Red Book of Westmarch

The Red Book of Westmarch (sometimes Red Book of the Periannath, and The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings, also known as the Thain's Book after its principal version) is a fictional manuscript written by hobbits, a conceit of the author J. R. R. Tolkien to explain the source of his fantasy writings.

The book is supposedly a collection of writings in which the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were recounted by their characters, and from which Tolkien supposedly derived these and other works.

In the fiction, the name of the book comes from its red leather binding and casing, and from its having been housed in the Westmarch, a region of Middle-earth next to the Shire. In reality, Tolkien modelled the name of the fictional artefact on the Red Book of Hergest.

Fictional developmentEdit

There and Back AgainEdit

In The Hobbit, Tolkien writes of the protagonist and title character Bilbo Baggins composing his memoirs. Bilbo thinks of calling his work There and Back Again, A Hobbit's Holiday.[T 1] Tolkien's full name for the novel is indeed The Hobbit or There and Back Again.[T 2]

In The Lord of the Rings, this record is said to be written in his red leather-bound diary. Bilbo says to Gandalf that his intended ending would be him living "happily ever after to the end of his days."[T 3] This is in fact a rephrased line from the final chapter of The Hobbit, originally conveyed through third-person narrative voice.[T 1]

The Downfall of the Lord of the RingsEdit

Bilbo expands his memoirs into a record of the events of The Lord of the Rings, including the exploits of his kinsman Frodo Baggins and others. He leaves the material for Frodo to complete and organize.[T 4] Frodo writes down the bulk of the final work, using Bilbo's diary and "many pages of loose notes". At the close of Tolkien's main narrative, the work is almost complete, and Frodo leaves the task to his gardener Samwise Gamgee.[T 5]

In the last chapter of The Return of the King, Tolkien provides a "title page" for the Red Book of Westmarch inscribed with a succession of rejected titles. The final title is Frodo's:[T 5]

My Diary. My Unexpected Journey. There and Back Again. And
What Happened After.

Adventures of Five Hobbits. The Tale of the Great Ring, compiled by
Bilbo Baggins from his own observations and the accounts of his friends.
What we did in the War of the Ring.


(as seen by the Little People; being the memoirs of Bilbo and
Frodo of the Shire, supplemented by the accounts of their friends
and the learning of the Wise.)

Together with extracts from Books of Lore translated by Bilbo
in Rivendell.

Translations from the ElvishEdit

Bilbo had translated material from Elvish lore from the Elder Days. This work, Translations from the Elvish, by B.B., comprised three volumes, also bound in red leather. After the defeat of Sauron (the Lord of the Rings) Bilbo gives these volumes to Frodo. These four volumes were "probably" (according to Tolkien) kept in a single red case.[T 4][T 6]

Red BookEdit

The volumes then pass into the keeping of Samwise Gamgee, Frodo's servant and later mayor of the Shire. In time, the volumes are left in the care of Sam's eldest daughter, Elanor Fairbairn, and her descendants (the Fairbairns of the Towers or Wardens of Westmarch). A fifth volume containing Hobbit genealogical tables and commentaries is composed and added at an unknown date by unknown hands in Westmarch. This collection of writings is collectively called the Red Book of Westmarch.[T 6]

Thain's BookEdit

Tolkien states that the original Red Book of Westmarch was not preserved, but that several copies, with various notes and later additions, were made. The first copy was made by request of King Elessar of Arnor and Gondor, and was brought to Gondor by Thain Peregrin I, who had been one of Frodo's companions. This copy was known as the Thain's Book and "contained much that was later omitted or lost". In Gondor it supposedly underwent much annotation and correction, particularly regarding Elvish languages. Also added was an abbreviated version of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen by Faramir's grandson Barahir.[T 6]

The story then runs that a copy of a revised and expanded Thain's Book was made probably by request of Peregrin's great-grandson and delivered to the Shire. It was written by the scribe Findegil and stored at the Took residence in Great Smials. Tolkien says this copy was important because it alone contained the whole of Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish.[T 6]

This version somehow then survives until Tolkien's time, and he translates the Red Book from the original languages into English and other representative languages or lects (e.g. Old English for Rohirric).[T 7]

Related worksEdit

A similar work in some respects was the fictional Yearbook of Tuckborough, the annals of the Took family of hobbits of Tuckborough. It was described as the oldest known book in the Shire, and was most likely kept at the Great Smials of Tuckborough. The story runs that it was begun around the year T.A. 2000 and chronicled events dating from the foundation of the Shire in T.A. 1601 onwards. For comparison, The Lord of the Rings commences in the year T.A. 3001.

The Yearbook recorded births, deaths, marriages, land-sales, and other events in Took history. Much of this information was later included in the Red Book of Westmarch. Tolkien wrote that it was also known as the Great Writ of Tuckborough and the Yellowskin, suggesting that it was bound in yellow leather or some other yellow material. Tolkien mentions several other supposedly historical documents related to the Red Book, but it is unclear whether these were integrated into editions. These works include the Tale of Years (part of which was used as the timeline for The Lord of the Rings) and Herblore of the Shire, supposedly written by Frodo's contemporary Meriadoc Brandybuck, used for information about pipe-weed.[T 6]

Relationship to Tolkien's Middle-earth booksEdit

As a memoir and history, the contents of the Red Book correspond to Tolkien's work as follows:[1]

Red Book of Westmarch Tolkien's writings
Bilbo's journey The Hobbit
Frodo's journey The Lord of the Rings
Background information the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings,
essays such as those in Unfinished Tales
and The History of Middle-earth
Hobbit poetry and legends,
scattered throughout the margins
of the text of Bilbo and Frodo's journeys
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
Bilbo's translation of Elven
histories and legends
The Silmarillion

However, according to Tolkien scholar Vladimir Brljak, readers are probably not intended to imagine Tolkien's published works as direct translations from the fictitious Red Book, but rather as Tolkien's own scholarly and literary adaptations of this supposed source material.[1]

Some events and details concerning Gollum and the magic ring in the first edition of The Hobbit were rewritten for The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was later revised for consistency. Tolkien explains the discrepancies as Bilbo's lies (influenced by the ring, now the sinister One Ring).

Tolkien said that the original version of the Red Book contained the story of Bilbo's journey from the first edition of the Hobbit. Beginning with the Thain's Book, later copies of the Red Book contained, as an alternative, the true account (from notes from Frodo and Sam). Tolkien says neither hobbit seemed willing "to delete anything actually written by the old hobbit himself."


The Red Book of Hergest inspired Tolkien to invent the Red Book of Westmarch

Tolkien's inspiration for this repository of lore was the real Red Book of Hergest, the early 15th century compilation of Welsh history and poetry that contains the manuscript of the Mabinogion.[2]

A scholarly allusion[2]
Tolkien Lady Charlotte Guest
Role Ostensibly translating Hobbit manuscripts from Westron Translating medieval Welsh stories from manuscripts
Title The Red Book of Westmarch The Red Book of Hergest
Content A mythology for England The Mabinogion, a mythology for Wales

The title There and Back Again represents an archetypal Hobbit outlook on adventures. Frodo looks upon the going "there and back again" as an ideal throughout The Lord of the Rings similar to the Greek concept of νόστος (nostos, a heroic return).[3]

Tolkien's Red Book, pastiche of scholarship though it is, functions as a medieval 'spurious source', but the 'authority' it imparts is by an appeal not to the tried-and-true but to the modern mystique of 'scholarly research'.[4]

Gergely Nagy notes that Tolkien wanted to present the complex set of writings of The Silmarillion as a seemingly-genuine collection of tales and myths within the frame of his fictional Middle-earth; he modified The Lord of the Rings to ascribe the documents to Bilbo, supposedly written in the years he spent in Rivendell, and preserved in the fictitious Red Book of Westmarch.[5]


Bilbo writing There and Back Again in Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring; note subtitle "A Hobbit's Tale"

In Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring, There and Back Again provided the basis for the voiceover for the scene "Concerning Hobbits", greatly extended in the Special Extended Edition. Bilbo's writing of it provides his motive for wanting privacy in the film, substituting for a more complicated situation in the novel.

Bilbo only says his line about his intended "happy ending" after he gives up the One Ring. The exchange is tweaked to symbolize the great weight of the ring having been removed from Bilbo's character — he is now free to choose his own 'ending'.

There and Back Again is subtitled A Hobbit's Tale rather than A Hobbit's Holiday.

The Red Book in full appears at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frodo's title is just The Lord of the Rings instead of The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King.

In 1974, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published an edition of The Lord of the Rings containing all three parts in one volume, bound in red imitation leather (ISBN 978-0395193952).

See alsoEdit



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson (ed.), The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 2002), "The Last Stage", ISBN 0-618-13470-0
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson (ed.), The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 2002), title page, ISBN 0-618-13470-0
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "A Long-expected Party", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
  4. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "Many Partings", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
  5. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Grey Havens", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
  6. ^ a b c d e Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Prologue, "Note on the Shire Records", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
  7. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix F, "On Translation", ISBN 0-395-08256-0


  1. ^ a b Brljak, Vladimir. 'The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist', Tolkien Studies, 7 (2010), 1-34.
  2. ^ a b Hooker, Mark T. Tolkienian mathomium: a collection of articles on J. R. R. Tolkien and his legendarium, "The Feigned-manuscript Topos", pgs 176 and 177: "The 1849 translation of The Red Book of Hergest by Lady Charlotte Guest (1812-1895), which is more widely known as The Mabinogion, is likewise of undoubted authenticity ... It is now housed in the library at Jesus College, Oxford. Tolkien's well-known love of Welsh suggests that he would have likewise been well-acquainted with the source of Lady Guest's translation. For the Tolkiennymist, the coincidence of the names of the sources of Lady Charlotte Guest's and Tolkien's translations is striking: The Red Book of Hergest and the Red Book of Westmarch. Tolkien wanted to write (translate) a mythology for England, and Lady Charlotte Guest's work can easily be said to be a 'mythology for Wales.' The implication of this coincidence is intriguing".
  3. ^ Kraus, Joe (2012). "Lost innocence". The Philosophers' Magazine (59): 61.
  4. ^ West, Richard C. (2003). "The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings". In Jared Lobdell (ed.). A Tolkien Compass. Open Court Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 0-87548-303-8. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  5. ^ Nagy, Gergely (2020) [2014]. "The Silmarillion". In Lee, Stuart D. (ed.). A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien. Wiley Blackwell. pp. 107–118. ISBN 978-1119656029.

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