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Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Beginning of Days

Melkor’s fortress, Utumno

Behind the walls of the Pelóri the Valar established their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda; and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed.

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin our pathway into the Quenta Silmarillion and learn of the beginning of the First Age, while getting some very useful backstory into the elves and man.

In the past few weeks we were introduced to the Valar and their predilections and abilities, which is imperative back story as we jump into the Silmarillion.

The story starts with mention of the First War, and if you remember, we don’t really know anything about it, because we’re getting everything from the Eldar, and the First War was before they came into their own in Arda. What we do know is that Melkor fought the Valar for control of the land, until Tulkas the Strong came down and “Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter.

Rendition of Tulkas the Strong

With Melkor gone, at least temporarily, the Valar began to build Arda bringing “order to the seas and the lands and the mountains.” Once Yavanna planted seeds, the Valar realized they needed light to help life flourish, so Aulë “wrought two mighty lamps for the lighting of Middle-earth… One lamp they raised near the north of Middle-earth, and it was named Illuin; and the other was raised in the south, and it was named Ormal.”

The land flourished with the Valar and the light of the lamps, but Melkor had spies among the Maiar, “and because of the light of Illuin they did not perceive the shadow in the north that was cast from afar by Melkor.”

Because they didn’t notice Melkor, he came south and “began the delving and building of a vast fortress, deep under the Earth, beneath dark mountains… That stronghold was named Utumno.” His corruption spread from Utumno “and the Spring of Arda was marred.”

Another war broke out and Melkor “assailed the lights of Illuin and Ormal, and cast down their pillars and broke their lamps.” causing “destroying flame (which was) poured out over Earth,” scarring the land. The Valar were able to stop Melkor after this, but it was too late and “Thus ended the Spring of Arda.

The Valar decided that there was no appropriate place to live, “Therefore they departed from Middle-earth and went to the land of Aman,” and to protect this land “they raised the Pelóri, the Mountains of Aman, highest upon Earth.” Upon the highest mountain Manwë (the Lord of Air and Winds) build his throne. “Taniquetil the Elves name that holy mountain.” Then we get the quote which opens this essay, and we understand that this land of Aman, had now become Valinor.

It was then, once they made their home in Valinor that Yavanna helped grow (through her song) the “Two Trees of Valinor;” Telperion and Laurelin. Telperion bloomed for six hours then stopped, then Laurelin bloomed for another six hours: “And each day of the Valar in Aman contained twelve hours, and ended with the second mingling of the lights, in which Laurelin was waning and Telperion was waxing.” It was a time of great joy for the Valar, to be free of Melkor and to continue to develop Valninor:

Thus began the Days of the Bliss of Valinor; and thus began also the count of time.”

What significant about this is the aspect of time. The age of the Children of Ilùvatar was coming and the instance of time was it’s catalyst. The Elves are immortal, they “die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief.” But men are mortal and they need to have a concept of time to understand what their life capability is. We’ll see more of this later in the essay.

Depiction of Valinor

But in this coming of the Children of Ilùvatar, Melkor still dwelt in Middle-earth, which is where the Children took up their home.

The Valar rarely came across Pelóri, but when they did they taught the Elves “the lore of all craftsmen: the weaver, the shaper of wood, and the worker in metals; and the tiller and husbandman also.” But it was the Noldor, the “most skilled of the Elves” whom were “the first to achieve the making of gems; and the fairest of all gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost.” I’m trying to take this one step at a time, but seeing as this history is called “The Silmarillion,” I’m sure they will come into play soon.

The Vanyar Elves were gifted the art of “song and poetry” by Manwë whom was named the “vicegerent of Ilùvatar, King of the world of Valar and Elves and Men, and the chief defense against the evil of Melkor.” he even wields a “scepter of sapphire, which the Noldor wrought for him.”

Then there was also Ulmo of the Oceans and seas. I’m going to give you a long passage and break it down, because to me, this is the most important passage in this chapter:

In the deep places he gives thought to music great and terrible; and the echo of that music runs through all the veins of the world in sorrow and in joy; for if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth… And thus it was by the power of Ulmo that even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or of change he has not ceased to take thought for it, and will not until the end of days.”

Ulmo and a Noldor

Not only is this passage poetic and beautiful, but it also gives form to the philosophy of Middle-earth as the personalities of the Valar form the very fabric of reality. There is and always will be a subset of people whom believe that the ideal of The Lord of the Rings is a power struggle between good and evil. Between happiness and sorrow. Between love and loss.

The end of the books and movies (as Frodo heads to Valinor) there is a certain forlorn sorrow, but infused within that thread is hope, and that’s what strikes me the most in this passage above. There is joyfulness, but that joyfulness is countered by “sorrow unfathomed.” The point is if there were only goodness, there would be no joyfulness. Men and Elves are the Children of Ilùvatar and thus are more open to emotion and feeling. The Valar only have a little bit. So if everything were always joyful, the point of joyfulness disappears because there is no counterpoint. It is only upon feeling sorrow that we understand what Joy truly is.

This sorrow does not mean the terror that Melkor had wrought, or even Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. This is speaking of the normal every day sorrow, and that comes along with the concept of time which the Valar created with the two great trees of Valinor. To burrow this down to brass tacks, it is the sorrow that Men have a finite time on Middle-earth that creates the joyfulness that they flourish off of. What Ulmo does is put the sorrow in “the foundations of earth” meaning both that it was around at earth’s inception, but it’s also deep in a well; deep in the earth; physically and metaphorically tying the song of the sorrow to Middle-earth as a place. Michael Ende used this concept to full effect in his Swamps of Sorrow of The Neverending Story.

Swamps of Sorrow from the Neverending story. one of the most sad moments of film history

But what is the point of having Men and Elves live on Middle-earth? The Elves “shall be fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty that all my Children.” So the Elves are there to make Middle-earth a wonderous and beautiful place. But what of Men?

Therefore he willed the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.

For this the Elves fear Men, “for it seems to the Elves that Men resemble Melkor most of all the Ainur, although he has ever feared and hated them, even those that serve him.” The Elves are there for much the same reason the Valar were… to continue to make the world beautiful. Man was there to give direction and purpose. This is a powerful responsibility and it’s why many are corrupted during their journey, but it also gives rise to the joyful sorrow that one feels as they look out across the crashing waves and into the depths of the beautiful Ocean and it’s terrible wine dark composure.

Join me next week as we move onto chapter two and learn more of the Valar Aulë and Yavanna!


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; IBID

It was in the house of Dexter, in the northern part of the town near the present intersection of North Main and Olney Streets, on the occasion of Canonchet’s raid of March 30, 1676, during King Phillip’s War; and the astute sachem, recognising it at once as a thing of singular venerableness and dignity, sent it as a symbol of alliance to a faction of the Pequots in Connecticut with whom he was negotiating. On April 4th he was captured by the colonists and soon after executed, but the austere head of Ibid continued on his wanderings.”

Welcome back to a very strange Blind Read! This week we contemplate academia while ruminating on relevance, legacy, and idolatry and wax poetic while following Lovecraft’s lead!

What a odd, curious whimsey this story was. There really isn’t much to it as it’s primarily a brief satire of what Lovecraft deemed academia of the time period… but if we look closely, beyond the gallows humor indicative of the man, and past the analogy he was striving for, we catch some strange influences into his other works. Themes that seeped into popular culture over the years which have not been present in his others works. Theme’s subsumed within a blanket of normalcy. Ok, I’ll stop being coy, let’s get to it!

Like I said, there’s not much to the story (especially the length), but we get the analogy immediatly with the opening sentence:

The erroneous idea that Ibid is the author of the Lives is so frequently met with, even among those pretending to a degree of culture, that it is worth correcting.”

This is immediately following from an opening quote (“…-as Ibid says in his famous Lives of the Poets.” – From a Student theme.)

We then get a brief glimpse of the history Ibid himself (with some ridiculous speculation on his name which puts together many Ceasar’s and common Roman names together…there may be something to this, but it’s not something I caught: Caius Anicius Magnus Furius Camillus Aemilanus Cornelius Valerius Pompeius Julius Ibidus) before Lovecraft describes how the man’s skull is passed from person to person throughout history. From ancient Rome to Charlemagne, from private citizens to soldiers, from Native Americans to witches. This skull is passed as heirloom, as an art piece, as a magical talisman, and as a curiosity. There are even scenes which recall Hamlet and his famous Yorick scene where he gazes at the skull, nay into the skull, as though there is some deeper meaning or power within it.

Kenneth Branagh in the best version of Hamlet

So what is the point? Why follow along with a supposed “Learned Man” and then his skull afterward? The quote would seem to indicate that Lovecraft is railing against the stupidity of the uninformed at first. From the matter of a student wrongly using a quote, to Lovecraft ridiculing those who don’t know the truth:

It should be a matter of general knowledge that Cf. is responsible for this work

There is a false report – very commonly reproduced in modern books...”

This seems to be the idea, but then, after we survive a page of brain numbing etymology, we get this sentence: “His full name – long and pompous according to the custom of an age which had lost the trinomial simplicity of classic Roman nomenclature…

Then we go into a romp of the mans skull through history. Why would the man’s skull, as it outlines in the quote at the beginning of this essay, be “a thing of singular venerableness and dignity” when the only reason it’s available to be handed down is because it was “exhumed and ridiculed by Lombard Duke of Spoleto, who took his skull (after exhuming it) to King Autheris for use as a wassail-bowl.

Many cultures used Skulls as bowls

It’s because Lovecraft is poking fun at the pompous nature of academia in general. These people are so focused on revering something which was created to use as a drinking vessel, but attribute all means of power to it because of it’s age and the misguided idea of what he wrote.

This threw me for a while as it seems as thought Lovecraft is making fun of himself, after all one of his primary themes which pop up again and again is the idea of gathering knowledge and respect for learning. Is this supposed to be another navel gazing romp? Is Lovecraft saying he isn’t taking himself too seriously so we shouldn’t? Or is he saying that maybe he has taken himself too seriously and should stop? I think it goes deeper than that.

When we think about characters like Curwen in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” they are the ones pursuing these dark powers. They are the ones pursuing the dark underbelly of nature by seeking out these vessels of the outer gods. It’s a theme that I’ve mentioned many times and it’s a theme which comes up again and again in Lovecraft. Characters who seek out knowledge to understand more about the universe.

There’s only one character whom has been able to do this and not paid a terrible price. That’s Randolph Carter. What makes Carter unique is that he didn’t actually strive for the knowledge, rather it was thrust upon him and he adapted and worked with it to better understand his place. Carter’s wasn’t a path of power, but rather of understanding. I think that’s the crux here. Yes, Lovecraft is railing against the pomposity of academia and learning, which he seems to revel in, but instead he’s pushing back against the idea of false knowledge.

Lovecraft is playing with us before we even start reading. Ibid is actually a writing tool. Ibid is an abbreviation of the Latin “ibidem” which means in the same place. When you see the word ibid in a reading list it is referring you to material in a source just mentioned. For example it could be another chapter of a book that has just been referred to. Even with the title Lovecraft is playing with us, as he’s letting us know that he’s mentioned this concept multiple times. He’s referencing back to his previous works. This whole story is merely a reference to prove his thesis in his current (at the time he wrote this) oeuvre.

Anything can be twisted to fit a narrative. The whole point of much of Lovecraft’s cosmic gods is the idea that we’re insignificant in comparison to the beings actually running the show. If you’re striving for power, your talisman will end up being a mug from some smart dead guy, but if you’re goal is respecting and living with that power, then and only then, will you end up with “The Silver Key.

Join me next week as we delve into some of Lovecraft’s earliest work with “The Little Glass Bottle!”

Post Script:

One last this before you go. There is one last thing which this story brought to my head (pun totally intended). One big visual within Lovecraft’s legacy is the idea of the head sprout. Whether that’s from fungi breaking through the skull (an Example is from “Fruiting Bodies” by Brian Lumley), creatures breaking through (we’ve actually seen this in “The Haunter in the Dark“), or people gaining such “insight” that they literally have thoughts (creatures) as an extension of their skull (think the tokens in the game Bloodborne).

The mere fact that so many of the historical people and the fictional characters in this story thought they could gain power or knowledge from this skull made this correlation immediate in my brain. This is not much of a story, but although this is supposed to be a “Blind Read” (meaning that I’m reading the story for the first time, without knowledge of it), I read this one twice. I feel as though I’m still missing references and innuendo, but if I can leave you with anything that represents Lovecraft to me, I’ll leave you with this image:

Madman’s Knowledge item from Bloodborne