next line when his stillness is emphasised) was an error introduced in the first printing of the song and never subsequently corrected. As first sung at the Greenwich Festival by Sheila Searchfield (from manuscript copy) the text was correct. When later recorded by Tara McSwiney for the CD Akallabêth the incorrect printed text was substituted, as indeed it is in the later performance by Helen Greenaway (again) on YouTube which became available in the autumn of 2020. Like Beren’s “bride-piece” (in Aragorn’s narrative under Weathertop, in The Fellowship of the Ring) it is a misprint which bids fair to establish itself as a permanent fixture. Such are the perils of the writer, and indeed of the composer and the performer. Doubtless eagle-eared listeners will discover other such discrepancies in due course.