Sunday, July 8, 2012

Musings on Tolkien: Mingling

Most of the time in Tolkien's works, the Free Peoples of Middle Earth keep to themselves.  Elves hang out with Elves, Men with Men, and Dwarves ignoring as much of the rest of the world as possible.  But every so often there are instances of different people groups mingling with each other, and this is always a Good Thing.

Gondolin was the greatest of the cities of the Elves.  One of the marks of its greatness was that in was inhabited by both Noldor and Sindar.  And when Hurin and Huor, and later Tuor, came to Gondolin, they were treated as valuable members of the community, even though they were Men.  At the Gates of Moria, Gandalf wistfully recalls a happier time when the Elves of Hollin were in close friendship with the Dwarves of Moria.  At the beginning of the Hobbit it tells of a time when the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the Men of Dale lived in close friendship before Smaug laid waste to the countryside.  And by the end of the book, that friendship has been reformed with the added close allies of the Elves of Mirkwood.

All the great love stories of Middle Earth are romances between the races: Thingol and Melian, Beren and Luthien, Tuor and Idril, Aragorn and Arwen.  And one of the great relationships of The Lord of the Rings is the friendship between Gimli and Legolas.

But the best example of mingling is embodied in the Silmarils.  The Trees of Valinor were among the greatest of the works of the Ainur, and Yavanna's masterpiece.  But they were at their most beautiful when the golden light of Laurelin and the silver light of Telpirion mingled.  Feanor, the greatest craftsman of the Elves, captured the mingled light of the trees in his Silmarils, the greatest work of craftsmanship by the Elves.  After Beren recovers one of the Silmarils and delivers it to Thingol, Thingol takes the Silmaril and has it set inside the Nauglamir, the Necklace of the Dwarves, the greatest work of Dwarven craftsmanship.  So we have the greatest of the works of the Ainur encased in the greatest of the works of the Elves, encased in the greatest of the works of the Dwarves.  And it is possibly even more beautiful when worn by Luthien, the daughter of an Elf and an Ainu, married to a Man.  And when that exact Silmaril is delivered to Valinor which sets off a chain reaction that ends with the final destruction of Morgoth, it is delivered by Earendil, the son of Tuor and Idril, and his wife Elwing, the granddaughter of Beren and Luthien.


James said...

Hi Matt. Great to see another Tolkien post here. Do you think that there's a deeper symbolism at work in what you described? Is there something in this idea of mingling that was particularly attractive to Tolkien?

Herch said...

Well the post was initially just pattern recognition. However, having thought a little about it, I am reminded of the Music of the Ainur. In the Music, the Ainur were riffing on a theme that Iluvatar propounded to them. Each Ainu was encouraged to do his or her own thing, but in a way that made the whole better, working in harmony with everyone else. The Discord of Melkor was marked chiefly by its unison; no harmonies here.

I'm also drawn to some lines from Tolkien's poem Mythopoeia:
"Man, Sub-crator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind."

It seems that Tolkien wants each person to be a unique self, but to share his or her own gifts, his or her own unique refractions of the Maker's light, with others.

Harmony by itself sounds terrible. It's only in working with the melody and other harmony lines that the harmony becomes beautiful.

Herch said...

Another theme in Tolkien that runs parallel to the "mingling is good" theme, that I probably should have mentioned in the main post now that I think about it, is that people who isolate themselves usually go bad. Melkor spent untold ages searching the Void looking for the Flame Imperishable. Feanor holed himself up in his workshop. Saruman hunkered down in Isengard. And even though he was already evil and under the influence of the Ring, I doubt Gollum's isolation in the Misty Mountains did him any good.

Do either of these answer your question?

James said...

Thanks! I'll buy that. Unity in diversity seems like a constant (and probably Trinitarian) theme (undercurrent?) in Tolkien's works. Unlike Barfield, who I think saw the splintering of the primal light or the primal language as bad (having to rely on Fleiger here), Tolkien seems to think that the "splintering," the creation of diversity, is what makes creativity, and thus man's being in the image of God as creator, possible. If so, then we'd expect positive images of combining and harmony to occur quite frequently, and that's what you've found. Good deal!

Herch said...

I'm also reminded of Tolkien's analogy of the tree of tales. Every story is merely a leaf on the tree of tales, yet every leaf is unique.

James said...

Yeah, I'm seeing term paper or journal article material here.

Herch said...

I don't know, that sounds awfully optimistic. Maybe "The Golden Child and the Silver Child" has traction, but I don't know if I could write enough on mingling in Tolkien to fill a paper.

James said...

Maybe a short article? Two-five pages? Bringing in quotes from the text, anticipating and rebutting counter-arguments, and soliloquizing a bit about why this is important for the broader understanding of Tolkien's project would bulk this up in no time.