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.
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.
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!