Red Book of Westmarch
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The first Red Book was written as a diary by the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins and recounted his quest for Erebor, which he called There and Back Again. Within it, he compiled Elven lore while he retired to Rivendell (Translations from the Elvish) where he gave it to Frodo.
Frodo organized Bilbo's manuscript and used it to write down his own quest during the War of the Ring. Inscribed within, it reads:
My Diary. My Unexpected Journey.
There and Back Again.
And What Happened After.
Adventures of Five Hobbits.
The Tale of the Great Ring,
compiled by Bilbo Baggins from his own observations and the accounts of his friends.
What we did in the War of the Ring.
LORD OF THE RINGS
RETURN OF THE KING
(as seen by the Little People; being the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo of the Shire,
supplemented by the accounts of their friends and the learning of the Wise.)
Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo in Rivendell.
The book contained Bilbo's translations of Elven legends from the Elder Days, and various Hobbit poems. A lot of background information on the realms of Arnor, Gondor, and Rohan was added to it by Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck from their contacts in Rohan and Gondor. Other material was provided by King Elessar.
After Bilbo and Frodo left for Valinor, the Red Book passed into the keeping of Samwise Gamgee, the Mayor of the Shire. The book was left in the possession of Sam Gamgee's eldest daughter, Elanor Fairbairn, and her descendants (the Fairbairns of the Towers or Warden of Westmarch).
The original book was formed from Bilbo's private diary and attached to it, in a single red case, were three large volumes bound in red leather. There was a fifth volume containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship. Several copies, with various notes and later additions, were made and copies were passed on to future generations, of which one, the "Thain's Book", is the most important.
The "original" version of the Red Book contained the story of Bilbo's journey as it originally stood: thus, Gollum willingly gives the One Ring to Bilbo, and there is no trace of the Ring's hold over Gollum. Later copies of the Red Book contained, as an alternative, also the true account (later written in by Frodo), where Bilbo comes across the Ring by accident.
- "But most of all he [Tolkien] found delight in the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, especially the Red Fairy Book, for tucked away in its closing pages was the best story he had ever read. This was the tale of Sigurd who slew the dragon Fafnir: a strange and powerful tale set in the nameless North."
- ― J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 22
Tolkien's inspiration for this repository of lore was the real Red Book of Hergest, the early 15th century compilation of Welsh history and poetry that contains the manuscript of the Mabinogion. Bound (and rebound) in red leather, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the manuscript was well known to Tolkien.
In the first edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien's foreword claimed he had translated the Red Book from the original Westron into English, and it therefore must be supposed that copies of the book survived throughout several Ages.
Portrayals in adaptations
- In the extended edition, Bilbo is writing in the book (working on the prologue) in Bag End. It reappears in Rivendell, where he shows it to Frodo.
- Frodo entrusts the book to Samwise just before he leaves Middle-earth.
- As part of the framing of the movie, Bilbo starts the writing of the book.