Welcome back to the discussion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, fellow adventurers! This week we’re covering Chapters 1-4, and we’re learning about the first days of Middle-earth and its residents. Because I could see the foundation for the land I know and love from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I found myself completely riveted by this section. Taking notes and treating the book as the history tome it is has really helped with the enjoyability factor, and I hope you’re having a similar experience. Let’s dive in:
Manwë and Varda by varda-starqueen
Chapter 1 – Of the Beginning of Days
The beginning of Eä was rife with war. Melkor seemingly defeated the Valar once and came back into the picture again to destroy the Lamps the Valar had created to shine over the earth. The violent act caused the shape of Arda to change. I get the impression the Valar didn’t take Melkor seriously enough. It’s like when the Jedi were arrogant during the Clone Wars and didn’t see the rise of Palpatine (the clouding of the Force didn’t help). The Valar seemed that unaware of what Melkor was doing.
After Melkor wrecked the Pillars and Lamps, the Valar went to the West. They created a safe haven there protected by high mountains and created new sources of light. The Two Trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, were silver and gold and brought light into the Land of the Valar and were used to determine the marking of time.
The chapter concludes with an interesting look at life after death for both Elves and Men and again touches on the fact that the mortality of men is a gift. It does point out some of the disadvantages of immortality.
Chapter 2 – Of Aulë and Yavanna
This chapter showcased another challenge of sorts to Ilúvatar, but one that comes from a different place than Melkor’s hate and greed. Aulë longed to have people to teach his craft to, and he created the Dwarves in secret. Ilúvatar of course found out and wouldn’t let the Dwarves be the Firstborn and put them into a sleep. The most fascinating aspect was that the Dwarves were mere puppets until Ilúvatar applied his hand to fix Aulë’s work. It’s a crude comparison, but that fail-safe reminded me of the Lysine Contingency in Jurassic Park (a genetic alteration that made the dinosaurs dependent on lysine supplements provided by the park).
We learned about the Dwarves and their temperament, and it fit with what we’ve seen in later stories in Middle-earth. I love that the Ents were created by Yavanna as a balance. Ilúvatar saw the Dwarves will destroy the earth without care, and the Ents were meant to be on guard and protect nature from the Dwarves and others.
I hit a point in this chapter where I desperately wished I could pick a single name for every person and location and perform a Control + Find and replace all the second, third, and fourth names. The multiple names are confusing and keeps me flipping back to the glossary nonstop.
Chapter 3 – Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
For a minute, it seemed like the Valar were going to give in to the threat of Melkor. They had a meeting about whether they should leave Middle-earth and therefore, the Children of Ilúvatar. Instead, Varda made brighter stars almost as if to guide the Children. As she finished, the first Elves appeared. It took Oromë a while to find them, and that cracked me up because you’d think they would have had a better notification system in place.
Protecting the Children became of the utmost importance to the Valar and because Melkor was antagonizing them and spreading false rumors about the Valar (he’s a classic mean girl), the Valar set a siege upon Melkor’s stronghold and they captured and bound him. They ignored his pleas for mercy and imprisoned him which I believe is for the best. He seems like a villain who is past redemption. I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me think otherwise.
The Elves were sundered almost as soon as they arrived with some leaving for the West at the Valar’s beckoning. Still, many stayed in Middle-earth and made their homes there.
Chapter 4 – Of Thingol and Melian
At only two pages, this chapter was brief. That didn’t stop it from brimming over with beauty though. Elwë (a/k/a Thingol), an elf, falls in love with Melian, a Maia. It’s the first such relationship, and while it’s not exactly a mortal with an immortal, you can see how it sets the path for Luthien and Beren and Arwen and Aragorn.
Thingol and Melian by Dresden Codak
Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
A few familiar names and locations were dropped in Chapters 1-4. When Aulë made the Dwarves, they were known as the Seven Fathers. They return to live again and one such example is Durin. He created Khazad-dûm, also known as Moria, under the Misty Mountains. The latter landmark is also mentioned.
Chapter 2 explains why the Ents were created and by whom. Yavanna created them as Shepherds to speak on behalf of all beings that have roots and to stand up for them and dole out punishment. Chapter 3 touches on the creation of the Orcs by Melkor. As far as I can tell, he used captured Elves to create the beings in envy and mockery of the Elven race.
“There arose a multitude of growing things great and small, mosses and grasses and great ferns, and trees whose tops were crowned with cloud as they were living mountains, but whose feet were wrapped in a green twilight.”
“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 ever forsaken Middle-earth.”
“They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed. Many a tree shall feel the bite of their iron without pity.”
“Would that the trees might speak on behalf of all things that have roots, and punish those that wrong them!”
Map of Arda by Ginthoriel
– In Chapter 1, it’s said that the Valar are kindreds to the Children of Ilúvatar rather than their masters. Do you think the Children of Ilúvatar see it that way?
– Aulë makes the Dwarves without consulting Ilúvatar, and Ilúvatar notes there will be strife between the children of his adoption and the children of his choice. Is his anger with Aulë just? Was it fair for him to put the Dwarves into a sleep?
– The coming of the Elves brings a statement about how new and foretold things shall be met in Eä despite pre-destination. Do you think that makes the world more believable?
– Melkor was a constant thorn and his malicious acts drove the Valar from Middle-earth. Do you think they gave up the fight against him too easily the first time?
– What is the purpose of the two Lamps and Two Trees built by the Valar in a mythic context?
– Do you think the Valar were right to imprison Melkor even though he asked for mercy?
This section is new and will contain links to illustrations, podcasts, art, and more related to The Silmarillion.
Dresden Codak’s illustrations of every chapter of The Silmarillion
The Tolkien Professor’s Silmarillion Seminar (especially helpful if you’re getting hung up on pronunciations)
Head to the comments to discuss the questions and your thoughts about Chapters 1-4 of The Silmarillion or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll be jumping in at both places as much as I can. Don’t forget to use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag in all your social media postings so everyone can find your insightful comments.
Come back for the discussion of Part 3 next Tuesday at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 5-8.
Top image of The Two Trees by Julia Pelzer