FAQ / Are the events of The Lord of the Rings pure fiction

Yes, all the events described in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are pure fiction.

This does not diminish his work in the least. From the Hobbit to the Silmarillion, the work that Professor Tolkien put in to his stories are of the most extensive nature; from the Languages, and alphabets, pronunciations, calendars, maps, and the histories.

The works of Professor Tolkien are a joy to read and study and there seems no end to the debate and discussion and study generated by the stories of Middle-earth.

Authored by TTFMember:Chymaera
Comments and Annotations

While the events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings can be considered "pure fiction", this cannot be said about all of Tolkien's tales concerning his "{Mythology of Middle-earth}?" in general. Those tales, which he had begun to write in the mid 1910s and had continued to expand and revise throughout his lifetime, were in the event edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien as The Silmarillion.

In his attempt to create a "Mythology for England" (c.f. Letters #131, also printed as a preface to the 2nd edition of The Silmarillion), which mostly leans towards an "Anglo-Saxon Mythology for England", Tolkien went through several stages of a more or less explicit connection of places and events in his tales to places and events of England's and Europe's actual history. This can be gathered in detail from the HoMe series, especially the LostTales. Lateron in his life Tolkien seems to have given up many of this explicit "connections to actual history" and in the Published Silmarillion (as edited by Christopher Tolkien and Guy Kay) hardly any can be found at all (though some veiled hints still survived into the published book).

Also, with Tolkien, we must be aware that "fiction" doesn't mean that everything is "made-up" or plainly "invented". Of course - and Tolkien freely admitted that - there was quite a lot in his epos that was freely "invented" rather than anything else, but even "inventing" in Tolkien's case meant something different that in the case of most other authors of especially the fiction-genre. Because Tolkien's "inventions" usually evolved from the "leaf-mould" of his memories (as he himself put it) and being a linguist and philologist with quite some knowledge of history and whatnot else had provided Tolkien with quite a big such "leaf-mould of memories"...

Tolkien often explained how he felt about this issue:

Of course, such an overweening purpose did not develop all at once. The mere stories were the thing. They arose in my mind as 'given' things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. An absorbing, though continually interrupted labour (especially since, even apart from the necessities of life, the mind would wing to the other pole and spend itself on the linguistics): yet always I had the sense of recording what was already 'there', somewhere: not of 'inventing'. Of course, I made up and even wrote lots of other things (especially for my children). Some escaped from the grasp of this branching acquisitive theme, being ultimately and radically unrelated: Leaf by Niggle and Farmer Giles, for instance, the only two that have been printed. The Hobbit, which has much more essential life in it, was quite independently conceived: I did not know as I began it that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole, its mode of descent to earth, and merging into 'history'. As the high Legends of the beginning are supposed to look at things through Elvish minds, so the middle tale of the Hobbit takes a virtually human point of view – and the last tale blends them.
Letters # 131 (also printed as a preface to the 2nd edition of The Silmarillion

Or another - highly interesting - passage, one which enables us to catch a glimpse of Tolkien's mind at work:

Take the Ents for instance. I did not consciously invent them at all. The chapter called 'Treebeard', from Treebeard's first remark on p. 66, was written off more or less as it stands, with an effect on my self (except for labour pains) almost like reading some one else's work. And I like Ents now, because they do not seem to have anything to do with me. I daresay something had been going on in the 'unconscious' for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till 'what really happened' came through. But looking back analytically I should say that Ents are composed of philology, literature and life. They owe their name to the eald enta geweorc 2 of Anglo-Saxon, and their connexion with stone. Their part in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill': I longed to devise a setting in which the trees might really march to war. And into this has crept a mere piece of experience, the difference of the 'male' and 'female' attitude to wild things, the difference between unpossessive love and gardening.
Footnote to Letter #163

Or in this letter where he - IMO - clearly disapproves of the term "inventing" for his tales:

So though being a philologist by nature and trade (yet one always primarily interested in the aesthetic rather than the functional aspects of language) I began with language, I found myself involved in inventing 'legends' of the same 'taste'. The early work was mostly done in camps and hospitals between 1915 and 1918 – when time allowed. But I think a lot of this kind of work goes on at other (to say lower, deeper, or higher introduces a false gradation) levels, when one is saying how-do-you-do, or even 'sleeping'. I have long ceased to invent (though even patronizing or sneering critics on the side praise my 'invention'): I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus, though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great River, I have no recollection of inventing Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the 'Treebeard' chapter without any recollection of any previous thought: just as it now is. And then I saw that, of course, it had not happened to Frodo at all.

All this is boring, I am sure, because it is apparently self-centred; but I am old enough (alas!) to take a dispassionate and scientific, properly so-called, interest in these matters, and cite myself simply because I am interested in mythological 'invention', and the mystery of literary creation (or sub-creation as I have elsewhere called it) and I am the most readily available corpus vile for experiment or observation.

Letters #180

-- ChW


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