Sunday, July 12, 2015


I tried to listen to a reading of JRR Tolkien's Silmarillion, his founding myth for Middle Earth.


I am not unfamiliar with the creation mythology genre, having re-worked and re-edited the whole Bible for my Gnostic self some years ago. It is a passtime that "dissatisfied theologian-poets" have been known to indulge in.

But it seemed to me that the Tolkien story was really just two things. First, a thinly fleshed-out theogony like the "begats" of the Bible, all done in chronological sequence and elevated King James style, and well, with not enough non-linear narrative detail to keep your interest. Second, he was primarily a linguist and I got the sense, with all the names and naming and secondary names in this or that tongue he invented, that it was really the sound of these words that inspired him, that the story was a kind of vehicle to show off the vocabulary.

Arrogant of me to take this attitude, but, well, that's how ExCathedra rolls.

Impressive work, but not compelling. Unlike the Rings trilogy, which was far more evocative.



Anonymous said...

No, Ex. You actually hit it right on the head. The languages came first, and then the stories arose when Tolkien tried to map out a reasonable explanation of the similarities and differences between the languages. The Hobbit was never originally intended to be part of his "legendarium," the world he was crafting. The Lord of the Rings was meant as a sequel to the Hobbit, but Tolkien decided to introduce it into his larger universe, kind of the climax of the history he was writing. Eventually, Tolkien envisioned the magical parts of the world fading into story, and the timeline of Middle-Earth joining with our own history.

That's a big theme in Tolkien's works: the passing of history, the decay of civilizations, magic and wonder leaving the world. As a linguist who had a keen interest in medieval history and a Catholic Englishman in the 20th century, those must have been feelings and emotions he grappled with to some degree or another.

He also injects bits of his own life into his works: the destruction of his Atlantis analogue by God for diabolism and the attempted invasion of Paradise borrows heavily from a recurring nightmare he had as a child of a great wave sweeping over the land; spiders are common monsters because he was bitten and almost killed by a spider while in Africa as a child; the pallid bodies in the Dead Marshes were lifted from bodies floating in rain-filled craters during WWI; the meditation on the history of the man that Frodo and Sam see Faramir kill came from Tolkien's own memories of his thoughts after seeing a dead German soldier (I can't remember if he killed him personally).


DrAndroSF said...

Always nice to have my arrogant insights validated!

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