Posts Tagged ‘Silmarillion’

Creation Day (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion)

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

A version of this text was presented as the lecture for Creation Day, Holmlia Church, 2019-06-19.

[Introduction: Excerpts from The Ainulindalë accompagnied by folk music improvisation on organ and violin]

Some of you may know that I’m a Tolkien enthusiast. I give away Tolkien books on my own birthday. Sometimes I feel like going door-to-door with The Lord of the Rings and its gospel; *Ding* *dong* Goood Morning! Did you know that Tolkien’s books may change your life? (What is that? Yes, Good Morning in all meanings of that expression, thank you). Now, as I can present this before you here in church, I probably won’t have to.

For many, the language professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien only means his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some have even not read any of his books, but may have seen films with strange wizards, orcs, elves, and a good deal of fighting. But this is Creation Day, so in this small lecture there will be less orcs, Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, and the Ring. Instead I will talk a bit about Tolkien’s thoughts on God as the Creator, his Creation, and Men, as God’s sub-creators.

In the introduction, we heard lines from Tolkien’s creation myth, the Ainulindalë, that is, The Music of the Ainur: God gives the Ainur, that is, his angels, a theme to improvise over. Then he lets the song unfold, and when the song is finished, he shows them what they have sung. He says: Ëa! Let this world be! And the song is the World. When the song is sung, its life is the history of the World unfolding. Isn’t that just incredibly beautiful?

The Ainur enjoys the high mountains and the deep valleys, and the sea, and the elves, and the trees, and the flowers, and the animals they have sung about. But in the middle of the harmonies, Melkor’s dissonance is heard. The mightiest of the angels sets his own thoughs above God’s thoughs, and wants to rule, and in pride, fill the void with subjects under his dominion. But what first sounds like destroying God’s theme, is it self taken up in the song, and makes it even more fulfilled.

In the motion of the sea, the song is most clearly heard. Now further in the Ainulindalë, we hear how Melkor in his rebellion makes extreme cold, freezing the water, and uncontrolled heat, boiling it to steam. But in the midst of the freezing cold, we get beautiful snowflakes, and from the heat and steam, there are clouds and life-giving rain. Tolkien shows us that even when the Creation is challenged by evil, God can always turn the evil to something good in the end. God don’t want evil to happen, but when it happens, hope is always there. And when Time comes to its end, and the final chord is sung, we may see that hope and faith in the middle of evil, gave the most beautiful music played in God’s honor.

Those reading Tolkien’s books will soon observe his joy of nature. The books are swarming of life. There are bushes and flowers and trees of all kinds, and everything has value; from pipe weed to oak trees. There are insects and foxes, eagles and ravens, bears and elephants, and even the simplest flower may be important and save lives. Tolkien loved the landscape were he grew up, with meadows, woods, small rivers, hills, and the other crossroads with an inn with good beer. But he also loved the snow in the high mountains, the mighty large rivers, the deep cloven valleys, the sun in the sky, the stars of Elbereth, thunder claps and storm over mountains, and the wind of the sea. There is a lot of God’s creation wihin Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Tolkien criticize those who says that fairy-tales and fantastic stories are just escapism, and have nothing to do with reality. In one of his most known lectures, he turns this upside-down: In a World of evil, somebody wants to tell that there is Light in the darkness and make stories of Hope. What is wrong with that? And Escape is getting from prison to freedom. That is a Good Thing!

Tolkien says that one of the most important features of a fairy-tale, is to experience anew the small and large wonders of the World. When in The Lord of the Rings we read about Frodo coming to the elven wood Lothlórien; For the first time in his life, he realizes what a Tree really is. He feels the bark, the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. They are full of color and smell and sound and Life. The Ents, the sheperds of the Trees, that watches over the trees in Fangorn Forest, sing and talk to their trees, and mourns them when they die. Trees are so much more than something that’s just there. Go and watch and smell and enjoy the life of the trees in the grove you pass on the way to work every day.

Aragorn and his rangers have watched over Hobbiton and Bree, and held evil forces away, without the people living there knowing about this. When you get to live in freedom and peace, remember in thankfulness who built the peace, and who is watching over it. After reading about the faithful friendship between Sam and Frodo, find again the joy in the relations to your friends. When the story about Aragorn and Arwen’s long awaited marriage is told, or Faramir’s spontanous proposal to Eowyn, or Rose and Sam’s happy wedding, renew the joy of your partner, and delight in your choice. Fantasy and fairy-stories gives us the opportunity to recovery, to find again the fantastic from the domestic.

Man is special in God’s creation. Tolkien meant that God has put a spark of his creating power within us, making us more than animals. Telling myth and stories, we make new things that weren’t there before. We are sub-creators.

When we make new stories, or tell or retell myths, they are of course not the Truth. But as the light is spread through a prism making a spectrum of colors, our stories are created from the True Light. Thus, Myth and stories may show us a glimpse of the Truth. This is good, and not only because they come of God’s true Light. When light is broken into colors, they are no longer perfect white: Some becomes red, some blue, some yellow, some violet. But in this spectrum of colors, something new has been created, that earlier was not. And it has value in itself.

Unfortunately, we can not all write like Tolkien. There are those that try, and you get … things … like Game of Thrones and other garbage. But when we use our talents, we are sub-creators too. If that is being a priest, or taking pictures, or making music, or doing accounting, or sports, or learning, or baking, or programming, or carpentry; That is fullfilment of the potential of God’s light through us. With all our strange shapes and colors, we bring fourth a richness that would not exist without us. And though our sub-creation is not perfect, it still has its source in God’s unbroken bright light.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Friday, December 29th, 2017

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

One of the most fascinating stories in The Silmarillion is of course the story of Túrin Turambar. He is regarded as one of the major heroes of his age. At the Council of Elrond, Elrond himself lists the great men and elf-friends of old, Hador and Húrin and Túrin and Beren. But while reading through the Silmarillion, there are few among mortal men that have also added so much pain and disaster to the elves. While a great war hero, Húrin was also responsible for the slaying of the greatest hunter of the elves, Beleg Cúthalion, the strong bow. Being the war hero, he turned the people of Nargothrond away from the wisdom of their history, and even their king, and made the hidden kingdom available for the enemy. How many elves were cruelly slain or taken to captivity in Angband because of Turin’s pride? Thousands! Perhaps even tens of thousands? So how come the elves, ages later, still reckoned Túrin son of Húrin as one of the great elf-friends?

In a Nordic saga style stunt, Túrin finally slew his greatest enemy, Glaurung the great fire-breathing dragon. Glaurung had been a continous danger to all peoples of Middle-Earth, and the end of that worm was of course a great relief to all the elves, even Elrond’s ancestors, the kings of Doriath and Gondolin. Also, we must remember that the lives of the elves are different from that of men. When the elves’ bodies die, their spirits go to Mandos, where they sit in the shadow of their thought, and from where they may even return, like Glorfindel of both Gondolin and Rivendell. But when men die, they go to somewhere else, and are not bound to the world. It seems that elves are more willing to forgive and let grief rest for wisdom over time, than are men’s wont. Even the Noldor who survived the passing of the Helcaraxë forgave and united the Noldor of Fëanor’s people that left them at the burning of the ships at Losgar.

Perhaps that is one of the lessons learned from the tragic story of Túrin. From all his unhappy life, good things happened, and afterwards, the elves forgave and even mourned him and his family.

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.

Tolkien on Death (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, Númenor and Gondor wanes.

Most visible in the legendarium is this in Númenor. The first kings of the Land of the Star live 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, for there is hope after death. 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 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.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Since it’s that time of the year again, I’m reading Tolkiens “canon”, that is The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I always do around Christmas. I’m still moved by the creation of Ëa, the Earth, and of the many stories, I find The Tale of the Children of Húrin the most intriguing. The story variant in the Silmarillion is almost too short, and for those who want the longer version, I would recommend the standalone book The Children of Húrin.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Det er jo juletider, og da leser jeg alltid Tolkiens “kanon”. Tolkien anbefales alltid, til hverdags og fest. Eller forresten, det er jo alltid fest når man leser Tolkien.

J.R.R Tolkien: The Children of Húrin

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Selv om man kjenner en historie svært godt, og vet hvordan det går, gjør det ikke noe å få den en gang til. I denne nye utgaven av den tragiske historien om Turin Turambar og familien hans har man tatt de mest komplette fragmentene av den lange utgaven av historien, og Christopher Tolkien har gjort en fremragende jobb i å klippe dem sammen til et enhetlig verk.

Om man ønsker et sammendrag eller innledning, les gjerne Wikipedia-artikkelen.

Aurë entuluva! Et must for Tolkien-tilhengere.