Friday, September 14, 2018

Tolkien and Fairy Tales

I've decided to go through all of Tolkien, which I've never done. Wasting no time, I jumped into the Silmarillion, which I've not read in 17 years. I remember first trying to read this book, and how ridiculously hard it was at 13. I was pleasantly surprised by the book at 30: it has become easier with age. Not only that, but I've found the stories entrancing in a way that I had forgotten I could be.

It started with Aule's creation of the dwarves. Aule, the Valar of making things, had decided that he wanted to his own people, in direct contradiction to Illuvatar's wish that the elves be first. Illuvatar, of course, corrects Aule, that he can't actually create souls, and so he was essentially just making thrauls. Aule's reaction made me pause: without blaming Illuvatar, he responded that, given how Illuvatar had made him, what else could he expect? For Aule could not act outside of his nature. Something about this level of honesty has stuck with me: "I am what I am, and even though what I did was wrong it comes from who I am, as a person". This blatant acceptance of self is something that's rare in modern fiction. Characters may be good, they may be bad, but their good usually only makes good things and their bad only makes bad things. Ironically enough, Tolkien's work in the Silmarillion is far more "grey" than anything in modern fiction: good can (and does) lead to great evil, and evil can (and does) lead to good. Even Manwe's inability to counter Melkor is specifically because of his goodness, to the point of utter naivete. But it's this goodness that later leads to his defeating  of Melkor.

But it didn't stop here for me. The tale of Beren and Luthien talks of a love so strong, so immediate, and so intense that even the gods have to get out of the way! They wander about the world, knocking over evil gods and destroying monsters, all so they could remain together. And, again, they get into the trouble they do because they are good people. Death comes to Beren, not because he's stupid, but because he refuses to give up on his oath, justly sworn. But this led to huge consequences that we often forget about. And the children of Hurin are completely engulfed in the fact that they can only be what they are.

There's a largeness to The Silmarillion that is unparalled. Somehow, getting as far I have in the Silmarillion, I've been reminded that modern sitcoms and stories all have a glass ceiling on them. I can't but help but feel like, somehow, I've been re-awakened to a larger world, a world that isn't so hellbent on keeping the bigger picture out of our minds. A world where we are not alone, where our struggles are little but important. It's older, wilder, more unpredictable. In short, it's a fairy tale.

And, for the most part, I can't imagine any modern writer I've read doing that, George R. R. Martin particularly.

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