While Michael has caught up in posting his weekly Suite101 articles, I’m behind in reporting them. In last week’s article, Michael notes that both the First Age and the Third Age are highlighted by tales of love and tragedy. Yet the Second Age reveals only pieces of what might have been another enchanting cycle of stories of love, heroism, and the long struggle against evil.
Here is an excerpt:
If someone were to turn up a lost manuscript written by J.R.R. Tolkien, I would hope it provided a comprehensive narrative for the Second Age. We have only one brief narrative for the Second Age the form of the first chronological table in Appendix B to The Lord of the Rings. The only other information provided on the Second Age comes in glimpses scattered through “Akallabeth”, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, and Unfinished Tales‘”A description of the island of Númenor”, “Aldarion and Erendis”, “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn…”, and “The Line of Elros”.
These sources don’t just provide slim pickings for the Tolkien researcher, they provide dangling storylines, contradictions, what ifs, and a maze of unanswered questions. So let’s talk about the First Age for a while. Specifically, what is it about the First Age which makes that time so interesting? Tolkien created a whole mythology which dealt with the creation of the world all the way up through the final defeat of the first incarnation of evil. But a lot of the storyline just sort of whizzes past the reader. “Iluvatar created the Ainur…and they sang…and he created the World…and they became the Valar…and Melkor claimed Arda for his own…Tulkas rested and Nessa danced…Melkor toppled the two Lamps…the Valar raised the Pelori…the Elves awoke…the War of the Powers raged in the north…Melkor was imprisoned for three ages…Feanor made the Silmarils…Melkor was released…Melkor murdered Finwe and stole the Silmarils…Feanor led the Noldor out of Tirion…the Noldor attacked Alqualonde…Feanor abandoned Fingolfin in Araman….etc., etc.”
The story of Feanor is the first real Elf tale which spans more than one chapter of The Silmarillion. But Feanor is nonetheless a brief character whose death seems more of a relief than anything else. By the time he’s cut off and surrounded by Balrogs, the reader is ready to ask, “Can this guy make things any worse for his people?” Feanor may be tragic, but he’s also a bit insufferable, and many a reader has demanded to know why they should care about Feanor?
In fact, things don’t really start to get interesting until the story of Beren and Luthien comes along. Which is not to say that it isn’t great to read about all the battles between the Noldor and the Orcs, or how Beleriand was divided up into many realms by the Noldor and Sindar. It’s just that there is no real meat to the narrative in terms of creating an emotional impact for the reader. But along comes “Beren and Luthien” and suddenly the reader has an outlaw to root for, a beautiful Elven princess to inspire the wistful imagination, a conflict with an Elven king, and a great quest for a Silmaril which suffers more than one setback. The only real problem with “Beren and Luthien”, as far as The Silmarillion is concerned, is that the story is too short.
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