The Arda format for structural references to
the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

What is a structural reference?

A structural reference identifies an element of the text by help of its place in the text’s structure (rather than by its place in the layout of the book, which does not work when editions differ in layout). The structural reference format used in Arda first specifies in which work to look, then in what part of the work, and so on down to the relevant text paragraph, illustration, or other element. The number and kind of hierarchical levels differ between the different works.

Thus, a structural reference could look like this:

But employing abbreviations and some conventions developed in the volumes of Arda we write the same reference more concisely:

Starting from the end, a number preceded by a colon identifies a paragraph: for instance, ‘II:72’ designates the 72nd paragraph in the second chapter. A paragraph number can also be identified with the sign ¶; we use this in cases like ‘Ak. ¶53’ (for the 53rd paragraph of “Akallabêth”) or ‘H ¶3’ (for the third paragraph in the untitled author’s note prefacing later editions of The Hobbit), where there is no intermediary level corresponding to chapters or lower. (What corresponds to a chapter is of course a matter of judgment, and in principle ‘Ak.:53’ and ‘H:3’ will also work.) The sign ¶ is also useful in expressions like ‘ill. (to ¶¶93-98)’, meaning ‘illustration (to paragraphs 93-98)’. A base-level element other than a paragraph - such as an illustration, a chapter title, a footnote or a list entry - is usually preceded by a comma (and a space): for instance, ‘IX, ill.’ designates the illustration to the ninth chapter (supposing there is only one; otherwise a further specification is needed). The comma is sometimes omitted, as in ‘LR App.B TA 2’ (meaning the annal for Third Age 2 in The Lord of the Rings Appendix B) rather than ‘LR App.B TA, 2’ (since one normally writes ‘TA 2’ to designate the year), or when a base-level unit belongs immediately to a work, like ‘P 14’ or ‘LR Map of Middle-earth’.

It is rarely any problem what counts as a paragraph (text bounded by blank lines or - for text with a straight left margin - indentations (including inverted indentations as in the song “The Ent and the Entwife”)). Headings are not counted. In the few cases where one might hesitate we follow these rules: the mentioned boundaries are always valid when they are also boundaries between Tolkien’s text and editorial comment, but within Tolkien’s text they are invalid when preceded by a comma or followed by a lower-case letter; preliminaries (date, greeting) of a letter are included in its first paragraph, while its valedictory phrases and signature are included in the paragraph preceding them.

Where text is structured as a list with entries, the entries are of course used for reference (if need be, one can count paragraphs within long entries). The same goes for footnotes and endnotes. Text in poems can be referred to with line numbers; when line numbers are given in the book they should be used.

Tolkien’s works also contain a number of illustrations. When an illustration has a fixed place in the text (like the Ring-inscription), we refer to the paragraph below or beside which it occurs (‘LR 1 II:72, ill.’). When an illustration does not have a fixed place (for instance, a whole-page illustration that in different editions will have different first words on the facing page) the reference states the larger unit that the illustration belongs to (‘RS XXV, ill.’ for an illustration belonging to chapter XXV of The Return of the Shadow).

The next step up may be a chapter, but many other divisions occur: for instance, in The Lord of the Rings there are appendices A to F, of which some are subdivided, and some of the subdivisions are subdivided further. The reference ‘LR App.A I:114’ defines the same paragraph as ‘LR App.A I (iv) Stewards:4’; it is a matter of practical judgment how far down the hierarchy of text units to go in various cases before starting to count paragraphs. When divisions have numbers or letters, we regularly use them rather than the titles; when titles are used these may be shortened, usually to one or a few characteristic words (like ‘Fëanorian’ for “The Fëanorian Letters”), seldom to acronyms (like ‘LL’ for “The Lay of Leithian”).

There may also be a level between the work and the chapter, like the six books in The Lord of the Rings; in references to that work we use Arabic numerals for the books and Roman numerals for the chapters (opposite to Christopher Tolkien’s usage; we want to avoid confusion with ‘I’, ‘II’ and ‘III’ often used to refer to the volumes of the work when references are made to elements of layout instead of elements of text).

In some cases levels may be omitted in the reference. It can usually be assumed safe to speak of ‘“Akallabêth”’ (‘Ak.’), instead of ‘“Akallabêth” in The Silmarillion’ (‘S Ak.’); or to speak of ‘“The Lay of Leithian”’ (‘LL’) instead of ‘“The Lay of Leithian” in the third part of The Lays of Beleriand’ (‘LB 3 LL’). In other cases one may like to include redundant information: for instance, in references to “The Lay of Leithian” we give both the number of the Canto and the line number or numbers as given in the book, even though the line numbers are counted within the poem as a whole.

The point of referring to text elements rather than to layout elements (like pages) is not only that the text (including illustrations) is our real object of study, but also that the text is basically the same in all editions, and except for a handful of cases its structure has not been changed by revisions. When referring to something not found in all printings (like H ¶3), an indication of this must of course be added to the reference. When only one edition or printing is pertinent, we identify it by its designations in A Tolkien Bibliography by Åke Bertenstam (‘TBibl.’) and in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography by Wayne Hammond and Douglas Anderson (‘Hammond’).


These abbreviations have been used for structural references in the Arda format. All texts are not covered here, mostly because there have not been references to all texts in publications using the Arda format. A new website with a fuller presentation is in preparation.

Within each section, the works appear in order of publication.

The links go to Åke Bertenstam’s Tolkien Bibliography.

Books by Tolkien Works by Tolkien published in Parma Eldalamberon Works by Tolkien published in Vinyar Tengwar Shorter works by Tolkien Accessory works with original Tolkien material

These abbreviations also occur:

Sample references

Here are some references showing various applications of the Arda conventions. You may use them to practice finding places identified by structural references.

© 1996–2021 by Beregond, Anders Stenström.

Mail corrections and comments to: Beregond

Created: 16 March 1996
Last updated: 7 February 2021