Feb 24 2013, 12:32am
Oops! Sorry, I answered your first post without reading this one, creating overlap.
Of islands and where to live
1. Lonely Mountains, Lonely Isles…they may be one of a kind, but why does Tolkien choose to call them Lonely? Does he use that term for any other spots in Aman or Middle Earth? How does that descriptor impact your impressions of these places?
Loneliness never has a good connotation, and naming them this way initially makes me think they are wretched places. They don't turn out to be so, and can be quite vibrant habitations, but the name never sounds good. It puzzles me why he chooses "lonely" since he knows the feelings that word arouses. Yes, one can look at a flat horizon and see an island on it and think the island looks lonely, but what else comes to mind? And, aren't there other attributes to these places that don't concern their isolation? Erebor could have been "the gold mountain" or "the thrush hill," or Tol Eressea could have been "the twin-peaked island" or "the island of waterfalls" (just making those things up). Why emphasize their solitary so much?
2. Osse causes trouble again! What is with this guy? Why can’t he just let the Teleri go?
Not only is he a minor rebel, he's a stubborn rebel. And he comes across as rather selfish. Is he thinking about what's best for the Elves, or himself? What role does Uinen play in all this?
3. Is the creation of the Lonely Isle a political compromise? What are the ramifications of Osse and Ulmo’s actions in choosing to root the Island in the Bay? Why don’t the Valar just outvote these guys and move the Island?
Those are my questions too!
4. For divine beings, the Valar and the Maia are pretty human at times, aren't they? They continue to second guess each other, give into persuasion, change their minds and avoid confrontation. And later, we’ll see that the Noldor have all kinds of conflicts, emotions, and problems of their own.
It strikes me that Tolkien idealizes his settings, and the physical attributes of his characters, but their motivations and actions are closer to the human condition. Do you agree? Other thoughts on these musings?
The Valar seem ideal and alien in the Ainulindale and even the Valaquenta. But now they're starting to seem more human, as you point out. I think it started with Orome discovering the Elves and the Valar being smitten by them. They stop being lofty world guardians and instead develop emotional entanglements with the Elves, revealing more of their personalities. At this part of the book, I envision the Valar as children, waiting impatiently at home for their new pets (Elves) to arrive so they can play with them and enjoy them. It seems that it's part of that child-like enthusiasm that blinds them to their later problems with the Noldor and Melkor. I don't consider it a bad change for the Valar, but it's significant.
Is the divine being acting in human ways found in other mythologies? What about in fairy stories, Faerie stories, or fantasy tales?
I would say "yes" in every religion and mythology. It's more the exception that divine beings remain divine and idealized. I suppose if a human is telling the story, sooner or later the object of the story gets humanized, even gods and angels. I've read some obscure fantasy stories where divine beings never got around to acting human, and as a reader, I never really could figure out what was going on, so I've forgotten everything about the stories except that they didn't make sense to me. I think the trick is for story tellers to make the divine beings lofty enough to seem non-human while still having enough human-seeming traits that we can understand them. Never an easy balance.
5. Let’s talk about the very brief descriptions of the Calacirya, Túna and Tirion in this section, which I included above.
Do you like the imagery here? I find these passages very moving in some ways – do you?
Yes! I only wish there were day tours of Tirion or more description of it since I want to learn more about it. It seems a great compliment to Turgon later that Gondolin is a sort of reincarnation of it. One particular aspect of Tirion that I like is that it basks in the light of the Two Trees on one side and is open to the starlit sea on the other. How's that for having the best of both worlds? What remains a bit of a mystery to me is that its highest tower is the Tower of Ingwe. Is it renamed after the Vanyar left? And what exactly are we to make of "Few are the ships of mortal Men who have seen its slender beam"? I thought the only Men who saw Tirion were the invading Numenoreans. What ships is Tolkien talking about? Or is he trying to make it seem remote in a fairy tale kind of way, similar to his description of the Vanyar: "few among Men have spoken with them"?
6. And how about some musings on how the Sil and LOTR relate to each other, as stories…
In this section, we get the introduction of the White Tree of Numenor…for me, when I first read the Sil, the references to people, places and things I’d encountered in LOTR were very helpful because they gave me a place to land in the middle of all of the new things Tolkien was pouring out at me. Anyone else find this helpful?
Oh, yes, it was very gratifying. I read The Hobbit first, then LOTR. For just one example, to be able to trace the history of Orcrist, Glamdring, and Sting all the way back to Gondolin, which was based on Tirion, helped bind the whole history of Middle-earth together for me.
And of course, if I found something in the Sil that I remembered being mentioned in LOTR, I went back and looked it up and had a lot of “aha” moments, when I realized, for example, what the heck Galadriel was singing about in her lament. That added a new level of delight, as a reader, which I appreciated. Would you say this is one of the key things that sets LOTR apart from other fantasy tales?
Yes, many inferior fantasy stories attempt to fake the depth of history that Tolkien developed for his world, which makes me appreciate his accomplishment that much more. It's not easy to create all the layers that he did, and he made them interesting too. That made the Sil a good read, and then made rereading LOTR that much better for the "aha" moments you describe. It gives a better sense of Galadriel's life to understand "ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains." Okay, the two hidden cities that were inspired by Ulmo, Vala-friend to the Noldor, and built by her brother and cousin, and that endured longer than any other Noldor realm and recalled the best of what Noldor craftsmen could do. Those cities! If you never read the Sil, she's just listing a couple of meaningless names. To read the Sil, you realize that a lot of things you've skipped over before can have great meaning underlying them, so you tend to read everything Tolkien writes more carefully.
On the other hand, an author can get too carried away by trying to connect all the dots between past and future, and the story becomes an explanation and not a story, if I can put it that way (“cough” Star Wars prequels). Does Tolkien manage to avoid this trap, for you? Any comments on the way Tolkien weaves the Sil into LOTR and LOTR into the Sil?
Well, as long as he avoided Jar Jar Binks, I'm forever in his debt. Funny that you bring up Star Wars, because a friend referred to the 3rd prequel as "George Lucas's checklist" to prepare for the three original movies, and while it was more than that, it certainly felt like sitting through a checklist at times. I don't view the Sil as a checklist, however. Most of the stories carry their own weight. Whatever the parallels between Beren & Luthien and Arwen & Aragorn, the former is a story in its own. So is Turin Turambar. There's also a unique flavor to the Sil where the Elves take the initiative over and over again, creating great ports and cities and jewels in Valinor and new realms in Beleriand, leading the war against Morgoth, and shaping history overall. The Elves in LOTR have none of that dynamism: "they attempted nothing new, living in memory of the past." (Appdx B) The comparison leaves me disappointed with Third Age Elves, wishing they could reclaim their past glory and not accept fate as a dwindling people, yet it also sets the two stories profoundly apart.