The Silmarillion, now published four years after the death of its author, is an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of the World. In The Lord of the Rings were narrated the great events at the end of the Third Age; but the tales of The Silmarillion are legends deriving from a much deeper past, when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils.
Not only, however, does The Silmarillion relate the events of a far earlier time than those of The Lord of the Rings; it is also, in all the essentials of its conception, far the earlier work. Indeed, although it was not then called The Silmarillion, it was already in being half a century ago; and in battered notebooks extending back to 1917 can still be read the earliest versions, often hastily pencilled, of the central stories of the mythology. But it was never published (though some indication of its content could be gleaned from The Lord of the Rings), and throughout my father’s long life he never abandoned it, nor ceased even in his last years to work on it. In all that time The Silmarillion, considered simply as a large narrative structure, underwent relatively little radical change; it became long ago a fixed tradition, and background to later writings. But it was far indeed from being a fixed text, and did not remain unchanged even in certain fundamental ideas concerning the nature of the world it portrays; while the same legends came to be retold in longer and shorter forms, and in different styles. As the years passed the changes and variants, both in detail and in larger perspectives, became so complex, so pervasive, and so many-layered that a final and definitive version seemed unattainable. Moreover the old legends (‘old’ now not only in their derivation from the remote First Age, but also in terms of my father’s life) became the vehicle and depository of his profoundest reflections.
In his later writing mythology and poetry sank down behind his theological and philosophical preoccupations: from which arose incompatibilities of tone.
On my father’s death it fell to me to try to bring the work into publishable form. It became clear to me that to attempt to present, within the covers of a single book the diversity of the materials – to show The Silmarillion as in truth a continuing and evolving creation extending over more than half a century – would in fact lead only to confusion and the submerging of what is essential I set myself therefore to work out a single text selecting and arranging in such a way as seemed to me to produce the most coherent and internally self-consistent narrative. In this work the concluding chapters (from the death of Túrin Turambar) introduced peculiar difficulties, in that they had remained unchanged for many years, and were in some respects in serious disharmony with more developed conceptions in other parts of the book.
A complete consistency (either within the compass of The Silmarillion itself or between The Silmarillion and other published writings of my father’s) is not to be looked for, and could only be achieved, if at all at heavy and needless cost.