Monday, March 4, 2013

Helpful background to Hobbit & Lord of the Rings

The SilmarillionThe Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nothing of the sparkle of Tolkien’s famous works. The first time I read it, I lost interest around page 56. Picked it up again a couple years later. I started over (to reacquaint myself with all the names), and I bogged down again in the same place. After some time, I forced myself to move on, taking notes along the way in case I bogged down again. That being said, I’m glad I read the book.

The Silmarillion is the historical explanation of the universe (Middle-earth included) in which the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. To say The Silmarillion places those narratives in context is a bit of an understatement. The Silmarillion starts with the creation by the deity, Eru, also called Iluvatar, of the Ainur, or the Valar, the holy ones, as well as the creation of Ea, the planet (on which is found Middle-earth). To sum up, the sweeping story moves slowly through the first age, and then more quickly through the second and third. (The events of The Lord of the Rings bring to an end the third age and usher in the fourth.) The Silmarillion accounts for not only the Valar, but also the Elves (the firstborn), the Dwarves (created by Aule, one of the Valar), and Men (the second people, after the Elves). Evil is introduced into the world through the most powerful of the Valar, Melkor, later called Morgoth. He it is who created Orcs, a mockery of the creation of Elves. Sauron is Morgoth's most powerful servant.

The Numenoreans, from which Aragorn descends, and their kingdom and their downfall are narrated. One learns more about Galadriel, one of the Noldor (a branch of elves), and about Elrond. Others from The Lord of the Rings are only mentioned in the last few pages of The Silmarillion: Gandalf and Saruman, and the halflings (Hobbits) of The Shire.

The context is fascinating and helps to explain some of the historical references in The Hobbit and LOTR. It also, obviously, explains the universe of the characters. As well the relationships between the various creatures (Elves and their various branches [Noldor, Sindar, Teleri, etc.], Dwarves, Men, the Valar, Saruman, and Mithrandir [Gandalf]) assumed in LOTR, are explained/detailed in The Simarillion. I have a feeling a new reading of The Hobbit and LOTR will be a far more informed reading.

The moral weakness of creatures as a race (such as men, but also elves and dwarves) is played out repeatedly in the successive generations and epochs of Middle-earth. Pride, lust for power, and greed spring up in both likely and unlikely places. Noble races and civilizations degenerate over time. It’s a good illustration of what happens through human history. How we need a Savior.

Many comment on the Christian nature of LOTR. Certainly one can find analogies, but two fundamental Christian realities are absent in LOTR: the notion of relationship with the Creating deity (or any deity), and the life-giving hope of a blessed afterlife. Sin and evil are present in LOTR, and so are good and evil, but where’s the relationship between Creator and created? And where’s a developed idea of the afterlife?

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