Of Good Afternoons and Good Mornings

“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.

“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?”

“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.

“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”

“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.

“And A Happy New Year!”

“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.

-From Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, pg. 7

Upon reading the passage above, particularly excised from its surroundings, I was immediately put in mind of another passage. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an obvious holiday favorite, and one I return to almost every year; yet this is the first time I’ve noticed this simple passage.

Scrooge’s nephew has come to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas, and is met by a gruff “Bah Humbug!” and a long lecture regarding the foolishness of the holiday, which ultimately devolves into the chill greeting I quoted above. At first glance, each utterance of the greeting (or should I say dismissal) ‘Good afternoon’ seems a simple repetition of annoyance, dismissal and disinterest in the continuation of the conversation, but there is more to see.

Tolkien begins The Hobbit in much the same way, with the meeting of acquaintances who have their own verbal sparring match. Here, Tolkien much more explicitly develops the change of tone in the repeated greeting ‘good morning’ giving the reader insight into the characters of both Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf.

The first instance is an expression of goodwill, further expanded through Gandalf’s wordplay to encompass wish, feeling, and natural state:

“Good Morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it.

“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

“All of them at once,” said Bilbo.

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, Ch1 pg 6-7

The second utterance devolves into annoyance, as quite obviously Gandalf has soured Bilbo’s otherwise relaxing and pleasurable morning and shall ruin it altogether should he remain:

“Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here thank you!”

…”What a lot of things you use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and it won’t be good till I move off.”

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, Ch1 pg 7

Now, of course, Bilbo is much too much a gentleman to admit to such a wish, and swiftly changes the conversation to introductions and reminiscing. Though the text states his intent to end the conversation, it also informs the reader that he is “a very well-to-do-hobbit” and “very respectable” which can be understood to mean such a blunt and even rude dismissal is out of character (Tolkien 1).  This second exclamation therefore may be understood as an ejaculation of fear and dismay, perhaps with little or no thought with regards to propriety. So when called out by Gandalf, Bilbo immediately shifts focus; only to be dragged back to the prospect of adventure by the clever wordplay of the wizard. This leads to the third, and final, ‘good morning’ which is a true dismissal, but one given in haste and even panic:

“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea-any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!”

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, Ch1 pg 8

That final torrent of words smacks of nervous energy and the complete loss of control by Bilbo. Indeed, upon closing the door, he immediately remonstrates himself for his foolishness in inviting the wizard to tea.

Tolkien’s writing often explores the many meanings and uses of words and expressions in his day and in the past. In these early passages of The Hobbit, he goes further by teasing out the coded language of polite speech, which says something altogether different below the surface.

Dicken’s passage immediately reminded me of Tolkien’s, which in turn caused me to look closer at Scrooge’s use of ‘good afternoon.’ Does this scene reflect the same internal monologue seen in Bilbo, coded in polite greeting (however gruffly delivered)?

In small subtle ways it may. Though all Scrooge’s ‘good afternoons’ appear to be negations, denials, and dismissals no different from a ‘Bah Humbug!’ there is nuance. After discussing Fred’s marriage, career, and finally love, Scrooge’s first ‘good afternoon’ is both dismissal and repudiation of the foolishness of love. The second utterance marks a dismissal and a refusal of human affection. The third, an utter refusal of Christmas cheer, given weight by the finality of the exclamation point. And the fourth, a final dismissal and a statement of ignorance, again ended definitively by exclamation point. The sameness of Scrooge’s response may also imply his complete disconnection with the conversation. From the very first exclamation of ‘good afternoon’ the conversation, and his part in it, is concluded. He is a broken record or a wall battered under the onslaught of Fred’s goodwill.  There is no real change in Scrooge; just as there is no real change in Bilbo at this stage in his story. Both stand at the precipice, about to be utterly transformed.

The discussion of these two passages is meant in no way to imply a correlation or source from one author to another, rather it is an exercise in applicability. Tolkien defines applicability in the Foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, in which he disparages allegory’s ‘purposed domination of the author’ and embraces the ‘thought and experience of readers’ (Tolkien xvii). The knowledge, experience, and imagination of the reader are intended, in Tolkien’s mind, to build upon the story and create the proper interpretive lens. Using the insights of ‘On Fairy Stories’, fantasy is further empowered by a “freedom from the domination of an observed ‘fact’” through the use of sub-creation (TM&TC 139). There is a danger in growing older: “a danger of boredom or anxiety to be original;” a weariness of all that exists to be experience (TM&TC 145). This danger leads to a dangerous pattern of creation, whereby in the unremitting desire of the original, the first, all creative energy devolves into “drabness, and the fantastical complication of shapes to the point of silliness and on towards delirium” (TM&TC 146). Tolkien finds the cure for this imaginative malady in the recovery offered by the fairy-story.

“Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining –regaining of a clear view. I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’ – as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness of familiarity – from possessiveness.”

‘On Fairy-Stories’ Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, p 146

Recovery leads to escape and consolation. Escape is not surrendering the real world for the imaginary, but rather embracing the fullness of the world beyond our understanding and familiar use. Tolkien uses the example of a prisoner to make this point clear: “the world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it” (TM&TC 148). The consolation of recovery is “the joy of the happy ending,” summed up in Tolkien’s use of the term eucatastrophe (TM&TC 149). This is not an isolated event, but rather one which resonates through the entire tale, “[reflecting] a glory backwards” (TM&TC 150). Therefore, whether through memory of the story traversed, or by re-reading, the fairy-story is irrevocably transformed by the eucatastrophe, such that all steps along the journey are uplifted, and informed by this singular event.

This is why a re-reader chuckles at the folly of Bilbo’s fumbling attempts to avoid adventure, and perhaps sheds a tear to the utter simplicity his quest tears from him. This is why the perceived coldness of Scrooge is ultimately transfigured into pain, loneliness and despair, which only increases the reader’s joy upon reaching his moment of redemption. Particularly after learning of the repeated loss (both self-inflicted and not) via the ministration of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the reader may begin to understand the symbol of pain and loss which Christmas has become from Scrooge. Of all the spirits, the Past appears to have the most effect, with the following two simply cementing the lesson. The abandoned childhood, the loss of his beloved sister, the gradual loss of self in gold and avarice, leading to the loss of Belle lay the foundations for the broken Scrooge we see in this early conversation.

Also, by reading in the light of applicability and recovery, the cautionary tale of Ebenezer Scrooge may also inform Bilbo’s journey. Bilbo begins as a country gentleman, stuck in his ways, unimaginative and immobile. Though not lacking in charm, humor, and kindness, the quest of Bilbo is in many ways just as necessary as that of Scrooge.


Allegory, No! Applicability, Yes!

I recently had a conversation with my sister regarding Tolkien’s work in which she made the assertion that his work is allegory. Now my sister isn’t a big fan, and has only read The Hobbit and seen the LotR films, so I tried to explain, but she didn’t really understand.

According to the dictionary, allegory means the following:

a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation.

Whereas the word applicable means:

able to be applied or used in a particular situation.

Both of these are true on the surface when applied to Tolkien’s work, but the key lies in who determines the character or symbol. While it is probable, though Tolkien despised overt allegory, that Tolkien had specific Truths in mind when he wrote, that was not his purpose in writing. His purpose was to free the writing of all allegory to allow the reader to take control, to see and interpret the writing from their place in life, rather than his own.

Tolkien provides many metaphors which illuminate the process of applicability, most found within his great work ‘Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics.’

The first is the tower metaphor, in which a man builds a great tower using remnants of other buildings in order to see the sea. Others come and berate the man for his silliness and dismantle the tower in order to see its component parts, to see the concrete origins. Yet, the primary purpose of the tower is to see the sea! With allegory, the reader is shown a controlled, empirical interpretation, the meaning is closed, internal, finite. Applicability, or the tower, elevates the reader, allowing them to see further vistas, to see the sea! It is inclusive, infinite.

Think of it this way:

Allegory is the tower with one window. The view never changes. Though at times weather and the vagaries of time may affect the view, the ultimate vision is fixed in time and space.

Applicability is the tower with winding stairs, and windows pointing north, east, south and west, with a viewing platform at the top. In this tower, as one climbs the steps the view changes and even when one comes to the same cardinal point the view differs from the height. The peak of the tower gives yet another view, a vision of all, and yet different from all those visions which came before.

Allegory may be applicable, but as its genesis lies in the author, there is always a fixed point of reference, a correct view.

In the same essay, Tolkien equates myth and story telling with a stew. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Take any one ingredient, taste it alone and it is bland, ordinary. Mix it into the stew of story and you create a savory dish. Though a singular ingredient may shine at any one moment, that depends on the diner: their taste, whether they have a ‘side dish’ (personal experience), if it’s left-overs etc.

These two examples are two of the few times Tolkien resorts to allegory to make a point. Yet even these are applicable. How is applicablity different from allegory then?

In some sense applicability is allegory, in that it references ultimate Truths of the world and human existence. The difference lies in the purposes of the two. Allegory leads the reader by the hand to a singular point. Though the ignorant may read allegory as applicability, once the signified is known, the reader is chained to that knowledge. Applicability, however, allows the reader to approach the tale from their own state in life and find meaning from there. The meaning is not static, but ever changing.

What I’ve come to realize is that applicability can be a powerful vehicle for recovery. This visceral connection in which the reader takes ownership of a tale and colors it with their experiences creates renewal and opens their eyes to Truth.

The genius of applicability is in its ability to show us a facet of Truth through the lens of our current state in life. Truth never changes.  We constantly change. We, the readers, are constantly climbing the winding stair, discovering new facets of that grand Truth we can never fully grasp. The Truth at the heart of myth, at heart of human existence, is so vast it can never be fully perceived. We are allowed catch glimpses, and new vistas as we progress through life. Though we may see many of those facets in life we never see the whole diamond of Truth.

Myth gives us a concrete way to discover and share the Truth, though always in slivers and shards. Applicability brings myth to a higher state, allowing each and every reader to make the tale their own for their current state in life.  In using this mechanism, Tolkien continues a long tradition within the Catholic church of teaching through symbol. Much of ecclesiastical architecture used proportion, geometry and scale to inspire a sense of the sacred and even educate the illiterate. The Gospels and the Bible are proof of the eternal power of applicability. Though thousands of years old, these ancient texts still speak to us, no matter our faith (or lack thereof) or state in life. Particularly following the Counter-Reformation, begun with the Council of Trent, the primary focus of Catholic art (art, architecture, literature etc) was on the creation of the sublime; to uplift the soul and enflame the heart with a love of God and His creation. Though not overtly Catholic, Tolkien’s work is suffused by his frame of reference: his deep and lasting faith. By following the model the Church has used through the ages, Tolkien developed these theories in the field of literature, infusing every word with eternal Truth.

In Review: The Lays of Beleriand

The Lays of Beleriand, by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher TolkienI am not really into poetry, but I was hoping due to the wonderful experience reading The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun that I would be pleasantly surprised by The Lays of Beleriand.  I have to say the result, ultimately was 50/50.  I had a lot of trouble getting through The Lay of Children of Hurin, but absolutely loved the Lay of Leithian.

There are many possible reasons for this.  The Children of Hurin is one of Tolkien’s best established works, in terms of publishing.  I have now read the tale in The Book of Lost Tales, the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales (Narn i Chin Hurin) and the stand-alone The Children of Hurin…and now the Lay.  Ultimately, therefore, my issues may have been due to over familiarity with the tale.

The other hurdle is the fact that the Lay of the Children of Hurin is written in alliterative verse, much like the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.  While fascinating to hear and decifer the structure of this type of poetry, I found it did not lend itself to easy reading.

The Lay of Leithian, on the other hand, is written in rhyming couplets and is a joy to read.  It is not only stunningly beautiful at times, but the tale itself is greatly expanded.  Nowhere else is the tale of Beren and Luthien told more poignantly or completely (granted the lay leaves off shortly after the recovery of the Silmaril).  The other amazing thing about the Lay of Leithian, which is revealed through the commentary by Christopher Tolkien, is that the tale as told in the Lay is still the tale.  The differences found in the chapter of the Silmarillion are largely due to compression, not due to revision or rewriting.  This fact (though not true of all cases) makes this Lay all the more valuable for any fan of Tolkien’s legendarium.

As with the Book of Lost Tales, Christopher Tolkien’s commentary is very enlightening, helping to tie together the progression of the tales across drafts, time and place.  His analysis helps to give an inside look into the thought process and method of Tolkien’s myth making.

One kernel of great insight is buried in the commentary for the Lay of Leithian.  This wonderful thought is from none other than CS Lewis, who read and critiqued this Lay as Tolkien wrote it (a great part of his criticism and suggestions is included at the end of the lay).  He wrote:

“I sat up late last night and have read the Geste as far as to where Beren and his gnomish allies defeat the patrol of orcs above the sources of the Narog and disguise themselves in the reaf (Old English: ‘garments, weapons, taken from the slain’).  I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight: and the personal interest of reading a friend’s work had very little to do with it.  I should have enjoyed it just as well if I’d picked it up in the bookshop, by an unknown author.  The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader.” (LoB p184, bold to call out two main points)

So who needs my recommendation when you can have Lewis’s?

The two main points Lewis lists at the end of this quote are of great interest.  The first, regarding the sense of reality and background, shows the process of interlacement (described by Tom Shippey) was already being used by Tolkien throughout his work, even before the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  In both lays, there are many references to events, places and beings beyond the scope of the current tale.  Sometimes they are given significant description, such as the oath of the sons of Feanor, or the fall of Fingolfin.  While other references are often passing mentions, with little explanation other than the reader’s own knowledge gained through the Silmarillion.  Often reading these short references made me wonder if these were the first kernels of a tale, newly sprung in Tolkien’s thought as he wrote.  Based on the outlines and synopses presented in this book, it would not be hard to believe; as it appears he often worked through a process of rewriting and expansion of ideas through each iteration.

The second observation of CS Lewis is particularly interesting given Tolkien’s own stated aversion for allegory.  Here, Lewis gives one of the best descriptions of what Tolkien desired in the pursuit of applicability over allegory.  Here too, Lewis’ observation on myth and allegory explains the continuing success of Tolkien’s works, as well as all the mythology that has been passed on to us through the ages.  They each write to the core of the human experience, to our aspirations, dreams and fears, but leave the ultimate search for meaning and connection to the reader, giving him or her the power to find personal meaning in each passage, rather than assigning meaning which stifles the that potential visceral connection between written word and reader.

In Review: The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun

I received a copy of the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun shortly after it was released.  I did not read it immediately, and it actually sat on my “Tolkien shelf” for almost a year before I decided to read it on a whim.

The inherent challenge and interest in this book is the fact that it is a peek into Tolkien’s professional work as a philologist.  It is also an opportunity to see firsthand the truly vast knowledge of the English language he had and the great level of craft he was able to achieve in writing.  One of the reasons I love Tolkien is for his word-craft, the beauty of his prose, and the care with which he crafts each phrase.  What more would you expect from a philologist you might ask?

In The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, Tolkien does something altogether masterful.  He takes ancient Scandinavian and Icelandic myth and translates it to English.  Not only that, but he reproduces the tone and rhythms of the original alliterative verse.  There is much here to please purely from a narrative standpoint, but the level of skill shown in Tolkien’s use of the English language is nothing short of breath-taking.  If you have the opportunity, or can brave the strange looks, read as much of The Legend out loud as possible and you will hear it really shine.

I had never fully been exposed to the Elder Edda or Poetic Edda, the sources used by Tolkien, before reading this book.  Yes I had heard of Valkyries and the Norse gods, possibly even Fafnir, and who hasn’t been exposed to Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries?  Yet I had never heard the full story.

Christopher Tolkien begins the book with JRR Tolkien’s lecture “Introduction to the ‘Elder Edda.’”  He describes how the reader may react to the tale in great detail, and I could not state it better.

“There remains too the impact of the first hearing of these things after the preliminary struggle with Old Norse is over and one first reads an Eddaic poem getting enough of the sense to go on with.  Few who have been through this process can have missed the sudden recognition that they had unawares met something of tremendous force, something that in parts…is still endowed with an almost demonic energy, in spite of the ruin of its form.  The feeling of this impact is one of the greatest gifts that reading of the Elder Edda gives.  If not felt early in the process it is unlikely to be captured by years of scholarly thralldom; once felt it can never be buried by mountains or molehills of research, and sustains long and weary labor.

This is unlike Old English, whose surviving fragments (Beowulf especially)…only reveal their mastery and excellence slowly and long after the first labour with the tongue and the first acquaintance with the verse are over. “ (S&G p. 17)

And in the foreword, Christopher Tolkien also quotes similar statements by his father:

“’In Old English breadth, fullness, reflection, elegiac effect, were aimed at.  Old Norse poetry aims at seizing a situation, striking a blow that will be remembered, illuminating a moment with a flash of lightning – and tends to concision, weighty packing of the language in sense and form…’” (S&G p.7)

Essentially, this work will both demand your attention and hold you in thrall from the first moment your eyes touch the page, or you will have no taste for it.  While it will hold up to scrutiny and study, it does not require such for enjoyment.

One of the wonderful aspects of this work is that in writing these New Lays, he worked to combine the original sources and work out their narrative inconsistencies.  So here we see the tale of Sigurd and Gudrun as Tolkien interpreted it.

Anyone interested in fantasy should be instantly hooked by the story within these pages.  And anyone with even a passing interest in Tolkien’s interests and possible sources will delight in this book.  It is easy to see why earlier translations of the Eddas, mainly by William Morris, had such a strong and lasting effect on Tolkien even from a young age.

The story of the Volsungs has such staying power, like a burning ember caught in the heart and mind.  In many ways it comes to hold you in thrall; an irresistible itch that has to be scratched until the tale is through.  It is a tale that invites scholarship, study and imitation…Tolkien’s life is proof of such.  Reading the early legendarium, mainly the Tale of Turin and the Nauglafring in the Book of Lost Tales, the parallels are clear.  In writing his mythology, Tolkien’s stated goal was to create a mythology for Britain.  The burning power of that idea probably began with these tales.

Names as Myth

A common practice in mythology tends to be the proliferation of names for any one person or object.  This tends to be the case for characters of particular importance or stature.  This tendency is also true of history and politics, usually the man (or woman) with the most titles or the longest one holds the most prestige.  But when you run across a long list of names, what is it you really see or sense?  What is the purpose of so many titles, that one alone cannot suffice?

Many fantasy authors use this multiplication of names for the simple reasons stated above.  However, if the topic of names is approach in a manner similar to history or the development of language another picture is revealed, and this is the argument I’m inclined to think Tolkien used himself.

I was struck in the Tale of the Sun and Moon by the many names given to each.

“…they called her Sári which is Sun, but the Elves Ûr which is fire; but many other names does she bear in legend and poesy.  The Lamp of Vána’s is she named among the Gods in memory of Vána’s tears and her sweet tresses that she gave; and the Gnomes call her Galmir the goldgleamer and Glorvent the ship of gold, and Bráglorin the blazing vessel, and many a name beside; and her names among Men no man has counted them.” (TBoLT I p.209)

“Thus was the Ship of the Moon, the crystal island of the Rose, and the Gods named it Rána, the Moon, but the fairies Sil, the Rose, and many a sweet name beside.  Ilsaluntë or the silver shallop has it been called, and thereto the Gnomes have called it Minethlos or the argent isle and Crithosceleg the disc of glass.” (TBoLT I p.215)

I know Tolkien repeats the same pattern with many characters, predominantly Turin, who goes by no less than eight names.  And there’s Aragorn, with a least five.  The difference here in the tales is that all the names are listed together.  Nowhere else in Tolkien’s writing (that I recall as of this writing) does he list such a proliferation of names.  So this presentation of the names of the Sun and Moon got me thinking about the purpose of names.

Names are little more than words, yet they are given paramount importance as they are meant to in some manner embody the nature and being of a person or thing.  When you think of a name, particularly of a loved one, do you think of the name itself or the emotions it evokes?  The nature of naming is a slippery slope.  How can anyone limit the expression of a person or object to just a few sounds?  This is the implied question stated by Tolkien in the introduction of multiple names.

To borrow, yet again, from my favorite quote:

“You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.” (Tolkien, Carpenter p. 151)

The process of naming is in many ways the process of myth-making.  In naming a character, we are intrinsically changing them; we are adding a layer or facet to their being.  Names are accrued through a process of history and relationship as well as legend.  When you see the names of the sun or moon, their multiple forms reveal hints of stories.  They demonstrate the history and culture of the namers and their hidden legends.

Names cannot be trifled with.  By not limiting himself to a single name, Tolkien is able to add layer upon layer to the history of Middle Earth.  No character or thing is one sided, and is seen differently both by the person themselves and those around them.  The nebulous nature of names lies in the challenge of naming the unnamable.  With each appellation, a sliver of the Truth is revealed.  The use of manifold titles is comparable to Tolkien’s insertion of Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights in The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien’s one stated purpose for Tom Bombadil is to give a sense of other; to show that the quest for the destruction of the Ring and the evil of Sauron is not all there is to the world.  There is so much more which is beyond our reach or knowledge.  Using a multitude of names, Tolkien is able to evoke a sense of history and wonder.  Not only can names play a game through their meaning (as with Turin) but they are used to tell the story behind the story that we will never see.

The case of the Magic Sun

The Tale of the Sun and the Moon, in the Book of Lost Tales is remarkable for many reasons, not least for its length.  Tolkien notes this himself, writing that this tale is “in need of great revision, cutting down, and [?reshaping].” (TBoLT I p. 194)  As Christopher Tolkien states in the commentary, it is a mystery whether in rewriting the tale later in life, Tolkien shortened the Tale through compression or rethought and possibly rejected some of the ideas in this Tale.

One such mystery caught my eye: the case of the “Magic Sun.”

After the Darkening of Valinor, efforts are made by Vána and Lórien to heal the trees mainly by lavishing what little store of light they have remaining on their roots.  These efforts are in vain.  They are ultimately stopped by Manwë, who scolds them for this waste of precious light, which the Valar have no means of creating.  So they call on Yavanna to use her power to mend the Trees.  She refuses, saying,

“Many things shall be done and come to pass, and the Gods grow old, and the Elves come nigh to fading, ere ye shall see the rekindling of these Trees or the Magic Sun relit……Tis of fate and the Music of the Ainur.  Such marvels as those Trees of gold and silver may even the Gods make but once, and that in the youth of the world; nor may all my spells avail to do what ye now ask.”  (TBoLT I p. 200-1)

At the end of the tale of the Music of the Ainur, there is mention of the Second Music of the Ainur and the Great End.  This may lend some insight into the meaning of the Magic Sun, which I think may not be separated from the notion of the Great End.

“I will end the tale…concerning the building of the Sun and Moon with that great foreboding that was spoken among the Gods when first the Door of Night was opened.  For ‘tis said that ere the Great End come Melko shall in some wise contrive a quarrel between Moon and Sun, and Ilinsor shall seek to follow Urwendi through the Gates, and when they are gone the Gates of both East and West will be destroyed, and Urwendi and Ilinsor shall be lost.  So shall it be that Fionwë Úrion, son of Manwë, of love for Urwendi shall in the end be Melko’s bane, and shall destroy the world to destroy his foe, and so shall all things then be rolled away.”  (TBoLT I p. 247)

Now this quote is not terribly illuminating in and of itself, but taken in conjunction with an understanding of the nature of Arda’s creation, it can lead to some interesting conclusions.  Following the Music, Ilúvatar leads the Ainur out into the void, where he shows them the world they have sung into being through his power.  As I’ve previously stated, this is the theory of subcreation placed in the context of mythology.  However, where is Ilúvatar in the creation of Arda?  He states:

“’One thing only have I added, the fire that giveth Life and Reality’—and behold, the Secret Fire burnt at the heart of the world.” (TBoLT I p. 53)

Now the last piece to finish the puzzle is the application of faith.  The Secret Fire is essentially the Holy Spirit of Tolkien’s Catholic faith.  Tolkien’s goal in writing his mythology, largely stated with regards to LotR but applicable here as well, was to create a pre-Christian Christian myth.  With this in mind, I believe two possible meanings of the Magic Sun become quite clear.

The first is that the Magic Sun is in reality Jesus Christ, who through his death and resurrection redeemed the world, making all things new and ending the tyranny of sin.  The Valar are bound to Arda, and therefore bound by its rules.  Their power is finite, but the power of Ilúvatar is not.  It is unclear if the Great End is the end of the world, or just the end of an Age.  If it is the end of an Age, this application fits quite well and ties the mythology of Middle Earth firmly to our own.

And yet another meaning, which cannot be fully separated from the last, is that the Great End and the rekindling of the Magic Sun is a veiled reference to the Second Coming.  Often in the Christian faith, we refer to the Light of Christ or the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Given mythological dress, it is not difficult to see the connection; whether it is correct is another question.  But whether it is or not, the implications of such a tie, even only hinted at, are fascinating to ponder.

Quenta “Silmarillion”? … Not Yet!

In the final published Silmarillion, the Silmarils are central to the events of the First Age, and one could argue, central to the unfolding history of Arda through every age.  In the Quenta, the Silmarils are not just gems or diamonds of the utmost craft and beauty,  they are holy relics, honored and admired by all.  They are made by Fëanor, “who, first of the Noldor, discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the Earth might be made with skill.” (Silmarillion p.64)  He developed his craft, and filled with the desire to make gems to surpass all that came before:

 “…he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable.  Then he began a long and secret labor, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils.

All who dwelt in Aman were filled with wonder and delight at the work of Fëanor.  And Varda hallowed the Silmarils, so that thereafter no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them, but it was scorched and withered; and Mandos foretold that the fates of Arda, earth, sea, and air, lay locked within them.” (Silmarillion 67)

Not only are the Silmarils of the Quenta depositories of the holy light of the Trees, they are made holy in their own right through the power and blessings of Varda, maker of stars.  Melkor’s lust for the Silmarils in the Quenta, and Fëanor’s protective ownership of them are the primary movers of subsequent events.

After Melkor and Ungoliant kill the Trees, the Valar and the Eldar gather to discuss the fate of the Trees, and find the one possible cure in the Silmarils; so says Yavanna:

“The Light of the Trees has passed away, and lives now only in the Silmarils of Fëanor…Even for those who are mightiest under Ilúvatar there is some work that they may accomplish once, and once only.  The Light of the Trees I brought into being, and within Eä I can do so never again.  Yet had I but a little of that light I could recall life to the Trees, ere their roots decay; and then our hurt should be healed and the malice of Melkor confounded.” (Silmarillion 78)

Fëanor responds:

“For the less even as for the greater there is some deed that he may accomplish but once only; and in that deed his heart shall rest.  It may be that I can unlock my jewels, but never again shall I make their like; and if I must break them, I shall break my heart, and I shall be slain…This thing I will not do of free will.  But if the Valar will constrain me, then shall I know indeed that Melkor is of their Kindred.” (Silmarillion 78-79)

Soon after, a messenger arrives from Formenos with news of the death of Fëanor’s father and the rape of the Silmarils.  This leads directly into Fëanor’s declaration of Melkor as Morgoth (Black Foe of the World) and subsequently his final push for the departure of the Noldor from Valinor and the taking of the Oath.  Each of these events are caused, in one way or another, by the existence of the Silmarils.

And yet this is not so in the Tale.  In the Tale, Fëanor

“…fared to the Solosimpi (Teleri) and begged a great pearl, and he got moreover an urn full of the most luminous phosphor-light gathered of foam in dark places, and with these he came home, and he took all the other gems and did gather their glint by the light of white lamps and silver candles, and he took the sheen of pearls and the faint half-colours of opals, and he [?bathed] them in phosphorescence and the radiant dew of Silpion, and but a tiny drop of the light of Laurelin did he let fall therein, and giving all those magic lights a body to dwell in of such perfect glass as he alone could make…he made a jewel—and it shone of its one…..radiance in the uttermost dark; and he set it therein and sat a very long while gazing at its beauty.  Then he made two more, and had no more stuffs; and he fetched others to behold his handiwork, and they were amazed, and those jewels he called Silmarilli…all held who ever saw them that the Silmarils of Fëanor were the most beautiful jewels that ever shone or [?glowed].” (BoLT I p139)

Though the light of the Tale’s Silmarils also comes in part of the Trees, the sense of their purity and sanctity, so emphasized in the Quenta , is largely absent.  Also of note is the fact that the practice of using light in the creation of gems is not unique to the Silmarils in the Tale, or to Fëanor.  It is a widely used practice at which the Noldoli excelled, using all things “fair and radiant” in the creation of great gems. (BolT I p137)

What is interesting at this juncture are the motives of Melko in the Tale.  Following his imprisonment in Mandos, Melko is “a servant in the house of Tulkas “…there did he nurse his hatred of the Gods (Valar), and his consuming jealousy of the Eldar, but it was his lust for the beauty of the gems for all his feigned indifference that in the end overbore his patience and caused him to design deep and evilly.” (BoLT I 154)  So here, in the Tale, Melko is driven to act out of greed, desiring the gems of the Noldoli.  The Noldoli made and gave many gems to the other Valar, but always when Melko begged “gifts of jewels” from them or knowledge of their making, he is refused.  And this refusal is what drives him to initiate the discord between the Gnomes (Noldoli) and the Valar.

Melko in his cunning, reveals the discontent and murmurings of the Noldoli to Manwë, who subsequently banished them all from Kôr (Tirion).  This is not done so much as a punishment, but in hopes that the Noldoli will calm and change their mind; and also to keep their vile accusations against the Valar from spreading to the others of the Eldar.  Unlike the Quenta, here the entirety of the Noldoli goes.  And due to this exile, it is easier to see the developing strife and understand why the Gnomes would leave enmasse for “The Great Lands” (Middle Earth/Beleriand).

Again, as in the Quenta, the Noldoli are permitted to return for a festival.  And while they are away, Melko kills Fëanor’s father and steals the Silmarils along with the treasury of the Gnomes.  He then flees the wrath of the Gods (Valar), first north, then south to avoid the servants of Mandos.

Learning of the theft and murder, the Noldoli cry out the Manwë for justice:

“There lies Bruithir sire of Fëanor dead and many of the Noldoli beside, and all our treasury of gems and fair things and the loving travail of our hands and hearts through many years is stolen away….[and Manwë answers them]…Behold O Children of the Noldoli…the poison of Melko has already changed you, and covetice has entered your hearts.  Lo! Had ye not thought your gems and fabrics of better worth than the festival of the folk or the ordinances of Manwë your lord, this had not been, and Bruithir go-Maidros and those other hapless ones still had lived, and your jewels been in no greater peril…depart now in penitence knowing full well that Melko has wrought this evil against you, and that your secret trafficking with him has brought you all this loss and sorrow.” (TBoLT I 161-2)

Here we find the sins of the Noldoli are more clearly expressed than in the Silmarillion.  They are not only rebelling against the Valar, they are also enslaved by materialism.  They are so enthralled by the work of their hands and the wealth they have built that it is their downfall.  This is clearly stated in the Quenta, though not for the whole of the Noldor but for Fëanor in his refusal to relinquish the Silmarils.

And yet here, the Trees still live.  There is no hint of the link between the Silmarils and the Trees at this point in the development of the narrative.  Indeed, when Melko flees south, he sends an embassy to the Valar demanding the a place of honor in Valinor, a palace and the Noldoli as his thralls.  His herald is killed by Tulkas, and the news brought to Melko by way of Sorontur king of the eagles.

Taking the news of the death of his herald and the refusal of his just (to him) requests as the ultimate insult, and believing himself the wronged party, Melko hatches the ultimate plan to destroy the bliss of Valinor.  The killing of the Tress is not, as in the Quenta, a means of persuading Ungoliant, or even as a diversion on the way to the Silmarils.  It is both a method of escape through the north of Valinor and ultimately to Beleriand, as well as pure revenge and spite.  Though these motives are also present in the final telling, here they are much more pronounced due to their separation from the ultimate goal of the Silmarils in the Quenta.

The division between the Valar and Noldoli is a much more convoluted process in the Tales.  It is first initiated by Melko; then exacerbated by Manwë’s decision to exile them, then further worsened by the theft of the Silmarils and the Valar’s apparent lack of response, and culminates in Manwë’s revelation of the coming of the Children of Men to the Eldar.  Manwë explains one aspect of the Valar’s reasoning in bringing the Elves to Valinor:

“…it is of the unalterable Music of the Ainur that the world come in the end for a great while under the sway of Men; yet whether it shall be for happiness or sorrow Ilúvatar has not revealed, and I would not have strife or fear or anger come ever between the different Children of Ilúvatar, and fain would I for many an age yet leave the world empty of beings who might strive against the new-come Men and do hurt to them ere their clans be grown to strength, while the nations and peoples of the Earth are yet infants.” (TBoLT I 166)

Obviously, in the current climate, the Noldoli take this as confirmation of all that Melko had told them and the reason for their removal from Middle Earth: the theft of their “inheritance” to a “race unborn.”  And in the midst of this strife, Melko and Ungoliont attack the Trees.  At this moment, when the Trees are dead, Fëanor rouses the Noldoli and convinces them to leave Valinor in search of their lost gems and new adventures, and to escape the thralldom of the Gods (Valar).

Looking at the Tale, though the Silmarils were greatly desired by Melko, they are but three of a vast hoard of gems which he desires.  They may be greatest, but they are not yet the primary focus of his lust.  Even still there are hints of the future form, as in Melko’s deal with Ungoliont he promises her all the gems, keeping only the Silmarils for himself.

But what is greatly interesting here is how the decreased stature of the Silmarils greatly changes the dynamic of the Tale.  For one, the role of Fëanor is greatly reduced.  Though still functioning as the leader of the Noldoli and the firebrand who will lead them out of Valinor; here the decisions, pride and arrogance are largely assigned to the whole Noldoli race, and there is less evidence of strenuous persuasion on the part of Fëanor.

Also of interest, are the actions of Manwë, which often do little more than make matters worse.  With both of these changes, they ultimately increase the apparent power and manipulation of Melko.  He primes the Noldoli and plants the seeds of doubt.  He also plays to Manwë’s concerns and best intentions, which lead to the banishment of the Noldoli.  In all actions, in the Tale, Melko’s influence is apparent, and therefore his strength and cunning are also seemingly greater.

By changing the nature of the Silmarils, Tolkien is able to tie the motivations of all into a cohesive story line.  When the Silmarils are no longer mundane, but sacred they become important to all.  As holy objects, and relics of the Trees’ light, the lust of Morgoth, the fury of Noldor and their passion in pursuit all fall into place neatly like the pieces in a puzzle.

The closest correlation I can think of in history is the Crusades.  Though the Crusades’ purpose was primarily to regain the Holy Land and protect the ways for pilgrims, its secondary and just as important purpose was the gathering of relics; and one could argue Jerusalem was the greatest relic of them all.  Seen as a holy crusade, the Flight of the Noldor, and their subsequent wars with Morgoth can be seen in a wholly different manner than the jealous and furious vendetta of the Tale.

In the Tale, the primary reasons for the flight of the Noldoli are their misguided belief that they are somehow enslaved by the Valar; held in thrall to allow for the glorification of Men.  The wish for vengeance against Melko for the death of Fëanor’s father and the theft of the Silmarils, though strong, is ultimately secondary.  While the first motivation is also present in the Quenta, the final straw is the theft of the Silmarils.  They are given pride of place as the last and greatest reason to leave.  There too, Fëanor is given pride of place as the bearer of the brunt of the “injustices” (so he thinks) of the Valar, as well as the primary architect of the Flight.

I realize I probably seem to be rambling quite a bit at this point, but there is something to be seen in comparing the first surviving tale and the final published.  Though the Tales all occur in Middle Earth as a semi-continuous narrative, they were each written separately and often nowhere near sequentially.  Though diffuse, almost all the final elements of the Quenta are present in the Tale.  In reviewing the two side by side, what I have found fascinating is how by the simple sanctification of the Silmarils, Tolkien was able to create a cohesive world and a cohesive history out of so many disparate tales.  This simple change is the glue, to my mind, that holds the final legendarium together.