My Favourite Tolkien Line

‘Morgoth is thrust through the Door of Night into the outer dark beyond the Walls of the World, and a guard set for ever on that Door. The lies that he sowed in the hearts of Men and Elves do not die and cannot be slain by the Gods, but live on and bring much evil even to this day. Some say also that secretly Morgoth or his black shadow and spirit in spite of the Valar creeps back over the Walls of the World in the North and East and visits the world, others that this is Thu his great chief who escaped the Last Battle and dwells still in dark places, and perverts Men to his dreadful worship. When the world is much older, and the Gods weary, Morgoth will come back through the Door, and the last battle of all will be fought. Fionwe will fight Morgoth on the plain of Valinor, and the spirit of Turin shall be beside him; it shall be Turin who with his black sword will slay Morgoth, and thus the children of Hurin shall be avenged.’ (J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Shaping of Middle-Earth’, p. 47)

Tolkien and Grief

The sense of grief that pervades Tolkien’s writing is probably its greatest quality. There are a couple different facets to this, though. One is a genuine sense of sorrow. Much of Tolkien’s writing deals with themes of exile, loss and death, and these situations evoke genuine grief. Love is lost, life is lost, and home is lost. These things stain the land – the land itself is, in a sense, grieved.

Another facet, one that Lewis wrote on frequently, is longing – for Tolkien, the longing for Eden. Even though the world is a place of sorrow and grief, love and beauty still lurk. Then land which aches with the grief of war, exile and death also longs for the restoration of Eden and even the surpassing of Eden, when, to paraphrase the prophecy of Turin, all the wrongs, all the griefs, all the hurts of mankind are redressed and avenged and set right in one great victory.

Musings on Summoning

Summoning are in my top three or four favourite bands – for a few reasons.

First, their lyrics are pretty much all Tolkien-based, but not in the geeky way – their interpretation of Tolkien is pretty solid and avoids the geeky/fanboy feel that lots of metal bands have when their lyrics are based on Tolkien or fantasy in general.

Their sound, especially on Oath Bound (which I would consider to be their best album , and one of the best metal albums ever put out [if you can really call it metal, which is debatable]) is absolutely brilliant – their music perfectly captures the mood of Tolkien’s early works like The Silmarillion. The music has a truly sublime feeling – it has the same enormous, tragic feeling that is so characteristic of Tolkien’s writing. I would say epic, but epic is a word that’s really been used and abused a lot in recent years – but tracks like Beleriand really do, in my opinion, capture what it means to be epic.

If I had to describe the sound of Summoning, I’d say dreamy ambient with some black metal influences, mostly in the vocals – the use of slow drum patterns, slow guitar and heavy, slow synths really sets them apart in the metal world, and honestly, I wouldn’t call their more recent albums metal. Oath Bound in particular is more ambient than anything, in my opinion. It’s mood capturing music – and as I said above, it captures the bleak, tragic and cold world of the The Silmarillion brilliantly.

Happy Birthday, Tolkien

Today is the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien. I won’t waste a lot of words here – I’ll simply point you to his writing and mention that Tolkien’s imagination is the reason why I am the person I am today. So do yourself a favour, and go pick up ‘The Children of Hurin’, or ‘The Hobbit’. Take some time to meander through the story. Treat it like a good brandy, or cognac. The rewards are worth it.

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.

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)

On Art

What is the role of art in the Christian life?

Taking a Tolkien/C.S. Lewis angle, I would say that one large part would be that we create as part of our having been fashioned in the image of a creator God. Creating is part of what we do, part of what makes us human – specifically, creating stories and myths. For Tolkien and Lewis, our creation of stories and myths points to our innate longing for God – Lewis points this out in his essay ‘Is Theology Poetry’ when he’s discussing the many other divine stories that exist in other cultures.

If Lewis/Tolkien are right, and I believe they are, then creating stories is a profound part of our being – a part of our being that comes as a result of being fashioned in the image of a Creator.

‘We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.’

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Some Thoughts ‘On the Incarnation’

Commentator mackman made some sound points in the last two posts on theological certainty regarding the Incarnation  – here’s a few of the heavyweight thinkers in Christianity weighing in:

‘In its prologue it speaks of the Word made flesh, and that light sets the whole gospel as the revelation and reconciliation of God in Christ, but it then moves on from the prologue to speak all through of the Son in his obedience to the Father and in his fulfilment of the role of the servant. That belongs to the very nature of the case, for the incarnation of the Word means an incarnation in which the Word is not simply addressed to man from without but so enters into human existence that it becomes a word that is heard and appropriated by man, and a word that is answered for man by this man in the whole course of his obedient life. Thus within the incarnation, the Son is the fuller category, for the Son hears the word of the Father, and the son answers the Father by word and life, and the revelation mediated through the Son is the reveltion of the word (logos) which he has received from the Father and now speaks in the language (lalia)of man. Of all the books of the New Testament none more than the fourth Gospel presents Christ as the servant-Son obedient in everything to the Father, doing only those things that please him, and from beginning to end fulfilling his will. It is thus that he the Son declares, ‘exegetes’ the Father, and reveals him to and within human life on earth and in history. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 67-68) (quote taken from here http://growrag.wordpress.com/category/incarnation/page/2/

‘…[T]here must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of the Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ really be like us? … God’s Son not only assumed our nature but He entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost….’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (I/2, pp. 153ff).

‘I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of
the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.’ (J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy-Stories,’ p. 145)

‘Yet, true though this is, it is not the whole matter. As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself; what, then, was God to do? Was He to demand repentance from men for their transgression? You might say that that was worthy of God, and argue further that, as through the Transgression they became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, if death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning. Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God. No, repentance could not meet the case. What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.
     For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.’ (Athanasius, ‘On the Incarnation’)

These perspectives should provide some interesting frameworks for christological thought – I find myself in agreement with each of the above perspectives.

‘Earendil ‘

‘Earendil was a mariner
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan
and light upon her banners laid.

In panolpy of ancient kings,
in chained rings he armoured him;
his shining shield was scored with runes
to ward all wounds and harm from him;
his bow was made of dragon-horn,
his arrows shorn of ebony;
of silver was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony;
his sword of steel was valient,
of adamant his helmet tall,
an eagle-plume upon his crest,
upon his breast an emerald.

Beneath the Moon and under star
he wandered far from northern strands,
bewildered on enchanted ways
beyond the days of mortal lands.

From gnashing of the Narrow Ice
where shadow lies on frozen hills,
from nether heats and burning waste
he turned in haste, and roving still
on starless waters far astray
at last he came to Night of Naught,
and passed, and never sight he saw
of shining shore nor light he sought.

The winds of wrath came driving him,
and blindly in the foam he fled
from west to east and errandless,
unheralded he homeward sped.

There flying Elwing came to him,
and flame was in the darkness lit;
more bright than light of diamond
the fire on her carcanet.

The Silmaril she bound on him
and crowned him with the living light,
and dauntless then with burning brow
he turned his prow; and in the night
from otherworld beyond the Sea
there strong and free a storm arose,
a wind of power in Tarmenel;
by paths that seldom mortal goes
his boat it bore with biting breath
as might of death across the grey
and long forsaken seas distressed;
from east to west he passed away.

Thought Evernight he back was borne
on black and roaring waves that ran
o’er leagues unlit and foundered shores
that drowned before the Days began,
until he hears on strands of pearl
where end the world the music long,
where ever-foaming billows roll
the yellow gold and jewels wan.

He saw the Mountain silent rise
where twilight lies upon the knees
of Valinor, and Eldamar
beheld afar beyond the seas.

A wanderer escaped from night
to haven white he came at last,
to Elvenhome the green and fair
where keen the air, where pale as glass
beneath the Hill of Ilmarin
a-glimmer in a valley sheer
the lamplit towers of Tirion
are mirrored on the Shadowmere.

He tarried there from errantry,
and melodies they taught to him,
and sages old him marvels told,
and harps of gold they brought to him.

They clothed him then in elven-white,
and seven lights before him sent,
as through the Calacirian
to hidden land forlorn he went.

He came unto the timeless halls
where shining fall the countless years,
and endless reigns the Elder King
in Ilmarin on Mountain sheer;
and words unheard were spoken then
of folk and Men and Elven-kin,
beyond the world were visions showed
forbid to those that dwell therein.

A ship then new they built for him
of mithril and of elven glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him undying doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

From Evergreen’s lofty hills
where softly silver fountains fall
his wings him bore, a wandering light,
beyond the mighty Mountain Wall.

From a World’s End there he turned away,
and yearned again to find afar
his home through shadows journeying,
and burning as an island star
on high above the mists he came,
a distant flame before the Sun,
a wonder ere the waking dawn
where grey the Norland waters run.

And over Middle-Earth he passed
and heard at last the weeping sore
of women and of elven-maids
in Elder Days, in years of yore.

But on him mighty doom was laid,
till Moon should fade, an orbed star
to pass, and tarry never more
on Hither Shores where Mortals are;
or ever still a herald on
an errand that should never rest
to bear his shining lamp afar,
to Flammifer of Westernesse. ‘

– J.R.R. Tolkien