Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion; The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Friday, December 30th, 2016

I read Tolkien’s canon every year around Christmas. So also this year.

One of Tolkien’s themes revisited in several of his works, is the fall from greatness.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells us that “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.” The all-evil Sauron, the big foe of the world, started out as a good guy, one of the sevants of Melkor. And in the Silmarillion it is told that his master, Morgoth, the black enemy of all elves and men, was once Melkor, the mightiest of the Mayar, the angelic beings of Eru Illúvatar. Instead of serving and building, Melkor rebelled, and in his pride, wanted to rule the world that the Maiar achieved. So Melkor, He who arises in might became he that fell to darkness.

The greatest of the Noldorin elves was Fëanor, for he was “made the mightiest in all parts of body and mind: in valour, in endurance, in beauty, in understanding, in skill, in strength and subtlety alike: of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and a bright flame was in him.” Fëanor makes great works. Tolkien, with his love for language, shows the greatness of him by telling how Fëanor bettered the runes, and created the letters for writing with pen, that were still used by elves and men in Middle-earth, thousands of years later. Even Gandalf recognices Fëanor’s gift for craft, when he feels the desire of the palantír, which he presumes was made by him: “to look across the wide seas of water and of time to Tirion the Fair, and perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Fëanor at their work, while both the White Tree and the Golden were in flower!” And he even made the silmarills, greatest and most beautiful of all the gems of the World. But Fëanor turns to madness and evil. By his might in words, he turns the Noldor against the Valar, and sets them marching out of the blessed realm of Valinor. He fights and slays his kin at the Swan Havens of Alqualondë. He leaves his followers to shame or a terrible and dangerous march, when burning the stolen ships after crossing back to Middle-earth. He, the greatest of all the Noldor falls, and his fall is great.

Of the Ístari, the wizards, Saruman the White, is the chief and leader. He is the greatest in skill of mind and of lore, and has the gift of turning all to his will by speech. Gandalf calls him the head of his order. Later Frodo will not have Sharkey killed, for “he was great once, of a noble kind, that we should not dare to raise our hands against.” But as Gandalf says, “he will not serve, only command”, and Saruman falls from his noble quest of helping men and elves against Sauron, to become a war-lord, rivaling Sauron himself.

Tolkien’s themes about the great ones who fall, resembles the story of Ikaros, who achieved the gift of flying by gluing feathers to his body by wax, but in his pride, he flew too close to the sun, so the wax melted, and he fell from the sky.

The ones with the greatest power, are always in the danger of taking too much pride of their work and themselves, and turn from serving others in humility, to seeking power and dominion over others. That is evil in Tolkien’s works.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, illustrated by Jemima Catlin

Monday, December 26th, 2016

I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, every year. So also this year. There are a lot of things to say about the Hobbit, but this year, I’d just like to show off my new copy of the book, beautifully illustrated by the illustrous illustrator Jemima Catlin.



I picked this up in a used book store, and hey, it was even signed by the illustrator!


I really like Catlin’s style



Fits nicely in my growing collection of Hobbit versions.

For Angelica’s use: The Matter of the Mirror (J.R.R Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings)

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about christmas. So also this year.

In chapter two of The Lord of the Rings, we find a short note on one of Bilbo Baggins’ relations, the young Angelica. Bilbo leaves her a round convex mirror as a farewell gift, and tags it with “For Angelica’s use”, and the author adds that “She was a young Baggins, and too obviously considered her face shapely”.

Now, a couple of questions arise at once: Why in Middle-earth would Bilbo own a non-flat mirror like this? Is it clown-mirror, left-over from some carneval party, or just some other old strange mathom? One might also worry about Angelica’s reaction. As a youngster, isn’t this a bit harsh from old Bilbo to tease her for her caring about her looks?

A convex looking-glass is of course a woman’s make-up mirror, as the curved surface makes it magnifying. And Bilbo being a bachelor, obviously must have inherited this from his mother, Belladonna Took. As Belladonna was of a wealthy family, and as Bilbo had taken care of her mirror for all the years after her death, it must have been quite a heirloom, and just not another mathom. I presume a frame of victorian style silver plated engravings at least.

So giving Angelica his mother’s mirror, with a tongue-in-cheek joke, would be a kind gift from old uncle Bilbo, and it was probably warmly received by her.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Around christmas, every year, I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. So also this year. And this year’s theme from the Silmarillion is … death. How depressing! Or is it?

Several times after his books took off into a success, Tolkien was asked what they were really about. What was the main theme in The Lord of the Rings, and his other texts? One of the answers he gave, perhaps with the tongue in his cheek, was that ultimately, they were about Death. Reading the Silmarillion, this is more visible than in most of the rest of the legendarium. There is death, sure there is, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but death, and the fear of it, not as present as in the Silmarillion.

Before some unknown happening in man’s existence (hints of a fall to sin exists in Letters and The History of Middle-earth, but this was dropped in the later Silmarillion), death was the gift of God (Eru Ilúvatar) to man. What happens after death, the Elves (that has the point of view in the Silmarillion), do not know, and to them, death by age is a strange thing. As they say in Of the beginning of days: whereas to men, he gave strange gifts. But men should trust Eru, and receive death without fearing the unknown. But Morgoth, the Enemy, brings fright of the everlasting darkness to them, and they tend to envy the elves for their immortality within this world. Accepting death as it comes, and not strive for longer life, is presented by Tolkien as a purity. And it is a common mark of a corrupted society when this does not happen. So when Theoden dies in battle, or Aragorn lies down to rest after all his deeds, this is a Good Thing. But as heraldry and strong elixirs becomes more important than faithfully giving power over to your heir, Gondor wanes.

Most visible in the legendarium is this in Númenor. The first kings of the Land of the Star lives to a very old age, and when their time comes, they give their crown to their heir when he or she comes to age and hood, and then go to rest. And the people followed their king. But as we read in the Akallabêth, when Sauron gets power over the king, the fear of the darkness comes, and the strive to longer life reappears, as their actual life grows shorter. Parallely, we get the kings’ hunger for power, strife between the Númenoreans and enslavement of the people of the coasts. The unwillingness to accept death as a part of life, and a hope, makes the societies of Middle-Earth suffer.

This reappearing mode must have been important for Tolkien, and his catholic christian view shines through: Death is not to be feared. As Aragorn says to Arwen at his deathbed: Behold, we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, TBOFA extended ed.

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion, every Christmas. So also this year.

Not much to post about The Hobbit this year, except that I also watched the extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies some time ago. And I enjoyed it.

There are things to say about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit project, and I’ve actually already said a bit about the theater version. The extended edition, in plain 2D on a decent TV screen is a better film. There are things to dislike. How come Galadriel is the most powerful of the White Counsil? (Or is she?) The bunny sleigh is always annoying, and Legolas running up falling rocks is still a bit too disneyish for my taste. But hey, we also got more Beorn, more Esgaroth, and more Dale. That counterweights a lot. But what gave me most in this version, compared to the theater one, is the feeling of closure. We get Thorin, Fili and Kili’s funeral. Thorin has the Arkenstone on his breast, and Daín is crowned king. This is very satisfactory, and was reason enough for me to watch the movie.

Terry Pratchett: The Shepherd’s Crown

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Sjefsheksa Granny Weatherwax er blitt gammel. Dvs, det har hun jo mer eller mindre alltid vært, men nå går det tyngre. Hun tar runden i Lancre, gjør skrubber hele hytta hun bor i, inklusive utedassen, tar på seg pent tøy, og legger seg til å sove. Når Døden så kommer for å hente henne er hun klar, og Døden selv synes det er en ren ære å få eskortere henne videre over i det neste og ukjente. Hvem skal så være den første blant likehekser? Granny selv etterlater seg ingen tvil. Hytta og heksedømmet hennes går til Tiffany Aching (Petronella Pine i den norske oversettelsen). Dermed blir det litt tungt for Tiffany også. Hun må pendle mellom Lancre og The Chalk. Som om det ikke var nok med dobbel jobb, er alvene på krigsstien igjen. Derfor er det veldig bra når det dukker opp en lærling til stillingen som heks. Og en geit.

Her er det ungt alvor og mye moro i sedvanlig sinnsyk forening, slik det gjerne er hos Pratchett. Hva skal man f.eks gjøre med gamle menn? Jo, gi dem et skur og noe å sysle med. Pratchetts gamle hederstanke, at ei jente kan bli trollmann får en fin gjenvisitt fra Equal Rites, idet en gutt vil bli heks. The Sheperd’s Crown er et flott punktum i den lange serien av Discworld-bøker. Det er likevel noe litt uforløst her, og jeg tipper salige Terry ville ha brukt mer tid på manuskriptet om han hadde vært i stand til det. Fansen må selvsagt ha med seg denne boka som siste bind i Discworld-serien, men den står godt på egne bein som frittstående fortsettelse på bøkene om Tiffany Aching. Anbefales for ungdom i alle aldre.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

How did we communicate before email? Before SMS? Before faxes? While using a telephone was an expensive luxury? People wrote letters. Writing a personal letter is a great exercise for the mind, giving the opportunity to think and focus, and make visible the train of your thought. Those who loved their language probably wrote more than others. And for many it was customary to keep letters, for reference, or for cherishing. So while looking for clues about someone’s life over the first 70 years of the 20th century, one should look for their letters.

J.R.R. Tolkien had during his lifetime a massive correspondence. He constantly wrote to his family, employers, friends, and publishers. Some of them are collected in this book. Through his letters, we follow his life, as seen with Tolkien’s own eyes, from the small everyday events when writing to his friends and family, through the drafts of The Lord of the Rings while writing to his publishers, and even to religious musings or pure philosophy, when writing to his children in his elder days.

Many of the letters were found in draft form, or collected from their receivers. The collection is comprehensive, but of course not complete. Lots of letters are missing, and no one knows how many Tolkien ever wrote. From the known letters, this is of course also an edition, and the editors have focused on Tolkien’s life, and especially the occations that touched the legendarium, from which his most famous works arose.

For those interested in Tolkien’s life and the story of his books, this is pure silver, and specked with golden treasures, like these:

Got my head-harvest reaped: a big crop: still fertile soil, evidently (#63)

The vast sum om human courage is stupendous (#64)

Finnish nearly ruined my Hon. Mods, and was the original gem of the Silmarillion (#75)

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argue is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce) (#89)

This university business of earning one’s living by teaching, delivering philological lectures, and daily attendance at ‘boards’ and other talk-meetings, interferes sadly with serious work. (#117)

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is highly recommended reading. And if you get nothing else from this, at least I have learned, that taking time to write personal letters, is something I should do more often.

J.R.R Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (BBC dramatization)

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Inspired by a tweet I’m unable to find at the moment, I listened to BBC’s excellent full-cast dramatization of The Lord of the Rings again, for the first time in 15 years or so. While there are some choices I find strange, like Aragorn’s voice and style for instance, this is still a mighty interpretation of Tolkien’s masterpiece. And it includes quite a bit of song and music too. The intro theme still fills me with anticipation for a new episode, and almost gives me goosebumps.

If you think the complete audiobook too massive, this variant of The Lord of the Rings is a highly recommended abridged variant.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

I read Unfinished Tales again. I should do so more often. It is a fantastic collection of writings, some in more finished form, some less, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s hand, collected, edited and commented by his son Christopher.

Here are the longest “raw” cuts of the story of Turin Túrambar, later fine edited and released as a separat work. Here is the touching story of Erendis, the unhappy wife of Aldarion, one of the mariner kings of Númenor, in almost Brontëan style. Here are essays on the wizards, the Istari, and of the seeing stones, the Palantíri. Here is the long version of the story that led Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield and his 12 companions to Bilbo’s door, and the story of the hunt of the ring before Frodo set out from the Shire. In a footnote, we get the explanation of why it is said that Imrahil of Dol Amroth has some elven blood in his veins. In a moving part, we get the story of the oath of Eorl and Cirion. And we even get facts (though a bit confusing and partly contradicting) concerning Galadriel and Celeborn.

If you are a true fan of Tolkien’s works and legendarium, you probably have read Unfinished Tales already. If not, it’s high time.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

I read Tolkien’s “canon” every christmas, and while posting late, I managed to read through The Silmarillion this December too.

While reading The Silmarillion yearly, there are some passages that touches me more than others. Luthien’s rescue of Beren on Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Hurin’s last stand – Aure Entuluva! The killing of Beleg Cúthalion. Fingon finding Maedhros by song. But I am deepest moved by the Ainulindalë, the Song of the Ainur, that is, the creation of the World, simply because it is so beautiful.

God, Eru Ilúvatar, creates the The World, and not the Earth only, but the whole Universe. And how is this done? It is shaped by song. But he does not sing himself. He suggests a theme, and lets his Ainur sing in before him. He’s not even conducting. He sits back, and lets the Ainur sing, improvising in beautiful harmony, inspired by his thought. And when the song is finished, he says Ëa! – Let this be! And the World is created from the void, and the Ainur watches their song unfold in time and matter and space. This is probably the finest image of Tolkien’s idea of sub-creation, and of course, integrated in his own legendarium.

But wait, there is more. The mightiest and proudest of all the Ainur was Melkor, and he tries to turn his song to another theme, where his song stands out. The result is disharmony. But Illúvatar tells him that there is nothing Melkor can do, that has not its uttermost source from him. So when the World is created, there are valleys where there were sung mountains, cold winter where there were sung mild summer, and fires and heat where there were sung water and cool breezes. But thus, there were snowflakes and ice crystals, and there were clouds and rain. Ever more beauty is revealed from Melkor’s attempt to draw the song to himself.

Both Melkor and rest of the Ainur improvise with free will, and as real beauty comes from all the Ainur’s song, Evil also comes from Melkor’s fall from harmony. God did not want evil to be, but while it is often hard and cruel to the children of Ilúvatar – elves and men, afterwards it will have been good to have been, as God will make amends, and from it create more beauty in a better world.

While Tolkien seldom preaches the Christian gospel in his books, the problem of evil and the span between free will and God’s omnipotence, is seldom better discussed than in this text.