THE LORD OF THE RINGS
THE RETURN OF THE KING
(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.
The work J. R. R. Tolkien claimed as his main "source" for his writings about
Middle-Earth, the names the Red Book of Westmarch and the Red Book
of the Pheriannath are given both to a five-volume collection of histories
kept by the Fairbairns, descendants of Samwise Gamgee, at Undertowers in
the Westmarch of the Shire; and specifically to the first volume of the
collection, a narrative written by Frodo and Bilbo Baggins of events during the
War of the Ring.
The book was in origin Bilbo's private diary, in which he wrote an
account of the Quest of Erebor, the Battle of Five Armies and the finding
of the One Ring1. Bilbo took the diary with him to Rivendell when
he left the Shire in S. R. 1401, and over the next 15 years
worked on translating certain books of Elvish Lore concerning the Elder Days
into the Common Tongue.
When Frodo returned to Rivendell following the destruction of the Ring, Bilbo
gave him both the diary and the three volumes of his Translations from the
Elvish. During 1420 and 1421 Frodo filled the remaining pages with his
account of the War, and following his departure over the Sea, Sam completed the
narrative with an account of the Scouring of the Shire and the departure of
the Ring-Bearers from the Grey Havens. Sam and his descendants later added a
fifth volume, of historical and geneological annotations concerning the various
members of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Samwise departed from the Havens in S.R. 1482, bequeathing the collection to his
daughter Elanor and her husband, Fastred of Greenholm, Warden of the Westmarch.
At some point over the intervening years the entire collection was rebound in
red leather, giving the book its name.
According to Tolkien, the original Red Book did not survive. His main source was
apparently a copy made by a Gondorian scibe named Findegil in the year 172
of the Fourth Age, at the request of the great-grandson of Peregrin Took.
This copy is significant because it is the only "extant" copy to contain the
whole of Bilbo's Translations.
1: It should be noted that Bilbo was somewhat economical with the truth in
his original account of the finding of the Ring, and the actual truth of what
happened was recorded by Frodo and Sam sometime later. Most copies of the Book,
however, still contain the original, as neither Frodo nor Sam were willing to
delete anything written by Bilbo himself.