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The Great Tales are made up of the most important tales of the First Age.

All of them are covered within The History of Middle-earth, the The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, but recently, lone publications of some of them have been made, including The Children of Húrin in 2007, Beren and Lúthien in 2017, and The Fall of Gondolin in 2018.

Publications and chapters Edit

Background Edit

The Fall of Gondolin, "...together with Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin, he regarded it as one of the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days."[1]

Tolkien also referred to the 'four great tales' as the Great Saga or The Lays of the Children of Atani.[2]

He originally envisioned writing several stories from the entire Quenta Silmarillion as full, standalone stories.

"I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched."[3][4]

Christopher Tolkien states in the forward to The Children of Húrin:

It is seen from this reminiscence that from far back it was a part of his conception of what came to be called The Silmarillion that some of the ‘Tales’ should be told in much fuller form; and indeed in that same letter of 1951 he referred expressly to the three stories which I have mentioned above as being much the longest in The Book of Lost Tales. Here he called the tale of Beren and Lúthien ‘the chief of the stories of The Silmarillion’, and of it he said: ‘the story is (I think a beautiful and powerful) heroic-fairy-romance, receivable in itself with only a very general vague knowledge of the background. But it is also a fundamental link in the cycle, deprived of its full significance out of its place therein.’ ‘There are other stories almost equally full in treatment,’ he went on, ‘and equally independent, and yet linked to the general history’: these are The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin.
It thus seems unquestionable, from my father’s own words, that if he could achieve final and finished narratives on the scale he desired, he saw the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days (Beren and Lúthien, the Children of Húrin, and the Fall of Gondolin) as works sufficiently complete in themselves as not to demand knowledge of the great body of legend known as The Silmarillion.[5]

Christopher also stated in the The War of the Jewels:

The completion of the Quenta Silmarillion remained an aim; but the 'great tales', vastly developed from their original forms, from which its later chapters should be derived were never achieved.

Other Great Tales Edit

Tolkien has used the term 'great tale' to refer to other works in his legendarium as well.

For example in Letters 131 (quote mentioned above) which Tolkien refers to all of the stories in the Quenta Silmarillion as 'great tales', he also discusses Lord of the Rings as being the last 'great Tale':

But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly though the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric.[6]

Sam makes reference to this in The Return of the King when he states (when comparing their own story to Beren and Lúthien's tale):

“Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?”[7]

One of the earliest references to the term 'great tale' is included in the "The Cottage of Lost Play" in The Book of Lost Tales:

Now it happened on a certain time that a traveller from far countries, a man of great curiosity, was by desire of strange lands and the ways and dwellings of unaccustomed folk brought in a ship as far west even as the Lonely Island, Tol Eressëa in the fairy speech, but which the Gnomes1 call Dor Faidwen, the Land of Release, and a great tale hangs thereto.[8]

The Book of Lost Tales makes several other references to 'great tales' as well

The chapter The Hiding of Valinor is also called a 'great tale':

And thus ended Vairë, and the great tale fell silent in the room.[9]

In The Tale of Tinúviel Beren uses flattery towards Melko (Morgoth) by stating:

Many a great tale has my father made to me aforetime of thy splendour and glory, wherefore, albeit I am no renegade thrall, I do desire nothing so much as to serve thee in what small manner I may...[10]

One of the earliest references to the Fall of Gondolin being a 'great tale':

Yet now those exiles of Gondolin dwelt at the mouth of Sirion by the waves of the Great Sea. There they take the name of Lothlim, the people of the flower, for Gondothlim is a name too sore to their hearts; and fair among the Lothlim Eärendel grows in the house of his father, and the great tale of Tuor is come to its waning.[11]

Finally, the references to the unwritten Tale of Eärendel in the chapter The Fall of Gondolin which includes Tuor and the Exiles of Gondolin (which bringeth in the great tale of Eärendel):

And thus did all the fates of the fairies weave then to one strand, and that strand is the great tale of Eärendel; and to that tale’s true beginning are we now come.[12]

References Edit

  1. The Fall of Gondolin, Press Release
  2. The Peoples of Middle-earth: "As is seen in The Silmarillion. This is not an Eldarin title or work. It is a compilation, probably made in Numenor, which includes (in prose) the four great tales or lays of the heroes of the Atani, of which The Children of Hurin was probably composed already in Beleriand in the First Age, but necessarily is preceded by an account of Feanor and his making of the Silmarils. All how ever are 'Mannish' works."
  3. The Silmarillion
  4. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131
  5. Tolkien, J. R. R.. The Children of Hurin (pp. 11-12). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  6. Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Kindle Locations 3371-3372). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  7. Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Kindle Locations 9582-9583). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  8. Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Book of Lost Tales, Part One: Part One: 1 (History of Middle-Earth) (p. 1). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  9. The History of Middle-earth, Vol. I: The Book of Lost Tales Part One
  10. Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two: Part Two (History of Middle-Earth 2) (Kindle Locations 319-320). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  11. The History of Middle-earth, Vol. II: The Book of Lost Tales Part Two
  12. Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two: Part Two (History of Middle-Earth 2) (Kindle Locations 5490-5492). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.