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The Real Idiot's Guide To The Silmarillion

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2003 4:05 am    Post subject: The Real Idiot's Guide To The Silmarillion Reply with quote

The Real Idiot's Guide To The Silmarillion
By the Philosopher at Large

In recent weeks I have noticed a burgeoning of "Silmarillion Humour." The quote marks are deliberate, the connection to either being debatable. In particular, I am referring to a number of "retellings" of Silm. in a script format done in a kind of pidgin/baby talk, supposedly for the purpose of illuminating the complexity of the Elvish legends and the chronicles of Middle-earth prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings.

In all my reading of Arda fanfiction, I've only encountered one such piece which both qualifies as humor and in fact serves to illuminate in this wise.

No, I am not being disingenuous, nor referring to my own work at all. The story, which was one of several works of fanfiction which motivated me to purchase and read the Silm. properly a year ago, is entitled "Silmarillion Parody"* and depicts a hapless fan trying to recollect the events and persons of the legendarium — as she retells the stories to no less critical an audience than the original participants in Valinor. (Personally, I incline to think that such would be a fitting reward for the authors of these supposed works of humor.) If you get some of the jokes, you need to (re)read Silm. If you get all of them — you too most likely remember having been in the protagonist's state of imperfect recollection, and it's a laugh that has a wince in it.

However, these pidgin/baby-talk stories — which do not even qualify as stories imo and hardly even qualify as oversimplified retellings, for their egregious distortions — are the Silm. fanfiction equivalent of the "Fellowship in High School" fics.

—Which is not to say that a Complete Imbecile's Guide to the Silmarillion might not be in order.

I am routinely finding the most mind-boggling mistakes in Silm. fanfic — not the kinds of things where one has to have verified dates in later volumes of The History of Middle-earth, nor cross-checked the Etymologies with the different versions of the Markirya, nor even to have read between lines in Silm. to put two and two together, nor anything subjective and open to interpretive dissent — but things which are so simple, so basic in terms of continuity that any movie fan would instantly point them out as glitches.

So, for the public benefit, I have compiled the most glaring of them for a very concise survival guide

Now, if you recognize, or think you recognize yourself, in the list of idiotic Silmarillion fanfiction mistakes that follows — think twice, and hard, before complaining, whether in public or in private. I am but the cobbler: if you sieze a shoe from the table and wave it about, loudly declaring that it fits, —who is calling you the idiot? Not I, said the cat. I am carefully avoiding singling out any author or story for censure. If you, on the other hand, choose to single yourself out, far be it from me to stop you.

1) Alqualondë is not Tirion.

The two cities are a significant, though unspecified, distance apart. Tirion is inland, on the top of a hill called Tún or Túna, situated in the "Pass of Light" or Calacirya, the gap in the mountains which encircle the continent of Valinor that allowed the light of the Trees to pass through to the seacoast. Alqualondë, "Swanhaven," is (appropriately enough) on the seacoast, and is significantly northward of the latitude upon which Tirion and Taniquetil, the mountain where Varda, Manwë, and the Vanyar Elves reside. "Now Fëanor led the Noldor northward, because his first purpose was to follow Morgoth..." (Silm, "Of the Flight of the Noldor.")

Tirion was the capital of the Noldor in Aman; Alqualonde, built much later (and largely by Noldor architects) was the capital of the Teler after they left the large island of Tol Eressëa for the mainland of Valinor. Tirion was not burned in the Kinslaying, nor even sacked. No act of war took place there during the First Age. (At the end of the Second Age it was besieged by the armies of the Dark Númenoreans, but the sole known act of direct Divine Intervention in Arda caused the fallen Men to be swallowed up by the earth before there was any fighting, even as their fleet and homeland was swallowed up by the sea.) It is not even clear that Alqualondë was burned (in whole or in part) in the Kinslaying, although I think this is a reasonable assumption, inasmuch as fire is a usual side-effect of fighting, and have used this premise myself in fanfiction.

However, Tirion was not burned, regardless, and no one was killed there, during any of the events chronicled in the Silmarillion.

2) Not even in Valinor are most Elves blond.

Regardless of what is shown in the LOTR movies, few Elves in any age, in any place, have golden hair. The natural hair color of the Elves is dark brown or black, and there are strong indications from both Silm. and LOTR that the golden hair of the smallest ethnic subdivision of the Eldar, the Vanyar is a consequence of their intense association and proximity to the divine power of Arda's demiurges, the Valar. Golden hair among other Elves would seem to indicate a heritage of Vanyar blood, as it is known to have done with Galadriel's family, descended from the Vanya Indis.

Other known hair colors are even rarer — the red of some of Mahtan's descendents,** and the silver of Elu Thingol's kin — and may perhaps indicate a visible sign of association with the Powers as well, Mahtan's family being particularly close to the Vala Aulë, and Thingol with his family being among those who first responded to the call of Oromë. Few of the Noldor who returned to Middle-earth would have had golden hair, and fewer, if any, of the native Teler (also known as Sindar) of Beleriand, and the same holds true of their Wood-elven, Green-elven and Avari relatives on the other side of the Blue Mountains.

Most of the Elves of Middle-earth — and in Valinor — during all periods of recorded history, are dark-haired, "raven-dark" as Fëanor is described (Silm., "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor")…including the Galadhrim, who are not, in fact, mostly (if at all) Galadriel's near blood relations, and so should not automatically share her hair color either; only one of the Lothlórien border guards, whose name is not given, is described as blond. (And Celeborn her husband could not have been named after the White Tree of Tol Eressëa either, but that's another story…)

3) There is no natural ambient light during the First Kinslaying.

The only natural light in the world before the Trees were made came from the Stars, of which there were two separate creations by Varda: the first, dimmer, stars, and then after that, the brighter constellations. After that, there were the Trees, which illuminated Valinor, and whose power, it seems, affected all of Middle-earth, but which were not visible across the sea. The Trees were bright enough that in the heartland of Aman the stars were not able to be seen, and the Teler stayed on the seacoast so that they would be able to enjoy their familiar constellations without the "light pollution" from Laurelin and Telperion interfering. (There is also a huge beacon in Tirion, the Mindon Eldaliéva, which may be seen from far off, but this is not natural lighting.)

When Morgoth and Ungoliant kill the Trees, there is now — again — no natural ambient light in Valinor except for the stars, which are in fact overwhelmed by the dark cloud of "unlight" that Ungoliant weaves to camouflage their escape. This is eventually dispersed by the winds under Manwë's control, but there is still no other source of natural light. Eventually the combined efforts of Nienna and Yavanna to salvage some remaining light from the Trees, in the form of the final fruit and blossom which will become the Sun and Moon are successful, and these are taken by Aulë and his remaining followers to craft the vessels from.

However — this takes quite some time. It is not until after the Noldor have successfully (more or less) returned to Middle-earth that they are launched: remember that when Fëanor's followers first defeat the minions of Morgoth it is called the Battle-under-Stars for a reason. The Moon, which is the first to be sent up, rises when Fingolfin and the Host of the Noldor arrive in the northern reaches of Middle-earth from the Crossing of the Helcaraxë. Seven nights later, the first sunrise takes place, driving the remainder of Morgoth's creatures underground and withindoors. "Then Anar arose in glory, and the first dawn of the Sun was like a great fire upon the towers of the Pelori..." (Silm., "Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor.")

For this reason, it is simply not possible for the Kinslaying to take place after sunset — or for any story set simultaneous with the departure of the Noldor from Aman to take place with any mention of ambient natural light, except for starlight. It's pitch black out at first, and even afterwards, although the stars would be brighter than most of us have ever seen them, unless we live in remote desert regions, or in the high north, or go out to sea, it would still be dark. And psychologically there would be no "normalcy" at all, among any of the groups involved. Imagine a situation far worse than any combination of war and natural disaster at once, and you're beginning to get close — because it would be taking place in a setting where violence was unknown, and almost unthought of, save as an abstract flirting with forbidden notions, until Morgoth's actions. (No, I realize this is not much help in telling fanwriters what to write, but at least it should provide a bit of an idea of what to stay away from.)

4) The Avari do not take part in the events in Beleriand.

While the urge to make Elu Thingol the Snidely Whiplash of the First Age is perhaps nearly as understandable as it is common, it does not reflect accurately in any way the geopolitical scenarios at any point in Middle-earth history, before, during or after the Time of the Trees. One common way I've found this fanon presented is by making the King of Doriath prejudiced against the Avari, those Elves who did not join in the great march westward to Aman at Oromë's summons. It is never stated in Silm. that Thingol has any such prejudice, but what are facts in the face of fanon? After all, it is never explicitly stated that he isn't prejudiced, either.

But whether the silver-haired lord of the Sindar was or was not biased against the refusnik Elves known as Avari (despite being overjoyed at the late arrival of those who had stopped and given up the march for a while, as told in Silm., "Of the Sindar,") is quite irrelevant. For he never would have had the opportunity of exercising such a prejudice. Because — again, counter to fanfiction misconceptions — the Avari, properly defined, never came into Beleriand. No one in the First Age events chronicled in Silm. would have been able to have any interaction with them, with two exceptions: the mortal Men whose race appeared like the Elves in the eastern part of the continent of Middle-earth, and learned both language and the legends of the Valar from the Avari, who inspired the three tribes that would become the Edain to take up the quest that they themselves had not chosen. —And the group of Elves, presumably of mixed Noldor and Sindar heritage, who followed Galadriel and Celeborn east long before Doriath and Gondolin fell,*** and with these leaders began to forge out their own domain and society in the parts of Middle-earth that would eventually be known as Eriador and later Lothlorien.

Things are a little confused, because the Noldor who returned did tend to refer to all the native Elves of Middle-earth as "Dark-elves," which is not a single simple category, nor not entirely accurate in referring to the Elves of Beleriand, because some of them were in fact biased. (And no, not all the Avari were captured by Morgoth and made into Orcs, either.)

But none of those Noldor who remained behind in Beleriand, and later returned to Aman following the general amnesty at the close of the War of Wrath, and none of the Sindar who had always stayed in Beleriand, and went west as well in the renewed availability of transport, would have encountered any Avari to disrespect or mistreat — because, by definition, the Avari are the ones who didn't follow the Call to the west.The only ones who would have, would be those like Celebrimbor and Cirdan, who remained behind to help rebuild Middle-earth, along with Galadriel and her following and family. And they don't seem to be especially prejudiced against the mixed nations they lead, by the time we encounter them or the stories of them in the Third Age, when the distinctions between the different groups of Elves have become quite rearranged throughout subsequent events.

This is the simplified version, by the by. If it's still confusing, that's because it's essentially history, if of an imaginary world, and like real history it simply is complicated, and cannot be easily reduced to solid, neat little bits like Legos.

5) The Regency of Nargothrond does not take place during the Summer.

I do blame Ted Naismith for this misperception in part, becase along with showing Lúthien departing Hírilorn with her hair magically uncut, and the treehouse as an improbable Victorian gazebo propped in the branches, he also shows the landscape as lush and green and sunlit, when even in the Silm. (which does not have the level of detail of the original Lay of Leithian fragments) it is stated to be autumn, and mere logic would reveal the most probable time to escape from sleeping guards while in black camouflage as night. However, since sf and fantasy illustrators are notoriously bad at getting the details right, the fact that a famous illustrator has perpetrated such an error is no excuse for perpetuating it. The words should come first.

The Regency — that span of time during which Orodreth held the throne of Nargothrond as Steward, and not as King in his own right — begins when Finrod departs the City with Beren and the ten faithful warriors "on an evening of autumn" (Silm, "Of Beren and Luthien") and ends when Huan and the thralls of Sauron freed by Lúthien return to the City with news of Finrod's death, at which point the sons of Fëanor are banished in lieu of being lynched. It is close to winter when Lúthien and Huan arrive at the Wizard's Isle and defeat Sauron, winter comes in fact while they are deciding what to do next, they assault Angband in winter, and it is going on summer again when Beren recovers from losing his hand and they finally go back to Menegroth. No more than one year has passed, if that.

Therefore it is simply not possible, without the introduction of some sort of time machine or other time-warping device, for Orodreth to be speaking of the burdens of being regent of the City to either of the sons of Fëanor in residence, during the summer.

Now, do these simple technical glitches matter? Do things like geography, timelines, and who could or could not have met whom, really affect the quality of a story which purports to reflect the world of their constructing? I say yes — not simply because they create incoherences and discontinuities, but because such in turn reflect a wider ignorance and disregard for the whole of their setting, the vast, complex, and many-layered Secondary World of Middle-earth which indeed is responsible for the power, impact and richness of the original stories presented to us by The Professor.

I would further argue that while study into the minutae of HOME is not necessary to enjoy the Silmarillion, just as the Silmarillion itself is not necessary to enjoy LOTR — still, to write properly about a subject one should at least engage in some basic research, and as fanfiction about the Ring War, written in ignorance of Silm., is likely to be full of errors both in fact and in feeling, so too Silm. fanfic written without dipping in, at least, to what has been bequeathed to us of additional information is likely to be thin, flat, and just plain wrong.

(And yes, I have read all of these objective errors in published stories, and fairly recently, at that.)


* "Parody of the Silmarillion, or, The Confused Memories of a Teen Reader," by the author whose pen-name is Finrod Felagund, may be found here at fanfiction.net.

** This actually is something that one has to find out from HOME (or Ardalambion), since hair color is a fairly unimportant thing, comparatively speaking, to Tolkien, used by him chiefly as a marker of kinship and ethnicity — as opposed to the importance it holds for most fanfiction writers. Only by doing such in-depth research, often into writings only recently released, can one discover, say, that unlike the majority of his relatives both before and after him, Beren Erchamion was not dark haired and grey-eyed, but blue-eyed and sandy haired from his maternal Dor-lomin ancestry. Lúthien's hair features in the plot, his doesn't, and thus is not mentioned in either Silm. or the Lay of Leithian proper (except in so far as its messiness reflects his impoverished and landless status.)

*** LOTR:FOTR, "The Mirror of Galadriel."

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