The Timarillion

{From the desk of Timothy the Talking Cat}

In the beginning there was a great big god guy and I guess he was bored with monotheism because he gets to work making a bunch of other gods. It’s just like the start of The Hobbit but in reverse because it is a void rather than a hole but I guess holes and voids are much the same thing. In a void in the void lived a god. Not a dark, damp void nor a dry sandy void but an existential void and that means comfort.

Pretty much it’s just a list of names after that and gods making all the beings in the universe except hobbits, which is quite the oversight, and cats which is just plain insulting.

The good god made a bad god so that middle earth would have plenty of work for theologians writing books on the problem of evil. The bad god has lots of names all beginning with M because M is easily the worst letter. I thought about getting rid of it in my name but then I’d be called ‘tin’. For convenience lets call the bad god Mmmm.

Meanwhile the whole story starts up proper with a whole pile of elves moving to Heaven. Normally that would be the end of a story, everybody ending up in heaven but not today! Anyway there’s no puppies in heaven because the gods hadn’t invented them yet, so people are all a bit disappointed but don’t know why.

The whole place uses an unusual tree-based lighting system. It looks like Christmas I guess. Meanwhile, bereft of puppies and with nothing all to do in Heaven but watch the tree-lights, the elves take up arts and crafts. One elf, Feanor, really needs a therapist but they don’t have any in Heaven or therapy isn’t covered in his elf-insurance. Mmmm offers his own brand of counselling which, needless to say, is evil counselling.

The seeds of discord have been sowed!

Feanor channels his inner demons (as opposed to his outer demon which is his therapist Mmmm) into making some lightbulbs for Heaven, which is a smart idea given the only illumination is some trees. Meanwhile Mmmm is up to all sorts of no good and hanging out with giant spiders, maybe the spider is getting counselling too. Anyways, eventually everything goes bonkers and the spider eats the trees or something like that. I don’t know.

Without the trees, Heaven is in dire need of some lightbulbs but Feanor won’t let anybody else use his. It’s a moot point anyway because Mmmm had stolen them. Feanor vows bloody vengeance against Mmmm for stealing his lightbulbs and over-billing his therapy sessions.

Meanwhile, the gods invent the Moon and the Sun, which is a better plan than trees if you think about it. They invent gravity and orbital mechanics at the same time I guess. Probably invent Jupiter but the book doesn’t mention that.

Feanor and his relatives and his near relatives and his distant cousins, chase Mmmm from heaven to Middle earth. Feanor and his sons vow a deadly vow to get his lightbulbs back come what may. There were no corner shops at this point and so they couldn’t just pop out and buy some more.

Feanor dies trying to get the bulbs back.

A whole bunch of other people die trying to get the bulbs back.

Humans turn up and try and get the bulbs back.

All sorts of crazy stuff happen to a guy called Turin (who isn’t Italian, despite his name).

Even more people die trying to get the light bulbs back.

Sauron shows up and invents werewolves.

Eventually, there’s one last great big war and eventually they just tear up the whole map and then everybody is pretty much dead.

And that’s the Silmarillion or How an Elf Invented Light Bulbs and Everybody Stabbed Each Other.

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10 thoughts on “The Timarillion”

  1. Over the course of several years at a particularly mind-numbing job I decided to start memorizing poetry. After a few small random ones I picked up “The Lays of Beleriand” and found various lines from the story of Beren and Luthien sticking in my head so figured, ok, I’ll do this one for a real project.

    I got as far as memorizing the first three cantos. Then I started having problems. Not memorizing new lines, no; nor with the quality of the poetry, but with the nature of the story itself.

    The thing is, when memorizing a long piece like that, you have to do it one line or couplet at a time. You study each one fairly intensively in order to remember it and get your mental hooks set up so it fits with whatever came before and whatever comes after. You study it a lot more intensively than just reading through it for fun. And that means you start noticing things.

    Things like
    – In the entire story, the only time Beren is described as doing anything faintly heroic is in the second canto, after his father’s death and before he goes south. At no other time – and particularly, at no time after he meets Luthien – does he behave in the sort of heroic manner one would expect is required to get elf princesses swooning.
    – His meeting with Luthien consists of his staring at her from the bushes, then jumping out of them and lunging at her. In the prose version in Silmarillion this gets cleaned up a bit and we’re told he danced after her, but it’s not real clear how that would work. In either case she pauses while running away, he grabs her and kisses her, several hours are skipped with the line “She left his arms and slipped away / just at the breaking of the day”, after which he lies on the grass in a state … well, a modern writer would use exactly such terms to describe sexual exhaustion. The most sheltered princess in the universe has just had her first sexual experience and it’s kinda hard to see how it wasn’t rape.
    – Luthien introduces him to Thingol, who reacts like a middle-class father seeing his daughter bring home a heavily tattooed drug dealer. “But daddy, I LUUUUUV him!” This was the scene where I started saying to myself “waitaminute, WHY does she luv him?” See previous: sheltered princess, first sexual experience, possible first orgasm without understanding what it is. She has no other conclusions to come to.
    – The Silmaril deal happens and Beren goes off. The FIRST thing he does, right off the bat, is get Finrod Felagund, king of Nargothrond and the most sensible and stalwart guy you can find anywhere among the Noldor, thrown into Sauron’s dungeons along with a dozen of his best heroes, and killed.
    – Luthien rescues Beren single-handedly. Beren says, “Thanks, little lady! Now, you run off home while I do this questy thing.” Luthien, pouting: “But I wanna help!” Beren, manly: “No! I’m the man! You go home!” Luthien, pouting: “Okaaay.”
    – Beren gets in deep shit like before. Luthien rescues him like before. Repeat previous scene. I think this happens three or four times total before Beren finally agrees to let her come along. At this point I was wondering: does Tolkien realize that sex is the only reason he’s given us for Luthien to be infatuated with him? And, does Tolkien realize he’s created a female character who is more competent and effective than all the Noldor kings put together?
    – They go to Angband and get the Silmaril. Luthien does all the work. Quite literally every single bit of it. Beren’s contribution is to pry the Silmaril from the crown and then, when the BigBadWolf wakes up, to shove the gem in its face rather than hacking at it with a sword. Wolf does the obvious thing. That’s our Beren: if ever he happens to do anything constructive, however minor, he is contractually required to immediately cancel its effects with a far stupider act.
    – Wolf and lovebirds go back to Doriath, Thingol gets his gem, Thingol gets murdered over jealousy sparked by the Silmaril and his kingdom is destroyed shortly afterwards due to same. The lovebirds live happily ever after until they die because hey, who cares that they were directly responsible anyway?

    TLDR: Beren’s behavior, as described, is that of an incompetent loser. Luthien’s behavior, as described, is that of an overly-sheltered girl falling for a Bad Boy(tm) way below what she rates in terms of her own quality and personal ability. Tolkien presents this story as being the greatest and most romantic and most inspirational story in his entire mythos.

    JRR, I would like to ask you, what exactly where you thinking?

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    1. It’s been decades since I was deeply into Tolkien (and Tolkien fandom) and there’s probably other readers here knowing this stuff better than me, but:

      Tolkien identified Beren and Luthien with himself and his wife Edith. Among other things their gravestone is engraved with those names. IIRC the part where Thingol “reacts like a middle-class father seeing his daughter bring home a heavily tattooed drug dealer”, and sets Beren an impossible task to get him out of the way, is also based on their courtship.

      So yes, I’m sure Tolkien was aware that Beren is described as a guy who is in over his head, and who only succeeds because he’s pulled out repeatedly by his more accomplished fiancée.

      But I hope the chasing and stalking Beren does in the beginning is completely metaphorical.

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