Monday, April 02, 2007

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniversary Edition)

J.R.R. Tolkien

  —   $63.00   —   Book

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Fiction, Fantasy

There is little to be said about this book that has not already been said extensively, and in fact the movies give you a pretty good overview of the books (minus, of course, Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire, as well as the adjustments made because those elements were missing.) So instead, I will make a few notes of extra knowledge that comes from the reading of the Appendices and of the Simarillion, and of notes I've been given from people who've read other bits of Tolkien's extensive Middle Earth writings (most incomplete and edited together by his son Christopher Tolkien.)

The Ainur

Tolkien's mythology was deeply based in the mythology of our world, and there are many parallels. There is a creator figure, Eru, Ilúvatar, and under him are the Ainur, which equate to the archangels of Christian tradition (Michael, Gabriel, etc.) Melkor is the most powerful among them, and is the equivalent of Samael— more commonly known as Lucifer, the Lightbringer, and he holds a similar role.

When Ilúvatar created Middle Earth, many of the Ainur became incarnate upon it, including Melkor. When such a creature becomes incarnate, it is bound to that form and no more powerful than that form can handle. In other words, though the incarnate Ainur are extremely powerful, they are not as powerful when they become Valar, and they do not have a direct connection to the creator figure or his purposes.

It is important to note that the Valar are real figures on Middle Earth; they don't interfere much, but some of the Elves know them well and have spoken personally with them.

Melkor created many difficulties on Middle Earth and earned the name Morgoth from the Elves. He was eventually bound by the power of the other Valar in such a fashion that he cannot interfere until the end of time. Sauron was his lieutenant— in other words, there's something much worse than Sauron waiting out there.

The Nature of the Elves

The Elves are the oldest race created on Middle Earth, and they are immortal. Specifically, this immortality not only means that, barring accident, they live forever, but they are tied to Middle Earth. When they die, it is as though their souls were placed in cold storage, waiting for the end of the world; they get no Heaven, no Hell, and no Limbo.

When they awoke on Middle Earth, there was no sun or moon, only the stars, and Tolkien's elves love the stars the best. Before the Valar left for the West (so as to not destroy Middle Earth in their struggles with Morgoth), they offered the elves a chance to come with them. Some were suspicious and some never heard; those stayed behind. Legolas is the descendant of such a tribe. Others went to the West and then later returned; those are called the High Elves. Galadriel is one, and Elrond is counted as one as well, though he was born in Middle Earth and has not been to the West.

Galadriel, in fact, was one of the high princesses of the elves at the beginning of the Simarillion; she has personally lived with the incarnate archangels of Middle Earth. That's what immortality is like.

As explained in the movies, orcs started out as corrupted elves, twisted and broken by the hand of Morgoth. Orcs are the dark reflection of the elves, as goblins are the dark reflections of Men; however, crossbreeding and the equivalent of genetic engineering have pushed the nature of goblins and orcs together and to one side, so one cannot assume that orcs are immortal and goblins are not, or that the two terms have any practical difference at the time of LOTR.

The Nature of Men

Death is referred to as The Gift of Men; basically, after they die they go on to something that not even the Valar understand. Elves don't get why dying upsets mankind so much since they think it's an amazing thing.

The Nature of Dwarves

In the time before men and elves, the Valar got a little worried about this whole plan of the creator's, and one, Aulë, got a little impatient. Drawing on what little he could remember from Ilúvatar's template, he created the Dwarves. Since Morgoth was in ascendance at the time, they are hardier than men or elves, strong and secretive and very self-interested with a strong survival instinct. Aulë did not, unfortunately, think through the process of continuation very thoroughly, and so the women of the the Dwarves are few and far between.

The creator was, in fact, a little upset by this change in plans but he pardoned Aulë and merely put the Dwarves to sleep to wake after the Men and Elves were in place.

The Nature of Hobbits

Despite the ears and the hobbits' love of elves, they are, in fact, descended from mankind, and thus are subject to true death.

The Nature of Ents

One of the Valar loved the growing things of the world, and was sad to think that they might be unprotected. The Ents are, as they say, the shepherds of trees, and were created in response to this need.

As orcs are mockeries of Elves, so trolls are mockeries of Ents.

Half-Elven and Arwen's Choice

Beren, a mortal, and Lúthien, an elf, fell in love. For her love and her hand, Beren did many great deeds. Beren died but did not leave the world, going instead to the halls of Mandos (the Valar in charge of the souls of the elves.) There Lúthien went and begged for him, and was given a choice: immortality without Beren, or true mortality with him. She chose the second, and so is mourned by the elves because she has gone where they cannot follow.

The second elf-human pairing was Idril Celebrindal and Tuor, whose son was Eärendil. That son married Elwing, the daughter of Beren and Lúthien. Eärendil eventually ended up sailing the skies with a Simaril, as "the Star of Eärendil." Eärendil's descendants, and to that line alone, were given the choice of an immortal life as an elf or a mortal life as a human. Elrond was Eärendil's son, who became Elrond Half-Elven, and his brother Elros chose to become mortal, and founded the line of Númenor, of which Aragorn is a direct descendant. (Aragorn only lives a little past two centuries; Elros lived much longer than that. The ultimate reason that Númenor fell is the pursuit of immortality by those desperately afraid of death.)

Arwen's choice of mortality is triggered by her staying behind; once Elrond leaves Middle Earth, if his children stay behind they become mortal. After Aragorn dies (by more or less lying back and saying, I'm getting old and feeble, better die before I make a real hash of it), she goes to the forest that had been Lothlórien, now decaying since the elves have left, walks around for a bit, then lies down and dies herself.

More notes tomorrow.

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