Saturday, January 2, 2016


Recently I convinced my friend to read the beginning of The Silmarillion.

He enjoys making films and doing special effects and whenever he reads a book, he says he always visualizes what is happening like it's a movie.

Well for anyone out there who has ever read the beginning of The Silmarillion, you probably know how hard that can be with this particular work.  He told me that he imagined a dark area and then slowly different elves coming into view singing as the Music of the Ainur.

But there is a problem with this visualization.  And it all has to do with the realism of Tolkien's work.

One of the things that makes the world of Middle-earth so believable is it's plausibility.

Think of pretty much any other book.  Let's take one of my favorites for example, The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is written in first-person with Katniss narrating.  But a reader might stop and ask: why is Katniss writing this all down?  What is the point of her compiling a book?  And the answer is probably: because if she didn't there would be no story.  
Photo property of Newline Cinema

But in Tolkien, there is always a reason outside of the story that the characters are writing events down.  For instance, did you know that The Silmarillion is written by the elves with help from the Valar?  The Hobbit is written mostly by Bilbo with supplements from Frodo, and The Lord of the Rings was written by Frodo and Sam.

It would seem that it was very important for Tolkien that his story be able to exist inside of itself.  In other words, there don't need to be readers for the story to exist.  They weren't written down just for us readers, they were written for the characters to remember their history by.

Going back to The Silmarillion, and my friend's visualization: a lot of the more abstract parts (such as the Music of the Ainur, and the Valar's battle with Melkor) are only related by the Valar to the elves.  And they are so abstract, that most of the elements are probably metaphor.  The Ainur were probably not literally playing viols to create the world, but that was how they could explain it to the elves in a way that they could understand.

I just thought it was very interesting how the whole story is never really complete--these are just a few of the works written down by various characters who were often directly involved in the events (in the cases of Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam) or by people who the history affects (like the elves who recorded the events of the First Age).  There are always more works that we can only guess at--allusions within the work to things that don't even exist (or don't exist in their entirety) such as the Lay of Leithian (which we hear of in The Silmarillion and only get a snippet of in The Fellowship of the Ring), The Fall of Gondolin which sounds like a different and larger work than the actual information we get in The Silmarillion, the list goes on.  This is one of the things that Tolkien was a master of and it's one of the things that makes his stories so realistic.

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