Translations from the Elvish by Himring

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Story Notes:

Apart from the B2MeM prompts (details below), this owes a great deal to Dawn Felagund's recently posted bio of Pengolodh at the Silmarillion Writers Guild Archive.

This fic is an attempt to incorporate, as much as possible, various stray bits of information about the in-universe authorship of the Silmarillion that probably really contradict each other. As such, the piece is obviously not canonical but do feel free to let me know of any aspect I failed to incorporate. (I have occasionally tried to hint at how Tolkien might have wanted some of this to tie in with other parts of the Legendarium.)


'My dear Bilbo,' said Elrond, putting down the three volumes of Translations from the Elvish on the table between them. 'You really did an admirable job!'

Bilbo, who had been sitting anxiously forward on the edge of his chair, awaiting the verdict, heaved a great sigh of relief. Who would have thought he would get off so lightly! But seeing Elrond sit silent and thoughtful, without continuing to speak, some of his anxiety returned.

'But...? There are errors?'

'Oh, hardly any actual errors of translation!', Elrond responded soothingly. 'Your work is a real tribute to your linguistic proficiency and scholarship! I know, of course, that you had a bit of help here and there. After, all you asked my own advice sometimes and I know I was not the only one! And we could certainly discuss some of the particular choices, you made, if you like--how exactly you chose to translate kuivië-lankassë or tancol, for instance--and that you only had a single word available in Westron to translate estel and amdir. But, you know, it is quite inevitable that occasionally an implied aspect or an angle should get lost in translation--from Quenya to Sindarin as much as from Sindarin to Westron or Westron to Sindarin!'

'But you have reservations?', Bilbo insisted.

'Yes, well...', said Elrond. 'They are not even, exactly, reservations. Reading this all the way through from beginning to end--and I did, you know, that is why it took me quite a number of sittings and several weeks, for which I apologize, my dear hobbit--considering that this will be, in a manner of speaking, the sum of the knowledge about the Elder Days that Imladris will be able to pass, through your translations, to the Shire... It made me reflect about the nature of the sources that were available to you. I suppose they must all seem equally trustworthy to you? They were, in most cases, the best our library could provide for your purpose, of course.'

'Now you mention it,' said Bilbo slowly, 'I did notice some things in translating that puzzled me... Sometimes, the texts almost seemed to contradict each other or themselves! I concluded that I simply did not know enough or that the gaps in my knowledge were too great.'

He looked at Elrond questioningly.

'Indeed,' said Elrond, 'and sometimes that will have really been the case. There are great gaps in our knowledge of the Elder Days--in mine as well, not only in yours--and what seems strange and illogical or contradictory in the accounts may sometimes be the the plain truth, if only we knew enough!

But also, Bilbo, consider--even here, in times of peace, in Imladris or the Shire--how difficult sometimes to get to the bottom of even a minor incident, even a recent one! A case of silver spoons goes missing or a goat escapes and gets into a vegetable garden--and everyone will have a different opinion how it happened and their accounts will conflict, as I know only too well to my cost, for it is me they often call on to adjudicate!

How much the more so, when the events you are trying to get to the bottom of are so far back and so many of those who witnessed them are no longer around to speak of them.'

'But surely,' said Bilbo, 'you are... I mean, you are elves, with elvish life-spans and elvish memories!'

'I was only born toward the end of the First Age, you know,' said Elrond. 'Many of these people you have been reading and writing about are my relatives, certainly--but too many of them I have never laid eyes upon.'

Because they were slain by the time Elrond was born, Bilbo thought. Aragorn would probably think he had been tactless again, he thought. Maybe he was. It was difficult not to be, when one person's world history might well be another's most private grief. But whatever Aragorn might say, Elrond never seemed to resent a hobbit's curiosity--although sometimes he would simply not answer questions or break off the conversation, when one of Bilbo's questions had inadvertently probed too closely.

'But Pengolodh, now,' Bilbo said, backing off slightly, because as far as he knew, Pengolodh was not a relative and, anyway, he was apparently alive, somewhere on the other side of the Sea, 'he was not born at the end of the First Age.'

'Pengolodh, yes!, said Elrond. 'Do you realize just how much of what you translated was written or at least collected by him? Without Pengolodh's stubborn and tireless efforts, yours might be a much slimmer work!

He was not born at the end of the First Age certainly. But he was born on this side of the sea, in Nevrast, and he was very young still when Turgon and his people all went to Gondolin. There, he would have had time and the resources of the city at his disposal to do his research and the chance to question many of his elders on past events as well. But still consider, Bilbo, how limited a view he could gain by this! How many books do you think the elves managed to take with them, from Tirion, and how many would have survived the rigours of that journey? Who of the Noldor would he have been able to talk to except those who were supporters of Turgon and had chosen to follow him to Gondolin? Who of the Sindar would he have been able to ask about their side of events, except those of Nevrast? What would he have known of events outside Gondolin? We have heard that rumours often reached the Hidden City only faint and far, if at all. And consider how Gondolin fell, Bilbo. How many of his writings do you think Pengolodh managed to escape with--clutching an armful of scrolls as he fled into the mountains, pursued by Balrogs? Or any of the other survivors that lived through that dread onslaught?

He himself told me he was tearing his hair, when he arrived at the Havens and found his work all to do again. Not only were most of his own writings lost, but among the refugees in that place he encountered men and women from the Falas, from Doriath, from Nargothrond, from Dor-lomin, each with their own version of events, contradicting what he had assumed to be the truth, and some with tales he had never heard of, events he had had no inkling of! But they too had little in the way of written records--those who had even had the custom of writing down their history to begin with--because there were hardly any in that place that had not--in some fashion or other--fled. And already then, too many of those who had been in the confidence of the great and the wise and had known with greater certainty what had passed were slain and in Mandos.

The wonder is that Pengolodh tried, under the circumstances, but he did. He began to write again, this time in the Sindarin of the Falas, because that was the language used in the Havens. He shared much knowledge with Dirhavel and Dirhavel with him--you know of Dirhavel, Bilbo, it was he who composed the Lay of the Children of Hurin, having never met Turin himself, and the sources he used were as much accounts of elves who had known Turin as accounts of Men. But then events overtook them all again and the Havens burned... Dirhavel died there.

I believe Pengolodh managed to save more of his and Dirhavel's writings, that time. And he went on collecting material and writing, until he left Middle-earth. But it was not until he came to Tol Eressea that he completed his work, as much as he could, for he found Rumil's writings on Valinorean matters again there and more of them, to supplement his own, and spoke to elves who had left before him and to others who had never left.

And so, although he deposited copies in his hand in the library of Lindon, it was through Numenor that the latest versions of his writings reached us. He himself never came back, but he long had correspondence with Numenorean scholars who shared the lore gathered by Vardamir and Parmaite with him and for a while letters continued to be carried between Avallone and Andunie. And maybe in the library at Tavrobel on the Lonely Isle Pengolodh is revising still, correcting a bit here, and adding a bit there...

But here in Imladris we have what he left us--and what later came to us copied by Numenorean hands, in the hold of Numenorean ships, and last of all in that small desperate fleet of Elendil's. It may not even be as complete and reliable an account as Pengolodh himself would have made it ...'

'So, there is always more to be said,' Bilbo summed up. 'I chose to translate so much of Pengolodh's writings, because his seemed the plainest account, the most coherent and the easiest to translate into Westron. But surely, here in Imladris, you could have revised Pengolodh's text--added things had been left out--corrected what was wrong or not impartial?'

'I have tried, on occasion, as have others,' answered Elrond. 'Some of our annotations have made their way into the text you translated, too, my friend. But I am not so single-minded as Pengolodh. And I have to confess, I tired of it. Sometimes I am not so sure the plain facts, plainly set down, give the truest account. Sometimes, it seems to me, more of the truth may be glimpsed in the margins, in a line of song, in the corner of an eye...'

His voice drifted off. He was gazing across distances that were, to Bilbo, unimaginable. Who knew what he was remembering, just now, who had been born in Beleriand before it drowned and seen Eregion before its fall? Then he came back to the present and smiled at Bilbo.

'I would not, in any case, claim to be entirely impartial myself--however meticulous I tried to be in the name of justice,' he said.

And that, Bilbo realized, by the sound of it, was the end of that subject, for now. He got up and poured Elrond a glass of wine and one for himself and sat down again.

'All right,' he said, 'Now what was it you mentioned before, about that translation of kuivië-lankassë...?'

Chapter End Notes:

Written for B2MeM 2016 - Memories, which involves reviving previous B2MeM prompts.

Details on these earlier B2MeM prompts:

B2MeM 2012 BINGO card: Quenya and Sindarin:

B15: Tancol ("Signifer", "the significant star" = Venus. The literal meaning is apparently *"sign-bearer");

I23: Kuivië-Lankassë (literally 'on the brink of life', of a perilous situation in which one is likely to fall into death);

G54: Estel (hope, trust, a temper of mind, steady fixed in purpose, and difficult to dissuade and unlikely to fall into despair or abandon its purpose.
[The compiler of the BINGO card noted: Quenya from Ardalambion, Sindarin from Hiswelóke.]

B2MeM 2015 Market-place:

Dawn Felagund's prompt: Any Character/Age/Genre, Idioms and Translations: This prompt is for any and all fanworks dealing with idioms in the languages of Middle-earth and translations between the languages of Middle-earth. How, for example, might Bilbo's imperfect understanding of Quenya have affected his understanding of early history? [..] These are just a few ideas--all fanworks that feature idioms and translations will fit for this one!

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