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Comments For Biblical Motifs in Tolkienís Silmarillion
I really enjoyed your analysis. Well done.
Thanks. I appreciate you letting me know.
Both Dawn and Surgical Steel have addressed a number of points that piqued or rather provoked my interest upon reading your essay, Fiondil. You have extracted several motifs that are derived from the texts of Abrahamic religions, but the same motifs can be extracted from other beliefs and legends. Most critically, the creation of Abrahamic mythology is starkly different than the Ainulidalë as Dawn has pointed out. With regard to the former, there is no god but God. In the latter, the Valar are demiurges.
I appreciated the citations given, but I'll be frank: this essay reads more as an opinion piece than a scholarly essay. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I've been known to write plenty of blog screeds. But I have also written a large number of far more objective articles. If "Biblical motifs in Tolkien's Silmarillion" is meant to be an opinion piece, then great! However, it would be preferable to see a closer identification of the essay to your opinion, e.g., use of the first person. "It is my opinion that…" "My interpretation is…" "The way I see it…" and the like. For you have every right to your opinion and your speculation. However, if you intend this to be a more objective analysis, this requires more in depth examination of the mythological elements (many pagan) used as a whole in The Silmarillion. After all, the Kalevala, which influenced Tolkien, is not exactly chock full of Abrahamic motifs.
As it stands, it would seem that you have taken a conclusion and cherry-picked evidence to support it. That's fine for fan fiction or an opinion piece, but not for a scholarly article in which the body of evidence leads to a conclusion. Additionally, for an objective analysis, one also looks for evidence that contradicts one's hypothesis as a means of testing it. I'm not seeing that here so I can only conclude this is meant to an opinion piece, and I'd like to see it more strongly identified as such.
A few other picks:
What is interesting to note is that Tolkien seems to have addressed the controversy between creationism and evolution decades before the discussion entered into mainstream consciousness.
On the contrary, this controversy predates Tolkien by decades and quite a number of people were aware of it, the reception of Darwin's The Origin of Species and Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce's debate in 1860.
Thus, the description of Melkor’s ruining of Arda such that monsters roamed the earth hints at the origin of dinosaurs, the existence of which is never alluded to in the biblical account of creation.
Like you, I found this to be a neat allusion, but would simply be inclined to attribute that to Tolkien's known interest in paleontology rather than something that seems to me to be a tenuous connection to "creation science." JRRT often used lovely poetic language and imagery to address phenomena in science/natural history. That's what I see here.
A second divergence from the biblical account occurs in the making of the sun and moon. In Tolkien’s universe, the Sun and Moon are not products of the primeval creation of Arda but are derived from the Two Trees of Valinor, which are the sources of Light in all of Arda.
That's one tale of Tolkien's universe, but to be fair, if you're going to reference the allusion of Morgoth's monsters to "dinosaurs", then why not acknowledge Tolkien's vision of the Sun and Earth as coeval rather than the Sun being created from a remaining fruit of Laurelin? (HoMe X, "Myths Transformed")
It is the unremitting arrogance of the leader of the Noldor, Fëanor, that drives the Noldor towards their doom
Unremitting is a bit strong here, Fiondil, but then again, this is your opinion as you interpret the text. Melkor spun his web of deceit throughout the whole of the Noldor, not just Fëanor. The Noldor were thus primed to heed their leader's words. There's a lot of blame to go around here. Tolkien wrote explicitly in Parma Eldalamberon 17 that the Valar were in error by bringing the Elves to Valinor. One of the disastrous consequences was the rebellion of the Noldor. So the Valar as a whole bear some culpability based on JRRT's remarks contained in the commentary on fana.
Also, Fëanor was not initially possessive of the Silmarils. That greed came later. With a reference to our primary world, I'll note that many geniuses are not nice guys (Sir Isaac Newton, for one) and that they were (and are) arrogant. And yet we benefit from their inventions.
It appears a given for Tolkien that the Elves, unlike Men, by their very nature cannot succumb to evil, yet they can be deceived by it and many times are.
Wait. Have we read the same books? Elves cannot succumb to evil? Maeglin certainly would have appeared to have done so through his betrayal of Gondolin, prompted by his lust for Idril. And his father Eöl was bent on murder. Also, in Letter 131, which you reference, Tolkien wrote:
The first fruit of their fall is war in Paradise, the slaying of Elves by Elves, and this and their evil oath dogs all their later heroism, generating treacheries and undoing all victories.
So your remark "it appears a given for Tolkien that the Elves, unlike Men…" is opinion. And yes, I know that in Athrabeth, Tolkien writes that as a people the Elves are "unfallen" but then, as you have noted, his letter to Milton Waldman highlights the fall of the Elves.
Evil is always ready to take advantage of the arrogance of others for its own ends, and the Noldor have a plentitude of arrogance at their disposal.
This is yet another example of why your treatise reads more like a blog screed than a scholarly article, Fiondil. "A plentitude of arrogance" is pretty judgmental, and of course, you're entitled to your opinion but that does not make it immune from being questioned. I think we agree that the Noldor were eager for knowledge. Is that eagerness to be equated with arrogance? Here's what Tolkien had to say on the matter (excerpted from Letter 153):
The particular branch of the High-Elves concerned, the Noldor or Loremasters, were always on the side of 'science and technology', as we should call it: they wanted to have the knowledge that Sauron genuinely had, and those of Eregion refused the warnings of Gilgalad and Elrond. The particular 'desire' of the Eregion Elves – an 'allegory' if you like of a love of machinery, and technical devices – is also symbolised by their special friendship with the Dwarves of Moria.
I should regard them as no more wicked or foolish (but in much the same peril) as Catholics engaged in certain kinds of physical research (e.g. those producing, if only as by-products, poisonous gases and explosives): things not necessarily evil, but which, things being as they are, and the nature and motives of the economic masters who provide all the means for their work being as they are, are pretty certain to serve evil ends. For which they will not necessarily be to blame, even if aware of them.
I read the above as Tolkien cutting the Noldor some slack.
Re: The idea of the One Ring limiting the efficacy of the Elven Rings. How so? If you mean the One limitied the ability of the Bearers to use them openly, yes, that makes sense. But remember the Three, crafted by Celebrimbor after Annatar left Eregion, still were tied to the One and in fact were effective because of the One Ring.
The forging of the One Ring leads to the murder of Celebrimbor by Sauron and the destruction of the Elven realm of Eregion, forcing the remaining Elves to flee north with Elrond to the hidden valley of Imladris.
Yep, that's it in a nutshell. But I'll note that although Celebrimbor and the Noldor of Ost-in-Edhil "fell" as you call it, their love of "science and technology" (as JRRT and I would call it) ultimately proved to be Sauron's undoing.
The First Fall, which is apparently the biblical event, occurs ‘off-stage’ and is barely mentioned.
Like Dawn, I'd be interested in seeing the specific evidence that this is intended to be the "biblical event."
Perhaps one way to look at it is that death was always meant to be the lot of humans from the very beginning, although the human life span would probably have been longer than it is in the present day, as evidenced by the extraordinary length of years attributed to the pre-diluvial patriarchs.
Please cite your evidence for human life span in our primary, i.e., real world reaching upwards of 175 to 205 years.
For the Númenóreans, a concomitant consequence of the fear of death was the shortening of their life spans, a phenomenon which occurs in the Bible as the life spans of humans becomes progressively shorter the further away from the primeval beginnings of human existence we find ourselves.
The above also brings this essay into the realm of the editorial versus the analytical. It's perfectly fine to compare the Numenorean shortening of life to the tales taken the Old Testament, but let's be careful in conflating these with the realities of our primary world. There's no evidence to support that our H. sapiens ancestors of 150,000 years ago (our primeval beginnings) had extraordinarily long lives nor did their descendants in Israel of thousands of years ago.
At any rate, thanks for posting this, Fiondil. It is definitely a thought-provoking piece.
This is a thought-provoking essay, Fiondil. :)
On creation, I don't see many parallels between The Silmarillion and the Bible, to be honest. I see a lot of archetypes that appear throughout many creation myths, including the myth of creation in the Bible. That Eru does not create Arda itself but rather provides the means for others (the Ainur) to do so seems, to me, to be an important point. In the context of your essay, I think it is a big deviation from the Christian creation myth. In the context of JRRT's mythology, I think it has tremendous thematic importance because you see through it the theme of subcreation that runs through his works: the children of his Eru (and, he believes, the children of the Christian God) are meant to create. Eru is not so much creating a world down to the minutest detail but creating beings with the abilities to do that for him.
Likewise with the introduction of evil: I think it hugely significant that Eru allowed--even intended--evil to enter the world at the outset rather than evil entering the world through the weakness of its inhabitants, i.e., none of the children of Eru ever entered an innocent world and none of the children of Eru had anything to do with the introduction of evil into it.
In Tolkien’s universe, the Sun and Moon are not products of the primeval creation of Arda but are derived from the Two Trees of Valinor
I have to disagree here, with the writings in Myths Transformed as my basis. In these, Eru gives Light to Varda, intending that "it should give light to all that Realm … and be blessed and give blessing" (section II). I've always seen the divine nature of Light as important to understanding why, for example, objects made with blessed Light end up causing the jealousy and hatred that they do; it is not the Light itself but the attempt to horde and keep what was meant to belong to all of the world. So I see Light from its outset as needing to be associated with Eru rather than a product of subcreation. (The vessels in which it is kept are subcreated, but that is part of the problem.)
On the fall, I find it interesting that you cite Letter 131 since that letter contradicts the idea that the "falls" present in the The Silmarillion are in any way meant to allude to the Christian myth rather than archetypes in general that JRRT felt had to be present in all stories:
In the cosmogony thre is a fall: a fall of Angels we should say. Though quite different in form, of course, to that of Christian myth. These tales are 'new,' they are not directly derived from other myths and legends, but they must inevitably contain a large measure of ancient wide-spread motives or elements. ... There cannot be any 'story' without a fall--all stories are ultimately about the fall--at least not for human minds as we know them and have them. (p. 147)
So, again, I think that the parallels you're picking up on are archetypal rather than biblical and that, far from JRRT intending biblical parallels, he actually expresses quite the opposite.
The First Fall, which is apparently the biblical event
Really? I've read Athrabeth several times and am aware of the passage of which you speak, and I've heard the same claim made by others in the past. However, I don't see any evidence for the fall of mortal humans shortly after their awakening being equated with the biblical fall. Again, it seems rather contrary to Letter 131, above, and many other statements against religious allegory that JRRT made. I am assuming, based on your reply to SurgicalSteel, that you think there was a spiritual separation between mortal humans and Eru akin to that between people and God in the Bible? I've asked others about this view before and no one has ever answered me about where this idea comes from, so I'm hoping you'll help me out. :) I'm obviously missing something.
In conclusion, I agree that all of what you note--creation, fall, and "saving the remnant"--are indeed present; I think where we have a difference of perspective is that I see those things as archetypes coming from mythology in general, including Christian mythology, rather than from the Bible specifically, even if the Bible also shares those archetypes. However, I do think that JRRT's writings are deeply informed by Christianity, not in the mythological but the moral sense. I don't see how they couldn't be; he was a devout Catholic. Reading documents like L&C and Athrabeth, it has always seemed clear to me that his moral ideals for his created world paralleled quite tidily with his moral ideals for our own world. I don't find this particularly surprising but rather a tendency of nearly all authors.
Thanks for entertaining my over-long comment that might as well be an essay in itself. :)
I'm going to have to take issue with you on a few points. Firstly, the Bible doesn't begin with 'creation.' It begins with two very different creation myths written by two different sources. Secondly, the Silmarillion's creation myths really bear no resemblance to those found in the Book of Genesis. In Genesis, God's creation of the universe is essentially a solitary act - there are no angelic helpers referenced. Thirdly, there very definitely is a War in Heaven in the Silmarillion: the various different themes of the Great Music essentially make war on one another. Fourthly, the Elves of the Silmarillion very clearly do succumb to evil - they murder one another with almost reckless abandon and on many different occasions.
Finally, unless Tolkien was a time-traveller, the concept of the Heir of Isildur cannot possibly 'pre-figure' the concept of the Judeo-Christian Messiah. The Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah pre-figures the Messiah - meaning it anticipates the Messiah, predicts him before he happens. Aragorn might be considered a Christ figure - someone who echoes ideas previously stated about Christ - but even that's a stretch.
I think your essay is really more an eisegesis than an exegesis.
My point is that Tolkien utilizes certain motifs found in the bible, not that he copied them verbatim for his own universe. And while one can argue that there was a War in Heaven in Tolkien's universe, the difference is that unlike Lucifer, Melkor was not thrown out of Heaven. I have simply pointed out parallels between biblical accounts and the Silmarillion. And while Elves do commit evil acts, unlike Men, there is no spiritual separation between them and Eru in the way that Judeo-Christian theology states that there is one between Humans and God. In that respect they are 'unfallen'.