Saturday, 23 May 2009

Of Dwarves, Ents and Eagles...

As yet I have spoken only of the Ainur and of the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). I expect that some readers will be wondering where Dwarves come into the picture, or the Ents. The origin of the Dwarves is of exceptional interest, not just their origin within the legendarium, but within the mind of Tolkien himself. In the Lost Tales, the Dwarven kindreds are spoken of in scorn by Ufedhin (one of the Gnomes); saying that they are strange, none know their origin, they are eminently recognisable for their furtive natures, they are marvellously skilled in craft, and that they have not heard of Ilúvatar (or hearing they disbelieve). The origin of the Dwarves is expounded in the Quenta Silmarillion together with that of the Ents and of the Eagles, and is rather different to that of the Lost Tales (although some similarities remain).

Aulë the Smith (that Vala concerned most with the substances of which the world was made) first fashioned the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall beneath the mountains in Middle-earth. So greatly did he desire the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar that he was unwilling to await the will of the Creator in the matter, and so he made the Dwarves even as they are seen in later ages, short, fat, with long beards, because the forms of the Children were unclear in his mind. He made them in secret, keeping his work private from the other Ainur for fear that they might blame his work, and in the hour that his work was complete, and he began to talk to the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves (rather like life-like dummies I expect) God spoke to Aulë, and hearing the voice of God, Aulë was silent. And God said to him:

''Why hast thou done this? Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority? For thou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle. Is that thy desire?''

And being filled with repentence and humility, he wept and offered to destroy the work of his presumption, and he took up a great hammer to break the Dwarves with; but God had compassion upon Aulë, and the Dwarves shrank away from him and begged for mercy. And seeing that the Dwarves had minds of their own, and accepting the forgiveness of Ilúvatar, Aulë took the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves and laid them to rest in far sundered places beneath stone, and it was the will of God that they should not come until after the coming of the Firstborn (the Elves). God, therefore, adopted the Children of Aulë and blessed his work even as it was made. And so, Aulë returned to Valinor.

Now Yavanna, the spouse of Aulë, was ill-pleased that he should have kept this labour from her; and she said that the Dwarves would have little love for growing things for this reason. And being anxious about the influence of Melkor, she approached Manwë and told him of all her concerns. She said: ''All my works are dear to me. Is it not enough that Melkor should have marred so many?'' And holding Trees dearest among her works, she bethought her of trees that spoke on behalf of all growing things and punished those that wronged them. The thought seemed strange to Manwë, but it was in the Great Music:

''For while thou wert in the heavens and with Ulmo built the clouds and poured out the rains, I lifted up the branches of great trees to receive them, and some sang to Ilúvatar amid the wind and the rain.''

Then Manwë went to seek the counsel of Ilúvatar, and returning to Yavanna he assured her of the clemency of God, that He had heard all of the Great Music, even the least sound of the least voice, and it was His will that among the trees should walk the Shepherds of the Trees. But it was also the will of God that there should be the great Eagles of the Lords of the West, that would hear the voices of those that cried out to them. Then Yavanna was glad and she blessed Ilúvatar, and returning to the house of Aulë she said: ''Eru is bountiful. Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.''

In 1969, Tolkien responded to a letter from a young girl (the daughter of his publisher in fact) who asked him what the purpose of life was. The letter, now just over 40 years old, is very touching and perfectly encapsulates the nature of this chapter in The Silmarillion. He took her through the classical theistic arguments first (starting, inevitably, with the argument from Design), arguing that ''purpose'' is superfluous if there were no design, that patterns in the world proceed endlessly from an inexhaustible fountain of invention. We arrive, therefore, at true purpose when we do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis Deo; we praise Thee, we call Thee holy, we worship Thee, we proclaim Thy glory, we give Thee thanks for the greatness of Thy splendour. Tolkien writes:

''And in moments of exaltation we may call on all created things to join in our chorus, speaking on their behalf, as is done in Psalm 148, and in The Song of the Three Children in Daniel II. PRAISE THE LORD...all mountains and hills, all orchards and forests, all things that creep and birds on the wing.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no. 310)

This really is too beautiful for explanation or analysis. Those of you who remember Treebeard (probably my favourite character in the whole Legendarium) will remember that he often sang the praises of God's Creation. I'm afraid this post is too long, and too short, for my sentiments on this matter.

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