Tag Archives: creativity

Voice Week Day 4

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Voice Week Day IV! The Empty House Comes for You!

Or not. In all honesty, it probably just sits there. Go read what the others are writing as well. Shoo!

A slip, a trip on leaves and I was down. A bad fall. Panic, freezing me one moment, had me on my feet the next. No stopping!

Skirt, wet, wrapped around my legs. Too slow, no hope. But then I saw a house! I tried to shout, but a sob came. Better shot for a trespasser than hunted in the dark. I ran to the porch, hammered the door.

I would cry! Beg! Let me in! But the door fell open. One deep breath had me inside.

Nobody home, but what did that matter? I turned and barred the door.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 5


Voice Week Day 2

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And it is time for another installment of the Empty House saga for Voice Week! All mystery and no answers! Don’t forget to check out the other participants!

So, I tossed a meatbone by the porch and waited. Nothing happened, so I snuck up-side the place and checked a window. It was so damned dark that I couldn’t case the inside, but it had an empty feeling, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, since no dog came for the bone or my ankles, I went round and checked the chimney. It was dead cold, and I just knew my luck was in.

I was right, too. The door wasn’t even locked, which did worry me a little, but it was worth risking. I opened up my lantern and  set to work.

~


Voice Week Day 1

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This year, I am participating in Voice Week, a writing contest invented by BeKindReWrite. This contest involves writing about the same situation from the perspectives of five different characters (or narrators/perspectives) and posting one a day from November 4th to November 8th. Each piece can only be around 100 words long, and in that space I am supposed to establish a unique voice that tells you something about the character. I have a hard time adapting my vocabulary to voices, so this ought to be a good stretch for me.  Also, you can go to the main page linked above to read and comment on the work of others who are also participating.

The scene or situation which I took on was an empty house. I hope you find it entertaining!

They give me assignments no one wants, and this seemed no different. I shouted at the edge of the yard, according to local custom, and no one shot me, but no one answered, either.

Cautiously, I mounted the porch and shouted again, identifying myself. There was no answer. By this time, I was actually curious. I knocked, and then slowly opened the door.

Once out of the moonlight, my eyes adjusted to their native dark and I saw an empty, but orderly room. I thought that finally there might be something interesting going on. They gave me the assignment, they were not going to take it from me.

~

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5


I Love Dwarves: a recap

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

In anticipation of Peter Jackson’s second “Hobbit” film, I thought I would pull together some quotes from my series on the Khazâd for those who don’t want to suffer through reading the whole thing. High-Fantasy Dwarves have, and probably always will have, a bad rap that I do not think they deserve. The equation seems to go something like this:

Ugly = unimportant

What a great message for us. Instead of delving into the complexity  that Tolkien eventually created for his Dwarves, the film industry settles for the stereotype that everyone expects, believing that almost no one cares. The unspoken consensus seems to be that, regardless of who we are and what we contribute to the world,  it is our appearance that matters most.

What is it, in human nature, that makes us reluctant to be interested in someone who is, on the surface, unlovely? We preach against judging people by appearances, and yet we do it, often without realizing what we are doing.

Anyway, enough internal examination for one day. If you are curious about my full reasons for loving Tolkien’s Dwarves, scroll to the bottom and take on the full series. Otherwise, I hope you find these excepts interesting.

In some ways, the Khazâd are very like the caves in which they dwell. I find that both are often misunderstood and dismissed as unlovely… The Dwarves, like their underground homes, seem one thing from an outside perspective, but have quite a different character when one delves deeper. They remind me of geodes. On the surface they are hard, rough and unlovely. Within at least some of them (or more likely most of them) there is astounding beauty. If you do not believe me, take a closer look at Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the films. Gimli’s character in the films just represents the stereotype most people expect from fantasy Dwarves).

Many readers of Tolkien’s scribblings see the hard surface of the Dwarves and look no deeper. They do not realize the world of imagination they are missing. They cast a geode aside, assuming that something so plain and rough could not possibly harbor anything extraordinary within. The other races of Arda often do the same.

Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd… It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create.

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

“The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers.” – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

“It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.”  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways.

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

“Gimli cast his hood over his face.”

And when time came to escape:

“Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.”

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

Original series of Khazâd posts:

Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


The Old Guard

Well, I know it took longer than I expected, but I am back now!

Two days ago, I experienced the craziest day of my life. For one thing, I went into surgery to remove what remained of my cancer. That would have been a big day by itself.

However, I woke up after my surgery to learn that I had become an aunt. I won’t go into great detail, but my sister-in-law had to have an emergency c-section. She and baby are fine, though the latter will be in intensive care for a while.  Wonderful, bizarre, crazy day.

And now, I promised you all masks when I returned to this blog. I will keep my promise with two whole posts. Here I will give you the rest (some are in my first mask post) of the original set of fourteen I made in college. In the next post, I will display my more recent creations.

Enjoy!

The first mask I ever made. It was so fun, I couldn't stop.

The first mask I ever made. It was so fun, I couldn’t stop.

The second mask I ever made, and the most time-consuming.

The second mask I ever made, and the most time-consuming.

I was never quite satisfied with this one, but it is interesting.

I was never quite satisfied with this one, but it is interesting.

My father's favorite of the original set.

My father’s favorite of the original set.

A detail shot of my father's favorite.

A detail shot of my father’s favorite.

Pine bark and needles. My poor sister-in-law got poison ivy while helping me collect the bark.

Pine bark and needles. My poor sister-in-law got poison ivy while helping me collect the bark.

This one was made by taking an impression of cherry-tree bark.

This one was made by taking an impression of cherry-tree bark.

A detail shot of the cherry tree mask.

A detail shot of the cherry tree mask.

The Muri Kai

The Muri Kai

The skull-mask above comes with a story. I made it as a release for anger, and as a statement. Shortly before creating the Muri Kai, I learned that cosmetics companies had been (and presumably still are) going into impoverished places all over the world and convincing people to buy their products. Forget having enough money for shoes, you need lipstick!

This one is made from pinecones, grass, pollen, lily-leaves and maple-tree whirlygigs.

This one is made from pine cones, grass, pollen, lily-leaves and maple-tree whirlygigs.

My brother's favorite, made from terracotta.

My brother’s favorite, made from terracotta.

My favorite of the bunch.

My favorite of the bunch.

A detail shot of my favorite catching the light.

A detail shot of my favorite catching the light.

Last but not least, the bur oak mask, made from an impression of oak bark and newly fallen leaves.

Last but not least, the bur oak mask, made from an impression of oak bark and newly fallen leaves.

And there you have the old guard. Tomorrow, I hope, I will post pictures of my more recent creations.

Glad to be back! I look forward to catching up on your blogs!


t-615

The other day a fellow blogger payed me a compliment. Referring to the blip on my gravatar profile, he said that I am “not merely ‘another tree in the proverbial forest.'”

I am honored by his opinion.  Yet I do not agree.

Where most folks notice deer, or birds, or even people, I notice trees. Persimmon mosaics, scarlet oaks like frozen lightning, sycamores like living bone, loblolly pines with their spicy scent, some old, some young, twisted, smooth, and each with an intricate story. They remind me a lot of people.

Thinking I am like a tree, then, is no false humility. It would be base pride, save that the people in my life remind me, constantly, that there is a vast forest around me. This forest is amazing, wonderful and terrible. It contains horrors I cannot wrap my mind around, and feats of love and bravery (large and small) that astound me.

The tricky thing about being a “tree” is trying to figure out where you fit in the forest. A maple trying to be an oak won’t get very far, and will commit the crime of failing to be a maple.

My friend Emily Landham and her friend Lauren Carpenter recently had the courage, when faced with the overwhelming horror of modern-day Slavery, to ask themselves what they could do. They have the wisdom to know that they are not prepared, equipped or called to do all that needs to be done. So, instead, they sought out a way to use their own strengths in the fight. I will let them speak for themselves:


t-615 is our response to join and advance the abolition of modern day slavery. The victims must remain silent to survive, so we must do the shouting. We will use our creativity to share their story. Specifically, we will wear their story. We invite you to do the same. Twenty-five percent of our profits go to safe houses around the world where rescued victims are loved, protected and empowered to embrace their freedom. Together we can be a voice for those forced to silence. We can raise funds for those who are equipped to rescue, to protect, to heal, to council.  –t-615 website

I will only add this: I see integrity and dedication to the cause in my friend. She is diligent in seeking the best way to make the funds raised by t-615 directly impact victims of human trafficking. She is using her gifts, and I am supporting her with mine.

We need your strengths, too.

I am number 82. My mother is number 8.

I am a number, I am a tree, I am a person.

Photo by Harry K. Whitver

Photo by Harry K. Whitver

p.s. I didn’t realize until I published it, but this is my 82nd post. Wow.


Ay, madam, it is common.

I am not alone in this.

I have heard other writers express the same feelings time and again. Many writers battle these extremes.

Sometimes we feel our work is good, even great. Then we are either overcome with fear that it is trash, or we “know” it is trash.

I am at the low ebb of this, and have been for a few weeks. It is disheartening even though I know, in my mind, that it is a cycle. My heart knows nothing of the kind. I am never satisfied with my work, but this is something darker than dissatisfaction.

My muse is active enough. The little monster is happily chewing away at my surroundings and then latching onto me with its sharp little teeth until I write out the results of its feasting. I can only hope those results aren’t shit.

But how does one know? There are great writers, both from the past and the present. There is also a lot of mediocrity, and this has increased as the dissemination of information has proliferated. Yikes, that was verbose. I had a point in there somewhere… oh, yes. Some of those mediocre writers, at least, must have believed that their work was great.

If they could not fairly evaluate their own work, how can I?

Oh mother, I owe you so much for raising me on good literature, but it is a double-edged sword. I know greatness. I have stared at pages, retracing words again and again in wonder.  In order to even put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, I had to tell myself that it was enough to write, that I did not have to compare myself to Wodehouse, Solzhenitsyn, Austen or Shakespeare.

That sufficed when I wrote only for myself and for those who were curious to look over my shoulder. The creation of something to be let loose on the world requires more, doesn’t it?  The last thing I want to do is unleash more mediocrity.

There is pride tangled up in this as well. I don’t want to be mediocre.

Then again, perhaps the greats were in doubt, as well. Does anyone really know, truthfully, whether their creations are worth reading? The helplessness is depressing. Do I have to spit out what I can and trust humanity to sort out the rest?

…Yes. Perhaps I do. The only other option is to bury it.

In reply to that option, I will quote Tycho, from Penny Arcade. He is talking about reactions to offensive materials, but the same principle applies, I think, to mediocrity:

The answer is always more art; the corollary to that is the answer is never less art.  If you start to think that less art is the answer, start over.  That’s not the side you want to be on.  The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work.  The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring.  That even with a computer in your pocket connected to an instantaneous global network, no-one can hear you.  When you believe that, really believe it, the devil dances in hell.

A visualization of my muse. Watch your fingers.

A visualization of my muse. Watch your fingers.


Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

This post is the end of a series. Find the earlier installments here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation

I’ve tried to wrangle this post down to something (possibly) reasonable. I hope you have enjoyed the series and that the Khazâd, if they haven’t before, now spark your curiosity and imagination.

Stereotypes, pernicious over-simplifications based on seeds of truth covered with lies, are as pervasive in our literary worlds as they are in the world we inhabit. I will spare you a full rant, but one of my objects in life is to smash the boxes we form around each-other that prevent us from truly seeing our fellows. If I could do it with an axe, I would. Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!

The more time J. R. R. Tolkien spends with a character or a race, the more stereotypes fade. It is ironic that numerous clichés have arisen from the reading and subsequent glossing-over of his work.  It makes me wonder how many people actually read him. My intent is to highlight often-overlooked aspects of Tolkien’s Dwarves and break down some of the popular clichés. However, there is always a danger of creating new ones, and that is just as bad. I dislike even “positive” stereotypes because they insulate us from seeing.

Therefore, assume Tolkien wrote exceptions to everything I say about the Khazâd. They are not all alike.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The seeds at the heart of “Tolkienesque”  Dwarves can be found in Tolkien’s work. He, however, does not take the acorn for the oak, and neither should we.

The Khazâd, like all of Tolkien’s races, have their cultural weaknesses. I share many of these, which adds sympathy to my other reasons for loving them. Excessive pride is probably the cause of their worst moments (Thorin, anyone?). This is not surprising for a people whom the elves call “Naugrim,” meaning “Stunted People,” and who face attitudes such as this:

…Caranthir was haughty and scarce concealed his scorn for the unloveliness of the Naugrim, and his people followed their lord. Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

While the scorn of others doesn’t excuse pride, it helps explain the defensiveness of many Dwarves. They are also stubborn. The Silmarillion states that Aulë made them stubborn in defiance of the Enemy. It stands them in good stead, but it also gets between them and those who would be their friends were they more yielding.

…they were made…  to resist most steadfastly any domination. Though they could be slain or broken, they could not be reduced to shadows enslaved to another will… All the more did Sauron hate… and desire to dispossess them.” -Appendix A

Though it was sometimes destructive in other ways, I love that the stubborn nature of the Dwarves kept them from coming under the dominion of Sauron.

The greedy Dwarf is a stereotype all it’s own, isn’t it? Perhaps Tolkien understood that fierce love of the beauty of the world, though good in its way, leaves the heart vulnerable. I certainly find it so in myself.  It is a difficult balance to love without coveting; to be in the world and not of it. Like the Dwarves, sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. But I am very fond of this quote of Galadriel’s from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious!

There is evidence throughout Tolkien’s scribbles that Dwarves are not as greedy as they are painted by the other races. For the sake of length, I will have to let you find it on your own.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

Like their weaknesses, the strengths of the Dwarves are usually blown out of proportion or, if they do not fit cleanly into the clichés, forgotten. Loyalty is common in stock-fantasy Dwarves, but it is also very present in Tolkien’s representation. This resonates deeply with me. I believe friendship should be fast (in the archaic sense) and enduring. Love and promises should bind. The Khazâd, in general, seem to agree with me. This, however, ties in with an aspect of Dwarves often completely ignored: romantic love.

Because they are not beautiful, Dwarves in love seems off-putting to many. Even Tolkien says little on the subject. According to the Appendix A, only about a third of Dwarves are women (how are they not extinct?). Not all Dwarf women desire marriage, and neither do all Dwarf men (which is good, given the discrepancy in numbers!). But when they do marry, they take only one wife or husband in a lifetime. It is said that often a Dwarf woman, on failing to win the heart she desires, “will have no other.” I expect the same is true for Dwarf men. This suggests that when they do love it is with a passion similar to their craftsmanship: a powerful, single-minded, and loyal love.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways. Elegant Dwarves!

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

Gimli cast his hood over his face.

And when time came to escape:

Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring 

I will not quote his interactions with Galadriel, but any who have read the books will know them.

As I have said in earlier posts, the Dwarves have a passion for beauty and for craftsmanship. They are creative as well as industrious. This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

Tolkien and the clichés seem to agree that the Dwarves are strong. Tolkien’s Dwarves, at their best, have not only physical power and toughness, but deep roots to weather storms.

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost… And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them. ” Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 20

Wisdom is more associated with the Elves in Tolkien’s tales, but I think the Dwarves have their share. Here is what the surviving Dwarves have to say to Thráin when, after the battle against the orcs of Moria, he claims victory and wishes to reclaim Khazâd-dûm.

Durin’s Heir you may be, but even with one eye you should see clearer. We fought this war for vengeance, and vengeance we have taken. But it is not sweet. If this is victory, then our hands are too small to hold it. -Appendix A

That does not sound like the impulsive behavior so often portrayed in Dwarf stereotypes. I am tired of Dwarves being fools. Gimli, in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, shows less than half the intelligence and wisdom of the same character from the books. But the Khazâd are an intelligent race:

…the Dwarves were swift to learn, and indeed were more willing to learn the Elven-tongue than to teach their own to those of alien race. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Apart from some of the silliness in The Hobbit, I do not recall Dwarves doing stupid things, or having sub-par intelligence.

Thankfully, (for I dearly love to laugh) the Dwarves have their humor and joy as well. Thorin is probably the most “serious” Dwarf we meet (unless one counts Mîm), and the rest like to joke and laugh when they can. The plate-breaking song in the beginning of The Hobbit is an excellent example. There is a difference, though, between having a gift for humor and being comic relief.

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

And finally, I give you an amateur reading of Gimli’s chant within Moria: My favorite of the verses in The Lord of the Rings.


Khazâd Part III: Creation

Photo by Jubilare

Photo by Jubilare

Ever since I was a child the three dimensions, our perception of them, and our ability to change things within them have fascinated me. Texture, shape, matter, color, shadow, highlight, space, distance! And that is only where the realm of the physical touches two of our five senses.

Stop. Right now.

Wipe your mind of all that you take for granted and try to understand how bizarre and wondrous the material world really is. Consider the possibility that nothing has to be, yet here it is. Think about the space between you and the nearest object and try to feel how strange your perception of that space, and that object would be if your senses had only been awakened this moment.

If you haven’t tried this before, it may be hard at first. We’ve been swimming in the physical from our earliest memories. We are so used to this that anything else would seem strange and exciting to us, but we are capable of realizing how awe-inspiring this world is.

Think about the things you see every day. Your bed, a blanket, a cup of water, a tree with texture so meticulously detailed that it stretches from a forest to the atoms of its inmost ring. Your own body, even with its flaws, so knit together that you live and move, with cells constantly dying and being reborn. How shadows change a surface, and light can make things glow.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

If you think about this too long and too deeply, it can overwhelm you.

It’s best to find a balance where you neither take the physical for granted, nor allow yourself to be overcome by the incomprehensible vastness and detail of it all. I think it is good for us to pause and run our hand over a desk, or breathe in winter air, taking time to feel, taste, smell. So many gifts are wasted on us when we don’t pay attention.

You may be wondering what this has to do with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves.

I think (and yes, I may be projecting) that the Dwarves, in general, share my instinctual wonder of the world. Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda. Even though they lack my passion for trees and plants, they appreciate them enough to use them as common themes in their works.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd.

My theory is supported by one of the Dwarves’ most well-known traits.  It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create. I find myself compelled, through my awe of matter, to shape small pieces of my world. This is why I identify so strongly with the Dwarven love of craftsmanship.

In the Silmarillion it is clear Aulë and Melkor have a great measure of Eru’s creative spirit.  In Melkor’s case, that spirit becomes grasping and possessive, but Aulë remains free and generous. Even in his clandestine making of the Dwarves his actions stem from a desire to share the wonders of Arda, his knowledge, and joy in existence.

Whether the creative nature of the Dwarves comes from Aulë or from the spirits bestowed on them by Eru, there is no doubt that they posses it. Throughout Tolkien’s work we see the intense and sensitive appreciation for beauty in the Dwarves. None of the other industrial or quasi-industrial races have this eye for beauty or the smoldering desire to carefully enhance it.

Ultimately, the Dwarves are lovers of nature and that love manifests in their works. Many of their number even abandon all other pursuits, devoting themselves to their craft with monk-like singleness of mind.  They are industrious, both from a practical standpoint and from a creative one. It boggles my mind that this focused creativity is sometimes perceived as prosaic and even dull. But then I suppose the makers of illuminated manuscripts of ages past are sometimes seen in a similar light by modern society. Have we lost some of our ability to appreciate that kind of focus?

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

Dale:

You should see  the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!  -Many Meetings, The Fellowship of the Ring

And that is just a smattering. Pay attention as you read and you will find more. I would love to step into these stories, if only briefly, to see and perhaps touch some of the marvels Tolkien imagined.

Last, and perhaps most telling of the hearts and minds of the Khazâd, I mention their own idea of what lies in store for them.  According to the Silmarillion, they believe that when Arda is remade they will work side by side with Aulë in the reshaping of the world. Imagine the beauty and wonder, care, imagination, focus, and labor involved in such a feat. I am glad Tolkien included such a beautiful legend in his tales of Middle Earth.

We are near the end of my ramblings on this subject. I will have worn it, and myself out, I think, but hopefully I will have achieved my goal. One post left.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.


Khazâd Part I: Aulë

And now I will begin to explain my take on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves, or the Khazâd, as they call themselves. It has taken me this long to gather my thoughts, dig up my evidence and organize my reasoning. I assume that most of my readers are familiar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments section, or check out the Tolkien Gateway and its handy search engine.

I begin with what is, for the Dwarves, the beginning.

As far as I know, the Dwarves are the only race of Arda to be created by a single Ainu. The others arose from the Music of the Ainur, or from the corrupting influence of Melkor on existing races.  There are other races closely associated with specific Ainu (like the Ents and Yavanna, or the Eagles and Manwë),  but only the Dwarves were the work of a single mind. Therefore understanding them must begin with understanding something of their maker, Aulë the Smith.

In the Valaquenta Silmarillion, Aulë is said to be the third-mightiest of the Lords of the Valar, and the most similar in talents to the Enemy of the Valar, Melkor.  He is shown to be a smith and the shaper of the “substances of which Arda is made.”

He is … a master of all crafts, and he delights in works of skill, however small, as much as in the mighty building of old. His are the gems that lie deep in the Earth and the gold that is fair in the hand, no less than the walls of the mountains and the basins of the sea. … Melkor was jealous of him, for Aulë was most like himself in thought and powers; and there was long strife between them, in which Melkor ever marred or undid the works of Aulë, and Aulë grew weary in repairing the tumults and disorders of Melkor. Both, also, desired to make things of their own that should be new and unthought of by others, and delighted in the praise of their skill. But Aulë remained faithful to Eru and submitted all that he did to his will; and he did not envy the works of others, but sought and gave counsel. Whereas Melkor spent his spirit in envy and hate, until at last he could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others, and all their works he destroyed if he could.” Valaquenta, Silmarillion

And there you have it. Aulë contained the fire and will to create and this made him great, but also led him into trouble. From what Tolkien writes, the desire to create is both wonderful and perilous. Many of his most destructive characters are either akin to Aulë  or else were his disciples. Fëanor, so talented and so catastrophic, and even Sauron, himself, learned craft from the Smith. It would be easy to assume that Tolkien considered craftsmanship a road to evil. He certainly represents the dangers of creativity in materialism and delusions of godhood. A closer look, though, reveals a very different message. Tolkien’s take seems to be that the paramount wonder and power of creation is balanced by great risk.

But for all the dangers of this creative drive, Aulë is represented as a good being. He is patient (save in one instance that I will discuss shortly), even-tempered, generous, strong, hard-working and artistic. Of the Lords of the Valar, he and Oromë are my favorites, but the Smith wins by a nose. I guess I identify with smiths. No surprise there.

I also identify with being patient in some regards and impatient in others. Of Aulë’s impatience, the Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2, has this to say:

…so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilúvatar. And Aulë made the Dwarves even as they still are…

Aulë, however, had his limits. He could make only puppets, for he was unable to give his creations souls of their own. Ilúvatar, Aulë’s creator, confronts him with this, and asks if Aulë wishes to be lord over things that do not have the power of movement or speech unless his thoughts are on them. Aulë replies:

“I did not desire such lordship. I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty, still, and dumb. And in my impatience I have fallen into folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father. But what shall I do now, so that thou be not angry with me for ever? As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of the hands which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?” Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2

I find that a compelling speech. My desire to create things, not in mockery but in celebration of what is, puts me in keen sympathy with Aulë.  Recognizing that his actions were selfish, Aulë moves to destroy his creations, but Ilúvatar has already given them souls and they shrink from Aulë in fear. Ilúvatar tells Aulë that he will adopt the Dwarves, but he makes this caveat: “when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.” Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2

This quote dissatisfies me. It is as if Ilúvatar has no warmth of love for the Dwarves and takes them on reluctantly. It is something I would like to ask Tolkien about. Is it a shade of his own heart, reluctant to love the Dwarves? Or did he intend it to be part of the Elven slant of the Silmarillion? But knowing a little of Tolkien’s background and faith, there is another possibility. Perhaps he intended the quote to echo another adoption: that of the gentiles in the Bible.

Being a gentile, this may explain some of my sympathy with the Dwarves. Ilúvatar is the father of the souls of the Dwarves, and in giving them souls adopts them as his children. It is interesting, to me, that Tolkien drew some of his ideas of the Dwarven culture (and their language) from Jewish cultures. For, to me, they seem like the Gentiles of Middle-earth. This possibility raises a myriad of questions, none of which I would dare to answer, but I find it intriguing.

To sum up: Aulë created the Dwarves from stone and he intended them to share his creative spirit with its inherent wonders and dangers, to endure and resist the destruction and corruption of Melkor and to love and enjoy the world.  Ilúvatar adopted Aulë’s creations and gave them souls, making them independent of their original maker, free agents in the world. Ilúvatar put them to sleep until the other Children should wake, and perhaps from the inherent difference between communal creations and singular creations, Ilúvatar said that there would be strife between the Dwarves and the other races.  That is the background of the Dwarves.

Next, I will explore the environment that shaped them after their waking.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


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