Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 4

Welcome to week four of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.

Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.

Week 4: Hope

As we have briefly discussed last week, hope is a strong and recurring motif in Tolkien’s legendarium. When you first read The Silmarillion, you cannot but notice that hope and despair are closely connected in Middle-earth. Again and again, a lack of hope seems to lead to despair and madness. The hopeless in Middle-earth, as we will see, do not simply give up fighting, they give up on life and want to end it by all means possible. However, hope is even more important for the concept of Tolkien’s eucatastrophe.

Eucatastrophe and Hope
Coined from the Greek ευ- „good“ and καταστροφή „destruction“, Tolkien explained in a letter that eucatastrophe is a „sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears“ (“Letter 89” in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). In the chapters for week four, we have encountered a character predicting doom followed by an eucatastrophe:

‘Thus it may come to pass’, [Ulmo] said, ‘that the curse of the Noldor shall find thee [Turgon] too ere the end and trason awake within thy walls. Then they shall be in peril of fire. But if this peril draweth nigh indeed, then even from Nevrast one shall come to warn thee, and from him beyond ruin and fire hope shall be born for Elves and Men (Of the Noldor in Beleriand).

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, hope is defined as “to cherish a desire with anticipation. It is easy to have hope when you know or believe that certain things will turn out well in the end or when you assume that fate ‘works in your favour’. However, to remain hopeful and keep fighting when all seems lost that requires true strength. In other words, while hope cannot exist in Tolkien’s realm without despair, for there are forms of evil and peril, a eucatastrophe will follow if only one perseveres and remains hopeful long enough.

Hopelessness and Leading to Madness
One good example for this hope in a time of hopelessness is in the chapter of “Of the Coming of Men into the West”. When Morgoth sends an orc raid to the people of Haladin, the situation seems dire when many, including strong men, were slain:

Then Haleth held the people together, though they were without hope; and some cast themselves in the rivers and were drowned. But seven days later, as the Orcs made their last assault and had already broken through the stockade, there came suddenly a music of trumpets, and Caranthir with his host came down from the north and drove the Orcs into the rivers (Of the Coming of Men into the West).

If those of Haleth’s people who drowned themselves would have only waited a little longer, would have kept on fighting, they would have survived the onslaught and would have become a part of a great line of men to follow.

Later on in the chapter “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin”, the great Fingolfin finds his end driven by his own despair. After receiving the news of the defeat of Dorthlonion, it is said that “it seemed” to Fongolfin that the ruin of the Noldor was imminent:“…and filled with wrath and despair he mounted upon Rochallor his great horse and rode forth alone, and none might restrain him” (Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin). Fingolfin only assumed that the end was near, but his hopelessness and despair led him to confront Morgoth alone. Thus, by giving in to despair and hopelessness, Fingolfin found his end.

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“Fingolfin’s Challenge” by John Howe via tolkiengateway.net

Of course, there are many instances in the book where, despite all hope and fight until the very end, characters still die. From a narratological perspective, eucatastrophe is a fantastic tool to engage the reader with the story and characters. As Tolkien explained, the eucatastrophe “pierces you with a joy that brings tears“ (Letter 89).

My personal favourite moment of utter joy was when I first read „Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad“. Maedhros, Fingon, many men, dwarves, and elves gathered to confront Morgoth. Once again, all seems dire when “a shadow of doubt fell upon Fingon’s heart” and “Maedhros was hindered”. Suddenly “a cry went up” and Turgon came with “an army of ten thousand strong”. Although it is now a long time ago, I can still remember the first time I’ve ever read that passage. I was on my way to school, sitting in a tram reading, when I came to that passage and had to put that book down. Chills went down my spine in a way no book before was able to do so. In that moment, I truly felt Tolkien’s concept of a eucatastrophe. While the battle did not end there, nor successful, that brief moment was the moment I began to love The Silmarillion.

What do you think of Tolkien’s concept of a eucatastrophe?? Which eucatastrohe whas your favourite moment? Any other questions left in regards to the discussed chapters? Leave a comment down below!

Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Every year on March 25th, the date of the downfall of the Lord of the Rings (Sauron) and the fall of Barad-dûr, Tolkien fans around the world celebrate Tolkien Reading Day. The Tolkien Society organises Tolkien Reading Day since 2003 to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages

Poetry and Song

The theme of this year’s Tolkien Reading day is poetry and song. Therefore, I decided to share with you one of my all time favourite poems written by Tolkien and performed by the Tolkien Ensemble: “The Old Walking Song”. When I first discovered Tolkien’s Middle-earth, all I wanted was to explore its realms. I wanted to be just like Bilbo, step out of the door and go where-ever my feet would carry me. Now, I can happily say that I have become Bilbo. If you would’ve told my 14 year-old-self that I have visited New Zealand twice at age 30, I would’ve laughed you in the face. Yet, here I am, one very lucky hobbit, just having returned from my second trip to New Zealand.

Who or what is the Tolkien Ensemble?

In case you haven’t heard of the Tolkien Ensemble, they are a Danish ensemble founded in the 1990s with 5 albums full of musical interpretations of Tolkien’s poems. Long before Howard Shore, the Tolkien Ensemble was, and to some still is, the soundtrack of Midle-earth. In 2002 and 2005, on their albums At Dawn in Rivendell and Leaving Rivendell, no other than Saruman himself, the late Christopher Lee, was featured.

Celebrating a simple life

Today, I will listen to as many different musical interpretations of Tolkien’s poems as possible, I will read some chapters of the Silmarillion and write this week’s wrap-up post for Monday, go for a walk, and try to bake some lembas.

How are you going to celebrate Tolkien Reading Day? Which Tolkien inspired song, musician, or album is your favourite? Leave a comment down below and may the hair on your toes never fall out!

Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 3

Welcome to week three of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.

Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.

Week 3: Life and Death

Dwarves and Men in Middle-earth
With the beginning of the chapter “Of the Sindar”, The Silmarillion shifts its focus away from the Undying Lands towards Middle-earth. Moreover, with the coming of the Dwarves and Men, dynamics of power change in Middle-earth. Elves have Middle-earth no longer to themselves, although their power remains unchallenged for a while. With the coming of Dwarves and Men, something else changed as well. Mortality begins to play a more prominent role in Middle-earth:

“In that time the air of Middle-earth became heavy with the breath of growth and mortality, and the changing and ageing of all things was hastened exceedingly” (Of Men)

With the coming of men, in particular, the very make up of Middle-earth begins to change. In a way, Middle-earth itself seems starting to age all of a sudden.

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“A Bunch of Dwarves” by Alarie via tolkiengateway.net

In addition to being mortal, the readers also learn that Dwarves and Men differ from Elves in other significant ways. The Dwarves, also known as the Naugrim, are described as follows:

“[…] the Naugrim yet came ever and anon over the mountains and went in traffic about the lands; but they went seldom to the Falas, for they hated the sound of the sea and feared to look upon it.”

As we have learned during the fist week, the echo of the Music of the Ainur is most present in the water. Dwarves are described to hate and fear it for they were not included in the Music of the Ainur. Deviced in secrecy by Aulë, Dwarves do not know what they hear when they hear the echo of the Music of the Ainur in the sea.

In the case of Men, it is interesting to note that they love sunlight more than anything else. While Elves first saw startlight and, therefore, love it more than anything else, Men first saw sunlight. This love for the sun is even reflected among the many names Elves have for Men: “The Night-fearers, the Children of the Sun” are only two names among many (Of Men).

War as a catalyst for change and progress
Starting with the chapter “Of the Sindar”, the reader learns more about Thingol, Melian and their realm. The reader enters Beleriand at a time of bliss. Yet, as emphasized by the narrator, there is not much to tell about this time of bliss:

“But of bliss and glad life there is little to be said, before it ends; as works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song” (Of the Sindar).

It is debated among scholar that war may be necessary for the (economic) progress of a society. When we look at the history of Arda and Middle-earth, it seems that the argument of war, and with it death, as a catalyst of progress seems to be true. Without Melkor’s destruction, Arda would have looked very different. Without the destruction of the Two Trees of Valinor, there would be no Sun and Moon. In fact, without Melkor’s destruction of the lights of Illuin and Ormal, the first light to be created, there would not have been the need to create the the most beautiful light to ever shine on Arda, the Two Trees of Valinor. Without war and death, nothing ever changed in Aman and Middle-earth.

In that regard, the above mentioned quote can be seen as self-referential because without war, destruction, and death, there were not tales written down. Without war and death, there were no Silmarillion for us to read.

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“Beleriand and the North” by John Howe via tolkiengateway.net

Life in the hour of death
Since death is needed for change to occur, life following death is just as needed. Without life following death, there would be nothing left to change. The creation of the Sun and the Moon is a good example of why there is always hope in the hour of despair:

“Yet even as hope failed and [Yavanna’s] song faltered, Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of Gold” (Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding of Valinor).

Tolkien’s concept of the “Eucatastrophe”, a sudden happy turn of events, is one of the most dominant themes in his entire body of work as we will examine in next week’s read-along. So make sure to come back!

What where your thoughts on life and death while reading? Of the three races, which one is your favourite? Elves, Dwarves, or Men? Do you have any unanswered questions? Leave a comment down below!

Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 2

**Author’s note: I’m very sorry that this week’s post didn’t go up on Monday as promised. I wasn’t feeling well in the last few days and decided that I’d rather postpone the post than publish a half-arsed one. I’m sorry for any inconveniences**

Welcome to week two of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.

Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.

Week 2: Light and Dark.

Last week, we’ve not only learned that the Music of the Ainur is a vital aspect of every atom of Arda, we’ve also learned that Tolkien made use of similes and metaphors to reflect the importance of music in his writings. As we continue to read, visual sensations seem to replace the auditory ones.

While the stars and star light play significant roles, the light of the Two Trees of Valinor and the light of the Silmarils set events in motion that change Arda and everything that lives in it forever. The impact and influence of light on the lives of beings on Arda appears to be even greater than the impact of music.

The Two Trees of Valinor and Beauty

One of the things that struck me immediately, even after reading the Silmarillion for the first time, was Tolkien’s repeated use of the light of the Two Trees as a simile to describe the beauty of female characters.

“But [Elwë] came at last to a glade open to the stars, and there Melian stood; and out of the darkness he looked at her, and the light of Aman was in her face” (Of Thingol and Melian).

Those of you who have already read The Silmarillion know that a similar incident occurs later on in the novel in a chapter we will read in two weeks:

“As the light upon the leaves of trees, as the voices of clear waters, as the stars above the mists of the world, such was her glory and her loveliness; and in her face was a shining light” (Of Beren and Lúthien).”

Beauty, it seems, is not determined by physical feautures, although physical beauty is a characteristic of the elves and Valar, but by an other-worldly glow. Melian’s beauty is so mesmerizing that Elwë, later known as Thingol, not only forgets time, but also no longer seeks to go to Aman and to see the light of the Two Trees. Melian’s beauty is enough.

Many others, by contrast, have no greater desire than to witness the beauty of the light of the Two Trees of Valinor:

“[The Teleri] were torn between the love of the music of the waves upon their shores, and the desire to see again their kindred and to look upon the splendour of Valinor; but in the end desire of the light was the stronger” (Of Eldamar and the Princes of Eldalië).

Later on, when Fëanor betrays his people, it is said that the Teleri remained “unmoved” by Fëanor’s inner fire. Instead, the Teleri remain faithful to the Valar and the promise of a “new dawn”.

Fëanor and the Danger of light
While light in the presence of starlight and the light of the Two Trees represent beauty and hope, other forms of light show that it can also be dangerous and evil. Our first encounter with ‘evil light’ is when we read about the Balrogs of Melkor and the destructive power of their fire. However, even good beings such as Elves can commit murder and other evil deeds, as Fëanor’s betrayal shows, if their inner fire loses control. While Fëanor’s original name was Curufinwë, his mother began to name him “Spirit of Fire” or Fëanor because much of Fëanor’s character resembles fire.

Just as fire can easily go out of control and became a danger to those that come in its way, so did Fëanor. Again and again, Fëanors actions, character and mind is likened with fire and flames. Giving the impression that the flame of his heart is about to swallow anything in its path if no one stops him. As we learn throughout the story, no one can stop him, not even his beloved wife was able to “restrain him when the fire of his heart grew too hot” for too long (Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor). The danger of Fëanor’s inner fire climaxes in the burning of the ships of the Teleri during the flight of the Noldor.

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“The Burning of the Ships” by Ted Nasmith via tolkiengateway.net

Darkness more than the Absence of Light
One of the most fascinating things about Tolkien’s description of darkness is that it becomes a character in his novels. In Tolkien’s realm, darkness is more than a literary device used to turn a situation more frightening. Darkness is also more than just a symbolic representation of hope, although it is frequently used as such by Tolkien. Darkness becomes an entity to be feared. Nowhere is this interesting quality of darkness most prominent than in the creature Ungoliath. The darkness she creates is, as repeatedly explained by Tollkien more than the absence of light, it becomes an “Unlight”:

“The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle every will” (Of the Darkening of Valinor).

I don’t know about you, but this description is more frightening than any simple description of darkness. Once again, it is interesting to read how Tolkien uses common metaphors or tropes and turns them on its it is head. Usually, it is described that light can “pierce the eye”, blinding someone. Here, however, darkness not only pierces your eye, but enters your body and mind and kills you from within.

What where your thoughts when reading about Fëanor and his betrayal? Any favourite quotes or characters you’d love to discuss? Leave a comment down below!

Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 1

Welcome to week one of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.

Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.

Week 1: Music & Harmony

Correlation of Music and Harmony
In the first chapter “Ainulindalë” we learn that everything that was, that is and that will be in Arda was conceived by the Music of Iluvatar and the Ainur. Most interesting is the arising tension between personal will and harmony. While the Ainur were given assigned roles in the creation of the music, each had an individuality and certain power within the frames of their assigned roles. By disobeying, Melkor did not simply attempted to break free of his assigned role, he wanted to gain power:“…for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself … for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own.”

This disobedience immediately manifested itself in a change in music. What once was marked by harmony and beauty turned into a “raging storm” and “turbulent sound” that replaced harmony with a “war of sound”. Already, Melkor introduced violence and destruction to existence. Moreover, those Ainur that “attuned their music to his” not only lost their individuality, but also power. By attuning to Melkor, it is described that those Ainur who followed his music had to abandon “the thought which they had at first”. When following Melkor, beings need to accept his leadership by giving up harmony, individuality, and their own power.

This submission to one ruler is in stark contrast to the harmonious relationship between Iluvatar and the Ainur. While Iluvatar is the source of all being, the Ainur are not enslaved to his will. While Iluvatar propounds “themes of music”, the Ainur sing. While Iluvatar created Adra, the Ainur shaped, built and created everything, except the children of Iluvatar, in it.

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Go and check out Evan Palmer’s wonderful illustration on his homepage: evanpalmercomics.com/ainulindale

Music and the physical world
Again and again, it is described that the Music of the Ainur is deeply embedded into everything that began to fill the void even long after the initial creation of Arda. Creatures of all kinds, including trees, sing, while music is ingrained into every atom of Arda. Nowhere is the relationship between music and the world better symbolized/ defined than in the description of Oromë’s horn:

“The Valaróme is the name of his great horn, the sound of which is like the upgoing of the Sun in scarlet, or the sheer lightning cleaving the clouds.”

In this wonderful simile, Tolkien likened the sound of a horn with events that do not make any sound. Lightning in itself does not make any sound even though we tend to experience lightning mostly in combination with thunder. Moreover, what does sunrise sound like anyway? Yet for some reason, we all have an idea what it might sound like. Just as the Children of Iluvatar “know not for what they listen” when they hear the echo of the Music of the Ainur in the water, we the readers are, in a sense, tricked into believing that we too, may be able to hear an echo of the the Music of the Ainur in our surroundings if only we learn to understand and listen close enough.

While stars and light in general play significant roles on Arda, water is repeatedly described as the only substance, or place “where the echo of the Music of the Ainur” lives “more than in any other sunstance”. Just as the Music of the Ainur, water reaches even the most remote place of Middle-earth. As water is needed to grow trees and plants, “the Great Music had been but the growth and flowering in the Timeless halls”. Also, just as the music of the Ainur, Melkor cannot “subdue it”.

Tom Bombadil and the Music of the Ainur.
This leads me to my final, most controversial thought while reading the first five chapters of The Silmarillion. You are free to disagree with me on this, but I came to believe that Tom Bombadil, alongside Goldberry, is the physical manifestation of the Music of the Ainur. Apart from the most obvious spect of Tom, frolicking and singing all the time while being married to the River-Daughter Goldberry, there are other aspects of him that convinced me.

While we do not know who or what Tom Bombadil is, we learn in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that he is “the Master of wood, water, and hill”, yet “the trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master” (FOTR). Just as the music of the Ainur is the master, or make up of everything, everything that grows or lives belongs to itself. Moreover, is described as “oldest and fatherless”, as “Last as he was First” and as not being affected by the One Ring’s power (FOTR). Music, just as the Ainur, originated in Iluvatar’s thought. So music may as well exist as long as the Ainur and will cease to exist after everything else vanished.

The idea that Tom Bombadil is a physical manifestation of the Music of the Ainur is, of course, somewhat far-fetched and mostly based on a specific interpretation of descriptions in need of a greater in-depth analysis. Yet, Tom’s constant singing, his marriage to the River-Daughter, his immortality and power, as well as certain detachment from the events in Middle-earth, makes me believe that he may be the music of the Ainur took on a life of its own, yet never truly distancing itself from its close relationship with water.

Do you agree with my theory on Tom Bombadil? What where your thoughts when reading the first five chapters of The Silmarillion? Any favourite quotes or characters you’d love to discuss? Leave a comment down below!

Sources:

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. Grafton 1992.

Tolkin, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings, HarperCollins 2002.