The Appendices to The Lord of the Rings take up more than a quarter of my paperback edition of The Return of the King (excluding the index), which, alas, makes me feel only a tiny bit better about the ridiculously long time it took me to read, annotate, outline, and post about them.
After the jump I give a quick overview of how I felt about each Appendix this time around; point out some of my favorite story-like bits; comment on some random facts that interested me; and offer up my personal bedrock beliefs about what happens to everyone post-canon. Spoilers, obviously.
The Appendices Generally
Overall, I found the Appendices harder going than I expected. This is partly because I don’t usually read them in their entirety, but go through looking for post-canon nuggets, and partly because of the way Appendices A and B are split. For some reason, I had a very hard time getting oriented in overall history as to much of the stuff described in Appendix A, “Annals of the Kings and Rulers,” and kept wanting something more like A & B combined. I think the main problem was that I was seriously fuzzy on the Second Age when I started re-reading the Appendices, for absolutely no good reason. Of course, when I got to Appendix B, it turned out that I’d managed to puzzle and place everything on my own and now it felt redundant; but I’m still not convinced that Appendix A was presented optimally.
As for the other Appendices...well, I read them, really I did. Even the bits about how various Elven letters should be pronounced. But I got far, far less out of them than Appendix A. Appendix C is the family trees, about which I have literally nothing to say; I have a single note to myself about Appendix D, the calendar. Those who find those Appendices interesting are invited to share their enthusiasm.
Appendix E, “Writing and Spelling,” was by far the hardest slog for me; I don’t read phonetically and have enormous difficulty with instructions of the “pronounce this letter like the sound in the middle of this word” type, with which this Appendix is rich. Appendix F, “The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age,” might have been more interesting to me before The Silmarillion and its discussion of the origin of many of those peoples. And the conceit that LotR was translated from a different language by Tolkien, while central to his concept of the thing, is entirely not a part of my experience of the book: so the section “On Translation” does less than nothing for me.
Story-Like Bits I Particularly Enjoyed
I don’t plan to discuss these in great detail, but I did want to highlight some of the more narrative bits in Appendix A. I’d love to hear what else people liked.
Oh, as a preface: some of Appendix A appears to be directly “translated” from the writings of a Fourth-Age person or persons, presumably out of one of the Red Book’s iterations (in several places it’s obviously a hobbit, but one version of the Red Book was heavily annotated in Minas Tirith, so theoretically other sections could be by Gondorians). At least in my copy, they’re only marked by surrounding quotation marks, which seems to be expecting a good deal of the reader’s memory to recall the discussion about sources all the way back in the Prologue and then jump to “this bit was written by a character and not Tolkien (I guess).” Also, I can’t really discern a pattern regarding which bits are quoted; some of them are obviously a way of getting hobbit-POV into the text, and some look like Tolkien’s way of suggesting things without committing to them (“At the Grey Havens dwelt Círdan the Shipwright, and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West.”), but others are otherwise indistinguishable from the straight-up history that surrounds them.
* * *
The first major story-like bit that I took note of was the Kin-strife, the war over the throne of Gondor prompted by the new King being the son of a Northern woman. This interested me partly because people kept referring to it in comments and I remembered nothing about it, and partly because it was an example of “pure,” i.e., unmingled, blood not being better. The new King, Eldacar, “added the fearless spirit of the Northmen” to “the lineage of Gondor,” and “was handsome and valiant,” while the usurper was “haughty and ungenerous” and “cruel.” (For what it’s worth, this was from one of the quoted bits per above.)
Also, I got very excited for a bit when it appeared that perhaps the Corsairs were descended from those on the wrong side of the Kin-strife, but no, it’s people from Harad.
As a postscript to this, the Appendix notes (not in quotation marks) that
This mingling did not at first hasten the waning of the Dúnedain, as had been feared; but the waning still proceeded, little by little, as it had before. For no doubt it was due above all to Middle-earth itself, and to the slow withdrawing of the gifts of the Númenóreans after the downfall of the Land of the Star.
Which I think we’ve referenced before, but it’s worth pointing out again. I think it’s unfortunate that we don’t get more of these qualifications of “pure blood!!!” in the text of the story proper, though.
* * *
I enjoyed the story of the downfall of the North-kingdom for a few reasons: I entertained myself contemplating the motives of the temporarily-ruling Steward, Pelendur, who advised Gondor to reject the claim to the throne of Arvedui, the eventual last King of the North-kingdom. I liked Eärnil, the king who was given Gondor’s crown but sent help to Arvedui anyway, and the Lossoth, the Snowmen of Forochel, who had no use for Arvedui’s jewels but, again, helped him anyway. And of course the Witch-king stuff is great. (But here’s an example of my finding Appendix A difficult, in that the story of the downfall of the North-kingdom and the defeat of Angmar is split between two sections, the one on the North-kingdom and the one on Gondor.)
* * *
Whether because of the nature of the people, or because the stories are less fragmented, I have proportionally far more cool story-bits from the section on the House of Eorl. I mean, this is tiny, but look at it:
Fram . . . slew Scatha, the great dragon of Ered Mithrin, and the land had peace from the long-worms afterwards. Thus Fram won great wealth, but was at feud with the Dwarves, who claimed the hoard of Scatha. Fram would not yield them a penny, and sent to them instead the teeth of Scatha made into a necklace, saying: “Jewels such as these you will not match in your treasuries, for they are hard to come by.” Some say that the Dwarves slew Fram for this insult. There was no great love between [the people of Eorl] and the Dwarves.
Yeah, I should think not.
Or there’s Helm Hammerhand: striking Freca dead with one blow after an exchange of insults; besieged in Helm’s Deep, stalking through enemy camps “like a snow-troll”; dying still upright on the Dike; “Ever after the white simbelmynë grew there most thickly, so that the mound seemed to be snow-clad.” Or Folca, who “vowed to chase no wild beast while there was an Orc left in Rohan,” and then promptly died from the first boar he hunted after the Orcs were destroyed. I don’t think I want a really large amount of this kind of stuff, but in small doses it’s great.
* * *
The war between the Dwarves and the Orcs who’d taken over Moria is very story-like and a section I remember fondly from prior reads. But what particularly interests about its aftermath is the behind-the-scenes look at Gandalf pondering how to remove Smaug as a potential weapon for Sauron, just as Thorin introduced himself and said he felt “bidden” to find Gandalf. And then, of course, there’s the other very narrative bit that describes Gandalf talking to Frodo and Gimli in Minas Tirith after the Ring’s destruction: the image of Dáin “standing over the body of King Brand before the Gate of Erebor until the darkness fell” has always caught my imagination.
Random Bits I Wanted to Comment On
In more or less page order:
The Appendices refer the reader in several places to The Silmarillion, which of course was published posthumously. Does anyone know who added these references? Unless it’s not actually to the published volume but to the idea of the forthcoming one.
* * *
There’s a note that the eleventh King of Númenor, Tar-Minastir, sent a great force to the aid of Gil-galad. I don’t know much about the fight against Sauron in Middle-earth before the downfall of Númenor. Does anyone have a reference, probably in the Tales of Middle-earth?
Also, it’s kind of boggling to think of how power levels have fallen: Sauron had already made the One Ring when he surrendered to Ar-Pharazôn rather than fight an uncertain battle; then is just barely defeated by the Last Alliance while wielding the One Ring; and now in the Third Age, the remaining free peoples can’t let him regain the One Ring because they would be utterly unable to match him. (Indeed, I think part of my ridiculous befuddlement about the Second Age is that I was subconsciously resisting the idea that Sauron had the Ring when he went to Númenor. Yeah, it was really important now, but not so much then.)
* * *
I seem to recall that someone previously identified the Wainriders as modeled on a specific historic incident, but I can’t put my finger on it now. Anyone? (Regardless, I presume no equivalent to the Dead Marshes resulted in our history, at least in the level of creepiness.)
* * *
I was perpetually confused about the status of Osgiliath, so for my own reference: it was finally ruined and abandoned in 2475 when the uruks first appeared (a dozen years after Sméagol obtains the One Ring, more than five hundred years before LotR starts).
Also, the White Tree doesn’t die until the twenty-first Steward does, in 2872, about 150 years before the main story, which I found vaguely surprising.
* * *
I like that Boromir and Faramir had a strong sibling relationship; yes, Faramir should have realized that he deserved better, but at least they had that comfort between them.
* * *
We’ve talked at length about the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen before, so I’ll just mention here that Arwen is said to reign as “Queen of Elves and Men”; I wonder if that’s basically a courtesy title? The Elves of Middle-earth seemed to be doing just fine without a monarch to that point.
* * *
Appendix B starts with a note that “The Third Age came to its end in the War of the Ring; but the Fourth Age was not held to have begun until Master Elrond departed.” My reaction was, “the end of the Third Age and the start of the Fourth Age are separated by two years? That seems suboptimal.” However, it appears that “came to its end” doesn’t actually mean “ended,” since the timeline proper refers to the end of the Third Age as the day Elrond and the others leave from the Grey Havens.
* * *
My only note on Appendix D, the Shire Calendar, is that the hobbits dance in the Party Field on April 6, which Appendix B confirms is the date the mallorn first flowered, though the hobbits no longer remember precisely what the date signifies. Also in Buckland they blow Merry’s horn and then have bonfires and feasts on the anniversary of the travelers’ rousing the Shire.
* * *
My main reaction to Appendix E is that I will never be able to pronounce Elvish languages, even if I didn’t read by word-recognition and thus have a horrible time sounding out words, because: “spelt as much like Latin as its sounds allowed”? “C” is pronounced “k” and “dh” is pronounced “th”? Okay then. (I have no idea how widespread knowledge of Latin was in the U.K. at the time Tolkien was writing. I was in high school in eastern Massachusetts in the early 1990s, and my school didn’t offer it, though at least two of the expensive private schools in the area did.)
* * *
As far as Appendix F, “The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age,” my only notes are about the Orcs. They are said to have no language of their own, which ties into the idea of them as second-rate copies*, and also don’t value communication with each other: “these creatures, being filled with malice, hating even their own kind, quickly developed as many barbarous dialects as there were groups or settlements of their race, so that their Orkish speech was of little use to them in intercourse between different tribes.”
*Sauron did create the Black Speech, but even he couldn’t make it the universal tongue of his servants.
My principal reaction to the section “On Translation” is that Tolkien seems to have made things very difficult for himself. I hope he enjoyed it.
What Happens After
This is really what I used to read the Appendices for, and probably still will in the future.
Pippin and Merry become heads of their families, marry and have children (oddly, Pippin’s marriage and first child get entries in the timeline, but Merry’s do not), spend time with Éomer in Rohan at the end of his life and in Gondor at the end of theirs, and “were laid in Rath Dínen among the great of Gondor.”
Aragorn dies in 1541 Shire Reckoning (S.R.) at the age of two hundred and ten. No date on the birth of their son and heir Eldarion, who is “full-ripe for kingship” at this time; I do wonder how long he had to wait and how old he was.
In 1482 S.R., when Sam was 102, the timeline says,
Death of Mistress Rose, wife of Master Samwise, on Mid-year’s Day. On September 22 Master Samwise rides out from Bag End. He comes to the Tower Hills, and is last seen by Elanor, to whom he gives the Red Book afterwards kept by the Fairbairns. Among them the tradition is handed down from Elanor that Samwise passed the Towers, and went to the Grey Havens, and passed over Sea, last of the Ring-bearers.
Frodo would only be 114 at this point (Bilbo was 131 at the Grey Havens), so yes, of course Sam went, and of course Frodo was there to be reunited with him. (Bilbo would have been 192, so probably not.) You are entirely free to believe otherwise if you like, but you’re not going to convince me, so don’t even try.
Gimli becomes Lord of the Glittering Caves and lives out his life in Middle-earth doing great works in a place he loved above all others, which I think is maybe my favorite of the Fellowship’s lives after. Legolas settles with other Elves in Ithilien and makes the land beautiful again. And then, at Aragorn’s death in 1541 S.R., Legolas sails over Sea, and according to “one of the last notes in the Red Book”**:
We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Glóin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel; and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.
Of course he went. And Frodo would have been 173 and Sam 161 at this point, so it’s less certain that they were reunited with Legolas and Gimli, but while they’re not immortal, they are in Valinor and it’s not that much longer than the Middle-earth hobbit record for unassisted longevity (130)...so, I decree that they’re still there and happily reunited. (I never did the math before and don’t think I’d had an opinion on whether they all met again. This decision may not have the same down-in-my-bones certainty as that Sam went and saw Frodo again and that Gimli went, but I’m pretty happy with it all the same.)
**Weirdly, this bit is not in quotation marks, nor are any other bits of the section on Durin’s folk, even when it seems like they ought to be (the conversation with Gandalf, for instance). I’ve giving up on understanding this.
So what do people think about these what-happens-after bits? I think they certainly couldn’t go in the text proper because they’d wreck that bittersweet perfection of an ending. But does anyone feel that having these happier bits (well, except for Arwen) explicit on the pages, at least for those who read the Appendices, undercuts the ending or is otherwise dissatisfactory? Not me, I love them (I’ve mentioned my weakness for long drawn-out endings in which we visit all the characters for gossip), but I can imagine how someone might have that feeling, or prefer to do their own extrapolating as to the sweet that remains, or might even just feel oppressed at all the pages that are left. Chime in, everyone, do.
Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at Dreamwidth and her booklog.