Most upvoted comment
On the blue wizards(r/tolkienfans)
May my upvote help to guide your post to Eärendil, and thus bask in the last light of the Trees for all time as he wanders the sky.
Imma hijack your comment to post on a related topic; namely, the fact that Tolkien doesn’t seem to be very sure/concerned when it comes to the Blue Wizards & what happened to them, which along with other inconsistencies in his works is one of the criticisms I hear from non-fans: that he’s lazy with his continuity, that we’re obsessing over pointless details like little scribbles he made on the backs of maps while he was in the trenches of the Somme then seeking to reconcile them with other, barely-legible scribbles he made a few weeks before he died, hopelessly trying to build some sort of comprehensive, fully “correct” canon for his world that doesn’t really exist. To them, I say:
That’s the point, & it’s a big part of what made him such a groundbreaking author.
I think few realize that one of the greatest strengths of Tolkien’s writing/worldbuilding is the structured ambiguities he creates through the conceit of his not actually being the author of the texts but rather their translator/editor; there is an additional level of narrative beyond the events recounted in the books & Tolkien as an author which almost all LotR/Hobbit fans, many Legendarium fans, and even a few Tolkien fans (& they are different things; none superior to the others, but different nonetheless) are unaware of: these are the fictional “sources” he derives the tales in his Legendarium from, which imperfectly recount the “actual” events of this period of Earth’s prehistory (in letter 211 he says this time period is ~6000 years ago, & that we are at the “end” of the “5th Age”).
It’s important to understand what Tolkien was trying to to: part of his goal was to create a “substitute mythology” for England to replace the native pagan mythologies of the Britons & Anglo-Saxons which had been lost to time (Yes I know those are 2 different groups w/2 different belief structures but as I recall Tolkien identified with both somewhat owing to his mixed parentage; others can verify), while the other part was his belief in “Sub-creation” which he talks about in letter 153 & explains allegorically in Leaf by Niggle; (srsly everyone go read that short story if you haven’t already b/c it’s only ~20 pages long & he himself said it best explains his creative process, to the point where in letter 241 he actively called LotR his “tree”), essentially, “Sub-creation” says that the greatest way to honour God is to create something in emulation of what He created (in this case, Tolkien’s constructed Elven langauges Quenya & Sindarin, which he is on record as saying are what all the stories were written to provide a realistic background to, as a sort of “frame to hang the languages on” so that things like loanwords, phonological changes, dialects et.al. were “based” on “actual events” which could plausibly explain why those changes happened the way they did). God gave man language, so to create a new language verisimillar to Natural languages which is robust enough to be learned as a 1st language & then create a community of speakers who will, through daily use, transform the once-“dead” language into a “living language”, is to honour God by trying to emulate him & add something to his Creation; yet, at the same time, God is acting through Tolkien in his creation of this language & will thus not consider it blasphemous since it is done with humility & with no other intent than to honour Creation. A similar theme can be seen in his Creation myth of the Dwarves where the Ainur Aulë can’t wait for Elves/Men to appear so he creates the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves as a way of honouring the supreme God Eru (Catholic God, working through Tolkien), & when Eru finds out he only forces those Dwarves to sleep until after the Elves have been created/awoken rather than destroying them because Aulë only created them as a way of emulating/honouring his own Creator & the dwarves themselves were wholly innocent. But I digress…
To wit, he used his experiences as a medievalist & philologist to create a “realistic” collection of texts: namely, a copy of the Red Book of Westmarch copied from a copy of it which had been commissioned by either Aragorn or Faramir (or Aragorn’s kid; point is, post-LOTR). The texts in this book include Bilbo’s There and Back Again + Translations from the Elvish (i.e. The Hobbit + The Silmarillion), Frodo’s The Lord of the Rings, and various Shire records &c recorded by the other hobbits in the Fellowship & their descendants (if you recall in the extended edition of Jackson’s RotK there’s a brief scene at the end where Frodo finishes up his work on LotR which he’s writing in one of Bilbo’s old books, then gives the book to Sam, saying ‘the last pages are for you’; that’s the Red Book I’m talking about, the book Bilbo wrote TaBA in & took with him to Rivendell after the Party). This sort of hodgepodge of related, tangentially-related, & unrelated texts is the same sort of thing you find in a lot of medieval manuscripts such as the Nowell Codex (the only place in the world where Beowulf survives; if not for the lone fire-damaged version of it in that book we would have no idea the poem ever existed). As for Tolkien’s use of the techniques of “codicology” (study of manuscripts) in his works, according to his fictional timeline the texts in the Red Book survive in only one manuscript copy & because of this they’re our only sources for what happens. Basically we have only a scant few texts which survive from this period (namely the ones mentioned above, as well as a few “fragments”, that are essentially all the stuff in Unfinished Tales, The Letters, and History of Middle Earth) available for study, from which we have to reconstruct everything that happened, and since the world has changed so much since the Elder Days we cannot rely on archaeological evidence like real medievalists do.
Because of the lack of corroborating archaeological evidence, all we have to go on is linguistic evidence + the texts themseles, and as such the inherent biases of the texts will naturally seep in to any interpretation of the texts owing to the paucity of information about this “period” of the Earth’s history. The “texts” Bilbo translates into the Common Westron, which Tolkien says is roughly analalgous to Migration-period Old English & which Tolkien then “translates” into Modern English are Elven ones, & so the only perspectives we have for the times before the 2nd age (where we have a fragmentary record of the kings of Númenor & a description of it) are Elven ones. This is why we hear nothing about Men until “on the coming of Men” in the Silmarillion when they wander into Beleriand from over the Eastern mountains in the 1st Age; (as for their origin in his world, Tolkien actually suggests in letter 153 that the biblical Garden of Eden is Legendarium canon!), why the only references we get to Hobbits other than passing mentions in other texts are in texts written by Hobbits themselves, & why there is almost nothing recorded about the Dwarven languages except for names, brief runic inscriptions, and short phrases spoken by the dwarves that appear in the texts: only Elven (+ a few later Human/Hobbit) texts “survived”.
It was a stroke of genius, imo, because it allowed him a great deal of freedom when it came to changing things around as he worldbuilt (worldbuilded?). Instead of maintaining a rigorous & exhaustive Canon which he had to make as error-free as possible, he could simply write & if anything differed from what he had written previously all he had to do to justify it was draw on his vast experience analyzing medieval manuscripts: A misspelled name becomes a “variant spelling”, an inaccurate quotation from a longer text he had written earlier which appears in another text becomes a “scribal error”, messing up the dates/chronology of events from a story he wrote earlier becomes “the ‘A’-text chronology” with greater or at least near-equal authority when compared to “the ‘B’-text chronology”, and giving up on a story halfway through makes it a “fragment”. Plus, because he wrote most of his notes on the Legendarium by hand we actually do have a whole mess of manuscripts to analyze, and his handwriting really does have a medieval vibe to it! Now, this isn’t to say that he was sloppy with his work; I recall a letter where he mentions a giant corkboard he used to keep track of all the dates/timing/weather/events of Lord of the Rings while he was writing it as well as another letter where he rages at his publisher re: the producers of the scrapped animated 1950’s version of LOTR willily-nillily (is that a word? screw it; it is now) messing with the dates/seasons/events when writing the adaptation.
The unique thing about Tolkien’s technique as compared to, say, C.S. Lewis, is that this conceit forces us to treat the Legendarium the same way real scholars treat the surviving texts from their own periods: fans have to make informed decisions about which texts seem to “fit” better, and, like in real Academia, there are multiple competing “interpretations” of the available data which (while hopeless because there will simply NEVER be enough evidence to form a complete picture) seek to reconcile as many inconsistencies as possible. An excellent example is his early map of Cuiviénen, the place where the Elves awoke, because it looks almost nothing like any area on the later maps of Middle-Earth. We have to look at the structured ambiguity of the texts & make best-guesses as to what “really” happened as opposed to what’s recorded in the Elven texts (which themselves are heavily biased against Orcs, somewhat disdainful of non-Western men, & are cold towards the Dwarves). All the ambiguities do are give him some breathing room.
If Tolkien had one stroke of genius in his career, it was that extra layer of “extant texts”.
As for how this is related to the Blue Wizards, we see that there are a few competing “fragments” and “references” to them in some of the extant sources, but it’s difficult-to-near-impossible to reconstruct what actually happened because the “manuscript evidence” just isn’t there, the “texts” being lost after Tolkien’s passing.
edit: spelling & cleaning up grammar + my own unintentional ambiguities; I might add some links/sources when I get home. edit2: bolding & some extra info, still not home. edit3: home nao; lynx ahoy + a few references to various pertinent letters
edit4: to whomever gave me Reddit Gold: know that your foolish expenditure of fiat currency on meaningless benefits for a complete stranger as a result of their adroit analysis of a single author’s fictional creations is greatly appreciated 🙂