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Nerdist Book Club: The Silmarillion, Part 2

Welcome back to the discussion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, fellow adventurers! This week we’re covering Chapters 1-4, and we’re learning about the first days of Middle-earth and its residents. Because I could see the foundation for the land I know and love from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I found myself completely riveted by this section. Taking notes and treating the book as the history tome it is has really helped with the enjoyability factor, and I hope you’re having a similar experience. Let’s dive in:

Manwe_and_Varda_by_varda_starqueen

Manwë and Varda by varda-starqueen

What happened

Chapter 1 – Of the Beginning of Days

The beginning of Eä was rife with war. Melkor seemingly defeated the Valar once and came back into the picture again to destroy the Lamps the Valar had created to shine over the earth. The violent act caused the shape of Arda to change. I get the impression the Valar didn’t take Melkor seriously enough. It’s like when the Jedi were arrogant during the Clone Wars and didn’t see the rise of Palpatine (the clouding of the Force didn’t help). The Valar seemed that unaware of what Melkor was doing.

After Melkor wrecked the Pillars and Lamps, the Valar went to the West. They created a safe haven there protected by high mountains and created new sources of light. The Two Trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, were silver and gold and brought light into the Land of the Valar and were used to determine the marking of time.

The chapter concludes with an interesting look at life after death for both Elves and Men and again touches on the fact that the mortality of men is a gift. It does point out some of the disadvantages of immortality.

Chapter 2 – Of Aulë and Yavanna

This chapter showcased another challenge of sorts to Ilúvatar, but one that comes from a different place than Melkor’s hate and greed. Aulë longed to have people to teach his craft to, and he created the Dwarves in secret. Ilúvatar of course found out and wouldn’t let the Dwarves be the Firstborn and put them into a sleep. The most fascinating aspect was that the Dwarves were mere puppets until Ilúvatar applied his hand to fix Aulë’s work. It’s a crude comparison, but that fail-safe reminded me of the Lysine Contingency in Jurassic Park (a genetic alteration that made the dinosaurs dependent on lysine supplements provided by the park).

We learned about the Dwarves and their temperament, and it fit with what we’ve seen in later stories in Middle-earth. I love that the Ents were created by Yavanna as a balance. Ilúvatar saw the Dwarves will destroy the earth without care, and the Ents were meant to be on guard and protect nature from the Dwarves and others.

I hit a point in this chapter where I desperately wished I could pick a single name for every person and location and perform a Control + Find and replace all the second, third, and fourth names. The multiple names are confusing and keeps me flipping back to the glossary nonstop.

Chapter 3 – Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

For a minute, it seemed like the Valar were going to give in to the threat of Melkor. They had a meeting about whether they should leave Middle-earth and therefore, the Children of Ilúvatar. Instead, Varda made brighter stars almost as if to guide the Children. As she finished, the first Elves appeared. It took Oromë a while to find them, and that cracked me up because you’d think they would have had a better notification system in place.

Protecting the Children became of the utmost importance to the Valar and because Melkor was antagonizing them and spreading false rumors about the Valar (he’s a classic mean girl), the Valar set a siege upon Melkor’s stronghold and they captured and bound him. They ignored his pleas for mercy and imprisoned him which I believe is for the best. He seems like a villain who is past redemption. I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me think otherwise.

The Elves were sundered almost as soon as they arrived with some leaving for the West at the Valar’s beckoning. Still, many stayed in Middle-earth and made their homes there.

Chapter 4 – Of Thingol and Melian

At only two pages, this chapter was brief. That didn’t stop it from brimming over with beauty though. Elwë (a/k/a Thingol), an elf, falls in love with Melian, a Maia. It’s the first such relationship, and while it’s not exactly a mortal with an immortal, you can see how it sets the path for Luthien and Beren and Arwen and Aragorn.

Thingol and Melian

Thingol and Melian by Dresden Codak

Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings

A few familiar names and locations were dropped in Chapters 1-4. When Aulë made the Dwarves, they were known as the Seven Fathers. They return to live again and one such example is Durin. He created Khazad-dûm, also known as Moria, under the Misty Mountains. The latter landmark is also mentioned.

Chapter 2 explains why the Ents were created and by whom. Yavanna created them as Shepherds to speak on behalf of all beings that have roots and to stand up for them and dole out punishment. Chapter 3 touches on the creation of the Orcs by Melkor. As far as I can tell, he used captured Elves to create the beings in envy and mockery of the Elven race.

Favorite quotes

“There arose a multitude of growing things great and small, mosses and grasses and great ferns, and trees whose tops were crowned with cloud as they were living mountains, but whose feet were wrapped in a green twilight.”

“To all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he ever forsaken Middle-earth.”

“They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed. Many a tree shall feel the bite of their iron without pity.”

“Would that the trees might speak on behalf of all things that have roots, and punish those that wrong them!”

map_of_arda_by_ginthoriel-d5rpg6e

Map of Arda by Ginthoriel

Discussion questions
– In Chapter 1, it’s said that the Valar are kindreds to the Children of Ilúvatar rather than their masters. Do you think the Children of Ilúvatar see it that way?
– Aulë makes the Dwarves without consulting Ilúvatar, and Ilúvatar notes there will be strife between the children of his adoption and the children of his choice. Is his anger with Aulë just? Was it fair for him to put the Dwarves into a sleep?
– The coming of the Elves brings a statement about how new and foretold things shall be met in Eä despite pre-destination. Do you think that makes the world more believable?
– Melkor was a constant thorn and his malicious acts drove the Valar from Middle-earth. Do you think they gave up the fight against him too easily the first time?
– What is the purpose of the two Lamps and Two Trees built by the Valar in a mythic context?
– Do you think the Valar were right to imprison Melkor even though he asked for mercy?

Bonus material

This section is new and will contain links to illustrations, podcasts, art, and more related to The Silmarillion.

Dresden Codak’s illustrations of every chapter of The Silmarillion
The Tolkien Professor’s Silmarillion Seminar (especially helpful if you’re getting hung up on pronunciations)

Head to the comments to discuss the questions and your thoughts about Chapters 1-4 of The Silmarillion or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll be jumping in at both places as much as I can. Don’t forget to use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag in all your social media postings so everyone can find your insightful comments.

Come back for the discussion of Part 3 next Tuesday at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 5-8.

Top image of The Two Trees by Julia Pelzer

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79 comments

  • It’s remarkable how there are so many different names for so many different characters…! First; it’s incredible how Tolkien managed to keep track of it all! I’ve been starting to just not get held up names too much and follow the action…Secondly; thank goodness for your summaries, Amy, because it really helps make sense of things I get lost on! XD

    I think I enjoyed the origins of the Dwarves the most out of these four chapters. It brought up some really interesting questions that we can see in sciences of today; just because we can, *should* we? And okay, now we have…If they shouldn’t have existed in the first place, what do we do now…It’s life, so is it right to be rid of them? (And to be honest, I think that’s a fairer Jurassic Park similarity…! XD)

    As for Melkor’s imprisonment, it seems that it’s the ol’ Batman-Joker thing; the hero doesn’t kill, therefore the villain’s gonna keep being villainous…I reason that’s why Melkor was imprisoned despite his mercy plea.

    And with the Valar, amongst other things, I’m seeing more and more references (if not; parallels) to signs of the Zodiac; Aquarius, Orion (even his belt)…

    – AM

  • I really enjoyed these chapters! The first 2 parts we read were really interesting, but a bit boring compared to chapter 1-4. I’m loving that we’re getting more into the story! It’s interesting and exciting!

  • I still see tons of parallel to Biblical stories. That the Children of Iluvatar were created by Iluvatar and not by the Valar is very Old Testament. (God created angels separately from humans.) And as for the question of mercy imprisoning Melkor: perhaps that *was* the merciful choice. They did not kill him; they did not turn him over to Iluvatar. They simply stopped his reign of terror on Arda.

  • The mixture of predestination and free will in Tolkien’s world certainly contributes to its believability. After all, even though Ea has a number of fantastical elements to it, it is enough like the Earth that we are familiar with to make it easy for us to relate to.

  • Interfering even a little bit can have huge repercussions. We’ve seen this. The Valar are incredibly powerful and Eru even more so. If they interfere with Melkor’s plan too much, I think they are afraid they will mess things up even more than Melkor. Free will is tricky. If you allow bad things to happen you are looked at as weak or even leaning toward the evil you allow, yet if you punish every being that does something against the Supreme being’s will with death you end up with beings who may only be doing good because they are threatened with death or you end up with no beings at all. I think a world like that would make me anxious. I think beings would just try to do evil more underhandedly and try harder to not get caught. Free will allows true good, but it also allows true evil. You have to take both or it’s not really free will.

    • I think Eru would agree.  In the original music that they played, Eru allowed Melkor to bring strife in the music.  He was all for it, IMO.  The Valar could not possibly see everything that Eru had in store in his grand design.

    • Hmm. So you see Melkor’s evil as being part of the balance of the world? I can see a certain amount of bad being necessary to keep things even and the Valar interfering too much could make it worse.

  • I’m going to echo Jamal just a bit, but for slightly different reasons. I get a little frustrated by the inaction of the Valar concerning the coming of the Elves. “hey, remember those ‘Children of Illuvatar’ that you guys have been super excited about, enough so that one of you created his own race of sentient beings? Well they are coming soon, but the whole area is pretty much overrun with monsters and Melkor is being a dick. Maybe help out? Just a little? no? cool.” Manwe takes such a hands off attitude, like he just can’t be bothered, which pretty much directly leads to Melkor getting there first and screwing things up from the start. Oh, right. And turning some of the Elves into Orcs by slow torture and cruelty, which sounds pretty great. So I feel like the Valar kind of drop the ball on this one. 

    • It was certainly bordering on apathy.  It feels like they just got tired of waiting, uncertain about when Eru would wake up the children.  But they could have done something to ease the coming of the Elves, make Ea a better place at least.  I think Manwe is very arrogant, just sitting on his high pedestal.  At least Ulmo’s presence was still being felt, but it wasn’t quite enough.  And them discovering the arrival of the Elves as an accident was quite pathetic.  They could have at least set a scouting mission once in a while to see the state of affairs in the world.

  • After reading the discussion last week, I went and picked up the Audio CDs of The Silmarillion. I’m listening to it in my car and it’s wonderful to hear those words aloud, gives them even more life to me. It really drove home the power of the scene where Melkor is freed, and how Ulmo & Tulkas were not fooled. 
    One of my favorite quotes: “…for those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.” 

    • I also picked up the CDs from the library at the suggestion of a post last week. I’ve really enjoyed reading along with the audio. It is interesting since I first read the Silmarillion in high school and I just pronounced the names without using the guide and many of my personal pronunciations stuck with me even though I can recognize they are incorrect. The audio really has changed how I “hear” the names in my head even when I am not listening. 

  • A lot of you have been exclaiming how the valar must of been stupid or selfish in their merciful treatments of morgoth. But before you do read this quote about Saruman. Near the end when frodo and sam return home to see Saruman has nigh destroyed Hobbiton.
    “A dozen hobbits, led by Sam, leaped

    forward with a cry and flung the villain to the ground. Sam drew his sword.

    ‘No, Sam!’ said Frodo. ‘Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in

    any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was GREAT ONCE, of a

    noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.'” (Return of the King) *inflection by me
    Tolkien in his writing makes a huge effort to show how much a single life is, and how a person has the ability to change for good or ill. Consider how Denethor strove to destroy Gondor in his final days after decades of fighting Sauron. Or how the 9 rings corrupted noble rulers of Numenorian blood. Or Boromir almost killed frodo after being close to the Ring. Or imagine if Galadriel had takenthe ring when frodo gave it to her. By the end of the book I assume we should see examples of redemption given to fallen beings who honestly strive to change for the better. If this option is given to Melkor over and over again, shouldn’t those who are less then him who strive to do good after doing evil be forgiven?

    • In the end, though, he was beyond saving, and had to be sent where ever they sent him (for future discussion).  It was clear from the onset, Melkor’s nature.  I still think that they shouldn’t have released him.  But, as the saying goes, there must be an opposition in all things.  Makes life much more interesting.  Good thing Sauron wasn’t captured, or we wouldn’t be reading about the later history of middle earth.  No LOTR… which would be sad…

    • I see what youre saying with this, but I guess the reason why I was critical of most of the Vala was that alot of people get caught up in their decision to keep hands off middle earth.  and also if they had an original design why they let someone screw it up. Take the line for example where it says Eru was angered that Melkor created the orcs from the tortured elves. Well he would have had a share in that because he allowed it to happen.  He knew Melkor was that bad and yet still gave him free reign to mess up the design.  Basically, its more my dismay in that they were not fulfilling their role to create and protect.

  • this is usally the part where i start to dislike most of the valar. they come across as almost oblivous and when meklor destroys the lamps i almost feel like they deserve it though i wonder what the earth wouldve looked like. then they shut themselves from the rest of the world and are like screw middl earth. great gaurdianship there. the other thing is the contradiction between creating this ultra utopia world for both races when one ofthem will die out faster, which is why humans cant go to valinor. seems like a fail from the beginning. last current thought is what would a war between  spirits look like? they cant die so what happens. how do these powers wreck an entire planet? thoughts?

    • Yeah, I’m not feeling completely warm and fuzzy towards them right now. They seem to have some selfish tendencies despite being so excited about the coming of the Children. On one hand, I can understand them wanting to make the Elves figure a few things out on their own but…

      • It starts to feel like some of the Valar regard Elves and Men not as equals, or something approaching equals, but as pets, or a fun new toy to play around with and put aside for later. I don’t get the sense that they all understand that their actions could have consequences outside Valinor.

        • I never felt that the valar felt they were better than elves and men. I just never really got how if theyre in charge of protecting and building the plant, did they not rebuild it instead of just the west, especially after melkor’s defeat

  • Two Lamps and Trees of Valinor are curious precursors to the sun and moon and show an evolution in design while retaining symmetry in their pairing. The lamps provided consistent light “so that all was lit as it were in a changeless day,” while the trees each waxed and waned on a schedule with unique tones of light giving rise to the marking of the passage of time. It is interesting how the story uses light to distinguish periods of time and individuals, those who had seen the lamps, the Calaquendi, and those who did not, the Moriquendi. Of course, Telperion’s lineage is important to the Elves since Galathilion is created for them by Yavanna. Galathilion’s descendants are the White Trees of Númenor and Gondor.

  • “At only two pages, this chapter was brief. That didn’t stop it from brimming over with beauty though. Elwë (a/k/a Thingol), an elf, falls in love with Melian, a Maia. It’s the first such relationship, and while it’s not exactly a mortal with an immortal, you can see how it sets the path for Luthien and Beren and Arwen and Aragorn.”
    Don’t forget Eärendil and Elwing

  • The book states that Manwe and the other Valar (except Tulkas) had no evil in them and therefore couldn’t comprehend that Melkor was a lost cause early on.  They were akin to the family that NEVER believe a black sheep will always be bad.  “He will get better with time and patience…”  Melkor uses this ignorance to his advantage over and over again.

    Like most mythologies/religions, the God-being has a perfect understanding that good and evil will always be. (i.e. Eru smiling when he heard the dischord of Melkor in the First Music.)

    The lesser beings will always believe they can get rid of evil and achieve perfection but it’s a fruitless qwest, as a complete conquering of evil/achieving perfection ends the story and thus there is no need to have the mythology continue endlessly.

    Mythologies are created to explain what is not known.  What is known is that things are never perfect, therefore there must always be “evil” around to strive against and disrupt the goal of perfection. Tolkien did great job with his Creation story, following a lot of the big religions/mythologies in that there is an ending to everything, although no one but God/Iluvatar (insert your preferred Supreme Being here) knows this info…so keep plugging away lesser beings.

    • Although perfection may not be reached until the end. I think (and I think Tolkein) believed that we should still strive to bring about that perfect end even if it does seem futile. I think we are given a little bit of power to affect when the end will come and how messed up the world around us is as we get there. Maybe it was that feeling of futility that caused the Valar to not respond to Melkor in full-force.

  • It is intriguing and heartbreaking to see the subtle evils that befall even the most sincere actions.  How Morgoth’s hatred against the elves was almost fully due to the Valar going to war on their behalf.  Or how Mandos knew from the start the evil that would come to all the world from the Valar helping the elves instead of leaving them to themselves.

    • “Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’. I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.”

      – J.R.R. Tolkien from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien; Letter #144

    • Most of the supplemental books that were put out after Tolkien died (Unfinished Tales et al) don’t give a definite answer as to who Tom Bombadil was, but  most allude to him being a Maiar that followed neither the Valar or Melkor.  Possibly even being a lesser Valar himself, placed by Iluvatar outside of the knowledge of the rest as a wild card.
          Think of him as a crazy Uncle who was neither good or evil…just there for a reason you can’t comprehend…  ;)

  • Just a quick post while I’m taking a break at work. If Melkor’s initial rebellion wasn’t enough evidence, the sections that follow Ainulindalë illustrate the limits of the Valar’s knowledge of the future through their surprise and wonder at the Elves, “From without the world, though all things may be forethought in music or foreshown in vision from afar, to those who enter verily into Eä each in its time shall be met at unawares as something new and unforetold.” This tension between predestination and free will I commented on last week and this delicate balance is clarified, at least in the Valar’s case, by the explanation that the Valar do not have complete clarity in their understanding of Ilúvatar’s grand design. The Valar’s delay and incomplete handling of Melkor and his minions also speaks to their lack of knowledge and the importance of their interpretation of the limited vision they have. Even Manwë through Mandos misinterprets the doom “that the Firstborn shall come in the darkness, and shall look first upon the stars” as a reason for inaction in the apprehension of Melkor. The Valar could have still left Middle-earth starlit while working to chain Melkor and his corrupted minions. We learn later that the Manwë “was free from evil and could not comprehend it” and that limitation helps to bring the woe that follows. I think this balance between predestination and free will helps engage and invest the reader. If the story were told by Ilúvatar, who presumably set all events in motion, the drama would be sucked from the story as if devoured by Ungoliant’s insatiable hunger.

    • And even those Vala with the insight more connected with Iluvatar’s prescience seem to have a sort of pessimism in that regard, like Mandos stating “So it is doomed” when the Vala decide to assist the elves.

  • - Aulë makes the Dwarves without consulting Ilúvatar, and Ilúvatar notes there will be strife between the children of his adoption and the children of his choice. Is his anger with Aulë just? Was it fair for him to put the Dwarves into a sleep?

     
    When reading the section, Iluvatar didn’t strike me as being particularly angry. He seemed more bothered yet compassionate. I think he put them to sleep to send a message that what he desires always comes before the desires of any of the Valar. It also seemed a way to remind Aule that he is the supreme god.

     

    -Melkor was a constant thorn and his malicious acts drove the Valar from Middle-Earth. Do you think they gave up the fight against him too easily the first time?

    Yes, one of my first thoughts after reading was that they just should’ve handled him the first time and been done with it. Not doing so made them seem somewhat weak. I also think they were right to imprison him if they can’t kill him. It’s just unfortunate that it took them so long to wise up and realize that he wasn’t gonna change.

     
    And for a group that comes off like they value the planet so much, it’s strange that they would let Melkor do what he wanted for so long. Instead of going back to face him again, they run off to Valinor. This guy is corrupting everything he can get his hands on, including the First Born, but it takes them forever to finally say, ok, we’re gonna stop Melkor once and for all. That behavior makes them seem a bit selfish.

  • First of all, thanks for this! It’s been a great experience. The book’s been great, I had never read it and I’m loving it. Sometimes it feels like I’m reading the Old Testament (but in a much more beautiful way). The creation of the world, Melkor’s fall into darkness and the Valinor (Lucifer and archangels), the elves taking a long journey to Valinor (Exodus), all these are very familiar elements. Nevertheless, Tolkien introduced very unique elements to create a world of his own. The Silmarillion explains the creation of Tolkien’s universe, just like the Bible in its time. Just can’t wait to continue reading.

  • These four chapters were quite nice. 1) Perhaps it is so, they all had to come form somewhere, I’m not sure about what the people thought, but It would make sense if at least some of them believed that. 2) It isn’t just but I don’t think that any god or deity would feel this way about it’s own creation creating something as well 3) Yes, just yes. 4) Yes, they did not take him too seriously, I suppose they felt compassion because he was one of them once. 5) Good/Evil Light/Dark Day/Night Moon/Sun the book does not specify any undertones, at least not to me, it can be either or none. 6) He would of kept being an evil presence, so it was a righteous decision. 

  • - In Chapter 1, it’s said that the Valar are kindreds to the Children of Ilúvatar rather than their masters. Do you think the Children of Ilúvatar see it that way? 
    I’m not really sure, to be honest.
     – Aulë makes the Dwarves without consulting Ilúvatar, and Ilúvatar notes there will be strife between the children of his adoption and the children of his choice. Is his anger with Aulë just? Was it fair for him to put the Dwarves into a sleep?
    I feel that he wishes to control everything, and when someone else wishes to create he feels the need to correct that. Even though it is obviously not something he can prevent. Aulë wanted to give life and create and have something of his own, and that didn’t sit well with Ilúvatar
    – The coming of the Elves brings a statement about how new and foretold things shall be met in Eä despite pre-destination. Do you think that makes the world more believable?
    I believe it to be so, you can only control so little in such a big world. They create their own paths and challenge destiny in a way.
     – Melkor was a constant thorn and his malicious acts drove the Valar from Middle-earth. Do you think they gave up the fight against him too easily the first time?
    It felt like they just brushed him off indeed “Oh, that Melkor scoundrel, always up to no good” While in fact Melkor was a legitimate threat to them. But I have to admire Melkor, because as much as he hates some things, I feel like he’s enjoying being that negative, malicious being. He’s doing what he loves. 
    – What is the purpose of the two Lamps and Two Trees built by the Valar in a mythic context?
    Perhaps light and dark? I cannot tell. 
    – Do you think the Valar were right to imprison Melkor even though he asked for mercy?
    Yes, otherwise he owuld of still wreaked havoc. They just improsoned him, he still has his life, for now. 

  • 1) I think the Valar see themselves as kindreds, but the inherent disparities make it hard for the elves to see themselves that way.  They are kindred in the sense that both are contingent on Iluvatar – unlike him, they were created and thus do not contain within themselves the reason for their own existence. .Without ascribing to myself any powers of the Ainur, as an older sister it strikes me that there is something like an older-younger sibling relationship. I’m from a big family, and I’ve been alive most of my parents’ marriage, but my youngest sisters haven’t been alive for half of it. It’s no particular credit to me that, as an adult, I know more than they do, have more memories, have built more skills, and remember my parents in their 20s. The Valar not only have that, but they alone have direct connection to Iluvatar, and are more “powerful.” .2) I think Iluvatar’s anger with Aule is just, and that he’s pretty lenient (he’s entitled to destroy them but doesn’t). Aule should know better – he has seen the strife of singing one’s own tune against that of Eru. It seems too like Aule knows it’s not kosher – otherwise, he wouldn’t have hidden it. That said, Melkor acted in pride and selfishness, stridently refusing to obey Iluvatar’s will, in order to dominate his equals and even against his creator, and will destroy to accomplish this. Aule sought a good thing (life and creativity) but in a wrong way. When Iluvatar confronts him, he repents and submits in obedience. I think the dwarves sleeping is a good solution.  I also think it hints at the natural order of Tolkien’s world that they will not quite get along with the Children of Iluvatar; because Aule has broken the order of creation, the dwarves are oriented towards him – or, they are also disordered – and by nature are more limited..(skipping)4) I think the Valar gave up too easily. They also seem a bit naive – they didn’t really understand the power of evil or how it could stand against them all. They are also not willing to entirely fight – they keep trying to repair the world. That is the right humane response, but not the response of a soldier who needs to press his enemy. I kind of like that they don’t get it, but it’d be nice if they’d just finished him..(skipping)6) I think it was just. At that point he’s done so much damage that there’s an element of fairness. I have the theories of punishment in the back of my mind from law school. While from a philosophical and spiritual perspective I favor mercy, there is a certain point at which it is also unjust to let things go unpunished, because it shows a lack of appreciation of the suffering caused by the wrongdoer’s actions. The Valar have to do something to take it seriously, and Melkor could always appeal to Iluvatar for mercy. I think the fact that he doesn’t shows his request is more out of a desire to avoid repercussions than a recognition that what he did was wrong. .Thanks again for hosting this.  I loved reading the chapters before bed this last week.. hard to put down, of course, and I highlighted (Kindle version!) everywhere. So beautiful. 

  • I’m really loving The Silmarillion so far and can’t believe I couldn’t get through it before. So thanks again for this! There are indeed so many names for everything, but though it makes it a bit hard to read (I had to reread every paragraph twice to make sure I absorbed it all and spent most of my time checking the glossary and the map) it also makes the world feel so rich and tangible that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, it helps to have a few ‘anchor’ words (like Valinor, Eldar, etc) that we’re already familiar with, and seeing early shadows of the Middle-earth we know is enough to propel me forward.  
    My favorite part of these 4 chapters was the section that discussed death. I find it utterly fascinating that Ilúvatar intended for death to be a gift, and that the only reason it was considered a bad thing was because Melkor cast a shadow and affected our perception of it, and “confounded it with darkness, and brought forth evil out of good, and fear out of hope.” It’s very interesting that while Elves are satisfied with staying in the world and marveling at its beauty for ages, Ilúvatar intended that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the physical world, and it was only through Melkor’s corruption that the desire for what lies beyond the world turned into a fear of the unknown. I also liked finding out that when Elves die their spirits go to the halls of Mandos, and that they can even be resurrected after a while.
    Another one of my favourite parts was the origin of the Dwarves. The explanation for their sturdiness and stubbornness is interesting (they were created when the world was dark and Melkor was in full power, and Aulë didn’t exactly have a point of reference). I think Ilúvatar handled it well, and I think it was wise to put them to sleep, because aside from it conflicting with his design, it also served as a lesson in patience for Aulë. I found it interesting that the Dwarves at first were merely puppets who had no will outside of Aulë’s mind, and it was only through Ilúvatar that they were able to function properly. It’s consistent with the Ainulindalë’s assertion that Ilúvatar alone possessed the Secret Fire, and thus only he could grant beings the ‘spark of life’, free will, etc.
    Tied to the origin of the Dwarves is the creation of the Ents and the Eagles. Yavanna’s realization that the Dwarves, and even the Children of Ilúvatar themselves, would ruin the things she had created was quite heartbreaking. She’s definitely one of my favorite Valar, and you can feel the grief and frustration in her voice when she asks Manwë, “Is it not enough that Melkor should have marred so many? Shall nothing that I have devised be free from the dominion of others?” It reminds me of Tolkien’s love of nature and his portrayal of industrialization through Saruman in The Lord of the Rings (and of course that’s when the Ents rise up against him, an event that has greater significance now that we know how and why they were created).
    Speaking of creation, I’m reminded again of how Melkor craved the Secret Fire and the ability to create and was never able to possess it, so he resolved to corrupt things already created, including the Elves. The creation of the Orcs was appropriately ominous and disturbing, through Melkor’s deceit and cruelty. It’s not surprising that it’s referred to as Melkor’s “vilest deed”.
    I do think the Valar underestimated Melkor and gave up too easily, but I also agree that he hid his activities well. I love the Clone Wars analogy by the way! And it is indeed true that similarly to how Palpatine used the shroud of the dark side to cloud the Jedi’s judgment, Melkor stayed hidden behind a veil of impenetrable darkness, as I believe is stated in the book. Even after they defeated him, many things stayed hidden from them, “and Sauron they did not find.” And I also believe they were right to imprison him despite his plea for mercy, because it was all too clear by then that deceit was in his heart.
    OK wow, that was a much longer comment than I expected. I’m terribly sorry, I’m just really enjoying this book!

  • I see the lamps and the trees more in the vein of dawn/dusk and beginnings/endings than sun/moon (even though they literally end up becoming the sun and moon).  Further works are filled with descriptions of golden dawn beginnings and silver twilight endings.

  • “The coming of the Elves brings a statement about how new and foretold things shall be met in Eä despite pre-destination. Do you think that makes the world more believable?”

     

    Predestination is always a tricky subject…but I think in this case, the way Tolkien presents it has a touch of a Homeric ethos of Double Determination. Which is simply like the modern debate of free will vs determinism, which in works like the Iliad or Odyssey can be interpreted as being coexisting parallels, rather than diametrically opposed concepts: Divine power and will are definitely real forces, but at the same time personal responsibility for one’s actions is inescapable, and blame and praise are given to mortals just as easily as immortals. In this way, both the gods and the epic heroes simultaneously work to shape the outcome of events.

     

    So I probably explained that a bit clumsily, but that’s how I regard that bit about the Valar meeting the Elves and other new things in Ea, as having those roots in real mythology (and modern philosophy). The Valar may have seen the Vision of Iluvatar, but they can’t see everything (including why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch). The Children will still have their agency in determining the course of their futures.

    • I like that you point out agency. Even though there is a sense of pre-destination, I still get the impression all of Children – and even the Valar to some degree – are making their own way in the world.

    • Tolkien deals with these sorts of tough issues very smartly, by almost never stating things from Iluvatar’s point of view, but by the point of view of one of the Vala.  This is a genius way of using the Valar to focus on certain aspects of Iluvatar’s character.  So Mandos treats knowledge in a much different manner than Ulmo or Manwe, but in a way they all reflect limited or varied characteristics of Iluvatar himself.

  • I think the Valar overlooked the fact that their powers were greater than anything the Children could do, and as creators of the world, they couldn’t but appear to the Children as masters. Men often called them gods. I think Ilúvatar knew this would happen, but it was a part of him, just as he knew Aulë would make the Dwarves.
    Whether putting the Seven Fathers to sleep was just is really a matter of theology- it is just that war and famine and strife exist, if you believe that God, or a god created everything in his vision, as part of him? I think it simply wasn’t time for the Dwarves to come into the world.
    I believe seeing new things evolve within the world is a parallel to the way in which mortal beings always effect the outcome of history, regardless of the gods’ intentions
    It is said that none held the power that Melkor possessed, not even others of the Valar or Ainur. I believe the Valar felt they’d do more damage to Arda by fighting Melkor, and that yes, they underestimated how deeply his evil ran. But hasn’t that been true of nearly every villain? They wouldn’t be around to cause trouble if no one underestimated the lengths to which they’d go to achieve power ;)
    The Trees/Lamps serve as a wonderfully visual description and means for the creation of Time as it’s known in Eä and the Sun & Moon
    I think the Valar were right to imprison Melkor and their only fault was the impermanence of his sentence. 

  • Starting from here on out, the geography of Arda is going to be increasingly present as characters travel from Doriath to Nargothrond, people sail from from Valinor to Helcaraxe, hosts march from Angband to Amon Ereb, etc etc.
    For those who are interested, or for those who just find themselves getting completely lost amid all the different locations, I highly recommend picking up “The Atlas of Middle Earth” by Karen Wynn Fonstad. You can find it around $10-20, and it’s really a fantastic guide. It’s a great companion to help you orient yourself within the unfolding events and actions of Arda’s history. 
    From the Amazon page description:
    “Karen Wynn Fonstad’s THE ATLAS OF MIDDLE-EARTH is an essential volume that will enchant all Tolkien fans. Here is the definitive guide to the geography of Middle-earth, from its founding in the Elder Days through the Third Age, including the journeys of Bilbo, Frodo, and the Fellowship of the Ring. Authentic and updated — nearly one third of the maps are new, and the text is fully revised — the atlas illuminates the enchanted world created in THE SILMARILLION, THE HOBBIT, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
    Hundreds of two-color maps and diagrams survey the journeys of the principal characters day by day — including all the battles and key locations of the First, Second, and Third Ages. Plans and descriptions of castles, buildings, and distinctive landforms are given, along with thematic maps describing the climate, vegetation, languages, and population distribution of Middle-earth throughout its history. An extensive appendix and an index help readers correlate the maps with Tolkien’s novels.”
    It’s awesome and comprehensive. It even includes maps of the world during the Spring of Arda and the time of the Lamps–Not that there was much around in those days, but it’s still fun, and gives you an idea of just how thoroughly and seriously the author approached this project.
    If you get a chance to check this out, I highly recommend it as excellent supplementary material to The Silmarillion.

  • Considering that Iluvatar was planning on making the races of people himself, his treatment of Aule and the first dwarves is pretty lenient. He sang Aule into existence and could have just as easily undone both him and the dwarves.  He’s like a loving father trying to correct his wayward son by punishing him enough to get his attention but not enough to cause permanent damage.

    The aspect of these chapters that really captured my attention was the set of experiments with trying to light the flat earth with its domed ceiling and walls of stars.  The first attempt with the two huge lamps of burning oil on amazingly tall pedestals wasn’t too smart. They should have anticipated that Melkor might try to destroy it.  The resulting fire was partly their fault as much as it was Melkor’s. 

    The twin trees of light were my favorite attempt if for no other reason than the sheer beauty of such a thing. It makes quite a mental picture imagining glowing trees of light, one silver and the other gold.  It’s a clever way of explaining the origin of telling time too.  Where I live there is a tree called the butterfly bush that has leaves that are dark on top and that are covered with silvery ‘hairs’ of wax on the bottom of them.  There is also a tree called the golden rain tree that has huge, bright yellow flowers in the early summer.  I can just imagine giant versions of these glowing brightly. 

    • You make a sound point about Iluvatar. In a way, it’s just his world and everyone’s living in it – he was pretty gentle with Aule.

      A friend had gold and silver trees at her wedding, and I’m just now understanding the reference. They do sound amazingly beautiful.