My deepest apologies for falling heavily behind on my work. Over the past month-and-a-half, I was on vacation with my family, handled media events at my job, and have worked diligently on other side projects that had first priority. Though life has been busy, it has not kept me from my passion projects. During this busy time, I managed to schedule out how I would be approaching my reading responses while giving each post the time they deserve. So fear not! More is to come soon at a quicker pace.
We last left off on Chapter 3 of The Silmarillion, which was absolutely breathtaking in poetry and world building. During my time on vacation, I managed to read through Chapters 4-8. Though it was difficult to read through at first, it did not stop me from trying to understand. In this section, we will be focusing primarily on Chapters 4-5. Let us begin!
Chapter 4 & 5: What is the Novel Getting Out of Me?
A crucial fact I had to keep in mind during reading sessions was that The Silmarillion was not written like The Hobbit or LOTR where there is a specific group of characters or one main character. Rather, The Silmarillion is more of a historical account of how Middle-Earth came to be. This is why it has been difficult to reflect and write about these chapters, and why I had to read them over and over again.
One area I did find interesting was how similar it was to reading Scripture. After the fall of man and the flood, there was a large number of names and events that took place afterward in Genesis 10. These are parts of the story that are rather difficult to get through. When reading such books and chapters, one tends to ask themselves, “What does this have to do with the story?” When we ask this, it does not really come from a place of honesty, but rather a place of frustration. Part of me honestly wanted to skip ahead and just get it over with, but I honestly did not have it in me to do so. Part of it was because I vowed to reflect on Tolkien’s books, nearly chapter-by-chapter, and I still hold to that rule. The second part to that is I wanted to ask less of, “What am I getting out of this story?” and more of, “What is this story getting out of me?”
When we ask the first question, it is out of selfishness as if we are owed something as readers who are putting in the time and effort. When we ask the second question, we are putting the author(s) as we read and analyze what it is they are trying to communicate. In some cases, we may feel as if we are owed something, especially if there is a cliffhanger or a large shift in the hero’s journey. That being said, there really is not the need for an explanation in the moment. Sometimes this moment does not pay off until later in the book, in ways that we would not even expect. In other ways, you will realize that something is mentioned so specifically, that you will have to read it over and over again. I say that because that is exactly what happened in my reading.
Chapter 5: Never Forget Your Genealogy Origins
What I got out of this section – primarily chapter 5 – was the genealogy of Finwë and the description of his sons. To quote Tolkien himself,
“Finwë was King of Noldor. The sons of Finwë were Fëanor and Fingolfn, and Finarfin; but the mother of Fëanor was the Miriel Serindë, whereas the mother of Fingolfin and Finarfin was Indis of the Vanyar. Fëanor was the mightiest in skill of word and of hand, more learned than his brothers; his spirit burned as a flame. Fingolfin was the strongest, the most seadfast, and the most valiant. Finarfin was the fairest, and the most wise of heart; and afterward he was a friend of the sons of Olwë, lord of the Teleri, and had to wife Eärwen, the swan-maiden of Aqualondë, Olwë’s daughter.”
One thing I have heavily learned in literature is that family genealogies are significant. Just under 6 years ago when I was in college, we studies the genealogy of Christ in Matthew, chapter 1. Just this chapter can confuse a reader or put one to sleep. A long list of genealogies in general were anything but interesting. There is this idea that it does not serve the plot directly when in actuality, it does. In the back of the book, readers can find the Genealogy record of The House of Finwë, The Descendants of Olwë and Elwë, The House of Bëor, and The House of Hador and The People of Haleth. I mention all of these genealogies listed because as I was reading through them, I found names I was familiar with. I honestly had no idea that Lord Elrond of Rivendell was the great-grandchild of Fingon, the great-great-grandchild of Findolfin, and was related to Galadriel through the marriage of his wife Celebrian. The more one understands a figure’s lineage or even their own, they more they will come to realize how generations of history play within their own life. How my friend Matthew Geier puts it,
“People from previous generations who write down stories and write down wisdom, they are sort of passing down knowledge for us to learn greater things and to not make the same mistakes.”
The irony of his statement, however, is that in both Middle-Earth and actual history, mankind becomes worse and worse. This can be seen in Ovid and Hesiod’s The Age of Man, where history tells of the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. To quote Jared from Youtube’s Wisecrack in their The Philosophy of Tolkien video,
“In mankind’s Golden Age, perfect people lived in an Edenic State of Nature, not dissimilar to the Elves in Tolkien’s First Age coming to live among the gods in the earthly paradise. Then succeeded the Silver and Bronze Ages, each progressively worse for man and filled with worse men, followed by the current Iron Age, the most evil and unhappy yet. Likewise, across the ages of Middle-Earth there is an overriding entropy, each cycle less mythic and more mundane. There is a grandeur in the past that can be echoed in the later ages, but never fully recaptured.”
Going back to The Silmarillion, the sons of Fëanor are given great detailed characteristics that would eventually lay a heavy foundation for the Ages.
“The seven sons of Fëanor were Maedhros the tall; Maglor the mighty singer, whose voice was heard far over the land and sea; Celegorm the fair, and Caranthir the dark; Curufin the crafty, who inherited most of his father’s skill of hand; and the youngest Amrod and Armras, who were twin brothers, alike in mood and face.”
In descriptions of these great sons, it reads as if the author longs for the past, or “the glory days.” History is full of lineages that have fallen far from grace – The legacy of the Caesars and their decline to the splitting of Rome. The 300 year old Romanov Dynasty being overthrown after the Russian Revolution. Even in our current time period, we see people long for the “good ol’ days” where family values were highly regarded, the economy was booming, and Presidential leadership was more civilized.
Lately, I have been reading through 1st Kings in The Old Testament, a historical account of the line of David, Son of Jesse. In the book prior, 2nd Samuel, David becomes the main focus after the death of King Saul. Throughout the reign of David, he was victorious in numerous battles and was described as “A Man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22). After his passing in 1st Kings, his son Solomon ascends to the throne and gains great wisdom from God after asking for it. History tells that kings and rulers of other nations came to heed his wisdom and insight. After Solomon’s passing, however, the lineage began to decline when his son Rehoboam ascended to the throne, leading the country to split into two separate kingdoms. Imagine that: The decline of a dynasty after just two rulers. During Rehoboam’s reign and those after, Israel’s Kings would become less Godly and more rebellious. Having already read the following chapters of The Silmarillion, we can already see Fëanor’s rebellion against the gods shaping (But that is a topic for another time). When sound wisdom of one’s forefathers is abandoned, when rebellion against one’s Creator(s) sets in, the history of that family line or people will fade into legend, and then that legend will fade into myth.
While it is important to remember one’s family history and origins, it is also important to never to get lost in it. Throughout the LOTR film trilogy, there are references to the First and Second Ages, references that are described in a positive light. One scene that comes to mind is Gandalf describing the history of Gondor to Pippin after leaving the presence of Denethor II from Minas Tirith.
“The old wisdom born out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls, musing on heraldry, or in high cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so, the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed. The White Tree withered. The rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.”
President John F. Kennedy put it best by stating that “Change is the law of life, and those who only look to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” This in no way means to ignore the past as if it is insignificant. That is how lineages fall and how history repeats itself. However, we cannot be so consumed with the “glory days” or “better years” that we ignore the present generation and raise those of it improperly. We are meant to learn from the past so that we can apply it to ourselves and the generations to come. Knowledge and wisdom are not meant to stay in one area of time, but to be passed down.
“Knowing one’s genealogy is the key to access the knowledge and experience of previous generations, learning from the mistakes and knowing you are not bound to those same mistakes. You have the freedom to break the past and pave a new way for your family line.” – Matthew Geier
I couldn’t help but re-read the genealogy multiple times to where I thought, “This is going to pay off later, isn’t it?” I mentioned it to my friend Daniel, whose response was, “Oh, you have no idea. Also, you may spoil yourself for other novels.” While I did not rather enjoy that last part, it was good to know I was on the right path. I am assuming that because Fingon became King of the Noldor and Lord of Gondolin, this will definitely play a part in the battle with Melkor or the Fall of Gondolin later. Am I right? Please, tell me I’m right.
This concludes this section of The Silmarillion and again, I apologize for this being very late. Will have the next one up soon! Until next time!