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I've come across a rather complicated sentence in Tolkien's work "The Silmarillion" and I'm afraid that I need some help at understanding its meaning, and therefore its grammar. It reads as thus:

From without the world, though all things may be forethought in music or foreshown in visions from afar, to those who enter verily into Eä each in its time shall be met at unawares as something new and unforetold.

Let me explicate my attempts at deciphering this sentence. First, I believe that the first comma is not a true separation, so that the first part of the sentence may be understood as "Though all things may be forethought [...] from without the world,". Then "unawares" is not a noun, so that the "at" that comes right before it must refer to something else, and the only choice would be "each", so that "those who enter" meet at "each". (On the other hand, if "unawares" was indeed somehow something at which one could meet, then one might conjecture the sentence to mean that "those who enter" somehow meet "each" unexpectedly, or something like that. But then I've never come across the construction "to meet sth. to so.", which seems to have been used here. I then have to assume it to mean something like "make so. acquainted with sth.")

An alternate interpretation of the "to those" might be that it stands in conjunction with the "From" in the beginning of the sentence, indicating that from any perspective, "each in its time" will be "met at" unawares.

Which of these thoughts are correct? What is the sentence's true meaning? I'd greatly appreciate any help!

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  • The commas are parenthetical.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 11, 2021 at 9:27

1 Answer 1

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My interpretation is as follows:

To those who truly enter Eä [that is, come into existence] from outside of the world - even though every single thing may have been anticipated through music or far away visions - each shall [nevertheless] be perceived as new and unpredicted.

Original phrase for comparison:

From without the world, though all things may be forethought in music or foreshown in visions from afar, to those who enter verily into Eä each in its time shall be met at unawares as something new and unforetold.

(This passage, from Chapter 3 of the Silmarillion, refers to the coming of the Elves, and how Oromë, although one of the Valar (who 'verily entered Eä from without'), could still be surprised by the beauty of their creations [see here, for example]: "as though they were beings sudden and marvellous and unforeseen".)

  • The part between the first two commas ("though all ... from afar"), is an adverbial clause.
  • "At unawares" is a prepositional phrase (and "unawares" an adverb).
  • "Each" refers to "all things".
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  • This interpretation hadn't crossed my mind! So in your view, "to those" is something of a subject, and "each" its repetition. Mar 11, 2021 at 9:44
  • @AlgebraicsAnonymous Exactly.
    – Joachim
    Mar 11, 2021 at 9:46
  • But then the gods themselves would be new and unforetold, as indicated by the "as", wouldn't they? There is no verb in this latter part of the sentence. Mar 11, 2021 at 19:26
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    @AlgebraicsAnonymous You're right, that I overlooked. I edited my answer to reflect the new interpretation, where 'each' refers to 'all things'.
    – Joachim
    Mar 11, 2021 at 19:53

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