Before I begin this next blog post, I just want to say that I am overwhelmed by many reactions and responses on the first reflection blog post. I received many encouraging words, from comments on social media to one-on-one talks with friends and colleagues. I am glad that many are enjoying this and hope that they and others continue to do so.
Second, my apologies this did not come out on a weekly basis as expected. I attended WonderCon at the end of March, came down with a horrible cold the following first week of April, and then I was in a wedding for one of my childhood friends. Life can get busy as you may understand, and within that busyness, fun projects like this make life endurable and sane. Now, on to reflections of chapters 1-3!
This past week, I honestly had much trouble putting The Silmarillion down. The rich detail that Tolkien goes into is absolutely mind-blowing as it is heavily poetic. As mentioned in the previous blog post, his work reminded me much of how the Old Testament in the Bible was written and how that inspired his Middle-Earth literature throughout the years. Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. Despite having trouble putting it down, I nonetheless did to focus on this next piece. During the first official three chapters, I could not help but pick up on a recurring theme that had me re-reading certain sections over and over, and that was the creation of living beings.
Chapter 1: Image Bearers – Illúvatar’s Creation of Elves & Men
Towards the end of the first chapter after the war between the Valar and Melkor, Illúvatar planned out the creation of Elves and Men. The general assumption among those who watched the LOTR movies is that men are, well, men and Elves are creatures with pointy ears that live forever and never age. While it is understandable some think this way of men and elves, it is much more than that.
It is true that Elves live for centuries and cannot age. As Tolkien puts it,
“Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful. For the Elves die not til the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief…neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, where they may in time return.”
Growing up watching the LOTR Trilogy, I constantly said that I wished to be like the elves where I didn’t have to age and where I could live forever. For any child, it just sounds cool to live beyond life’s expectancy. However, the older I have become, less and less have I become fond of a childish wish. The idea of living forever while seeing your friends and family pass on into the next life is a pain too great to bare. A significant scene that comes to mind cinematically is in LOTR: The Two Towers between Arwen and her father Lord Elrond, the elves of Rivendell. To summarize the context of the scene (and spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched it), Elrond tries to convince his daughter Arwen that waiting for Aragon’s return over leaving with her people to Valinor is pointless. She refuses to leave and to give up on hope. His response is a harsh reality regarding both peoples, yet it could not be further from the truth.
“If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated, and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true, you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you. No comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death, an image of the splendor of the kings of men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt. As nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell, bound to your grief, under the fading trees, until all the world has changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent. Arwen…there is nothing for you here, only death.”
Talk about being a downer. During this monologue, we see a glimpse of the possible future, where Arwen attends Aragorn’s funeral, crying before his grave while dressed in black attire to express her grief. Imagine having to endure that. Living well beyond the lives of your friends and loved ones as their memory slowly but surely fades into history until history itself is forgotten or lost. This is not to say that Elves are cursed or anything of that sort, considering they were made to represent the Ainur, but to mere mortals, it sounds as if it is a curse.
Speaking of men, I honestly found it fascinating that death was a gift for men, as it is said that, “Death is their fate, the gift of Illúvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.” One may be wondering as to why death would be a gift. As we see in certain religious and spiritual beliefs like Christianity, death was the curse of all humanity after Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge (Also, yes, I said Adam. Many get the idea that it was Eve’s fault when it clearly says that Adam was right there with here. Sorry, just had to make significant note of that). To Illúvatar, the gift of death was a little more.
“Yet of old the Valar declared to the Elves in Valinor that Men shall join in the Second Music of Ainur; whereas Illúvatar has not revealed what he purposes for the Elves after the World’s end, and Melkor has not discovered it.”
In the afterlife, men will join with the Elves, similar to the idea that after our deaths, those who believed and followed their god(s) (take your pick on the religion) would join the others in the afterlife. Regarding death being a gift, one thought I tend to dwell on is the idea and belief that death gives life meaning. Unlike the Elves, Men have a limit of time on earth, unless they were of the Dúnedain. The concept of death is scary, and I think most of us have given the thought and pondered how it will happen and so on. All can agree that it is a rather chilling thought.
It does not surprise me the Men of Middle-Earth would covet the Elves’ ability to live forever. Melkor himself used the gift to his advantage, as it states that, “Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought evil out of good, and fear out of hope.” There is an old saying in Christianity when it comes to God’s gifts – whatever God meant for good, Satan will use for evil. The same can be said here, as Melkor placed the fear of death in men, corrupting the very gift blessed to them. This also reveals why the nine kings of men fell into the power of the rings offered to them later on (we’ll get there when we get there). This again can go back to the issue of pride as mentioned in the previous blog post, the pride of not having what others have and ignored what already has been given, especially if that it is a gift.
Chapter 2: Humility in Disobedience – Aulë’s Creation of Dwarves
As seen in the first chapter, it was forbidden for any of the Valar to create life, for it was only Illúvatar who could. It doesn’t surprise me that Melkor would go against this since he was already cast out from the Valar, however, one member chose to disobey, and yet much good came out of it.
Of the Valar, Aulë is known as the Smith, the one worked with rock, metal, and natural substances. Under him, the mountains for shaped and formed along with beautiful gems and stones. One can obviously assume that is where Dwarves developed their love for gems, riches, and the architecture of great halls within the mountains. Despite being forbidden to create life, Aulë could not wait for the coming of life and created his own creatures prior to Illúvatar’s creation of Men and Elves. One would think this would have been out of selfishness or envy, and yet his response was the exact opposite when Illúvatar confronted him.
“I did not desire such lordship. I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou has caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it…And in my impatience, I have fallen into folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father…As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of my hands which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?”
Never have I read such humility in a character’s word for disobeying the rules set in place. And even in all that, he was ready – with a heavy heart – to destroy his creation, his created being who were frightened and bowed in mercy. To make it even more humbling, the Dwarves were not mere creations that lacked values or emotions as Orcs did (we’ll get to that in just a bit). They were given life, life that carried emotions and meaning. And similar to God who saw value in Abraham in Genesis 22 (we’ll get to that also in a bit), so did Illúvatar with Aulë.
“Thy offer I accepted before even as it was made. Dost thou not see that these things now have life of their own, and speak with their own voices? Else they would not have flinched from thy blow, nor from any command of thy will…Even as I gave being to the thoughts of the Ainur at the beginning of the World, so now I have taken up thy desire and given to it a place therein; but in no other way will I amend thy handiwork, and as thou hast made it, so shall it be.”
Talk about grace and humbleness. Absolutely beautiful and poetic, both from the creator Aulë and creator of all things of Middle-Earth, Illúvatar. A particular section of Christianity that comes to mind about this is Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac in the book of Genesis. Again, this is not an allegory of The Bible, but a simple connection one can make when reading Tolkien’s work. However, before we get into that, some historical/theological context.
After Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations, he was promised to have a son to continue his family line, despite his elderly age. At the beginning of chapter 22, God tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” As it was emotionally grieving for Aulë to raise the hammer to destroy his creation, so it was for Abraham to raise the knife up to sacrifice son’s life. And similar to Abraham being spared the sacrifice, so was Aulë spared of such a cruel moment.
Obviously, both circumstances are different – one was obeying and was one disobeying – however, the parallels between the sacrificing of life or lives is remarkable. Beyond that, Abraham and Aulë both thoroughly loved those that they created, raised, and taught, and in return, they loved them back. The interpersonal connection between a father and their children is something that honestly cannot be fully grasped unless someone has that type of relationship with their father or father-like figure, and being someone who has had a wonderful and loving father, I thoroughly enjoyed and related to every second of this section of The Silmarillion.
And there’s Melkor…
Chapter 3: Vile Beginnings of Vile Creatures – Melkor’s Creation of Orcs
On a completely separate level, Melkor was anything but the sole creator of his creation, or a parental loving figure. Generally speaking, I knew that Orcs were once Elves from the LOTR Trilogy when Saruman confronts the leader of the Uruk-Hai army.
“Do you know how the Orcs first came into being? They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers. Tortured and mutilated, a ruined and terrible form of life.”
While I knew this information, it flew over my head since it was a very general statement of what really happened. Before we get into the creation of Orcs, there were creations that were prior to them, very powerful and legendary creatures in Middle-Earth lore and even our own history.
“In the north, Melkor built his strength, and he slept not, but watched and laboured; and the evil things he had perverted walked abroad, and the dark and slumbering woods were haunted by monsters and shapes of dread. And in Utumno he gathered his demons about him, those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame. Balrogs they were named in Middle-Earth in later days. And in that dark time, Melkor bred many other monsters of diverse shapes and kinds that long troubled the world; and his realm spread now ever southward over Middle-Earth.”
As said in the previous article, I have a better understanding as to why the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring carried great significance when Legolas called it a Balrog of Morgoth. I originally thought Morgoth was an ancient place of evil in LOTR, but now I know that it was worse than a place. Similar to Satan’s fall along with those that followed him, Melkor used those that went with him for his personal gains as they became full demonic figures and creatures. Other creatures from Melkor included Dragons and Trolls, which we will definitely see later on in The Silmarillion and other novels. And then there are Orcs.
As previously said, the statement Saruman made in The Fellowship flew over my head. As I read the third chapter of The Silmarillion, I became absolutely horrified as to how they were really created. A paragraph before this section, it is said that Melkor sent out dark spirits to deceive to have the Quendi – early Elves – to rebel against Oromë. Anyone who did rebel were the first of many Orcs.
“[But those] those unhappy ones who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of certainty….yet this is held true by the wise of Eressä, that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and Mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.”
Remember when I said that what God uses for good, Satan uses for evil? This is one of those things but Middle-Earth related. As I was reading this section, I imagined the condition of the Quendi and the torture they would possibly endure. I am not going to lie, I honestly began to tear up just imagining the kind of pain, torture, and utter humiliation the Quendi went through and endured to where they were not recognizable both in appearance and in their mind. I then recalled the Two Towers when the orcs pulled out a fresh breed of Uruk-Hai, Ccompletey transformed and corrupted, hardly representing who they were before. As if that was not enough, it goes to say that,
“For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Illúvatar and naught that bad life of its own, nor the semblance of life, could ever Melkor make since his rebellion in the Ainulindalë before the Beginning: so say the wise. And deep in their dark hearts, the Orcs loathed the Master whom they served in fear, the maker only of their misery. This it may be was the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most hateful to Illúvatar.”
I honestly thought to myself, “How envious do you have to be to steal someone’s else creation and mutilated for your own gain?” As said, these were not Melkor’s original creations but corrupted creations that once had emotions, a conscious, and an overall appreciation for life. And instead of loving their creator who gave them life and wonder, they lived in fear of their Master. Quality did not matter to Melkor as more of quantity. How many can I make? How can I get them to bend to my will and fear me? Their service was never out of an appreciation for Melkor, but fear. This is what significantly separates the two on the battlefield, Men and Orcs. While Orcs may not know fear nor pain, they do not understand the heart and will. They do not understand what it means to protect your fellow soldier by your side, to fight for a just King or Queen, or to die with honor on the battlefield. They do not even know how to fear death, and I believe that is what also makes the gift death significant to Men.
When one is on the verge of death – whether they are on their bedside or on the battlefield – life flashes before their eyes as does the thought and wonder, “Did I live with honor?” or “Will I find my forefathers in the great halls of the afterlife?” It is these thoughts and these areas of emotional integrity that separate Men from Elves and especially Orcs.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog post and again, my apologize for this being later than expected. Definitely a lot to take in and I hope this helps you consider what it is you are doing in your lives. It definitely had me thinking about it, for a couple of hours honestly. We all have an ending somewhere and the question of when or where matters not. The question that matters is what will contribution of your life be? How will history remember you? More to come soon as I continue reading through The Silmarillion. Enjoy your weekend!