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III. - Of The Beginning of Days: An Unshaped World

This post actually covers from the above chapter through to Of Thingol and Melian, containing a lot of worldbuilding ramble.


It cracks me up that mammoths are attributed to Melkor...although Tolkien probably didn't know of it, there's an Evenki myth that the Flood was caused by the frustration of the creator-god with mammoths clumping around breaking stuff, hence finding mammoths encased in the ice of that ancient wave. It may not be Flood-related, but I'm entertained that even in the dim and distant start of Middle-Earth, God still hates mammoths.

Anyway, Melkor lives in a hole for a bit, there's more mythologicised narrative about the formation of the continents when he breaks Pangaea by kicking over the holy lamp-posts, and eventually the annoyed Valar decamp to Canada Valinor, build a fence out of mountains and start settling in. Lacking a sun, Yavanna and Nienna sing* and water a living light from grief: two trees, with the trademark Tolkien spectacle of being unironically mystical and shiny. You can believe they were unimaginably beautiful things from the distant echo in the written word, only long ago and most certainly not here...an important thing, I think.

It's also explicitly stated here that the Valar are elder-sibling-spirits rather than gods as we would know the term, which smoothly irons out the theological nastiness that comes with gods envisioned as bigger humanoids being divinely right about whatever they want to do/say. It's suggested elves suffer more from Fate than humans, presumably because immortals can only learn by heaping up experience, with little incentive to do so, and thus appear more predictable. It's also suggested in a digression that humans give Manwë a headache, some elves are pretty certain Melkor invented them, and Melkor responds to that with 'not me this time' before climbing on a chair away from the things. It's these little points of contention that make me think the Silmarillion was intended to be read much as we read Norse myths/as the collection and re-parsing of an eager scribe from outside the culture at some temporal remove. If such is the case, from an archaeological perspective it suggests that Men looked up to a once-dominant elven culture and adopted their mythos, much as Rome adopted the pantheon of Greece and made insertions, and the writer has synthesised the traditions (Tulkas, for instance, strikes me as a far more human god).



Again, this mythic quality, the blur and suggestion of tapestry threads going further in all directions than the reach of the observer's light is something JRRT's imitators fail to grasp. The Silmarillion is not 100% hard fact for its world, and I think the failure to understand or/and examine this is the root of much of the right-wing high fantasy where good peoples are good and foreigners need genocidin'. On the theme of such we move onto the elven views of other races.

Dwarves are attributed to Aulë the Smith inventing the idea of fatherhood and getting it wrong, since he doesn't have the power to make souls. Eru frowns at him from beyond the world and he rolls over submissively, offering to beat the dwarves to scrap and melt them down if they are against the Song; Eru grants souls to the dwarves since this shows Aulë was acting within a Valar/Thought's fair parameters...but demands they be buried far and wide so that elves and humans can claim the world first. Hilariously, Tolkien has to scribe-margin-note at this point, because apparently his elves think dwarves are sort of hairy rocks that talk and their souls are absorbed back into the natural world/that they turn into rocks and dirt at death.

JRRT notes that the dwarves themselves don't think this, rather that their smith-god Mahal (equated with Aulë) takes them somewhere like Mandos, and tantalisingly hints at an Inuit-like name-based system of reincarnation in dwarven culture. This little tale also highlights the scribe's theme (or one shared with the culture/s described) of the primary sin being possessiveness, not pride: Aulë and the elves have leave to do great things and be proud of them (and they shine), but the instant they start coveting, hiding and hoarding such, trouble starts. It's the equivalent of the narrator of Beowulf's constant interjections that heroes do things because God Wills It mingled with the praise for ring-givers literally inseparable from a pagan society, to much the same effect.

Later, a jealous and alarmed Yavanna goes and bothers Manwë until Eru OKs some protection for trees, since smithed creatures built without her knowledge will be prone to chopping them all down. Tree-shepherds are granted, with the warning that they will eventually die out, and Yavanna relays this to Aulë, who responds with 'whatever, they're going to need wood'. I wonder if coal was viewed as an eventual compromise between the two. I really like this as an explanation as to why Tolkien's elves reckon the smaller, slower folk don't like being in areas with limited visibility at dwarf-height, where fast things good at climbing have a distinct advantage: this at once shows the typical elven hunter-killer lack of empathy paired with the intellect and sympathy, once awoken, to try.


Some years, or possibly Ians, pass, and the Valar start fretting as to when the elves will show up over on the main continent. Oromë has been over there killing shit and Yavanna occasionally tries to weed the place, but it's mostly been left to Melkor (and his mammoths). When Oromë finally finds some elves on the starlit side over by what might be Lake Baikal, some run away because a shadowy Hunter has been taking anyone who leaves the valley, and others eventually wander over to the gigantic holy killing machine out of curiousity; these he befriends at once.

It's mentioned that orcs appear around this period, and that the scribe has a few garbled legends suggesting the elves stolen by the dark Hunter, possibly Melkor himself, were warped, mutated and tortured into orcs, creating a template for the new species. This would explain a lot, since Melkor, though super-powerful, still can't create souls, only vivisect-and-rearrange existing creatures, make them stick like that and breed them bigger...it's implied the instant hatred between orcs and elves is thus down to on the one side psychological torture/jealousy of the unwarped, and on the other, the sight of kin turned into monsters (likely akin to the primal fear of zombies, transmuted into hate through actually fighting them). By the second generation, feudal inertia would've set in.

To chase a tangerine for a moment, I think this origin explains why - aesthetics aside - it's easy to hate orcs but not elves. When readers hate elves, I suspect it's often because they can't parse them as nonhumans and/or internalise the idea of an elf-centric world in which humans are objectively inferior, and just consider them to be impossibly-athletically-perfect humans who live a long time and swank about it. The thing is, though, they're not humans, and being jealous of such is like being jealous of a tiger: sure, it'd probably beat you in a fight, but its categories for best-tiger-ness are on an entirely different scale. To wish and work towards the strength and/or speed of a tiger inspires a human...to curse it for being what it is and that it will not be mastered by a human or human wants is pretty daft. This inspiration, the almost-worship of a top predator that sees and thinks and remembers so much more than humankind, sets off an automatic loathing of its parody, I think. Additionally, this origin puts forward evidence that later stacks with that in LotR: that orcs understand pain.

If you're unfortunate enough to be captured by orcs, they want to hurt you. Brutality is a casual tool to them, and knowing what you feel when the knife is twisted entertains them, and it triggers loathing as we see the worst of ourselves. If you're unfortunate enough to be captured by elves who haven't yet learnt that mortals make good, loyal companions, they don't want to hurt you: they just think you look really funny with your leg off. Your pain is completely incidental, and that triggers fear and demolishes anthrocentracisim. The human response is awe (well, awe from everyone who's still got legs, example-you might be a bit distracted with rolling around screaming and all). Additionally, if an elf does want to hurt you...that is possibly the most terrifying thing in the Tolkienverse. Melkor has been known to hear of such things and start running.

I can't help but wonder where orcs' souls go, though...human souls are held to fly out of the universe, elves and dwarves hang out in the Halls of Mandos or reincarnate...whilst I can picture Námo quietly guiding the utterly traumatised souls of the elves orcs were supposed to have been to an out-of-the-way section of the theoretically-infinite Halls because he is such a sweetheart of a Death, not even speculation is mentioned. It concerns me that if they can't get there, and don't follow the human pattern, Morgoth might have some souls - a lot of souls, in fact - on an infinite loop, and that...that would explain why orcs are so constantly angry and petty with the hideous cruelty of bullied-turned-bully...and the ferocity with which elves wipe them out when found, as though they might be catching...I hope it's not that. Though it would provide the first precedent for 'binding in darkness' and all.

*ahem* So Oromë lets the other Valar know the Firstborn of Eru are up, grants the first 'kings' an introductory sight of the Trees (by carrying them? Throwing? Visions?) and lets them persuade their peoples to come over to Valinor whilst the rest of the Valar try to find and beat Melkor into submission for the sake of the elves still hiding somewhere and the races yet to come. A good portion of the elves agree to go, and Oromë starts herding them towards the sea. I don't think I need to provide the metaphor for what that was like: this section concludes with the names of which tribes wandered off/stopped and refused to move where and how the Teleri fell in love with the ocean and basically created Iceland by being bloody indecisive.



One of these wander-stories gets a little more detail: the Sindar tribe were founded by those who stopped to look when their king went missing. Turns out Thingol found a Maia (feminine sub-Valar spirit) curiously hanging about and grabbed her hand; they stared deep into each others' eyes for a few years (personal stasis apparently being an effect of startling a Maia), presumably getting to know each other soul-to-soul whilst Thingol's kin wandered the woods yelling for him, unheard and/or disregarded. When he unfroze (and presumably once the feeling in his legs came back and Melian helped him up) she agreed to marry him, thus imparting a hero-strain to the blood of Middle-Earth.


*this is the first time we see song as world-shaping magic whilst within the world: the necessary shamanic counterweight to smith-worship tends to be underplayed, but it's there.
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onewhitecrow: goofy-looking albino raven on blue background (Default)
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