How important is “true” canon?

14 11 2008

As you may have figured out by now, I’m a huge Tolkien nerd.  I’m trying very hard to amass all his stuff before it goes out of print, and I’m working on a massive indexing project that may one day be commercially available, or may just be my own little nerdy pet.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about canon lately.  As you may know, a lot of Tolkien’s work was published posthumously by Christopher Tolkien.  J.R.R. also had a ton of notes and things, some of which are published, and there’s a published volume of letters, and all sorts of stuff.

Most people into his work have an opinion on what’s really part of the canon.  Some say that we can only count on what was published before he died, others say we can only count on what was actually published, others use notes to interpret the canon.  Of course, it doesn’t really matter all that much, because there is no Middle Earth, but in the universe in my head I’ll admit to being tempted to use whatever fits.  I happen to be of the opinion that Glorfindel in Rivendell is the same Glorfindel in Gondolin, for example.  It doesn’t bother me that Tolkien hadn’t thought of that until after he’d written the Lord of the Rings.  It was an evolving universe that was never completed, so I say it’s legit to interpret however you want to interpret, like you might do with a painting or a poem.

Of course, it has to stop somewhere.  I’m not particularly interested in Quenya poems by some dude on the street, or writings by people whose last name is not Tolkien.  And Tolkien’s own work has a lot of internal inconsistencies, but when I’m working on my indexing project I still plan to include stuff from the Histories, even though most people don’t accept that as canon except to the extent that it informs the original works and is consistent.  I’m not a literary scholar, so I don’t know how kosher that is, but I figure that if you want to know about Tolkien’s world, you want to know about everyone in it, right?



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