Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blogging The Silmarillion: The creation of Arda and myth-making

Blogging The Silmarillion: Series introduction

In part one of Blogging the Silmarillion, I’m sharing my thoughts on the first two sections of the book, “Ainulindalë,” and “Valaquenta,” as well as Chapter 1 of section three of the Quenta Silmarillion, “Of the Beginning of Days”.

The Silmarillion begins with “Ainulindalë,” which means “Music of the Ainur." This is Tolkien’s creation myth. As I re-read this chapter, I was struck by its affinity with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, both in terms of its imagery and characters, and in its thematic similarity to the Christian fall of man. The language is also similar, biblical and epic and “high.”

In “Ainulindalë” we learn that Ilúvatar is the creator of the known universe, including Arda. This place of wizards, heroes, orcs, dragons, and dark lords, has an omnipotent, single creator. This is an incredibly important fact. We can guess at the presence of a creator in The Lord of the Rings, but only barely. For example, Sam, journeying with Frodo in the heart of Mordor and at the nadir of his faith and endurance, senses the presence of something greater beyond this world, buoying his spirit and giving him the strength to continue:

"Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."

Though we don’t have a name for which to assign Sam’s divine revelation, upon re-reading The Silmarillion I realized that this is Varda (Elbereth), whose face radiates the light of Ilúvatar. It’s always been one of my favorite moments in Tolkien, and The Silmarillion helped me understand why.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


Taranaich said...

Excellent debut, Brian! You have all the bases covered. As I understand it, Steve Tompkins was working on a Morgoth/Satan thing, but sadly he never completed it.

I particularly like "Terrific Tolkien" as a concept, though I don't know how you're going to pick just "one" from Gondolin or Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

David J. West said...

Bravo, such an excellent piece Brian. You have actually made me love Tolkien more.

Brian Murphy said...

Taranich: Yes, I anticipate that the "Terrific Tolkien" sections will get a lot harder to reign in once we get some of the big battles of the First Age.

David: Thanks. The Silmarillion is better than I remembered it!

Lagomorph Rex said...

Excellent post, and I'm glad you're doing this and not me. I'm not nearly as eloquent as you are in these matters.. I'd wind up just typing AWESOME a bunch of times..

Which is what the Silmarillion is, Its Awesome and now I want to read it again.

I know its a bit of an oddball remark, but perhaps after you finish this series you would consider blogging the History of Middle Earth series.. since you've blogged the Lord of the Rings and then blogged the Silmarillion. I'd really like to hear some one elses review of that daunting series.. anyone who says they love it, I think hasn't read it all, and anyone who says its junk, definitely hasn't read it all.

Either way, I look forward to the rest of your series on this project.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Great work, Brian. That bit in Return of the King was always one of my favorites, too!

Brian Murphy said...

Lagomorph: Thanks for the vote of confidence. The Silmarillion is awesome and overwhelming and I'm finding it hard not to just say that over and over again myself.

I will admit that I have not read all of the History of Middle Earth series, though I'm looking forward to it one day. Writing about all 12volumes with any degree of depth would certainly be an epic, daunting project, to say the least.