As a rule, Elves aren’t my favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. I’m fond of hobbits and a few human characters, but elves are always a little too ethereal for my taste.
I guess it’s not surprising then that The Silmarillion always held very little interest for me. Even when I was a hardcore Tolkien fan, I didn’t feel any completist need to read through The Silmarillion or any of the other histories. Too many elves. Too many names and dates.
It’s funny looking back now because if I had gotten over my distaste for elves and simply read The Silmarillion years ago I would have understood The Hobbit a lot better.
Confession Time: Until about a year ago, I didn’t realize the Necromancer and Sauron were one in the same.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me, and I even forget how I finally learned the truth. I’m 100% certain I didn’t figure it out on my own (just like I didn’t figure out Frodo was sailing off to some Paradise at the end of Return of the King without help). At this point, if I’m totally honest again, I’m even not certain it makes more sense to me that Sauron is the Necromancer!
All in all, this March into Middle-Earth is making me realize how little curiosity I had about the wider world of The Hobbit. (I also never wondered why the five armies were battling at the Lonely Mountain. I spent three Hobbit movies trying to figure it out.) It’s good then that I’m finally reading The Silmarillion. Undoubtedly, I’ll understand a lot more about the background of J. R. R. Tolkien’s primary works after I’m done. Or, at least, I’m hoping I will. Who knows with my history of reading comprehension!
After that not quite proud-making confession, it’s time to start this read-through at the beginning of it all. And by “Beginning of It All,” I mean the very creation of Middle-earth.
On to Ainulindalë!
Before Middle-earth, Ilüvatar, Tolkien’s mythic deity, gives the Ainur a tune to play. Together, these angelic creatures form an orchestra of creation–each with a particular part to play. Some become virtuosos of the seas, some of the mountains, and others–ahem, Melkor–of the hot and coldness of weather.
Melkor, not wanting to simply be a tool of creation but rather the creator himself, attempts to play his own tune. This causes chaos. Three times Ilüvatar is forced to change the tune and each time Melkor attempts to rebel.
Creation comes out mostly fine anyway, and the Ainur are given a preview of the world to come.
This world–Middle-earth–is beautiful and they revel in the wonder of it. Unfortunately, it’s not in existence quite yet. First, the Ainur must give up their powers and channel them into the parts of the world they helped create. The Ainur do this, but Melkor still desires to control and causes discord among the Ainur.
The world is then created, but it is at war before the history of elves and humans ever begins.
The creation myth of Middle-earth is a curious thing. Based on Tolkien’s letter in the preface, he wished to create a world where Art and Creation were excellent things but desire for power and ownership were the root of evil. Melkor and the other Ainur’s story is very indicative of that mindset–which is fine, if a bit simplistic in practice. I wish Tolkien would have gone further into the nature of Ilüvatar and the Ainur, but maybe that will come later. I was curious about where these beings had come from and what their motivations might be. Of course, the “Ainulindalë” is essentially a myth so I doubt there’ll be much more clarity on that.
The thing that most struck me after finishing “Ainulindalë” was that it made me really want to pick up C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. I have never in my life had any desire to read that book (I was so ticked off by The Last Battle that I never finished the series.), but I was curious to see how Lewis handled the creation of his mythical world in comparison to Tolkien. On the whole, I prefer Tolkien’s more vague religious symbolism to Lewis’ outright allegory so I’d be curious to see how different they are. Maybe after March into Middle-earth, I’ll try to trudge my way as kindheartedly as possible through The Chronicles of Narnia books and movies. We’ll see how good I can be.
I’m not entirely sure yet what this background is supposed add to a reader’s appreciation of the history of Middle-earth. The thoughts on good vs. evil presented here are fairly well established throughout the series and no big shocker–even if they are stated in more black and white terms than in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. I’m not saying this creation myth is a waste, but I don’t think it’s as inherently necessary to appreciating the saga as a whole as the preface would have you believe.
I didn’t like or dislike the first part of my Simarillion read-through. I’m ambivalent so far. Let’s hope next week there’s a bit more excitement!
Do you prefer The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings?
Image Source: Screencapped.net