Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blog Post 2: Stepping into Myth - Ainulindale and Valaquenta

If I were a wizard, I'd say that I was never late, and always posted exactly when I meant to. But I'm not a wizard, and this is a bit later than I'd intended. Nevertheless, tonight's post . . .

Moving from "Farmer Giles" and "Smith of Wooten Major" to the beginning of The Silmarillion is a bit jarring, I'll admit. We are clearly transitioning into faery stories that are bigger, richer, and deeper than anything encountered in the short stories we've read so far. Tolkien's intention in The Silmarillion is to provide an entire world and its history, beginning at (or, I suppose, before) the moment of creation. In order to achieve the effect of depth and seriousness he feels the material demands, Tolkien adopts a pseudo-Biblical style in his prose.

My question for you: how does this shift in style -- so different from the tone found in "Smith" or "Giles" and certainly much different than the approach he takes in The Hobbit or, to a lesser extent, in The Lord of the Rings -- actually affect our comprehension of the material? I'm not talking about whether it makes it more difficult to read or understand; rather, I want to hear from you about whether the style of The Silmarillion works. Does the pseudo-Biblical word choice, diction, vocabulary, and organization help draw us into the world Tolkien is creating? Does it get in the way? Would there be a better, more effective way to approach writing about the creation of Middle Earth? Does the Biblical tone draw attention to the "frame" of Faery in a way that Tolkien actually wanted to avoid?

Once again, you don't have to respond to every question I've raised, but you do need to respond to some aspect of the post. And don't hesitate to respond to your classmates as well.

JMD.

25 comments:

  1. Personally, I adored the style in which the Ainulindale and Valaquenta were written. The way that Tolkien was able to write in a way so similar to legitimate religious works drew me even more into his fantasy. I actually believed that this was a real religion. Rather than expose the "frame" of Faerie, I felt like the diction made the writing feel like it was written ages ago, around the same time as The Odyssey. Also, while I saw some similarities in the gods to Christianity, overall I would compare the Silmarillion more to Roman or Greek gods than to the Bible. I'm not referring to just the multiple gods either. The way that Tolkien described them, particularly the Valier, with describing how one was more swift than an arrow and another frolicked with the deer, was very similar to Roman and Greek mythology than I was expecting. It even gave the illusion that they were from the same time period. I found it very impressive and captivating.
    Lauren Miller

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think the style in which the Silmarillion is written lends a tone of credibility to the story and makes it far more believable. It also lends a component of Tolkien's definition of a true faery story to it. The tone that he sets for the book shows, more than any amount of detail ever could, that Tolkien truly believed in this world. He felt that Middle-Earth was a real place and that he was recording its history, not making it up as he went. This allows the reader to not just "suspend disbelief," but follow Tolkien to that place of genuine interest in something described so blatantly as real. It has no feel of storybook, but more of historical artifact, and pulls you into "Faery." You can genuinely believe in this place and history that Tolkien has created. By making his Valar so similar to other mythological beings it also allows the reader to place the Silmarillion with other mythologies that were built over centuries, giving it a sense of timelessness necessary for true belief.
    -Chelsea Mueller

    ReplyDelete
  4. There are many differences between the writing style of the Silmarillion and the short stories Tolkien wrote. Most of his short stories seem to rely on some sort or humor, mostly irony or even satire (as seen especially with Farmer Giles of Ham) and convey these things with average words and a writing style that is more similar to oral speech. But the Silmarillion takes upon a deeper tone, less flippant, wandering, or prone to tangents, and descriptive elaborations serve to provide details of the not just characteristics, but the essence of things. One of my favorite descriptions Tolkien provides in the Ainulindale was that of the music made before Arda, the World, was created. The passage reads:

    “And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Iluvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.”

    (and just as a tangent here, I only really understood this passage when I re-read it, after talking about eucatastrophies. Did anyone else get chills while reading this? Because I did…. )

    The language used in the Silmarillion is flowery, but more powerful and somehow more commanding. It gives finality and a distinction to this work that is not seen in short stories. I think it adds to the tone of the story Tolkien is trying to convey. If he is aiming towards a style that reads like a religious text, then it most likely because it reflects his idea that writing fantasy is a spiritual, almost religious experience. It does cause the reader to relate the style of the Silmarillion to the Bible, Norse, or Greek mythologies, but I think that’s the point. Tolkien’s aim was to write a mythology for England, and so why should we expect anything less than a story which takes the tone of such texts?

    Hannah Cruze

    ReplyDelete
  5. I do agree with both comments above me, that the biblical style lends itself well to the creation myth of middle Earth. I believe that this staunch structure is really the only way to go about trying to attain credibility in starting a new sort of mythology, trying to blend in with the works from earlier times. The place where my opinion differs from those above me, is that I was not drawn in. The Greek and Roman Gods enticed me with their romance and their drama and their concerns for people. Tolkien’s Gods or hallowed beings have immense power and he hints at their relatability, though for me they lack tangibility. I suppose I was too distracted by the frame to really be drawn into their glamour. I think that his style of writing the Silmarillion, though it could not have been done any other way, detracts from the story aspect of this book. It lies well as a sort of historical artifact, but as a story, his diction, and his structure get in the way.

    Maggie Meiners

    ReplyDelete
  6. Also, I found this great video of an audiobook reading of the Silmarillion on youtube. I swear this guy's voice is amazing. :) AND it helps with the pronunciation of all those crazy names. But there’s about a minute of music before the guy actually starts reading, so if it bothers you (and it kind of bothered me) I’d just skip it.

    Here’s the link to it, in case anyone is interested:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yyEz_cRGb8

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. While I certainly enjoyed the Silmarillion, it was at first baffling to me why he chose to write it in the pseudo-religious style when there is no mention of religion in any of his other Middle Earth based stories. However, I think because of his intention with the work itself, to take the place of or revise current English Mythology, no other style would have worked and communicated the same kind of meaning that the Silmarillion does. This is because it could not be taken seriously at all. Creation is a huge deal especially when it is the creation of our world, which is what Tolkien recounting in Silmarillion. In the Magician's Nephew C.S. Lewis demonstrates the creation of Narnia in a completely different style than Tolkien. The two authors intentions with their stories, however, are also completely different. Lewis obviously meant for his stories to be allegorical, while Tolkien is giving an explanation to the origin of the universe in the same way the Metamorphoses does and thus Tolkien must rely on the pseudo-religious language.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I believe the shift in style seen in the Silmarillion helps establish a sense of wonder and awe by mimicking existing myth. The structure of the sentences and the order in which the creation story is recounted is very methodical and thorough, which is what I would expect of a creation story or ancient myth. As a result, I buy into the story almost immediately.

    The wording of the story absolutely evokes a mythical sense of awe when reading it, as if these powerful figures could really be gods from some real religion here on earth. The overall tone is just expertly done and despite the religious tone of the text I feel like it matches very well with the tone seen in The Lord of the Rings (though perhaps less so in the Hobbit). The way the tale is conveyed is exactly what I was expecting, and I was pleased with it. I did not find it difficult to read or get through at all. It presented the information in a colorful and mythic way without devolving straight down into genealogical trees or anything like that. I feel like the mythical quality of this text works well for it, and it works differently than the stories of the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings, which tell much more focused stories that deal with less cosmic/massive issues.

    I did, however, feel like there were some weaknesses - particularly with Iluvatar's dialogue and some of the close similarities to the Christian creation story. For one, the choice in vocabulary for when Iluvatar speaks seems a bit overly biblical in the sense that it felt unnatural compared to what I was expecting from the tone of the story. I was expecting the dialogue to have less "ye shall" and "thou shalt" and more of a methodical tone like the rhythm of the rest of the narrative, if that makes sense. Iluvatar's dialog feels almost out of place and really disrupts the flow of things, in my opinion. Additionally, the fact that there was such a heavy biblical tone with the language used, the way the story opened, and the relationship of the characters to real life religious figures (Iluvatar being God and Melkor being Satan) did indeed serve to act as an anchor for me to the real world. Because of the close similarities I saw, I was more aware that I was reading a book than I would have liked. I feel like this might have been avoided by Tolkien had he used biblical language less directly (the vocabulary seems less fantastic and magical than it does an attempt to write something that sounds like the Old Testament). I think that this is a credit to Tolkien however, as some of my issues with the text so far stem from him emulating real world religious texts too well and thus pulling me out of the state of mind he otherwise does an excellent job of settling me into. In this way, I do feel that Tolkien has drawn more attention to the “frame” than he needed to.

    ReplyDelete
  10. For me the style in the Silmarillion really helped in viewing the world in which Tolkien created so far. I love the way in which it reads almost like genesis, partly because I love the book of genesis, because it puts you into a certain frame of mind where what is being said is in fact true and whoever is dictating this whether it be some high elf or the Ainur obviously believes this. I also think that even though it does sound like the Bible in a way, it differs in many ways that help me. There was at first a lot of general things that happened and then when the Ainur moved down to the earth, things began to feel more personal between them now called the Valar. Things like Melkor, or Morgoth, beginning to destroy anything the others created or describing the attributes of the different Valar. It helped me at least for there to be such cool details to read into and to speculate on. The last detail that helped me read it was when it talked about Morgoth and what he was doing and is dark servant Sauron.

    ReplyDelete
  11. For me, the style and tone of the Silmarillion has increased my belief in his world. It's very much in the tone of mythology. If the elves were real and wrote down their mythology and history, this is what it would sound like. His frame does show a little, especially as I'm going through making comparisons to other mythologies and religions. Tolkien probably would not like this, as I'm not fully engaged in his story as a story. On the level of a fairy story this does not work that well for me because I do get distracted by the frame (in a good way), but at the same time it really sells me on the idea that Middle Earth is a real place which solidifies the fairy story of Lord of the Rings.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Although before reading this book I have been told many times that I would hate it and dread reading through it, I found that I actually liked this first part of the story! I think this surprised me so much that I was a little confused at first, but then I went back to reread a few parts and it made more sense to me.
    Indeed, I thought that Tolkien's language does an effective job of communicating what he wants for the creation of his world. It sounds so much like the Bible and other serious religious stories that it draws you into the created world in a way that just simply telling a story would not be able to.
    Also, having never read the Silmarillion, I really enjoyed how it tied together Tolkien's world and made the history more clear. If a reader had already been introduced to Tolkien's world through LotR or the Hobbit, then this book has immense value, allowing the reader to immerse themselves even further into Middle-Earth.
    However, that does not necessarily mean that a reader never before introduced to any of Tolkien's work would not like this story. I believe that quite a number of people would still be interested, and that the Silmarillion might help them delve into Tolkien's created world more deeply.
    Yet at the same time, the fact that the Silmarillion is so long and daunting, often with dry sections (or so I've heard), makes me think that perhaps people would have been dissuaded from exploration of the rest of Tolkien's world based on the Biblical-style text they see in the Silmarillion. Therefore, I think there are many positive points to Tolkien writing his story in this format, and I also think that there are some added problems with doing this that one cannot really prevent. But I do not believe Tolkien should have written his story any other way.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I enjoyed the tone and format of the Ainulindale and Valaquenta more than I thought I would. The biblical tone and format helped me to take it more seriously than I might have. Additionally, its very apparent that the two chapters are the introduction to the vast legendarium of Middle Earth, and it would be difficult to write that introduction in any other format. As for Tolkien's shorter stories, they are dealing with a smaller--not necessarily less important--universe, which requires a less formal introduction, if an introduction is needed at all. The unique tone that pervades both "Farmer Giles" and "Smith of Wootton Major" which draws the reader in is possible only because of this fact. As for the introductory chapters of The Silmarillion, they are a very small fraction of the work as a whole; I imagine that the information given had to be given in a way that would make the reader take the work seriously, and that there will be time for drawing the reader in later.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I liked the fact that the Silmarilion was written in a biblical fashion it makes the truth of the story more believable in my mind as I am reading. It also helps to create an understanding of what the Silmarilion really is. You can not read the Silmarilion as a story book or an adventure book and still be able to get through it or in any way appreciate it. So it is very important that the reader understands that this is a different type of book than the Lord of the Rings. The reader has to understand that this book is a mythology book, a book of the history of Middle Earth and it's creation, or essentially the 'Bible' of Middle Earth. The Biblical Language he uses gives this credibility. I do agree however that it does in some ways prevent you from really entering the story or forgetting the frame of the story. While reading the creation story I was in my mind comparing it to other creation stories and thinking of the links between the biblical Word and Tolkien's song of creation. These comparisons though lent credence and authority to the believability of the story even if they made the frame apparent. A lot of the text was a summation of events which prevents the reader from being personally involved in the stories. Still when Tolkien wanted the reader involved with the story he did a good job of making the reader emotionally invested.

    ReplyDelete
  15. To tell the truth, I think that the pseudo-Biblical style that Tolkien wrote the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta really worked well. Since it harkened to the bible, it gave it that sense of authenticity to it. As readers, we expect something that is old and generally true to be written in that way. And so the Biblical style of language for the two stories really made it seem truer than it otherwise would have. For me, it made it ring true. On the same idea, I think that this style of writing keeps us from being aware of the “frame” of the fairy story that Tolkien is worries about. The Biblical style of writing draws us in so well that it is hard to know that it is actually a story because you are so involved in the tales of the Ainur.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The Biblical-style of the Silmarillion works for me, since it lends it an air of authority and of historic credibility. This style of history makes me want to believe that it is true. It also helps me to understand how I should attempt to read the rest of the tale as a history first and then as a faery story. However, this style of writing also causes some issue with the frame. When I was reading the Silmarillion, I kept trying to make comparisons between the story and the story of creation found in the Bible as well as mythologies from different places. I was drawn outside of the story, so a little bit of the faery story aspect was lost.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This new style of The Silmarillion makes it seem like Tolkien wanted the reader to slow down when reading it, as one should when reading the Bible. It forces you to think critically about what is happening, whereas, while reading The Hobbit or one of his short stories, the reader can breeze through the story and understand what is happening with relative ease. In my opinion, this new style stifles the story, yet it builds the believability of the world and its history. It is written in a way that a true historical account may be written, whereas an approach like The Lord of the Rings would have made it seem like just another legend. The Silmarillion builds the world in a believable way, and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are stories that later take place in this world. I would likely enjoy it more if it was written like Farmer Giles, but to write the entire history of a world in a way like this would be unfeasible and subtract from the historical feeling of it. I think this is the best way that Tolkien could have covered that vastness of the world he had created and still go as in-depth as he felt necessary.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm torn when reading the beginning of the Silmarillion over whether or not I really like the style Tolkien uses. There are some days where I walk around the house reading from the Silmarillion like a judge in a big loud commanding voice, and I really love the sound (not of my own voice but of the prose Tolkien writes). However, there are other times when I just wish that someone would come out with a "Message" styled Silmarillion. These times are fewer, but they still happen. Sometimes I would just prefer that Tolkien had approached all his material regarding Middle-Earth with the same tone.
    I had not read the introduction in some time for the Silmarillion, but what Christopher brings up in it really stuck with me throughout this reading. He said that Tolkien wished for the fictional piece to read like a true historical account that draws upon many sources: poetry, prose, maps, timelines. Tolkien died before this was ever published, but what I think is really interesting is that Christopher had to compile and complete the Silmarillion just as a historian would compose a history book. He went through his father's prose, poetry, marginalia, maps, timelines, and napkins in desk drawers scribbled with Middle-Earthian things. Tolkien's desire for a book that reads like an account taken from many sources is achieved by Christopher, however unavoidably. For this reason, now, I do not mind the psuedo-biblical style utilized in the Silmarillion because, just as in the Bible, the Silmarillion draws from many sources, many different "writers," and many different time periods. This style helps illustrate that.

    ReplyDelete
  19. The Silmarillion is in its entirety a very dense, challenging read. The first time for which I had read it which was some years back, I struggled profoundly, but there were parts in the story, such as the story of Baren and Luthien which was probably my most favorite part of the novel. However, for me today, I feel that I will understand it more for now I know how I must read it this second time around for now I have broader, more understanding knowledge of how Tolkien writes and what he is trying to achieve through his writings. The Biblical style for which Tolkien uses in The Silmarillion does sometimes get in the way for me, due to the mass amount of complicated vocabulary and complexity of how the story is organized. But, what made the Ainulindale and Valaquenta easier to read was that I chose to focus more on the story and characters and of the creation of middle-earth. I tried not to delve deep into the meaning of each word in the context for which it was written in. I found that for me, taking notes while reading helped a great deal in understanding who's who,what happened, and how and why. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien definitely writes in a very different, unique, dense style which he doesn't seem to really use in his short stories. The reason for this is because The Silmarillion is the equivalent to how any ordinary History novel is written; it takes time to read and digest since there is an overwhelmingly amount of information. Now that I am reading this profound piece of Tolkien's work with the concept of the "farey" concepts in mind, I believe that I will take pleasure in reading this amazing work on the History of Middle-Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The style is so drastically different in the Silmarillion than in everything else we have read thus far that I had to compartmentalize his works in my brain. Silmarillion on one side, EVERYTHING else on the other. I started reading the Silmarillion like I had been reading Smith and Giles but immediately had to switch tactics. It really has to be approached from a biblical view. I think that the pseudo-biblical world he has created does an impressive job of making his works real. We talked the other day about suspension of disbelief in theater and how Tolkien would have viewed (or actually did?) this term as impertinent. He thinks that you must believe in the story or it loses all its power. By writing the story of creation and even pre-creation we are sucked into the tale even more and it makes it easier to believe that what he is writing is actually the history. The tone he uses has a way of setting up the story of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings but I don’t think it is done in a way that draws attention to the “frame” of Faery. I felt that the way he sets the story up automatically falls inside that frame even though it is the creation stage. Therefore our attention is not drawn to the actually outline but to the story before the story, if you will.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Tolkien most definitely succeeded in completely immersing even the history of this world as being of Middle Earth. Who would take great care to record the history? The elves of course! and thereby they wrote it down, and we are just picking up a copy of their own personal historical records. There is never a minute where it couldn't be plausible that these stories were taken off some dusty shelf in Rivendell. The almost bombastic prose reminiscent of the old testament definitely helps keep the frame invisible, as if Tolkien were to continue writing in the very matter-of-fact hobbit voice he takes on when putting down the hobbit, all would seem very off. Really, to make it believable, there was no other way. To make it accessible and easy however, this is not the style I would have chosen.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I believe that the approach that Tolkein took towards crafting the Silmarillion was not necessarily the most seamless way to introduce his readers into his world, but it was much better than incorporating tons of expositional content into the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit itself. All things considered, he could have done it better and he could have done it worse.
    The Silmarillion works the way it is and it is fully capable of providing the greater context of the world that he is presenting to his audiences. The psuedo-Biblical nature of it is a little distracting though, as i am constantly pulled back to passages that i think that events in the Silmarillion mirror. The creation account in Ainulindale in particular had me googling Genesis. Eventually bringing me to pages were the similarities and differences were being discussed online.
    The diction and vocabulary though leaves much to be desired as readers dont usualyy have the bebefit of generations of family members who are extensively familiar with the text to tell the the proper pronunciation of various names or figures, and the constant reiteration of the same characters with different names or varying descriptions can make the text the slightest bit difficult or confusing.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The way the Silmarillion is set up with the biblical-type form works for explaining the creation of Middle Earth. I feel that since most have read the creation story in the bible, a similar story like this would make it easier to understand because of the exposure that we've already had. At the same time, though, it makes it so that we could also have a hard time with it with all the genealogy that both present that make it sometimes hard to understand.

    On another note, the form may also hurt Tolkien's writing in that many may say that he just ripped off the creation story or that him writing it in this way is going against his religious beliefs.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Despite the fact that Tolkien's style of writing in the Silmarillion was at times dense and hard to comprehend, I think it was perfect for it's intended purpose. As a Biblical/Genesis type of creation story the tone he used in Leaf by Niggle, The Smith of Wooten Major and Farmer Giles of Ham would not have done it justice. Even though his style and descriptions in these stories is beautiful and effective making each character come to life off of the pagem, it could not describe the beautiful music of the Aunir, Ill├║vitar's power nor the malice of Melkor. He was able to illustrate the creation of the world in a way not movie with sound could capture while also maintaing his seriousness and commitment to believability. Because of the Old Testament style of writing and vocabulary, Tolkien creates a story that seems to be infallible to all those who believe it.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I think that the style he chose works well with what he's trying to present. The fact that the style he chose is pseudo-biblical isn't surprising at all, considering that he grew up a devoted Catholic and follower of God. Mimicking the style of the Bible also calls for a certain amount of authority to itself, which is intended since this story, the creation story, is one of the most important stories in lore for every culture. This created lore of Middle Earth is no different, and needs a kind of outstanding authority over every other story that comes after, since each story refers to elements of the creation story.
    The style itself would be familiar to those who have read the Bible, at least the NIV versions, which is the most popular worldwide. The mimicry would cause the reader to recall the Biblical creation story, and since there are many parallels between the two stories, the reader would keep the Bible in mind while reading Tolkien's story of creation. Tolkien's version is similar, yet grossly different. In my opinion, Tolkien tries to add an element of beauty to the creation story, including music and fantastic events and physical clashing forces. In this, it differs drastically from the Bible, which presents the story in a concise, logical order, but uses simply fact and expression of truth. Tolkien tries to capture the true essence of the creation, not leaving it up to the reader to imagine on their own, but to paint a picture, you might say, and express the same story but differently, something that is more personal.
    Tolkien's style with the creation story is perfect. It calls upon the authority of the One True God by using a psuedo-religous vernacular and progression, yet he adds his own element of personal beauty, something that is distinctly different from the detached statements of the Bible. By doing this, he creates a powerful story that expresses authority and beauty.
    But by using a different style from his main stories, it might be argued that in fact creates a "frame" for the stories, into which the stories happen. I would argue that by using a pseudo-Biblical style, this effect is not made. Instead, it acts just like what the Bible's creation story acts as: a base upon which everything else is built and references to. It is not a frame, something that complements the story, but instead something that flows through the stories themselves, giving them a deeper meaning and support through to the end. IMHO, that is.

    ReplyDelete