Creative Lists in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings – Part II

by Rahel Orgis

In last month’s post I argued for the centrality of lists in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, discussing how the lists in the opening poem both encapsulate the narrative’s core interest and call for further narrative development. In this post I turn to the appendices following the third part of the novel, in which Tolkien interweaves prose sections with lists to organize and condense an extensive amount of information. Tolkien’s rich fictional universe, including beings like elves, dwarves, humans and the small human-like hobbits, is arguably one of the reasons for the continuing fascination of his work, which, in the twentieth century, figured among the most-read books worldwide. The appendices and the lists contained therein contribute significantly to this success. They are intimately bound up with the main narrative, both on a textual and conceptual level, and give substance, historical depth and an impression of authenticity to the universe of Middle-earth.

“many enquiries could only be answered by additional appendices”
In the space of roughly a hundred pages, appendices A-F cover various aspects of Tolkien’s fictional universe as their titles indicate:

A. Annals of the Kings and Rulers
I. Númenorean Kings II. House of Eorl III. Durin’s Folk
B. Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands)
C. Family Trees (Hobbits)
D. Calendars
E. Pronunciation of Words and Names II. Writing
F. Languages II. On Translation (Table of Contents, III, 15)

None of the appendices are exclusively in list form, but all of them, except Appendix F, contain lists of different types combined with stretches of explanatory and very often narrative prose. Although the lists usually stand out as separate from the surrounding prose, the list and prose sections supplement and feed into each other as they alternate. This is exemplified by the passage in Appendix A focusing on Aragorn, the human protagonist established as king at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Considering that the Oxford English Dictionary defines annals as “A record of events year by year,” one might expect Appendix A to consist of historical lists of events related to the different “Kings and Rulers.” While such lists occur, they are framed by prose summaries that flesh them out, illustrating the propensity for lists in the appendices to turn into pseudo-historical narrative. Aragorn’s lineage is presented both through a list of his ancestors and their death dates (III, 318) and through narrative sections that recount the fate of these ancestors (III, 319-324) as well as Aragorn’s youth, courtship and his later years and death after the timespan covered by the main narrative (III, 337-344). Thus the list of Aragorn’s ancestors is tightly incorporated into the surrounding prose and ties in with the novel as a whole.

The lists in Appendix B interlock perhaps most directly with the main narrative, and the title of the appendix, “Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands),” fittingly epitomises this close relationship. In both title and subtitle Tolkien mixes terms that are more suggestive of lists (“Years” and “Chronology”) with terms suggestive of narrative (“Tale” and “Westlands”). Analogously, the appendix combines short pseudo-historical summaries with extended chronological lists of events. These cover the history of Middle-earth from the First Age to the end of the Third Age, when the events of The Lord of the Rings take place and are detailed by month and day (III, 372-375), as in the following extract:

March

1    Frodo begins the passage of the Dead Marshes at dawn. Entmoot continues. Aragorn meets Gandalf the White. They set out for Edoras. Faramir leaves Minas Tirith on an errand to Ithilien.
2    Frodo comes to the end of the Marshes. Gandalf comes to Edoras and heals Théoden. The Rohirrim ride west against Saruman. Second Battle of the Fords of Isen. Erkenbrand defeated. Entmoot ends in afternoon. The Ents march on Isengard and reach it at night. (III, 373-374)

The list of events exposes the story skeleton, so to speak, against which Tolkien presumably checked the temporal references in the novel’s alternating narrative strands once the protagonists separate. The chronological blueprint of The Lord of the Rings functions as a pseudo-historical record that allows readers to review the events of the novel from a distanced perspective as a series of supposedly factual events rather than as a carefully crafted and intertwined narrative in which the protagonists and sometimes also readers ignore what is simultaneously happening to other characters.
Appendix B ends with another chronological list that records important events after the main narrative’s end and hence serves as an epilogue to the novel, informing readers about the protagonists’ later fates. The lists in Appendix B thus reprise the events of The Lord of the Rings in a more factual textual mode and anchor them in the larger history of Middle-earth. Moreover, the inclusion of events beyond the scope of the main narrative shows that the appendices are not merely derivative from the novel (as glossaries and companion books for fantasy bestsellers tend to be). Rather, they are conceptually bound up with the fiction of narrative production in The Lord of the Rings. They are motivated in the Prologue as deriving from records that the hobbits, especially Merry and Pippin, wrote and collected subsequent to the events in the main narrative (I, 23-24). “The Tale of Years” for instance—“Represented in much reduced form in Appendix B”—was presumably composed “with the assistance of material collected by Meriadoc [i.e. Merry]” (I, 24-25). Tolkien thus poses as a scholar reproducing excerpts from ‘authentic’ historical documents, thereby synthesising the knowledge preserved in hobbit records and libraries.

Through the variety of topics addressed by the appendices the fictional universe of Middle-earth gains in substance. It seems a richer and more complex universe—where different peoples have their own calendar system, languages and alphabets—and a universe elaborated in minute detail, with lists providing such particulars as names, dates, and the pronunciation of individual letters in elven languages, for instance. The “many glimpses of … more ancient history” (I, 5) within the main narrative, as Tolkien calls them in the Foreword to the second edition, are substantiated through the appended lists and summaries, strengthening readers’ impression of historical depth. Moreover, the pseudo-factual historical, philological and administrative details amassed in the appendices give the fictional universe an air of authenticity. Tolkien’s recourse to types of lists that readers are familiar with from their own world (like calendars or alphabets) or lists that have a historical tradition (like annals in medieval chronicles) make Middle-earth a recognisable and credible universe. This impression of historical depth and authenticity allowed readers from the start to engage with Middle-earth as if it were real, requesting additional information or making “enquiries,” which, Tolkien claims, “could only be answered by additional appendices” (I, 8). Today the appendices provide fan sites with a wealth of material (cf. for instance http://www.councilofelrond.com/) and also invite further narrative extensions—witness the TV series to be set in Middle-earth announced by Amazon in November 2018 (cf. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/nov/13/lord-of-the-rings-amazon-tv-show-confirmed).

In conclusion, the lists in the appendices impact Tolkien’s narrative on several levels. They interact locally with the surrounding prose but also interlock with events in the novel, enriching Tolkien’s fictional universe beyond the scope of the main narrative. They affect readers’ experience of Middle-earth as a complex and seemingly authentic universe. By presenting the appendices as deriving from hobbit records, Tolkien, moreover, conveys the idea of a people or civilisation that studies itself. The role of lists in the hobbits’ endeavour to ascertain their place within Middle-earth and its history will be the focus of the next and final blog post on creative lists in The Lord of the Rings. In it I will consider how lists are thematised within the main narrative as a means to capture, organise, pass on and access information.

Work Cited:
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. 2nd ed. 3 Vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.

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