Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, The Cottage of Lost Play
“Then said Lindo: ‘Of what shall the tales be tonight? Shall they be of the Great Lands, and of the dwellings of Men; of the Valar and Valinor; of the West and its mysteries, of the East and its glory, of the South and its untrodden wilds, of the North and its power and strength; or of this island and its folk; or of the old days of Kôr where our folk once dwelt? For that this night we entertain a guest, a man of great and excellent travel, a son meseems of Eärendel, shall it be of voyaging, of beating about in a boat, of winds and the sea (pg 18).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, with the first chapter, “The Cottage of Lost Play.”
This week we begin to see the history of Middle-earth through a story-telling lens. The book begins with a traveler, “a man of great curiosity, was by desire of strange lands and the ways and dwellings of unaccustomed folk brought in a ship as far west even as the Lonely Island, Tol Eressëa in the fairy speech, but in which the Gnomes call Dor Faidwen, the Land of Release, and a great tale hangs thereto (pg 13).“
This “man of great curiosity” is a man from England named Eriol, and he is the basis for all that comes after in this precursor to The Silmarillion.
Tolkien intended for the history of Middle-earth to intersect with our age, and this first section seems to be proof of that. Beyond the fact that the way Tolkien describes Eriol, it does seem as though he is representing himself. After all, Eriol learns the history of Middle-earth, and it would stand to reason that if Middle-earth was our world, Tolkien was only passing on the oral history of what he had “learned.”
That may not make sense right off the bat, so let’s break things down a little.
This chapter is about Eriol traveling from England to Tol Eressëa, an island off the coast of Valinor where the Teleri Elves lived. When Eriol gets to the island, he finds a small cottage in a field owned by a couple named Lindo and Vairë.
“Small is the dwelling, but smaller still are they that dwell here – for all who enter must be very small indeed, or of their own good wish to become as very little folk even as they stand upon the threshold (pg 14).“
Knowing that Eriol is an Englishman (despite that he seems to be from the Middle Ages), we see that Middle-earth is connected with our world, and the histories held within are our histories.
Indeed Tolkien even calls Eriol “a son of Eärendel (pg 13).” If you remember your Silmarillion history, Eärendil was the son of Tuor, a man and cousin of Turin Turambar and Idril of the Noldor of Gondolin. He eventually wed Elwing, who gave birth to Elros, who chose to be a man and became the ancestor of the Númenoreans. She also gave birth to Elrond, who we all know.
Tolkien isn’t calling Eriol Eärendel’s direct son but a descendant of him, proving that both our world and the world of Middle-earth are the same.
Lindo and Vairë, however, seem to be descendants of the shire folk, with their kindness and manners. They also are descendants of the Valar, as “He was of Aulë’s kindred (pg 16).“
They invite Eriol into their house, and soon there is a sound of a gong; “That is the voice of Tombo, the Gong of the Children (pg 15.).” The Gong calls the Children in from playing to come and listen to “the telling of tales (pg 15).”
Soon the tiny Cottage was regaled with the tales, and this is how we learn the history of Middle-earth – as it’s portrayed to Eriol.
But why did Eriol happen upon this Cottage? It was not a mistake:
“It had long, said he, been a tradition in our kindred that one of our father’s fathers would speak of a fair house and magic gardens, of a wonderous town, and of a music full of all beauty and longing (pg 20).“
The children who sat around at night would listen to these tales and eventually leave the island and the Cottage. These were the children of the Noldori and the Teleri (at this point, Tolkien was calling Gnomes. I’m not sure when he switched to Elves.), but they were descendants of Eärendel, which is who spawned the human race as we know it now.
Tolkien was a historian and linguist who was fascinated with how different cultures had similar roots. The origin of this Book of lost Tales was to explore these roots. The Lord of the Rings hadn’t blossomed in his mind (made apparent by his usage of Gnomes in this early iteration), and he wrote this chapter to explain this origin.
The Children who gathered around to hear these tales at Tol Eressëa became the people who started the different cultures which would eventually become our world. Tolkien even stamps that theory in the second to last paragraph, spoken by Eriol:
“Now these are tidings sad and yet good to hear, and I remember me or certain words that my father spake in my early boyhood. It had long, said he, been a tradition in our kindred that one of our father’s fathers would speak of a fair house and magic gardens, or a wonderous town, and of a music full of all beauty and longing – and these things he said he had seen and heard as a child, though how and where was not told (pg 20).“
Eriol’s father had left the island of Tol Eressëa. He remembered the stories, customs, and language, but he could remember nothing of the island itself. The Valar had hidden the island, and all that left it were doomed to forget about it.
They created an oral tradition formed into the Germanic languages and tales of North Western Europe. This also explains how the majority of the Hobbit and the beginning of The Lord of the Rings had so many songs and poems. Tolkien was trying to show how real the world was by including an oral tradition in story.
Tolkien’s purpose for telling these tales, even The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was to explain why these traditions existed. Not only the language, which everyone assumes is why he created the history, but of the practices and mythologies of the region.
Join me next week as we delve deeper into “The Cottage of Lost Play” with Christopher’s Commentary!
February 2, 2023 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: #adventure, #analysis, #author, #blog, #critique, #essay, #fantasy, #jrrtolkien, #lotr, #thesilmarillion, #tolkien, #writing | Leave a comment
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