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What does it mean when people (or Tolkien himself) speak of him as having been the "editor" of "The Lord of the Rings"?

From: The Tolkien FAQ by William D.B. Loos

The fiction Tolkien sought to maintain was that "The Lord of the Rings" (and "The Hobbit" and the Silmarillion) were actually ancient manuscripts (written by Frodo and Bilbo, respectively) of which he was merely the editor and translator (a situation identical to much of his scholarly work). He never stated this directly but it is implicit in the way in which many sections of LoTR outside the story are written. Thus, the Prologue is plainly written as though by a modern editor describing an ancient time. Other examples are the introductory note to the revised edition of "The Hobbit", the Preface to "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", and parts of the Appendices, especially the introductory note to Appendix A, Appendix D, and Appendix F. Most interesting of all is the Note on the Shire Records, where Tolkien further simulates a real situation by inventing a manuscript tradition (the suggestion was that Frodo's original manuscript didn't survive but that a series of copies had been made, one of which had come into Tolkien's hands).

This entire notion was by no means a new idea: many authors have pretended that their fantasies were "true" stories of some ancient time. Few, however, have done so as thoroughly and successfully as did Tolkien. The most effective component of his pretense was the linguistic aspects of Middle-earth, for he was uniquely qualified to pose as the "translator" of the manuscripts (see FAQ, Tolkien, 4).

  • Introductory note to _The Hobbit_ (precedes Ch I)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue, Note on the Shire Records
  • The Return of the King, Appendix A, Appendix D, Appendix F
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Preface


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