Ha Jolly Ha

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Need to File a Complaint

I have a complaint to lodge against my favorite author, Tolkien, who held the highest place in my affections long before the [blighted] movies were released and remained there despite them. After many years of reading random passages from The Silmarillion every now and again, in fits and starts as it were, I finally sat down this year with the intention of reading the book from start to finish. How cruel I find Tolkien! With prose so lucid and stirring that one imagines some divine inspiration at work in it, he depicts a world of glorious promise...only to introduce the sorrows that befall it, sorrows whose magnitude and number seem to multiply almost exponentially as the story progresses. Sheesh. I feel as one raised into celestial regions where the view was, admittedly, of surpassing splendor only to be summarily dropped into the lower regions of Dante's Inferno without so much as a gin and tonic to fortify me on the way. I hope a little compassion crept into his art somewhere in the final chapters.


Blogger Mark Scott Abeln said...

I haven't read it in years, but I've heard that the book is unfinished; perhaps it is 3/4 done. Maybe it would have gotten better. But then Middle Earth is our Earth, so I think we know all about our current troubles.

I understand that the sorrow among the Elves is due to their being an unfallen race living in a fallen world.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Raindear said...

Perhaps it is true that he never finished it entirely. I have at times heard rumors to that effect.

I don't understand how one could call the Elves unfallen, though. Although Morgoth certainly instigates trouble, his machinations would have come to nought except he found hearts readily turned to pride and anger. Feanor illustrates this first, but the tale of the Children of Hurin also reveals how it is the family's own wicked choices which finally carry out the curse of Morgoth.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Mark Scott Abeln said...

The Elves have preternatural gifts, and so seem not to have Original Sin, or at least not the full effects of it.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...

I see. That makes sense.

1:03 PM  
Blogger brendon said...

I am not sure that the Elves can be considered unfallen. I would put forward four arguments for this position:

1. Elves are creatures of Faerie. As Tolkien states in his essay "On Fairy-Stories," the essential face of Faerie is magical. By this he means its focus is Nature. The Elves are bound to Arda and the natural world, to live as long as it lives and to fade as it fades. Insofar as Arda is marred so to are the Elves marred.

2. Moreover, as the fall of man is of stage in Tolkien, so to may be the fall of Elves. In the third chapter of the "Quenta Silmarillion," "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor," it states that many of the Elves originally feared Oromë because Melkor "sent shadows and evil spirits to spy upon them and waylay them." Melkor got to the Elves first, so it is entirely possible that they may have fallen before the Valar found them.

3. I've read at least a few Tolkien scholars who argue that the Kinslaying can be counted as the fall of the Elves. (I believe that Bradley J. Birzer is one such scholar.)

4. The Elves' gifts are not preternatural insofar as the Elves are concerned. They may seem preternatural to those who do not possess such powers, just as the powers of the angels may seem preternatural to we humans, but such powers are not outside the nature of the Eldar. This is why Galadriel is confused when Sanwise asks to see her "magic." What Sam considers "magic" are those things that are preternatural to him, which includes both the abilities of the Elves and the powers of the Enemy. But Galadriel's abilities are neither preternatural to her, nor are they related to the powers of the Enemy. As such, she is confused by Sam using the same word to include both things.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...

Welcome Brendon. Thanks for your interesting commentary.

However, I think it is valuable to keep one thing in mind as we analyze Tolkien's work. He disliked strict allegory, so at times it may be more confusing than enlightening to try and find parallels between our salvation history and the tales of Arda.

11:17 AM  

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