In Wednesday’s discussion, Dr. Fulton asked us why we re-read the legendarium. If we all already know what will happen in the stories, what changes for us when we return to them? Several reasons abound. Some people claimed that different words and phrases become important when refocused by class discussions and course readings. Others, myself included, find that stories have different meanings when read in different contexts. Because I am a much different person now than the first and most recent times in which I read the legendarium in earnest (eleven and nineteen years-old, respectively), I respond to elements and themes of the story most relevant to my primary reality as a graduating fourth-year preparing for medical school: uncertainty about what lies beyond Arda/campus and hoping [for admittances] without any guarantees. Yet, to other students, they re-read the legendarium with a greater focus on Tolkien himself as a main character. They abstract the stories’ events and characters to question or analyze what Tolkien thought in the creative process.
Although I practice each of these reasons for re-reading the legendarium, I am most invested in re-reading the Silmarillion and the Histories of Middle Earth, specifically, because their biblical forms provide me with more than merely stories or histories. Much like how I find different meanings to long-familiar passages from Jewish sacred texts, like the Torah, Talmud, Tanakh, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim, the Silmarillion and other Histories of Middle Earth react on me in ways unique from other books. Because Jewish texts and ‘Tolkien scripture’ feature stories heavy with implicit meaning, they resonate with me differently and different times of my life. The stories are archetypes that different people can access at diff parts of their lives. The stories’ simplicity allow readers a level of interaction in which they able to read the stories into their lives and their lives into the stories. Each reader interprets the stories into her own lens. Because the stories provide a form rather than content, the reader projects himself into them when he wants to accept that form.
The form of the myth often deals in absolutes, even when it seems like the actor is taking the middle-ground. These force us to pick a side and then force us to align our fortunes with it because they are so absolute. I find that with modern novels, there is a type of moral ambiguity or general ambiguity that allows us a distance from the actor. However, myths force readers to put themselves into characters in ways unlike different genres. At some point it does seem like there is ambiguity or conflict, but ambiguity and potentiality for conflict forces the religious/ Tolkien scripture reader to justify, apologize, or defend them in ways that draw the reader closer to the text. For instance, those same commentators are well within the framework of traditional Judaism. Although we are given a framework and parameters of understanding the torah, it is still left to the interpretation of the scholar; everyone understands the stories differently. By definition, the Torah is meant to be understood in multiple ways and multiple levels. In the Midrash, one finds that there are 70 "faces" or facets to the Torah (in Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15). This statement reveals the myriad ways of interpreting the text…and the wealth of rabbinical commentary on it. In composing those volumes of commentary on the same stories, the rabbis bring both themselves and their readers closer to the scripture.
In Tolkien scripture, I am most fascinated by the Ainulindalë. This genesis story gives me more than merely a conceptual outline for my final project in this class. Reading it now as a graduating student, I understand it as a cautionary tale about over-ambition and impatience with creation that one has yet to achieve. In the story, Melkor grew upset and impatient with the persisting Void (and then sought in vain for the Sacred Fire with which to convert more of the Void into creation). Believing that Eru took little interest in creating more non-Void, Melkor ultimately thought he could better manage or perfect that process because of his powers and the independent thoughts he gained from his time in searching for the Sacred Fire in the Void. To me, this archetype is a shadowy reflection of my personal issues with the creative process. Be it a piece of music, an academic paper, or (and most especially) a blog post for this class, I struggle with perfectionism. As those tendencies drive me to find some new, creative point hitherto unmentioned on the blog—which is absurd since everyone’s posts are both amazing and humbling—I get mired in a vicious circle of self-sabotage.
Because Melkor is an archetype of my own creative struggles, I agree with Fleiger’s claim that while Tolkien’s work “may draw on ancient myths for its truths…it speaks directly to the modern age, an age acutely concerned with the workings of its own unconscious, a society familiar with psychology." (152) Much like how the “journey, the battle, and the monster are both within and without” for the Lord of the Rings, the same is true for the Silmarillion and its meaning to me. In my earlier readings of the Ainulindalë, I did not see Melkor as my shadow incarnate nor as some monster within the mythical frame. However, as I now struggle to manage those irrational tendencies listed above, I find solace in venturing into Faerie to encounter the shadow and see how other primary authors like Eru integrate or harmonize the shadow. Despite Melkor’s best efforts to mar and overthrow Eru’s third theme, Melkor’s discordant theme’s "most triumphant notes were taken by [Eru’s] and woven into its own solemn pattern." To me, the outcome of this struggle is a meaningful reframing of a Jungian concept: “The integration of the shadow, or the realisation of the personal unconscious, marks the first stage of the analytic process...without it a recognition of anima and animus is impossible.”
Lastly, because of this modern framing of the legendarium, I have also found meaning in other long-familiar stories, like the two Númenórean chapters on Elendil and his son Herendil in the Lost Road. Like Frodo at the Sammath Naur, the young Herendil is “pinioned between light and dark both outside and inside…and tormented by the equal stress exerted by positive and negative forces.” (Flieger 153) He is caught between the corrupting, albeit attractive, revisionist history from by the King’s Men and the warnings from his father. Although Herendil fears Sauron’s dungeons, he also fears the internal shadows of not simply death but sameness: “Death comes here slow and seldom; yet it cometh. The land is only cage gilded to look like paradise.” Because “every road is trodden hard…and every tree and grass blade counted,” Herendil fears that he will not “escape the shadow of sameness, and of ending” without following the will of mighty Sauron. However, even after this sentiment upsets Elendil, Herendil, much like Frodo, “becomes aware of himself again as an independent being with a will of his own. He is free to choose.” (Ibid.) When Elendil presents his son with a choice “between thy father and Sauron” or to “even to report as may seem good to thee all that I have said,” Herendil chooses love: “‘Atarinya tye-melane (my father, I love thee)…I stay, father.’”
Until I learned to appreciate the modern framing of this story, I simply read the account of the father and son as an interesting narrative on the corrupting of Númenor before the fateful invasion of Valinor. I learned about the nature of the propaganda created by Sauron and his servants as well as how they manipulated Númenórean discontent with the ‘over-known’ nature of the Isle to “futher the policy of ‘imperial’ expansion and ambition…” However, I find new meaning in Herendil’s choice for love. Because Tolkien “was concerned above all with the relation between the father and the son [in these chapters],” he releases Herendil from the forces striving in the character, thus allowing Herendil to demonstrate the power of love and free will over ambition, if not evil.