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A few thoughts on the Silmarillion so far:

- There are a LOT of names and because Tolkien is Tolkien, a lot of similar syllables for family members and place-name components. It's genuinely difficult to keep them straight sometimes. The epic style is part of the problem for me -- I had no trouble in e.g. War and Peace, where there were many characters with similar names, but the character voices and descriptions always had distinctive "tells." Here the diction is not very individualized, AND there are a dozen different guys whose name starts with F. Sometimes I have to go back and read a passage twice, like when I thought Felagund had been killed by Morgoth until he suddenly turned up alive in the next chapter. Fingolfin was killed by Morgoth! Felagund lived to be killed in another way :(

- Melkor/Morgoth is such a great villain. I love him. He's like Tolkien tried to work out a way for Milton's Satan and Dante's Satan to be the same person: he's already halfway to immoblized weeping in his basement kingdom after that embarassing fight with Fingolfin (not Felagund), and it's all downhill from here. Poor guy. The thing about Morgoth is he doesn't even seem to be having a good time. Every time he destroys a new patch of land it just seems to make him more miserable. It's honestly painful to watch sometimes. He's got this iron crown that hurts his head but he won't take it off because it's HIS CROWN and he's the KING OF ARDA DAMN IT. He'll never, ever get what he wants because what he wants doesn't make sense: he wants to be the sole creator of a world entirely under his control, but if a thing like that could exist in the first place, it wouldn't be a world. The more he builds his armies, the weaker he gets and the more he fears death and pain; the more he fears, the more he lashes out and tunnels in, the more the mere existence of other living things looks like mockery and threat and he has to break everything for being nothing like it should be.

- I think it says something about the state of affairs in Castle Morgoth that the one time anyone gets the better of him, it's by getting him to drop his guard long enough to listen to another person. He listens to Luthien singing and falls asleep. He's already learned the wrong lesson (NEVER AGAIN) but it could have been a turning point. Every day it gets harder to turn back and harder to imagine he could stand it. He gave way to peace for a minute and some rotten little elf-lice stole the jewel right out of his crown (his terrible crown that hurts so much) and a door he didn't know existed was opened for a second and then nailed shut for good. Melkor, stop! It's only too late if you make it too late! Think of what you could be if you didn't care who ruled Arda -- if you could go to sleep and wake up a week later and take off your crown and just walk around outside for a few minutes and stop hating the trees because you didn't make them or the birds because they don't care about your plans or your own soldiers because if it were up to them, they'd be off hunting in the mountains or back home getting drunk and throwing stones at livestock like normal people. Think of what you could make if you didn't have to make everything.

Melkor, you were the brightest star; yours was the swagger that broke Eru's dreams. You froze the North and dragged the fire out of the earth; your jagged mountain ranges are beautiful in spite of you and because of you, too. It doesn't have to end this way (even though it will) (but maybe it won't this time) (but it probably will).

- Speaking of Luthien, Luthien is the best. Her dad doesn't want her to marry a mortal, which is understandable when you think about it, so he sends Beren (the mortal) on a doomed quest and locks her in a tower to prevent her following him, which is not. Luthien causes her hair to grow extra long so she can Rapunzel herself out of her own fairy-tale captivity. She befriends the best dog in the world, rescues Beren from Sauron's island of the werewolves, disguises herself as a bat, walks right up to Morgoth and defeats his watchfulness with rest, and eventually turns Orpheus (a successful Orpheus) and drags Beren back from the dead, though at great cost. But there was always going to be a cost, whether it was turning Beren away or forgetting him in Valinor or taking up his mortality to live in Middle-earth "without certitude of life or joy." Why did she fall in love with a mortal in the first place? This isn't the kind of book where questions like that get answered. This is a song and some things are a given. If they were different, it would be a different song.

- Tolkien's female characters are generally really good, I think, whenever they get anything to do at all. They have the same kinds of motivations and are subject to the same flaws as his male characters, and are equally complex at the level of. . . epic distance, I guess, that makes them not quite characters in the Victorian novel sense, but not allegories or masked figures, either. Haleth only becomes leader of her people after her brother and father are killed, but there's no sense that she's better or worse than men in the same position because she's a woman. There's gender essentialism in Tolkien's worldbuilding, to an extent, but because he is a storyteller and not a homilist it doesn't throw its weight around, and because Tolkien is a giant nerd, there's just no opportunity for some common pitfalls to occur. This isn't the kind of book where people sit around gabbing about the differences between men and women, or try to get in jabs at contemporary feminists, or are nagged by their wives. OATHS and SWORDS and SONGS and DRAGONS and maybe some TREES -- that's what Tolkien likes, and that's what he sticks to. His elf-queens and warrior women are just as valiant and doomed as everyone else, because if they weren't, they wouldn't be in this story.

One of my favorite parts of the Beren and Luthien story: Huan, the large dog who helps out on the quest, is the subject of a prophecy that he can only be defeated by the greatest wolf that ever lived. So Sauron -- our old future friend Sauron, who is a shape-shifter at this point in his life -- decides that the thing to do is turn himself into the greatest wolf ever, so that he can get rid of Huan (Huan keeps killing Sauron's attack wolves to protect Luthien). But it doesn't work. He made himself into the most monstrous wolf-beast he can imagine, but it isn't enough. I don't know why I found that so funny-sad. Also, there's a song battle. There are a lot of things in this book.


blase ev

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