Friday, March 25, 2016

Tolkien Reading Day

Tolkien Reading day is scheduled (as always) for March 25th which is both the first day of the Gondorian year as well as the anniversary of the second downfall of Sauron.

Here are a few ideas for how you can celebrate Tolkien Reading Day:

  • Read your favorite passages from the books (including all things Tolkien--his essays, letters, and fiction of course)
  • Write an essay about life, death, and immortality, which is the theme for this year (see below)
  • Encourage your library to set up a display or hold an event
  • Take a quiz to see how much information you have actually sopped up over the course of your reading
  • Write some Tengwar and learn how to say your name in Elvish
  • Create your own melody for the poems and songs included in Tolkien's works
  • Leave notes in the Tolkien books at your library wishing readers a happy Tolkien reading day
As I mentioned, the theme is life, death, and immortality.  Certainly this is a huge theme in The Lord of the Rings (and elsewhere in Tolkien's writing).  Tolkien said once:
The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race 'doomed' not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete. (Letters 246)
He commented further in a letter to Milton Waldman explaining his themes:
Anyway all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine...[w]ith Mortality, especially as it affects art and the creative (or as I should say, sub-creative) desire...this desire is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it.  It has various opportunities of "Fall".  It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as "its own, the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and god of his private creation.  He will rebel against the laws of the Creator--especially against mortality.  Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective..." (Silmarillion xiii)
Other places we can surmise themes relating to life, death, and immortality in The Silmarillion:
But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers.  Death is their fate, the gift of Illuvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.  But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness and brought forth evil out of good, and fear out of hope. (Silmarillion 42)
...the Eldar saw for the first time the swift waning of the life of Men, and the death of weariness which the knew not in themselves; and they grieved greatly for the loss of their friends.  But Beor at the last had relinquished his life willingly and passed in peace; and the Eldar wondered much at the strange fate of Men, for in all their lore there was no account of it, and its end was hidden from them.  (Silmarillion 149)
For it was not permitted to the Valar to withhold Death from him, which is the gift of Illuvatar to Men. (Silmarillion 187)
And they [the Numenorians] said among themselves: "Why do the Lords of the West sit there in peace unending, while we must die and go we know not whither, leaving our home and all that we have made?  And the Eldar die not, even those that rebelled against the Lords.  And since we have mastered all seas, and no water is so wild or so wide that our ships cannot overcome it, why should we not go to Avallone and greet there our friends?" (Silmarillion 264) 
"The Eldar, you say, are unpunished and even those who rebelled do not die.  Yet that is to them neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfilment of their being.  They cannot escape, and our bound to this world, never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs.  And you are punished for the rebellion of Men, you say, in which you had small part, and so it is that you die.  But that was not at first appointed for a punishment.  Thus you escape, and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in wariness.  Which of us therefore should envy the others?"  And the Numenorians answered: "Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless?  For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while.  And yet we also love he Earth and would not lose it." (Silmarillion 265)
 It [Death] became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew willful and proud and would not yield, until life was reft from them. (Silmarillion 265)
I'm not going to write an essay about these quotes today because honestly, I don't have time (I am about to be late to violin rehearsal!) but I would love to read what you have to say about this subject.  I also recommend these sources for exploring this and other themes further:

Valar -Death in Tolkien's Legendarium
Victorian -Transcending Death: Mortality and Immortality in Fantasy Literature

Have a thoughtful and productive Tolkien Reading Day!

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