Some Old Tolkien Material

Here are some reflections on J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Silmarillion’ I made when I was younger – not bad, if I do say so myself!

Central elements of the mythology include: Beren and Luthien, Hurin and his children, Earandil and his interceding on behalf of men, and Feanor and his war on Morgoth. there are more, but I’d say those are the key pillars to this mythology.

Of those, I think the most important to the mythology as a whole are Hurin and Earandil. Neither are entirely original in conception, but they are both incredibly important, moreso than any of the other of the stories Tolkien wove. wove into his mythology. Hurins story, called the Narn i Chin Hurin, in my opinion, is the entire Tolkien mythology in a nutshell. while based primarily in Finnish and Greek mythologies, especially the tradgedies, it’s a powerful story that sets the tone for the entire Middle-Earth legendarium.

The key points of the Narn are (a) Hurins imprisonment by Morgoth (b) the curse laid on Hurin and all his family and (c) Turins life lived under said curse. Hurin attempts to out-debate Morgoth, and failing, has a curse laid on him. This isn’t a normal curse though; if you look at the nature of Morgoth you’ll see its much more. The music of the Ainur was the fabric of creation, and since Melkor wove his own themes of pride and evil into it, evil is therefore ingrained into Arda by the doing of Morgoth. So Morgoth isn’t just predicting bad luck, he’s quite literally bending evil itself to work on Hurin and his children.

That’s the basic reason Turin is beset by bad fortune, death, sadness, etc. wherever he goes; because the evil in the fabric of creation, put into place by Morgoth is bending against him. There’s no escaping it for Turin, and any victories he does achieve turn out to be fruitless in the end. even his marriage is torn apart in a rather Odepian way, his bride being his sister, whose memory was lost from the spell of the great dragon Glaruraung. she kills herself, and Turin follows soon after. the point of all this being, Morgoth is not boasting when he says to Hurin how great his power is, and how his thought and will will go with Hurin and all his children all the days of his life.

the story as a whole, as i said above sets the tone for the vast majority of Tolkiens middle-earth mythology: long struggles, glorious defeats and victories at a great price.

The second most important tale in the mythology, at least in my mind is Earendil.

Earendil sailed into the west to valinor in order to get the Valar to help Elves and Men in the siege of Angband, morgoths stronghold. he was able to find Valinor by the power of the Silmaril on his brow. he enters valinor and procures the aid of the Valar, who come to middle-earth in force and defeat Morgoth in battle once and for all and exile him into the outer void, beyond time and space. in doing so, Beleriand is sunk below the sea. Earendil, having been to Valar, which no mortal had been to before, was then given choice to either remain a mortal man or become an elf. he and his wife both choose to be counted among the elves, and earendil then takes his ship and sails into the starless void with the Silmaril on his brow still; and becomes the star Earandil, which is seen in middle-earth for the rest of its days.

This tale is improtant, at least to my mind, because it establishes the power of hope and grace, even when it seems that all is failed. Earendil goes to the Valar because he rightly perceives that Morgoth cannot be overthrown by force of arms alone, and ” delivered the errand of the Two Kindreds. Pardon he asked for the Noldor and pity for their great sorrows, and mercy upon Men and Elves and succor in their need. And his prayer was granted”

Even though the elves had spit in the face of the Valar, defied their will and marched off to a 450+ year war in which countless people were killed, even though they attacked their own kind and stole their ships to get across the ocean, though they betrayed each other in the zeal for the Silmarils, despite all that and much much more, one simple prayer was enough to change the minds of the Valar and cause them to overthrow Morgoth.

Thus, Angband is broken(though not completely destroyed) and Morgoth banished beyond the door of Night, and a permanent guard is set on the walls of Night. but since evil did not simply come from Morgoth but was woven into the very fabric of creation itself, evil endured, and will continue to endure until the end of time, which leads into a rather big point in the whole mythology: the resistance to evil by good, even in the face of defeat.

Those are the two tales that i would say for the cornerstone of the Tolkien mythology. now on to the reason the Silmarillion is named the Silmarioion: the silmarils.

Feanor was the greatest artist/craftsmen to ever live. his power was immense, not only in art/making things but in speech as well. his will was indomitable, and he could not be made to change his path by force or counsel. such was his power of speech that he roused the vast majority of the Noldor to war in a speech given over the course of an entire day, the War of the Jewels. Feanor is a key character in the story, not only for his own sake, but also because of the seven sons he had. when he went to war to reclaim his jewels, his sons swore along with him to get back the jewels at any cost, no matter what. this oath would have devastating consequences and also cause the first kinslaying, the killing of elf by elf.

Joy, Longing and Nostalgia

C.S. Lewis is pretty well-known for his ‘argument from desire’, which is more or less a take on certain aspects of Platonic philosophy. Nostalgia and joy (or sehnsucht, or longing) for Lewis are indicators of our other-worldiness. Our desires and longing for beauty reflect our desire for the Divine, beauty itself. That small nostalgic ache we get at the end of a beautiful symphony or as a sunset fades is a desire for something ‘which no natural happiness will satisfy.’ Sensible beauty serves to awaken a much deeper longing for the beauty of the absolute.

Augustine makes a similar point in with the famous opening phrase of his ‘Confessions’: our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. Pascal says similar things as well. Beauty, the experience of the beautiful, our desire for the beautiful, is a reflection of our desire for the absolute, for beauty itself. Lewis makes another point that when we have summoned into glory, that old ache will be healed. We’ll be made whole again. (A quick Google search will yield a large number of quotes made by Lewis on this topic that are worth reading)

‘The beautiful is unquestionably a transcendental orientation of the mind and the will, because the desire it evokes can never be exhausted by any finite object; it is an ultimate value that allows one to make judgements of relative value, and that weds consciousness to the whole of being as boundlessly desirable. whether or not there is actualy such a thing as an eternal beauty beyond the realm of the senses, the effect within us of beauty’s transcendce as an ideal horizon, toward which the mind is habitually drawn and apart from which the mind would not be open to the world in the way that it is. And that, in itself, is enough to render the physicalist narrative of causality profoundly dubious.’ (David Bentley hart, ‘The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss’, p. 285)

Now, obviously, this isn’t an argument of any kind – nor is it ignoring the physiological/biological aspects of nostalgia, which, incidentally, is a fascinating study. Think of this as simply some musings on the transcendent nature of the experience of beauty.

More Metaphysical Musings

If great art reflects in some way the glory and beauty of God, what of somber art, or sad music? I remember Wolterstorff said something quite profound about God and suffering:

‘It is said of God that no one can see His face and live. I always though this meant that no one could see His splendour and live. A friend said perhaps it meant no one can see His suffering and live. Or perhaps His suffering is His splendour.’ (Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Lament for a Son’, p. 81)

That particular volume is a profound and painful meditation in the context of the loss of a dear loved one – but I wonder if something along my current line of thought can’t be drawn from it. Could it be the case that genuine sad music, genuine heartbroken, grief-stricken music, reflects an element of God’s suffering (I here affirm Barth’s position in impassibility, which you can find in the ‘Barth’ category on the right side of the blog)?

Metaphysical Musings

I’ve never really put too much though into Platonic realism. I knew about it and all, but really have never really sat down and thought about it. But a while ago I read something about Schopenhauer’s theory of music – how music actually enables us to see the Forms, of sadness, or happiness, or whatever, and by doing so release us, if only for a moment, from Will. That, to me, (and I’m *not* a Schopenhaur expert at all, so that’s probably a pretty lame breakdown of hi idea) is one of the most beautiful ideas in philosophy, and the more I’ve thought about it lately, the more force it seems to have. From a theistic perspective, in which God *is* goodness, and beauty, it would seem that music and art don’t reflect simply an abstract Form out there in a metaphysical realm, but reflect something, however imperfect and however small, of that Ultimate Reality which is the very substance of beauty, and love, and goodness. For that brief moment that we see a great painting or hear a beautiful song, we catch a small glimpse of that from which beauty and goodness derive any meaning.

In the Beginning

‘There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.’ (J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘ The Silmarillion’, p. 1)