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Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2016 1:16 pm
by jalapeno_dude
Might be worth watching the movies or at least reading a Wikipedia plot summary or something? Though honestly until/unless we get to the Second and Third Age stuff it probably won't really matter in terms of plot, except insofar as it's nice to have an idea that e.g. Elrond and Galadriel are still around at the time of LOTR. For our purposes here it's probably helpful more in terms of figuring out what sort of tone/atmosphere/moral dimensions Tolkien is going for, but a lot of that is already present in the Hobbit/stated explicitly in the letter we're in the process of discussing. So I think you'd be perfectly fine starting with Silm.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Sun Aug 07, 2016 9:21 pm
by DanielH
Good, I haven’t read either Hobbit or LotR, and I like reading in in-universe-chronological order. I am starting Silm now, after prompting from this thread being created, and have just read the thread itself after reading the relevant parts of Silm. My additional thoughts:

1. The Powers are explicitly excepted from the word “power” being negative. This is interesting, and implies a sharper divide than just governance and rules vs. creation
2. Jalapeno says the letter was written before the publication of LotR, which in turn was before even Sputnik. I wonder how Tolkein’s views of Men leaving the circle of the Earth changed after the space program.
3. Something that is largely ignored in glowfic is that the Valar do have an arguably valid claim of at least partial ownership of the Silmarils. They were made from the light of the Trees, and “blessed” by the Valar. They are arguably co-creators of the Silmarils. Fëanor getting possessive over them was with this interpretation wrong even without that stupid Oath.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 8:30 am
by MaggieoftheOwls
If I say, hey, dude, come hang out at my beach house, and you make a cool glass sculpture out of the sand, and I paint it for you, and at no point during this process do I lay any claim to it, announcing that it's mine the minute I discover that breaking it would be useful is a dick move at best.

Besides, what he made the Silmarils out of is literally light. It's not like the light he used would still be around illuminating things if he hadn't used it. That's not how light works. And if the Valar start saying "anything you create using resources we provide belongs to us" that is an even better reason to get the hell out of Valinor.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 8:46 am
by Kappa
MaggieoftheOwls wrote:If I say, hey, dude, come hang out at my beach house, and you make a cool glass sculpture out of the sand, and I paint it for you, and at no point during this process do I lay any claim to it, announcing that it's mine the minute I discover that breaking it would be useful is a dick move at best.

I love you <3

MaggieoftheOwls wrote:Besides, what he made the Silmarils out of is literally light. It's not like the light he used would still be around illuminating things if he hadn't used it. That's not how light works. And if the Valar start saying "anything you create using resources we provide belongs to us" that is an even better reason to get the hell out of Valinor.


Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 4:34 pm
by DanielH
I’m not saying I believe this interpretation myself, but it is not quite that cut-and-dried. If you personally put all the sand on the beach (because it was otherwise a rocky beach, say) then it is your sand. This is even more the case if you put a lot of work into making sure it was very high-quality sand. You would be well within your rights to not invite people to your beach house, or to ask them not to melt your sand and take it home. Of course, at this point the physical-object metaphor breaks down.

So let's do a different comparison: intellectual property. That should make everything simpler and not in any way cause any disagreements. One could regard the Silmarili as stand-alone fanfiction for the light of the Trees. The current real-world uneasy truce regarding fanfic is (simplified) that authors have widely varying opinions on it, publishers tolerate it, and fanfic authors don’t try to sell it. But suppose that somebody wrote some (for-profit) fanfiction of something that was relatively unknown and the fanfic got big. The original author would be justified in wanting credit and probably royalties and would justly feel cheated if the fanfic author claimed the entirety of the work. See: Candy Crush and CandySwipe for a real-world concrete example.

What they did is similar: Fëanor took something of the Valar’s work, made something else out of it, and then said “This wholly belongs to me, and my children who weren’t involved at all, and we will kill you if you say otherwise”. And just like in the real world, nobody bothered with who exactly owns what until the stakes got much higher.

This all hinges on how much the Valar have a right to the light and how much this gives them rights to derivative works. The first depends on what exactly they said when they invited the Elves to Valinor; the second on a lot of complicated factors. I’m personally inclined to believe that the Valar have rights to the Light and Fëanor most of the rights to the Silmarili, but that the Valar have a legitimate partial claim.

What the partial claim entails is difficult to pin down especially when the surrounding culture has little concept of property rights. Probably something like the right to nondestructively borrow them or something. It doesn’t matter much with the Silmarili in Melkor’s crown at the time. The point is that Fëanor was more possessive of them than he had a right to be.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2016 8:15 am
by MaggieoftheOwls
Part of the issue I have regardless of whether or not the Valar could be considered to have some rightful claim to the Silmarils is that, as far as I can tell from the text, they never asserted this until they tried to claim them wholesale to break them. Part of the problem I have with the "fanfiction" metaphor is that fanfiction is an established thing, which gives people reasonable expectations for what rights the authors of canons may have towards derivative works. No one had ever done anything like this before. The Valar never set up the expectation that they might do or have the right to claim the Silmarils before they did it. If one wanted to argue the other end of the property dispute, and claim that the Silmarils belonged to the Valar in their entirety (which I do not in any way agree with but am posing for the sake of argument), I would still make the argument that them asserting this claim only when they wanted to break them is like letting a troublemaker get away with something consistently, and they know you have every means of knowing what you're doing and are making the choice not to punish them or intervene, and then coming down on them hard when you abruptly want to look good in front of a disciplinary committee or something.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2016 5:35 pm
by DanielH
And again most of the problem with the troublemaker analogy is the expectation. If you had told the troublemaker “I don’t like what you’re doing but it’s not causing much harm now so I probably won’t bother intervening but I might if I have more reason” then later a disciplinary board showed up there wouldn’t be a problem intervening then.

I agree that most of the issue there was unclear expectations, but it goes both ways. Tolkien and the Valar thought that the Valar had at least some claim to the Silmarilli, Fëanor didn’t, and as a result we get the First Age. If they all agreed who the Silmarilli belonged to, whether it were Fëanor, the Valar, a combination of the two, or even an innocent third party like Elu or Fëanor’s children, the First Age would have gone differently.

[Another issue
This doesn’t have a bearing on ownership but does relate to possessiveness: lintamande says that the Silmarilli were not stated to have any abilities in canon and might have just been pretty jewellery which could resurrect the Trees. They could be put to use for a great purpose, and Fëanor didn’t let that happen; in glowfic this is because he wanted to use them for a different great purpose, but apparently that wasn’t specified in canon and in any case the Valar could disagree about the relative importance of the purposes. If you see the Trees as more important than an independent Noldoran kingdom then this looks a lot like possessiveness instead of scarce resources.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2016 10:54 pm
by MaggieoftheOwls
Part of the problem with that is "how much right does anyone who isn't a Noldo have to compare the importance of an independent Noldor kingdom with other things."

Re: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 8:41 pm
by jalapeno_dude
FYI, I made my highlighting pass through the last part of the letter a few days ago but have been distracted from writing it up as a post by the Olympics (and also postdoc applications). Also intend to reply to the above discussion, either before or at the same time as that post. Probably not tonight or tomorrow but maybe in the next few days, we'll see.

Re: Silmarillion Book Club: Silmarillion Book Club

PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2016 11:54 pm
by jalapeno_dude
Okay, let's do this. Apologies in advance for the length. (I know I said I'd reply to the discussion above, but it seems like it'll be more fruitful if we wait until we can bring the actual text into it.)

So, in my last post I discussed the portion of Tolkien's letter summarizing the legendarium through the end of the First Age of the Sun. Now we get his discussion of the Second Age.

A note about the overall structure here before I get into specific passages. Remember from the first part of the letter that Tolkien sees the legendarium as a connected body of work, "a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story." By the time we get to LOTR itself we're in the realm of 'history' with a straightforward narrative. So the Second Age stuff plays an intermediate role: it's supposed to provide "the essential background to The Hobbit and its sequel," both in terms of plot setup and themes. Tolkien says this explicitly:
The three main themes are thus The Delaying Elves that lingered in Middle-earth; Sauron’s growth to a new Dark Lord, master and god of Men; and Númenor-Atlantis.
These three combined take us from the end of the First Age, when the Gods have literally just been walking the Earth, via one more fall and flood narrative, to the world as depicted in LOTR, where Men and not Elves are indisputably in charge. (The last line of this section of the letter: "So ends the Second Age with the coming of the Númenórean realms and the passing of the last kingship of the High Elves.")

Okay, on to specific passages:

-"But it is on Earth a dark age, and not very much of its history is (or need be) told." To get all lit-crit for a second, the Second Age is liminal: it's on the threshold dividing cosmogony from history. This is as true geographically as it is temporally: we're concerned neither with Valinor nor (much) with Middle-earth; our focus is on the places in-between. To drive the point home, look at the fate of both Elves and Men:
We learn that the Exiled Elves were, if not commanded, at least sternly counselled to return into the West, and there be at peace. They were not to dwell permanently in Valinor again, but in the Lonely Isle of Eressëa within sight of the Blessed Realm. The Men of the Three Houses were rewarded for their valour and faithful alliance, by being allowed to dwell ‘westernmost of all mortals’, in the great ‘Atlantis’ isle of Númenóre. The doom or gift of God, of mortality, the gods of course cannot abrogate, but the Númenóreans have a great span of life. They set sail and leave Middle-earth, and establish a great kingdom of mariners just within furthest sight of Eressëa (but not of Valinor).

-The Noldor can still Go West, but they can't actually get to Valinor (or at least they Can't Stay There - with one exception I know of, which we'll get to much later). Even the ones who followed the Valar's "stern counsel" don't get to go back to Tirion. This does not necessarily seem like the reward it's referred to as in LOTR!
-Similarly, the Men of Numenor are at an intermediate state between normal Men and Elves: they get to live closer to Valinor, and they get longer lifespans (about which more below).
-Sight is important here: it's carefully noted that the Noldor get to see Valinor but the Numenoreans don't. The light of Valinor is still important even after the destruction of the Trees. And this sort of hierarchy (Numenor can see Eressëa can see Valinor) will show up repeatedly when we talk about the Numenoreans and their descendants, e.g. in the kingship of Gondor and the descent from Telperion to the White Tree in Minas Tirith.
-Note also the paternalistic language: the Valar provide "stern counsel" to the Elves and "reward" Men by "allowing" them to live in Valinor.

-Sauron. In many ways, I think, he's being set up to parallel the Elves: "a being of Valinor perverted to the service of the Enemy" (you almost wonder if he was Melkor's second choice after that offer to Feanor) who "lingers in Middle-earth" and initially has "fair motives: the reorganising and rehabilitation of the ruin of Middle-earth, ‘neglected by the gods’." Of course this has to do with the notion of "sub-creative fall" we've already talked a lot about. (And even his ultimate fate as "growth to a new Dark Lord, master and
god of Men" can be seen as a dark reflection of how the Noldor or Doriath (or Numenor, for that matter) treated the Men they ruled over.)
-If we take seriously the notion that Sauron genuinely "repented in fear", it seems to me he becomes probably the greatest tragic figure (maybe modulo Feanor) of the Legendarium. The trick, of course, is taking this seriously! I think we need to at least make an effort to do so - it is, after all, Tolkien's intended reading.

-The remaining Elves, like Sauron, are "lingering against counsel" in Middle-earth. Tolkien calls this "a sort of second fall or at least 'error' of the Elves...they wanted to have their cake without eating it". What do the Noldor get from lingering (Tolkien uses this word over and over again) in Middle-earth? "[T]heir prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor." (And we just saw that at this point they don't even really have the option of heading back to the bottom of the hierarchy, since they're still exiled to Eressëa.)
-Elves "became obsessed with 'fading'...they became sad, and their art (shall we say) antiquarian, and their efforts all really a kind of embalming."
-So the Elves remaining in Middle-earth want life to be as good as it was in Valinor, and they want it to stay that way forever. Enter Sauron:
But many of the Elves listened to Sauron. He was still fair in that early time, and his motives and those of the Elves seemed to go partly together: the healing of the desolate lands. Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor. It was really a veiled attack on the gods, an incitement to try and make a separate independent paradise.

-That last bolded sentence tells us a lot about Tolkien's theology: paradise can't be created by the children of Eru, it has to be bestowed by the gods (and so does the light of Valinor).

[T]he Elves came their nearest to falling to 'magic' and machinery. With the aid of Sauron's lore they made Rings of Power ('power' is an ominous and sinister word in all these tales, except as applied to the gods). The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance – this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor – thus approaching 'magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination.

This repeats and clarifies a lot of what we've discussed about Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. Remember, for Tolkien 'machinery' means "use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of developments of the inherent inner powers or talents", so the Elves are already erring by using Sauron's lore instead of their own. Again we get the note about Power being bad. And the motive for the creation of the ring was the prevention of change and the preservation of what was loved (i.e. Mortality and possessiveness).

A few more properties of the Rings:
-Some of the powers of the Rings were "more directly derived from Sauron": "rendering invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible." This is the first mention, I think, of "the invisible world".
It's explicitly said that the Elven rings didn't confer invisibility, because they were "directed to the preservation of beauty."
-The One Ring was designed "so that its wearer could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them."
-Sauron "seized many Rings of Power." To me "many" sounds like more than the 16 that we know he gave out again as of LOTR...

-There's a long footnote on Elrond and Rivendell which seems worth quoting in full:
Elrond symbolises throughout the ancient wisdom, and his House represents Lore – the preservation in reverent memory of all tradition concerning the good, wise, and beautiful. It is not a scene of action but of reflection. Thus it is a place visited on the way to all deeds, or 'adventures'. It may prove to be on the direct road (as in The Hobbit); but it may be necessary to go from there in a totally unexpected course. So necessarily in The Lord of the Rings, having escaped to Elrond from the imminent pursuit of present evil, the hero departs in a wholly new direction: to go and face it at its source.
The two things I've bolded seem particularly important to me. Tolkien is making a distinction between "ancient wisdom", "Lore", "tradition" on the one hand and "action" on the other. Despite the fact that Elrond is half-Elven, he's very much associated with the 'lingering' Elves and their fading (as opposed to his brother, who chose to be mortal and from whom the Kings of Numenor and Gondor descended).

-More about Tolkien's conception of power: Sauron
had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it.

This relates back again to Machine/Magic: by externalizing his power Sauron can enhance it, but it's no longer inherent to him (only incidentally in 'rapport' with him as long as he wields the Ring) and so can be used against him.

-Tolkien calls the Third Age "the last of the lingering dominion of visible fully incarnate Elves, and the last also in which Evil assumes a single dominant incarnate shape." The qualifiers here seem important, particularly 'visible' and 'incarnate'.

-Just like the Second Age has a second fall for the elves, it has "The Downfall of
, the Second Fall of Man (or Man rehabilitated but still mortal)." Remember that the falls of the Elves have come from possessiveness: first that of Feanor for the Silmarils, second that of the remaining Noldor towards their remaining lands in Middle-earth. For Men, on the other hand,
The Downfall is partly the result of an inner weakness in Men – consequent, if you will, upon the first Fall (unrecorded in these tales), repented but not finally healed. Reward on earth is more dangerous for men than punishment! The Fall is achieved by the cunning of Sauron in exploiting this weakness. Its central theme is (inevitably, I think, in a story of Men) a Ban, or Prohibition.

This is also, sort of, a fall through possessiveness: the Valar 'rehabilitated' Numenoreans to have a longer lifespan, making them "in appearance, and even in powers of
mind, hardly distinguishable from the Elves", so that "their long life aids their achievements in an and wisdom, but breeds a possessive attitude to these things, and desire awakes for more time for their enjoyment." This fits the pattern of a Fall from Mortality as discussed in the first part of the letter.
-The Numenoreans "must never sail to Eressëa, nor westward out of sight of their own land" (these are different things, because remember that from Numenor you can see Eressëa (but not Valinor). Why?
They must not set foot on 'immortal' lands, and so become enamoured of an immortality (within the world), which was against their law, the special doom or gift of Ilúvatar (God), and which their nature could not in fact endure.*

*The view is taken (as clearly reappears later in the case of the Hobbits that have the Ring for a while) that each 'Kind' has a natural span, integral to its biological and spiritual nature. This cannot really be increased qualitatively or quantitatively; so that prolongation in time is like stretching a wire out ever tauter, or 'spreading butter ever thinner' – it becomes an intolerable torment.
This sort of makes you wonder about the Valar's 'rehabilitation' of the Numenoreans by increasing their lifespan!

-I'm getting tired, so I apologize if quality is suffering here. Just a few more things to talk about:

-The colonialism thing. Tolkien does this weird oscillation between talking about indigenous peoples as noble savages and as just savages who are the object of a civilizing mission, which I guess is unsurprising given his time period. You can see this in LOTR with e.g. the Pukel-men and the Dunlendings. Here we get a throwaway remark that "The better and nobler sort of Men are in fact the kin of those that had departed to Númenor, but remain in a simple 'Homeric' state of patriarchal and tribal life." But we also have that "Sauron dominates all the multiplying hordes of Men that have had no contact with the Elves and so indirectly with the true and Unfallen Valar and gods." And there's this, which I know lintamande has strong feelings about:
In those days they [Numenoreans] would come amongst Wild Men as almost divine benefactors, bringing gifts of arts and knowledge, and passing away again – leaving many legends behind of kings and gods out of the sunset.

-Sauron's religion in Numenor:
He denies the existence of God, saying that the One is a mere invention of the jealous Valar of the West, the oracle of their own wishes. The chief of the gods is he that dwells in the Void, who will conquer in the end, and in the void make endless realms for his servants. The Ban is only a lying device of fear to restrain the Kings of Men from seizing everlasting life and rivalling the Valar.
That second sentence sounds very Cthulhu-mythos-esque to me.

-The Downfall of Numenor:
But at last Sauron's plot comes to fulfilment. Tar-Calion feels old age and death approaching, and he listens to the last prompting of Sauron, and building the greatest of all armadas, he sets sail into the West, breaking the Ban, and going up with war to wrest from the gods 'everlasting life within the circles of the world'. Faced by this rebellion, of appalling folly and blasphemy, and also real peril (since the Númenóreans directed by Sauron could have wrought ruin in Valinor itself) the Valar lay down their delegated power and appeal to God, and receive the power and permission to deal with the situation; the old world is broken and changed. A chasm is opened in the sea and Tar-Calion and his armada is engulfed. Númenor itself on the edge of the rift topples and vanishes for ever with all its glory in the abyss. Thereafter there is no visible dwelling of the divine or immortal on earth. Valinor (or Paradise) and even Eressëa are removed, remaining only in the memory of the
earth. Men may sail now West, if they will, as far as they may, and come no nearer to Valinor or the Blessed Realm, but return only into the east and so back again; for the world is round, and finite, and a circle inescapable – save by death.

-This is obviously a big threshold in the legendarium, the end of mythology: "Thereafter there is no visible dwelling of the divine or immortal on earth."
-The rebellion is of (1) appalling folly, (2) blasphemy, and (3) real peril. Presumably (1) is because immortality doesn't work that way: only Eru can bestow or deny it. (2) is obvious. (3) is explained by Tolkien: "the Númenóreans directed by Sauron could have wrought ruin in Valinor itself."
-The Valar "lay down their delegated power and appeal to God." So why do they have to do this now, when facing the Numenoreans, but not in either of their two previous wars against Melkor? Here's one possible explanation I can think of, but I'm not sure if I'm convinced by it. Remember from the last part of the letter that the Valar "exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making or re-making)." But re-making is exactly what needs to happen here, to prevent mortals from reaching Valinor, hence the need to appeal to Eru.
-It's left unstated here whether the Valar ever got their previously delegated powers back after the world was changed...

-Note that the end of the Second Age (which is not the Downfall of Numenor, but the defeat of Sauron by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the remnants of the Elven kingdoms and the survivors of Numenor) is not the end of the letter; Christopher Tolkien broke it off here because the next part is just a summary of LOTR itself. The full letter is published somewhere, and it might be a useful exercise to look it up and see if there are any closing thoughts on the legendarium as a whole that follow the summary.