Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Men
“To Hildórien there came no Vala to guide Men, or to summon them to dwell in Valinor; and Men have feared the Valar, rather than loved them, and have not understood the purposes of the Powers, being at variance with them, and at strife with the world.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we learn of a new species born into Beleriand, Men, and how they came to inherit the world.
This chapter is unique because it gives us a basic overview of how Men (Tolkien uses Men as a stand-in to mean Human-kind) came into being, but Tolkien does not expound upon the History of Middle-earth. Instead, this feels more like his effort to understand the motivations (and potential weaknesses) of Men as unknowing Children of Ilùvatar.
Tolkien tells us: “At the first rising of the Sun the Younger Children of Ilùvatar awoke in the land of Hildóren in the eastward regions of Middle-earth; but the first Sun arose in the West, and the opening eyes of Men were turned towards it, and their feet as they wandered over the Earth for the most part strayed that way.”
Men were called Hildor, otherwise known as the followers, not because they were sheep, but because they were born after Elves and Dwarves. They also had many other names, “the Usurpers, the Strangers, and the Inscrutable, the Self-cursed, the Heavy-handed, the Night-fearers, the Children of the Sun.“
Men were born after the glory of Valinor, and they knew only the cold, complex beauty of Beleriand. They awoke without the knowledge of the Valar or Ilùvatar, which was the Quendi birthright. They were born without knowledge of the light of the Trees of Valinor. All they had was the Sun.
Tolkien fought in World War I, and where he contends that he doesn’t use or like allegory, much of his work is informed by the experiences of his life. In addition, he was a religious man, even co-sponsoring a writing group called the Inklings with C.S. Lewis. The concept of religion and God in The Great War led to his description of Men in The Silmarillion. A few chapters ago, I mentioned that Tolkien’s primary idea with these histories was to eventually tie it back to our Earth (which we caught glimpses of in the chapter last week (Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding Valinor). In this chapter, Tolkien tells us how humans were born into a world of ignorance and darkness, yet they strove for the light. As we saw in the quote earlier, Men went west following the Sun, despite their ignorance of its origin.
On top of that, Ulmo tried to get them messages without actually coming back to Middle-earth to inform Men: “and his messages came often to them by stream and flood. But they have not skill in such matters, and still less had they in those days before they had mingled with the Elves. Therefore they loved the waters, and their hearts were stirred, but they understood not the messages.“
I have never met a person who could stand before the Ocean and turn away. The waters bring life to us, and they stir our souls to peace. This connection to the water is what Tolkien was looking for to glue our world with Aman.
Beyond that, Tolkien tells us, “Men were more frail (than the Eldar), more easily slain by weapons or mischance, and less easily healed; subject to sickness and many ills; and they grew old and died.“
We also catch a glimpse of a story yet told; “None have ever come back from the mansions of the dead, save only Beren son of Barahir, whose hand had touched a Silmaril; but he never spoke afterward to mortal Men. The fate of Men after death, maybe is not in the hands of the Valar.”
This paragraph shows Tolkien’s framing of an afterlife, with a Persephone-like callback. Beren dies and then comes back because he has more profound knowledge of the world because of his connection with the Silmaril, which garners its power from The light of the Trees of Valinor. Beren is brought back from the dead through the power of Heaven.
We end the chapter by Tolkien telling us, “those of the Elven-race that lived still in Middle-earth waned and faded, and Men usurped the sunlight.“
Men, the ignorant, had now taken over the world. The magic of the world (the Music of Ainur) began to fade, and a feeling of hard-and-fast reality began to occur.
This chapter is fascinating and tragically beautiful. It is very short (which is why I wanted to discuss various theories rattling around in my brain), but there is perhaps more weight in this chapter than in any previous one.
And where do we go from here? Join us next week as we progress in the story in the next chapter: “Of the Return of the Noldor.”