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“The Eldar, you say, are unpunished, and even those who rebelled do not die. Yet this to them is neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfilment of their being. They cannot escape, and are bound to this world, never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs. And you are punished for the rebellion of Men, you say, in which you had small part, and so it is that you die. Thus you escape, and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness. Which of us therefore should envy the others?”

I love how much of the Silmarilion – and the Akallabeth, if you want to be precise, because this part is officially a totally different document – is about mortality, and how an immortal species and a mortal one who are otherwise basically interchangeable think of each other and co-exist.

The Elves seem pretty much resigned to being stuck living forever in some form – because what are they going to do about it, I guess? There are Elf suicides, but they just wind up in the Halls or hanging out in Valinor like everyone else. Humans aren't always keen on the allegedly awesome gift of Genuine 100% Death and it starts to feel like something is being withheld from them. They can't accept that mortal is just what they are. This is immensely understandable and probably also unhealthy.

The Akallabeth is about the kingdom of Numenor and the human descendants of Elros, Elrond's brother who chose to cast his lot with the mortals. Elros seems to have gotten the best of both worlds: he lives for five hundred years in good health, then dies a clean, final human death. His descendants also live an unusually long time for humans, but over time they become less and less satisfied. After all, they've met Elves, who have no death, and Elves are just like them, give or take a technological advancement. The Elves are good at many things, but it's also possible to get better at things with instruction and practice, like shipbuilding and smithing and poetry. The Numenorians are excellent at lots of things that Men were never all that good at before, and they've added inventions of their own. Why can't they also overcome death, if they try?

Sauron complicates matters by introducing a new religion. Melkor is banished to the void now and can't do anything for anyone, even if he were in the business of providing services instead of just torturing everyone all day long for whatever reason, and he couldn't make mortals immortal in any case, but Sauron manages to convince the King of Numenor that Melkor is a divine freedom fighter who can totally steal fire from the gods force death to leave the mortals alone if they just . . . perform enough human sacrifices? This is an obviously terrible plan, but sometimes it's hard to see when a plan is terrible, if you really want to believe it could work. Of course, building a giant temple and sacrificing humans all the time just increases the body count and the overall sense that death is stalking the land. That doesn't even rise to the level of irony; it's just math.

It doesn't end well, but nothing ever does around here. Since I'm not quite done with the Akallabeth, I'll save the thrilling deus ex machina conclusion for next week.


blase ev

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