Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, pt 1, The Flight of the Noldoli
“Now tells the tale that as the Solosimpi wept and the Gods scoured all the plain of Valinor or sat despondent neath the ruined Trees a great age passed and it was one of gloom, and during that time the Gnome-folk suffered the very greatest evils and all the unkindliness of the world beset them. For some marched endlessly along that shore until Eldamar was dim and forgotten far behind, and wilder grew the ways and more impassable as it trended to the North, but the fleet coasted beside them not far out to sea and the shore-farers might often see them dimly in the gloom, for they fared but slowly in those sluggish waves (pg 166).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into Tolkien’s storytelling process and understand why he wrote the book and where he wanted it to go.
We left off last week with the Darkening of Valinor and the betrayal of Melkor. As soon as we start this chapter, we find that Tolkien intended this chapter to be part of the events of The Darkening of Valinor. Christopher edited this into a separate chapter because he knew where the narrative would eventually lead.
“There is no break in Lindo’s narrative, which continues on in the same hastily-pencilled form (and near this point passes to another similar notebook, clearly with no break in composition), but I have thought it convenient to introduce a new chapter, or a new ‘Tale’, here, again taking the title from the cover of the book (pg 164).”
Christopher segregated this chapter because, as it’s written, it’s missing some of the weight that goes into the betrayal and exile of the Noldor Elves.
The Book of Lost Tales tells the story of Valinor and the Valar, but the story at the core of The Silmarillion is about the Elves. They were the ones who created humanity and life in the world. Where the Valar did the act of making the world with their song, the Eldar (and later on Humans) created culture and meaning, which gave Middle-earth purpose.
In his development of The Book of Lost Tales (only called this because that’s what Christopher called it), Tolkien wanted to understand what these Angels were like; what their personalities were, how they treated each other, and how they treated the “Children.”
I’m not convinced that these books (The Book of Lost Tales, Vol 1 and 2) were ever meant to see the light of day, especially since Christopher admits that the material comes from notebooks and scrap paper, but what is impressive about them is that we get to see the development of the world from the ground up.
Tolkien was a plotter and wanted his mythology (his fairy tale) to be as complete as possible. So he worked for years (first putting pen to paper during his time in the trenches of the Great War), making sure that this Magnum Opus was precisely how he wanted it.
When it comes to this chapter, Tolkien came to realize that the Noldor was not severe enough. The fact that Melkor stole some gems and then was made to return some of them was not enough. The fact that Melkor killed Fëanor’s father, the first death of an Eldar ever, was not enough. He needed the Eldar to have their arc unique from the Valar and much more interesting than the Valar because stories where gods are the centerpiece just aren’t as interesting. Tolkien himself knew this, and that’s why his two “novels” (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) had simple people as the main protagonists. Life and art are just more enjoyable when you have to overcome obstacles.
So Tolkien took a look at his early flight of the Noldor and made a note:
“At the top of the manuscript page and fairly clearly referring to Fëanor’s words my father wrote: ‘Increase the element of the desire for the Silmarils’. Another note refers to the section of the narrative that begins here and says that it ‘wants a lot of revision: the [?thirst ?lust] for jewels – especially for the sacred Silmarils – wants emphasizing. And the all-important battle of Cópas Alqaluntë where the Gnomes slew the Solosimpi must be inserted (pg 169).'”
Cópas Alqaluntë is the core of why Christopher separated this chapter. The Noldor killing their kin to steal their boats to seek vengeance from Melkor doesn’t hit as hard if it is part of the story of the Darkening of Valinor.
Tolkien needed to create a new chapter and new motivations (which he did in The Silmarillion) to make their actions more impactful. This singular act creates a rift between the Eldar and the Valar, and Fëanor’s never-ending rage drives the narrative for the remainder of the Age.
His firey and charismatic personality gave the Noldori Elves something to rally behind, and the fact that he created the Silmarils himself (and that they held the light of the now-dead Trees of Valinor) raised the stakes much more.
Tolkien turned his thoughts bloody and created a visceral battle where the Noldor turned against their brethren in a brutal and bloody way, which was not present in this earlier version. This act is what damned the Noldor for the rest of time:
“Songs name that dwelling the Tents of Murmuring, for there arose much lamentation and regret, and many blamed Fëanor bitterly, as indeed was just, yet few deserted the host for they suspected that there was no welcome ever again for them back to Valinor – and this some few who sought to return indeed found, though this entereth not into this tale (pg 168).”
Join me next week as we delve into “The Tale of the Sun and the Moon.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, part 1, The Darkening of Valinor
“Now Melko having despoiled the Noldoli and brought sorrow and confusion into the realm of Valinor through less of that hoard than aforetime, having now conceived a darker and deeper plan of aggrandisement; therefore seeing the lust of Ungwë’s eyes he offers her all that hoard, saving only the three Silmarils, if she will abet him in his new design (pg 152).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re going to dive into the philosophy of Tolkien’s world through the events of The Darkening of Valinor.
We’ve discussed it before, but Tolkien relied heavily on his Christian background while creating this mythology. He wanted something new and unique for England, and as we know, mythologies are all origin stories.
The people of Middle-earth (Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc.) are all iterations of our evolution, and it shows from the beginning of The Book of Lost Tales that Tolkien intended for Middle-earth to be a precursor to Earth (he even calls it Eä in the Silmarillion).
Because this is mythology, Tolkien brings his version of the afterlife and the angels he introduces to the world. Melkor, who is Tolkien’s version of Satan, is ostracized for stealing the Eldar gems and Silmarils. Cast out of Heaven as it were:
“Now these great advocates moved the council with their words, so that in the end it is Manwë’s doom that word he sent back to Melko rejecting him and his words and outlawing him and all his followers from Valinor for ever (pg 148).”
But it was still during this period that Melkor was mischievous, but he had not transitioned to evil yet, even after being cast out of Valinor. So instead, he spent his time trying to create chaos using his subversive words:
“In sooth it is a matter for great wonder, the subtle cunning of Melko – for in those wild words who shall say that there lurked not a sting of the minutest truth, nor fail to marvel seeing the very words of Melko pouring from Fëanor his foe, who knew not nor remembered whence was the fountain of these thoughts; yet perchance the [?outmost] origin of these sad things was before Melko himself, and such things must be – and the mystery of the jealousy of Elves and Men is an unsolved riddle, one of the sorrows at the world’s dim roots (pg 151).”
The great deceiver has been created out of jealousy and anger for these beings of Middle-earth, believing that they were given more than their fair share and his own acts were ruined from the beginning of the Music of the Ainur.
But what did the Elves do? Was there anything they received that made anything Melkor did excusable?
“And at the same hour riders were sent to Kôr and to Sirnúmen summoning the Elves, for it was guessed that this matter touched them near (pg 147).”
It was nothing that they did, but the fact that the Valar treated them as equals to the Valar and Melkor’s slights against them weren’t considered pranks he felt they were, so his anger grew.
They were also allowed to be near their loved ones even after death. Elves were given the gift of immortality but can still be killed by disease or blade. But where do their spirits go when they die? Remember that this is a Christian-centric mythology, so Tolkien built an afterlife.
Called Vê after the Valar who created it, the afterlife on Middle-earth is contained within and around Valinor. This early conception (nearly cut entirely from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings) was that Vê was a separate area of Valinor, slightly above and below it but still present, almost like a spirit world that contained the consciousness of the dead.
This region was all about, and the Eldar cannot commune with their deceased, but they continue to live close to them, and their spirit remains in Valinor.
“Silpion is gleaming in that hour, and ere it wanes the first lament for the dead that was heard in Valinor rises from that rocky vale, for Fëanor laments the death of Bruithwir; and many Gnomes beside find that the spirits of their dead have winged their way to Vê (pg 146).”
Melkor is jealous that the Elves can be so close to their dead ancestors, but he also doesn’t fully comprehend what being dead means because he is a Valar and eternal. He sees these beings going off to a different portion of Valinor and is upset because he thought he found a way to create distress amongst them by killing one of them. He doesn’t realize that he made a fire in the Eldar that would never wane.
“‘Yea, but who shall give us back the joyous heart without which works of lovliness and magic cannot be? – and Bruithwir is dead, and my heart also (pg 149).'”
Melkor schemed and stewed in his frustration and anger, feeling that even with his theft and his killing of Fëanor’s father, the first death of an Eldar (whom Tolkien was still calling Gnomes in this early version), there was nothing he could do to prove his worth, so his worth turned to evil. His music was dissonant and didn’t follow the themes of the other Valar, and he was looked down upon for that and cast aside. He pulled pranks that caused the other Valar to imprison him. All the while, his anger, and distrust grew until he did the ultimate act, which caused his to turn to true evil: He partnered with Ungoliant (the giant spider queen and mother of Shelob) and killed Silpion and Laurelin, the Trees which gave light to Valinor.
“Thus was it that unmarked Melko and the Spider of Night reached the roots of Laurelin, and Melko summoning his godlike might thrust a sword into its beauteous stock, and the firey radiance that spouted forth assuredly had consumed him even as it did his sword, had not Gloomweaver (Ungoliant) cast herself down and lapped it thirstily, plying even her lips to the wound in the tree’s bark and sucking away it’s life and strength (pg 153).”
Melkor had finally become evil. He had turned against the Valar and what brought the world light and gave that power to evil creatures.
The Valar and Eldar cried out against Melkor for being cruel, but the tragedy of Melkor’s story was that he never had a choice.
Early in the mythology of this world, Tolkien tells us that Ilúvatar had a theme and a story for eternity, which the Valar were not privy to. Instead, they thought their music and their acts were meant to create only beauty and love.
Ilúvatar, however, knew that to have true meaning, there must be pain, conflict, and evil. Otherwise, all the world’s good would disappear and become mundane. So Ilúvatar created Melkor, knowing what he was going to become. He made Melkor evil in the world.
Melkor was born to suffer. Melkor was born never to know love. Melkor was created to become a creature that others could be tricked into feeling sorry for, and thus trade the light of the Valar for the Darkness of the Dark Lord.
Join me next week as we cover “The Flight off the Noldoli!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, part 1, The Theft of Melko
“Listen then, O Eriol, if thou wouldst [know] how it came that the loveliness of Valinor was abated, or the Elves might ever be constrained to leave the shores of Eldamar. It may well be that you know already that Melko dwelt in Valmar as a servant in the house of Tulkas in those days of the joy of the Eldalië; there did he nurse his hatred of the Gods, and his consuming jealousy of the Eldar, but it was his lust for the beauty of the gems for all his feigned indifference that in the end overbore his patience and caused him to design deep and evilly (pg 140).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we kick off the events which changed the face of Eä and how those events changed from the original writings to the publication of The Silmarillion.
This chapter, more than anything before, indeed shows how Tolkien’s ideas shifted over time. The designs of Melkor and Sauron are so interwoven in this early work that the distinction between them when he finally got to writing about the later ages must have been muddled.
There are many instances in this chapter where Melkor is subversive, getting the Elves to believe in him and forsake the Valar. Melkor did some of this later in The Silmarillion, but most of his actions were facilitated out of anger and jealousy. Melkor is Tolkien’s iteration of Lucifer, the fallen angel who once desired to do positive things, whereas Sauron is evil when his visage hits the page.
In the beginning, Melkor was one of the Valar. He was around before the world was created, and indeed, it was through the music of the Valar (called Ainur) that the world was created. Melkor was disparaged early on because his music was discordant and didn’t match up with the music of the other Valar. His anger grew like a young child playing off-key in a band. The other Valar were upset with him because their music had themes, and with Melkor creating the music the way he was, the themes had strange off notes, making unintended things.
You may have heard the phrase: “There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.” These “fouler things” were created from this discordant music as the world was being made. Thus, they are deep within the world, almost Cthulhu-godlike creatures born into the depths of the world, undescribed but horrible to behold.
Because of this mistake, The Valar treated Melkor differently. Then when the Eldar awoke, he perceived them as being favored over himself, so he folded in on his own conscious and acted out of hate and jealousy.
Sauron, on the other hand, was Melkor’s servant (Maiar), and it is possible that Sauron saw what was happening to Melkor and decided to fight against the world because of the treatment his master and Dark Lord received. However, he wasn’t written that way. Instead, Sauron wanted to rule the world from the moment he was created and was very subversive in his tactics.
In this chapter, Tolkien blends the two different personalities. First, Melkor tries to get into Fëanor’s head and turn him against the Valar and the other Noldor; however, in The Silmarillion, Fëanor is too clever, and Melkor attempts to corrupt Fëanor causes the Eldar to hate The Dark Lord eternally. In The Book of Lost Tales, Melkor ends up with different motivations entirely:
“At length so great became his care that he took counsel with Fëanor, and even with Inwë and Ellu Melemno (who then led the Solosimpi), and took their rede that Manwë himself be told the dark ways of Melko (pg 141).”
Melkor assists Fëanor in creating the Silmarils, much like Sauron helped Celebrimbor create the Rings of Power.
Tolkien doesn’t specifically call this out as a motivation for stealing the gems back; in fact, they seem to be an afterthought:
“With his own hand indeed he slew Bruithwir father of Fëanor, and bursting into that rocky house that he defended laid hands upon those most glorious gems, even the Silmarils, shut in a casket of ivory (pg 145).”
Melkor was after the gems because he wanted to take the Eldar’s possessions and knew they considered their jewels highly valuable.
The Silmarils themselves were still of high quality because they came from the starlight of Aulë’s forge, but in the writing of this chapter, it feels as though they were an afterthought for Tolkien.
Christopher (Tolkien’s son and editor) contends that Melkor is only there to steal the gems, and it wasn’t until later iterations of the story that the Silmarils became more critical.
Thinking like a writer, Tolkien always intended to have the Silmarils be necessary, but not because an Elf made them (or Gnome in this early version). I think his intent in the Book of Lost Tales was to have the Silmarils be so crucial because of the influence of the Valar. Still, as he progressed in history, he realized that it was the Eldar’s story, not the Valar’s, so he adjusted it to have Fëanor be of an original heritage (he became Finwë’s son instead of the unknown Bruithwir) and make the world-breaking Silmarils.
Later, when he had beings of a short life (Men and Hobbits), and everyday events played a much more critical role in their life, he adjusted the story to have Sauron be involved in creating the Rings of Power. It is a different story, and there are other stakes, not to mention that Sauron is a Maiar, not a Valar; thus, his power level isn’t as complete. The gods might not come down from the heavens to take care of someone lesser than them, where Melkor was one of their own and thus their responsibility.
While reading this book, you must remember that it was never meant to be published. Christopher Tolkien compiled the Book of Lost Tales from notebooks and scraps of paper. It was the Silmarillion that Tolkien himself meant to publish. Christopher published The Book of Lost Tales for the same reason I’m writing a blog about it; people who love Lord of the Rings might want to know the evolution of the story to what it eventually became.
Join me next week as we take a break from the Book of Lost Tales! I will give an update on current and future projects and cover some very exciting things to come!
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