Tag Archives: Middle Earth

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


Happy Hobbit Thanksgiving!

Lets face it, Thanksgiving is a very Hobbitish holiday. Food, family, thankfulness, and more food.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to have one of our chapters from The Hobbit Read-along fall on this day. Here we are, at the next to last chapter, “The Return Journey”.

We have been in the midst of a chaotic battle, but the dust has settled and dear Bilbo, invisible, wakes from unconsciousness, cold, and alone. He wakes to find victory, but not a joyful one. “Well it seems a very gloomy business,” he says. Yes, Bilbo, it is a very gloomy business.

Last chapter, the Dwarves  showed some real character. Now, so near the end, we get more. We see Thorin, faced with death, gaining perspective. Forgiveness and friendship finally outweigh material things to him. This death, and the deaths of Fili and Kili (I am so sad for their parents, if they still live!) bring home to Bilbo the painful reality that adventure and tragedy are closely related.

They buried Thorin deep beneath the mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.

There are some interesting details in this chapter, and, in my opinion, some of the best quotes in the book.

In the “interesting” category, I place the fact that Gandalf has his arm in a sling. Gandalf, who will one day fight a Balrog! I know he can be injured, but I really want to know how it happened.

Also interesting is Tolkien’s more relaxed use of language. Just look at his description of Beorn’s roars:

The roar of his voice was like drums and guns.

No shying from modern lingo here!

Now I will conclude with some of my favorite quotes from the chapter.

“How I should have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.”

Bilbo has become a much wiser hobbit over the course of his adventure. And much more generous, too:

“If ever you are passing my way,”  said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome to come at any time!”

Could there be a more hobbitish farewell?

There is some nice, probably unintentional foreshadowing:

“Farewell! O Gandalf!” said the king. “May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!”

Tolkien taunts us with:

“He had many hardships and adventures before he got back.”

And yet he tells us so little! Why, Tolkien, why?!

And finally we have this:

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!”

Have a happy Thanksgiving day!


The Hobbit Read-a-long Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders

My first contribution to The Hobbit Read-a-long!

Ah, Mirkwood.  Stop for a moment to bask in the deep shadows and fill your lungs with that heavy, still air.

Mmmm. It has been too long. There are some places I reach through books to which I return again and again out of sheer love and awe. Mirkwood is one of my favorites. I wonder how many of you who read this, if any, feel the same.

Even in this book, brimming with some of the best fairy-tale elements, this chapter stands out.  We have:

  • Dark enchanted forest
  • Instructions not to stray from the path
  • Water that puts one into an enchanted sleep
  • Enchanted dreams
  • Fey lights in the darkness, luring travelers off the safe path
  • Elven hunt and white deer
  • Eerie voices and laughter echoing in the woods
  • Vanishing faerie banquets
  • Giant spiders

The makings of a fantastic folktale! And it is fantastic!

Tolkien conjures a very ominous place for us, but unlike the realm of Mordor it is not ominous and barren. Mirkwood is filled with life as much as with darkness. It is a beautiful, mysterious, cursed thing, enduring under great oppression. We have a glimmer of green among the shadows, ivy-grown trees, black squirrels in the canopy, a dark hart, a brilliant white hind and fawns, giant oaks, hanging cobwebs, velvety-black butterflies and “endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall.”

There are so many wonderful images. This is one of my favorites:

Their feet ruffled among the dead leaves of countless other autumns that drifted over the banks of the path from the deep red carpets of the forest.

Bilbo and Thorin & Co. do not share my enthusiasm, but then I was never forced to travel through the forest, nor have I gotten lost, been attacked by spiders or been imprisoned by elves in it, so I sympathize. Still, I am puzzled by the effects it has on the dwarves.  That they dislike dense forests makes sense, and as they fill their homes with light I assume they are not creatures of darkness. But the fact remains that they live mostly deep underground. Tolkien even mentions this, but passes by it, simply saying that they felt oppressed.

Being of claustrophilic tastes, this stretches my imagination a bit. I can only consider their reaction to Mirkwood stemming from the corruption under which it suffers. No other explanation satisfies me.

The elves in this chapter are more fey-like than in any other. While they irritate me later, I love the ethereal, magical and elusive side they show us here. The whole feel of this section is mysterious and magical.

Apart from my obsession with the setting, I love this chapter for what happens to our hero. This is where Bilbo truly discovers that deeply buried, slow-to-rise courage and daring that Gandalf was so confident he possessed. After this he is never quite the same either in his eyes, or the eyes of his companions.

Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, confronted with a terrifying death, kills a giant spider. Shortly thereafter he rescues 12 of his companions from an entire nest of the same. He kills at least ten spiders, doubtless more. How is that for our little hobbit who, at the words “may never return”, had a fear-induced fit at the beginning of the book!

“I will give you a name,” he said to it, “and I shall call you Sting.”

Bilbo’s experience reminds me of another hobbit who, all alone, in a place even more grim, faces the ancestor of the Mirkwood spiders with the same “sword” and a shining light. Sting, indeed.

Some other thoughts:

Humor continues merrily along in this chapter against all odds, rather like Bilbo (though I wouldn’t call the hungry hobbit “merry”).

Bilbo’s vocabulary seems to be rubbing off on the dwarves. “Confusticate”!

Also, when I first read this chapter I learned several new words for spiders and discovered where “cobweb” comes from.  Who knew?

In this, his first venture into his own Middle-earth, Tolkien calls what will become Valinor, Faerie. I love this!


Contrariwise

Let me get my least-justifiable reason for loving the Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien out of the way first.

Like many people, I have a contrary streak. Often, when a storyteller (author, film-maker, etc.) tells me what to think, my mule ears lay back and my heels dig in.

That said, I know that being contrary for the sake of being contrary is as thoughtless as being blindly led. I do not consistently root for the villains in a tale, I do not accept atrocities whilst jeering at characters who make the hard, noble choices. It’s not easy to express what, exactly, I do, so I will give examples. Don’t worry, I will get back to Tolkien in a moment.

The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling:   I root for Slytherin. I don’t root for them because I like them, but because they are systematically demonized by most of the other characters in the books and largely unredeemed by their author. I don’t desire them to get their way, either.  I want, instead, to see the redemptive qualities I stubbornly believe exist. I cannot accept that they are simply a “bad House.”

James Cameron’s Avatar:  “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure” (Aliens, 1986).  …well, not really, but I flatly refuse to like or sympathize with the Na’vi because of the two-dimensional characterization of their antagonists and the patronizing way the film tells me exactly what to think. I would like to corner Cameron and scream at him for several hours for trying to bludgeon me into submission with plot.

Most of Western Mythology: Dragons. Why are dragons always manifestations or symbols of evil? I was so upset by this as a child that my imaginary friend was a dragon.

Obviously this is all highly subjective and has little, if any, basis in logic or reason.

Back to Tolkien. From the above, I ought to be talking about Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and their ilk from Tolkien’s mythologies. I do have some similar feelings about them, but that is a rabbit-trail. As far as Tolkien is concerned, I find myself rooting for the protagonists. With few exceptions, Tolkien does a good job of making his characters and his peoples complicated and convincing. He soothes my contrary spirit by giving me what I want: room to make up my own mind.

What first stirred my instincts in defensive favor of the Dwarves was Tolkien’s attitude toward them in The Hobbit.

The Hobbit forms a transition between some of his posthumously-published scribblings in which Dwarves appear rather unsympathetic, and Lord of the Rings which solidifies their place on the Good Side. He obviously likes the Dwarves in The Hobbit, but he also judges their avaricious and insular tenancies harshly without trying to delve deeper.  Until the end, they are also largely ineffectual. I surmise that Tolkien, being pastoral in his tastes, had to stretch himself to understand and sympathize with mythological  Dwarves, whereas he felt very like-minded towards Hobbits and Elves.

I first read The Hobbit as a child and I wanted to defend the Dwarves from the indignant treatment  they suffered at the hands of their author.  For one thing, he seemed to place the Wood Elves more on the side of right than I liked.  I take the book less seriously now, but that first impression set the foundation for my love of Tolkien’s short, bearded delvers.

To recap, I am aware that none of this is logical. I speak merely of first impressions and biases that laid a foundation. Now that my slant is in the open, I will move forward and show why I now love the Dwarves apart from any comparison with other races from their mythos, or from their author’s opinions on them.

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


Of the Free Peoples of Arda

I have considered writing this post for a long while. Now, I see, that it cannot be a post. A series of posts it is, then. I will try and keep each one short and to the point, so as not to bore you silly. I would love some discussion, even debate on these matters.

Readers and lovers of the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien are varied set. We are almost as interesting and varied as the peoples and creatures which populate Tolkien’s rich mythologies. Everyone seems to have their favorite race or creature, favorite characters, tales and songs.

My brother’s heart, and seemingly Tolkien’s as well, belongs first to the Elves. My own heart took a very different turn the first time I read the words:

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.”

That’s right. I am one of the relatively rare people whose heart belongs first to the Dwarves of Arda. In following posts I will expound on why.

Tolkien himself did not always love his Dwarves. In his early scribbles they were, at best, materialistic and insular, and at worst, brutal, greedy and cruel. One of the many reasons J. R. R. Tolkien is one of my literary heroes is that he was capable of learning and capable of changing his mind. Mind-changing may not be rare among writers, but as most of what usually remains unpublished for other writers has been exposed to the world in Tolkien’s case, I get to see the process on paper.

So, Tolkien coming to understand and love his Dwarves was a process. I do not think it was a simple process, either. It encompassed a growing appreciation for the “deep places of the world,” and an understanding that love of craftsmanship and precious objects does not always translate into greed, small-mindedness or a hardened heart, and may even point to something far more eternal than wealth and riches. But more on that later.

I am not sure he ever came to love his Dwarves as much as the rest of his Free Peoples, but the fact that I cannot say for certain is comforting. That a Dwarf is welcomed into Valinor speaks volumes and warms my Dwarf-loving heart.

Tracing Tolkien’s journey might be beyond me. There are certainly greater scholars of his work than I. What I can do is show my own journey: how I fell in love with the Dwarves of Arda and what I learned about myself along the way.

In the mean time, have a recording of me reading the Dwarves’ Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit. We shall see if I can get better at it when the time comes for me to record my all-time favorite verse from Arda. :)

The rest of this series can be found here:
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 scent-test

Book Meme 2012

Week 8: Best Story Settings

I read for setting.

I love characters, I love plot, I adore good dialog, but give me a book with a good setting. Books where place is not important to the author often fail to impress me, and books where the setting rubs me the wrong way are shut, never to be opened by me again.

I am not sure if I am in the minority or not. I hear of people being impatient with description, and yet so many books seem to be loved, as I love them, for the rich texture of their settings.

When I first started writing, I was interested more in the world than anything else. My characters were cliches and my plot was barely functional, but I got the texture right. Whatever their flaws, I want to step into my worlds and smell them.

Yep, I judge a book-setting by its smell. If I want to step into a book and take a deep breath, I am pleased. That is not to say that the world has to smell pleasant. Khazad-dûm does not, I think, have an airy smell, yet I desire to step into it.  The setting just has to have a unique and interesting bouquet.

What makes a setting compel or repel me? I honestly have no answer.  It is also as impossible for me to choose my favorite setting as it is to choose my favorite book. Luckily, this week’s question does not ask my favorite, it asks the best. Not that that is a much easier question.

There are many contenders, and I could argue the supremacy of each, but I shall stick to one victor and an honorable mention. I have chosen these two because there is something very special about each of them, something that makes them stand out against the many rich and wonderful worlds that literature has opened to me.

The honorable mention is:

Middle Earth, from the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien

Middle Earth stands out from all other fiction I have encountered. It is deep and textured as no other. Tolkien must, I think, have had severe obsessive issues to write what he did.

There are languages that intertwine and evolve, vibrant mythologies, peoples with history and memory, geography that is firm but not static, with a history all its own, and much more. There is not a point in any of the stories set in Middle Earth where I do not feel that I could step in and smell the air. When I read, it feels as real to me as the ground on which I sit, if not moreso.

The rarity of such a world in fiction goes without saying. I have yet to encounter anything so complete. Many have tried to do what Tolkien did, and if anyone has succeeded, I have yet to read their work.

But there is something even more challenging than writing a world as comprehensive as Middle Earth, and that is why the victor of this contest is:

Wonderland, from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll, (or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, if you prefer, poor chap), did something very rare with these two books. He opened a window into the real world of the imagination and dreams of children.  I cannot express how rare this is.

Writers are almost all handicapped by the fact that they are adults. Adulthood involves, among other things, being trapped on one side of the looking-glass.  By this, I do not mean that we lose our imagination, or that we cannot remember what it was like to travel the landscapes of childhood, but as we mature, our minds change. We think differently, and we easily forget, and as such we can see through the looking-glass, but it is next to impossible to re-enter it.

When a writer attempts to paint child-dreams with words, they almost always forget something. Often, they forget the underlying threat. Children may be ignorant of the world, but they are not innocents. Think back on your childhood and pick up the threads of violence, threat, and nightmare and you will know what I mean. To truthfully show what a child imagines is to remember the shadow behind the door.

By the same token, some writers either forget to abandon adult logic, or forget that children have a logic of their own. A child’s imagination is not bound by norms that have not yet been learned, but there is rhyme and reason to the landscape of their thoughts. It makes sense to a child that one half of a mushroom might make you grow, while the other half would make you shrink, and once you accept the properties of mushrooms, the events of the story follow quite reasonably.

The child’s fascination with the world is more often remembered, but even that takes skill to express. Carroll, I think, captures all of this. Wonderland is wonderful, but it is not innocent, or safe, or logical, or nonsensical. It is, in short, a child’s world. In creating Alice’s adventures, Carroll transcended his own adulthood and created a world capable of reminding adults what it is like to be a child. As impressive as Tolkien’s body of work is, I am more impressed by Carroll’s ability to travel in time.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


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