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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