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Tolkien Gateway:Canon

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Canon and Tolkien Gateway

For the sake of consistency, in this encyclopedia The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are considered fully canon, but the status of The Silmarillion and other posthumous writings is more complex. In general, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales are treated as canon, but corrections published in The History of Middle-earth generally take precedence. Late writings by Tolkien published in The History of Middle-earth that do not contradict more established texts are also generally treated as canon.

This choice of canon means that this encyclopedia includes a number of corrections to the information in The Silmarillion as published. For example, the article on Gil-galad states that he is the son of Orodreth, the article on Amras mentions his death in the burning of the ships of the Teleri, and Argon, Findis and Irimë have articles of their own. Details of the history of the Nauglamír and the fall of Doriath are treated as uncertain, and the story of the Wanderings of Húrin is accepted as accurate. Information on earlier or alternate versions of the stories is provided when possible.

On Canon and Mythology

Boromir, Lothiriel, and Imrahil by Catherine Chmiel
In treating Tolkien's work as a derived mythology, it must be taken into account that the material presented is done so in such a manner that it represents only one possible telling of a story. While the readers of Tolkien often take all of the material as being a "factual" accounting of what transpired in the various ages of Middle-earth, it must be remembered that he himself knew that he was constructing a mythology. As such, different versions of a story could be held as true by various peoples or tellers of those myths.

Thus, Bilbo's account of The Hobbit may be coloured by his perceptions and personality; while Frodo, Sam, and the other hobbits' accounts in The Lord of the Rings will have a completely different feel and quality to them. Tolkien may not have been completely conscious of this at the time of the earliest conceptions of his writings. But later in life, when he had begun to explore the more distant and remote past of Middle-earth and the various themes that run through it, he was almost certainly aware of this.

When looked at in this light, it is quite easy to reconcile the various versions of the stories and canon of Tolkien's work as being simply the cultural variations of the peoples of Middle-earth in their retelling of these stories.

Canon status of various writings

While readers often differ in their opinions of which writings to treat as canon, this encyclopedia uses the following choices:

Grey points are concepts such as Enerdhil, Pengolodh or Ælfwine; the latter was a joint point between real history with Tolkien's legendarium, and existed for the most part of Tolkien's conceptual progress until even in Tolkien's late works and personal writings; Christopher Tolkien removed all references to him in the published Silmarillion and for this reason he is considered non-canon by some readers although it's debatable whether Tolkien also dropped him.