Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, Chapter 2: The Music of the Ainur
“Then slept Eriol, and through his dreams there came a music thinner and more pure than any he heard before, and it was full of longing. Indeed it was as if pipes of silver or flutes of shape most slender-delicate uttered crystal notes and threadlike harmonies beneath the upon upon the lawns; and Eriol longed in his sleep for he knew not what (pg 46).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we head back to The Book of Lost Tales and tackle Chapter Two’s opening, “The Music of the Ainur.” Christopher added something new to this chapter from the notes of this father and the result sheds light on the meaning of the chapter. When he began writing Eriol’s story, Tolkien created a transitional piece between the beginning of the story of the Ainur and The Cottage of Lost Play. We’ll be covering that transitional piece this week because there is so much in it that warrants discussion before we move on!
Before we get too far into it, I want to delve a little deeper into the difference between Gnomes and Elves, which has been a strange adjustment because I wasn’t sure if Tolkien was calling all Elves (otherwise known as Eldar) Gnomes or if it was only Noldor (also known as Noldori) Elves. Part of the confusion comes in because of all the different names involved.
Tolkien wanted the world to be lush and complete, but because of who he was and his background, Worldbuilding to Tolkien didn’t mean delving into culture, landscape, or image. Instead, to Tolkien, what made people unique was how they communicated, meaning language. Thus, the language and the beings who utilized this language changed through his world’s creation.
For example, the Teleri later become the Vanyar, The Noldoli (Gnomes) later become the Noldor, and the Solosimpi later become the Teleri. Why did he make all of these changes? Because of language.
The perfect example of this is what we began with: Gnomes. The word Gnomes brings to mind that small bearded garden variety with red pointy hats. I’m sure at some point in the writing of this epic; an editor approached Tolkien who mentioned that that word did not elicit that “They were a race high and beautiful… They were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod (pg 44).” (just to be clear we are explicitly talking about the Gnomes or Noldor Elves. Christopher goes out of his way to make sure that is clear: “Thus these words describing characters of face and hair were written of the Noldor only, and not of all the Eldar… (Pg 44)“
So why did Tolkien call them Gnomes? Yep, you guessed it. Language! “I have sometimes used ‘Gnomes’ for Noldor and ‘Gnomish’ for Noldorin. This I did, for whatever Paracelsus may have thought (if indeed he invented the name) to some ‘Gnome’ will still suggest knowledge.”
In Greek, gnome meant thought or intelligence. Which then translated into words such as gnomic or gnostic. When Tolkien mentions Paracelsus, he refers to the 16th-century writer who used gnome as a synonym for pygmaeus, which means “earth-dweller.”
Tolkien was trying to establish that the Noldor were intelligent creatures who understood how the world worked. But he was also trying to create a distinction between the Noldor and the Valar. The two types of beings were almost interchangeable because they were both created by Ilúvatar.
At the beginning of this interlude, Eriol asks for clarification (Tolkien’s way of trying to clarify it himself): “Still there are many things that remain dark to me. Indeed I would fain to know who be these Valar; are they the Gods?” to which Lindo responds “So they be (pg 45).” And yet later, when describing gnomes, “nor might one say if he were fifty of ten thousand (pg 46).”
So he creates differences through the use of language. Both from the meaning of their names and the languages they speak. These themes also carry over into The Lord of the Rings because everyone has their distinct dialect, from Rohan to Gondor, from The High Elves of Rivendell to the woodland elves in Lothlórien. Here on Tol Eressëa, “there is that tongue to which the Noldoli cling yet – and aforetime the Teleri, the Solosimpi, and the Inwir had all their differences (pg 48).”
Language was a big theme in this introduction to make sure the reader understands what they are getting themselves into, but there are two other themes Tolkien stamps down, which carry over into all of his other writing; dreams and music.
All of these things are interconnected, and I chose the quote to open up this essay because it holds the essential themes Tolkien has brought into this tale.
If we remember from the first chapter (or go back and read it here), Eriol is a human of modern times. He travels and finds his way to Tol Eressëa, and he is a means to an end to tell the story of the beginning of time and the first age. What I find particularly interesting is that Tolkien intended there to be a “dream bridge” between Tol Eressëa and the rest of the world. So that outsiders could not find it while awake, and their knowledge of the isle would fade upon waking as dreams do; but dreams also leave us with subconscious memory, and feeling that stick with us, though we don’t remember details.
This intermittent chapter begins with Eriol heading to a room and falling asleep, and in that sleep, “came a music thinner and more pure than any he had heard before (pg 46).”
The Music of the Ainur, which we will get more into next week, is how the Valar (also known as Ainur) created the world. Their music brought into being plants, animals, and earth, as well as emotion and consciousness. This “pure music” is what Eriol hears in his mind as he sleeps. It is not the sound as it was when it created the world, but Tol Eressëa is so close to the center of everything that it echoes what came before. He hears the music of creation, and he doesn’t consciously recognize it, but he subconsciously melds into it.
I also find it interesting that he falls asleep and delves into dreams directly before being told the tale. Could it be that the entirety of The Book of Lost Tales is told through the Music of the Ainur while Eriol is sleeping?
Let’s see if we find out next week as we begin the Music of the Ainur!
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