An Adventure in Tolkien: The Book of Lost Tales, Part One

Previously on An Adventure in Tolkien: I have literally fallen in love with Gimli, and so has Legolas.

Tudo bem, I’ve got a bone to pick with this Foreword. Christopher clearly has got some Thoughts about people who say that The Silmarillion is “too difficult”, and I’ve got many of those same Thoughts because IT’S NOT. Is it very, very different from most books these days? Hell yes. Is it very, very different from The Hobbit and LOTR? Duh, but consider how different The Hobbit and LOTR are from each other. Does it have a truly extraordinary amount of names and not always cohesion between the stories? Yes, but it’s not freaking too difficult to read! Y’all literally just aren’t trying, and it’s ANNOYING. You can’t go into The Silmarillion prepared to read something like LOTR or something similar to what you’re reading in your daily life. It’s so out of the realm of books published now, and if you go into it with that mindset, you’re screwed. Even if you go into it ready for a story like LOTR, you’re screwed. You’ve got to treat it as its own thing, like it’s a newly discovered planet, because it’s weird, yes, but it’s glorious, too.

Rant aside, let’s get into this for real.

The Cottage of Lost Play

I love this opening chapter–The Cottage of Lost Play. That Tolkien setup an entire character with the intention only to have him be a sort of guide through the Lost Tales is just adorable. It harkens back to the style of The Hobbit, and it makes it almost playful. Here, sit, Lindo & Vairë say, and let us tell you a tale. It’s such a sweet opening to this book, and how I would have absolutely adored if we’d begun with Eriol at the start of a grand tale of adventures.

Also, I know that people have differing thoughts about his poetry, but I think it’s lovely. It reminds me so much of Keats, and I just wish that Tolkien could have spent all his hours writing and writing, to his heart’s content, so that we could have volumes of poetry on top of volumes dedicated to his legendarium.

The Music of the Ainur

yo wait

Ilúvatar is pissing me off so much right now.

Now Melko had among the Ainur been given some of the greatest gifts of power and wisdom and knowledge by Ilúvatar; and he fared often along into the dark places and the voids.

The Music of the Ainur, pg 53

This is just renaming him to the Black Foe of the World all over again. Ilúvatar literally grants Melkor this enormous power, an insane amount of responsibility in having the most knowledge out of all the Ainur/Valar, and then purposefully leads him on the path toward evil so that everyone else can learn a lesson.

‘He that attempts this finds himself int he end but aiding me in devising a thing of still greater grandeur and more complex wonder: — for lo! through Melko have terror as fire, and sorrow like dark waters, wrath like thunder, and evil as far from my light as the depths of the uttermost of the dark places, come into the design that I laid before you.’

The Music of the Ainur, pg 55

This is so much worse than God casting Lucifer out for asking some questions. This is so much worse for me, too, because now I have an even more solid reasoning for why I sympathize with Melkor. LIKE?? You can’t just “my world plan is not badass enough so I’m going to encourage one of my kids to stray to the dark side, make him feel shameful about doing that, but also show all my other kids what not to do, thus further ostracizing the kid who most needs my attention right now.”

AND THEN TAKES CREDIT FOR EVERYTHING MELKOR DOES BEFORE BLAMING HIM FOR ALL EVIL

My dude, you cannot have it both ways.

Manwë & Morgoth
Art by frauen_adams

Just ignore me weeping over here about Ilúvatar hating one of his kids so much that he pitted one of his brothers against him to be the ‘greatest bulwark against the evil of Melko’ rather than just, heaven forbid, talking to him. There’s honestly not a whole lot of lore about Ilúvatar in The Silmarillion, and that’s probably for the better because I can’t be the only one that’s angry with him for his shady attitude toward his own damn children.

The Coming of the Valar and the Building of Valinor

I just love that Tolkien’s like “yup faeries exist annnnnd moving on”. It’s such a faery thing to do, to just accept the existence of the Fae without question, quietly dot them throughout the beginning lore of Middle-earth, and then to just carry on as though they were always there and no questions need to be asked. The Fae are likely one of the oldest race of beings in any universe, and they’ll be here long after we’re gone, and it’s just so fitting to see them here.

My gods, it just continues! They just shit on Melkor repeatedly until they decide they need his help, and then they’re like, “Hey, can you build these lamps for us?” Melkor, reasonably, doesn’t want anything to do with them, so he says sure and then makes them out of ice so that when the lamps burn bright, the ice melts, the world floods, the light from the lamps drowns in the flood, and then everything is cast into darkness. I mean, same.

This section is truly just gorgeous, though. Tolkien takes the time to really dig into each of the Valar, what their powers flourish in (ie: Aulë is a smith, Ulmo often just straight up disappears into the sea), and what their homes look like. And while this definitely hearkens back to some straight up Beowulf language with the long, detailed description, as well as echoes toward the future where people like me are just going to describe what everyone is wearing in every scene–despite those two (which, honestly, I enjoy both), this is lovely, and I wish it wasn’t so late at night so I could just sink my teeth into this for a bit. Until I get that opportunity tomorrow, when I’m able to read a bit slower, though, enjoy this:

Valar
Art by Phobs

Can’t wait for Melkor to set fire to the great trees they built after the lamps were destroyed, especially given they’re like “yeah some of the Valar get a bit violent, what of it” and then blame Melkor for all evil.

Just put eight thousand upside down smiling face emojis here, and we’ll be all set on how I feel about how everyone treats the brother that they purposefully shunned in the first place.

OH MY ERU WHAT A NERD

This dork seriously decided that, instead of creating a normal world map in the very earliest stages, he was going to fashion his world after a Viking ship. I love this man so much, and this is now skyrocketing to the top ten reasons why. WHAT A NERDDDDDD

The section that I’m on, The Gods of Death and the Fates of Elves and Men, is really bringing home why I love The Silmarillion more than LOTR. I can’t remember if I’ve officially said that since my reread of LOTR ended, but here it is! And, don’t take this the wrong way and pretend I don’t like LOTR because I absolutely adore it, but The Silmarillion definitely holds the top slot in my heart for all things Middle-earth, and this section is finally putting into words why that is.

I love stories that have huge mythology, with an extensive pantheon of gods, with no clear right & wrong, that transform according to the gods’ whims, and thus have equal parts of joy and suffering, that treat gods of death with respect and honor (and sometimes a fair bit of fear), that just take things like Norse lore and break it apart into something new and wonderful. I love this kind of story, and that’s what The Silmarillion is at its core. Yes, it has a lot of similarities to LOTR in that there’s war and a Sauron-esque character, and it’s the unexpected people (I LOVE YOU, FINGOLFIN!) that do the most damage. But LOTR very specifically doesn’t unravel all the higher workings of the Middle-earth universe. In fact, it never even touches upon it. And though I have a fraught relationship with Western religion, I am fascinated by religion in general, and I loveloveLOVE seeing it come out in high fantasy stories like this. And so, as Christopher breaks down the different pantheon of gods and goddesses and the beginning of their world, I’m finally realizing the truth behind why I love The Silmarillion so much. LOTR is an epic, yes, but The Silmarillion is that times ten.

hold the phone

and that Melko has a song (‘by Ulbandi’) called Kosomot: this, it will emerge later, was Gothmog Lord of Balrogs, whom Ecthelion slew in Gondolin.

The Coming of the Valar, pg 93
Glaurung & Gothmog presiding over the wedding (@ ME ALL YOU WANT) of Sauron & Morgoth
Art by anastasiyacemetery

I recognize that this idea of the Valar having children does not carry into later canon, but let me have this for right now.

The Chaining of Melko

This section is actually making me really sad rather than raging excitedly about what a badass Melkor is. He’s been so shunned by all of his family, and now he’s secluded himself in Utumno while they’re all living happily in Valar, but once everyone else realizes he’s still hanging around–what did they think had happened to him, that if they just ignored him enough, he’d disappear??–they try to storm Utumno and trick him into chains. Imagine you’re him, though, and your brothers have just showed up on your doorstep, and there’s got to be a part of him that’s excited just to see his family, no matter what they’ve put him through, and then they trick him into chains so they can drag him back to Valar and imprison him.

Honestly, he’s reminding me a lot of Loki (from lore) right now.

One thing I’m really enjoying about this volume overall, though, is how it’s basically The Silmarillion, but like a fireside story. I haven’t read The Name of the Wind, but everyone talks about how that’s a long, winding story that’s being orally told by some dude sitting in a tavern (I may have that totally wrong), and that’s what this reads like. Eriol is just flitting from storyteller to storyteller, slowly piecing together the history of Arda. It’s such a departure from what Tolkien’s Middle-earth tales normally are, but it’s lovely and cozy.

The Coming of the Elves and the Making of Kôr

Okay, sooooo? Not only does Mandos trick Melkor into capture, he then turns his nose up at the Eldar when they’re awoken? My dude, the common denominator is turning startlingly in your direction.

OOOOOH THE SILMARILS WERE JUST MADE

Melko alone was given none of them, for that he had no expiated his many crimes, and he lusted after them exceedingly, yet said nought, feigning to hold them of lesser worth than metals.

The Coming of the Elves, pg 128

LOL OKAY MELKOR. Nobody believes you, but go off.

I just loved this section so much, and really, this whole first third. Pre-Silmarils being made, there’s really only a few very small chapters about the making of Arda and the pantheon, but they’re so interesting, and it’s been wonderful to finally get that story. Tolkien truly is just such a mastermind, and it’s so impressive to see the scope of his legendarium unfolding even more and more. I always wonder just how much publishable material we would have gotten if he’d been free to write as much as he wanted to, and it’s a bit staggering to consider. There’s already so much, and to imagine even more is just–wow. It’s unimaginable, honestly.

The poetry in this is just wonderful. It’s so interesting to me, too, because I have such a clear memory of not loving the songs and poetry when I was a child, and now, after years and years of schooling and really discovering the beauty of different kinds of poetry, I find myself almost drawn to it and excited when it shows up.

The Theft of Melko and the Darkening of Valinor

What a Grade A Drama Queen™. Melkor is literally just out here like “I’m gonna make a big, evil speech, but I’m going to wait until this holy festival so it’ll be even worse.” I really try to remember that Melkor is a literal god, that he’s very powerful, that Ilúvatar himself says, many times, how much more Melkor is than everyone else, but also:

One of my fav parts of Silm - when Melkor was released from Halls of Mandos, and Manwe allowed him to live in Valinor x))) I think it was beyond awesomness x)
So sketch of “Valinor” Melkor with Manwe
Melkor & Manwë
Art by Phobs

He’s the biggest dork ever.

Well, we’ve officially reached the pieces of The Silmarillion that I remember most. The Trees have been destroyed, Melkor has descended into Valinor with Ungoliant at his side, and he’s been as dramatically is as eternally possible in stealing the Silmarils. I’m really curious to see where the Lost Tales go from here, and if it’ll keep being a sort of oral story format and just cover the entirety of The Silmarillion. Honestly, that would be very cool because it’s almost like seeing Tolkien’s first draft before he got to where he was meant to be, and, as a writer, that’s really neat to see.

These last few chapters have taken me ages, though, and it’s late, so I’m off to bed, and, hopefully, I’ll have this wrapped up tomorrow or Tuesday!

The Flight of the Noldoli

Oh, I vastly prefer the Silmarillion version of this, but it’s so cool to see an earlier draft of it. Again, as a writer, it’s interesting to me to see where things like Fëanor burning the Teleri’s ships come from. Here, almost no one is named, and though it’s still a kinslaying, it’s much more subdued and far less dramatic. There’s a mention of strife amongst the Eldar, and then there’s a very brief few lines of murder, and then it’s over. In Silmarillion, Fëanor is forcing his entire kin across the land in a mad dash to attack Morgoth, and when they arrive at the shores where the Teleri live, he legit massacres them, steals their ships, and then burns the ships so that no one else can use them, INCLUDING HIS BROTHERS! He leaves about a third of his kin behind to wander across the frozen tundra to the north while he carries onto Angband, and it’s just So Much. Like, wow, what energy that is compared to this “yeah they walked for a while, and it was cold, so some of them got lost, but they don’t really die, so they’re just exhausted and hollow when they find their way again”. Not even what energy because they each carry a similarly enormous amount of weight, but where this early version is full of sorrow and horrible happenings, Fëanor is just absolutely raging. He probably didn’t even flinch when he burned the ships. What an ass.

My memory is poor, so this could just be me, but I always forget that Morgoth lives in an icy realm before he creates Angband. My favorite Silmarillion-era artist, Phobs, is always drawing him with ice & cold, too, and it always just passes right over my head, but here he is, making even snow seem evil.

The Tale of the Sun and the Moon

The whole opening to this tale is basically just:

AND IT’S JUST GONNA GET WORSE, MANWË

Before I forget, wow, Tolkien went hard on the old myth style in this section. It’s just straight up Greek + Roman + Norse + Celtic + whatever else he wanted to throw in there and call it a day. I mean, yeah, this myth of how the sun & moon are created permeates pretty much every single culture, and they’re all bizarrely similar–except Tolkien is great and doesn’t make his about sexual assault–but it’s just so funny to me that he was like, “You know what I’m gonna do? Make the moon & sun sentient. HECK YEAH.”

Eru, but poor Manwë. I mean, he deserves all of this. The pantheon is literally like:

BE MEAN TO MELKOR, YAY!
oh no wait why is he destroying things
let’s trick him into chains!
oh noooooooooo
what if we shun him forever?
well, fuck, there goes our light, now we better die

But it still makes me want to bundle Manwë away sometimes when Melkor is being, you know, Morgoth, and Manwë’s just over there like, “You’re all a bunch of idiot children, and I hate you.”

The Hiding of Valinor

This is probably my least favorite of the sections. It’s a whole bunch of talking, but none of that talking really goes anywhere. They’re all starting to feel the ramifications of everything they’ve done over the years, and now, as they’re worrying over war with Morgoth, it’s becoming evident that their home might fall into ruin, so they’ve decided to destroy it themselves rather than let it be destroyed. And I just–don’t sympathize with the Valar at all right now. Y’all were assholes, and you deserve what’s coming. And this isn’t even me sitting on my Morgoth soap box because he’s also an asshole and deserves everything that’s coming. The Silmarillion, really, is just full of assholes who deserve their comeuppance, which is why it’s so hilarious anytime someone comments on how sweet and chill the LOTR characters are.

Gilfanon’s Tale: The Travail of the Noldoli and the Coming of Mankind

Oh, this was lovely! This felt like a fireside story where I’m drifting a bit to sleep because it’s getting late, and the air is really warm and heavy with summer, and the night noises are in full volume, and the fire is cracking low so that it’s just embers, and I’m drowsing a bit as someone with a low, lulling voice spins a tale of wonder. I so wish that Tolkien had continued on with this, and though I adore The Silmarillion, it’s nice to have this version of it, and I’d like to have seen this precede the meat of The Silmarillion as a sort of prologue.

It was also pretty neat to see the different outlines that he had for the structure of this winding tale after he abandoned it, as well as all the similarities and differences that Christopher points out.

All in all, this was a delightful read, and though I knew I was going to love it, I was also nervous that it might be too much for me, so I’m glad to find it wasn’t just Christopher extrapolating on Middle-earth history for 250 pages, but, rather, about half full of Tolkien’s writing. That said, I’ve got a bit of a confession. I’m supposed to be reading & reviewing a nonfiction and the second part of The Book of Lost Tales this month, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I just started a new job at the beginning of the year, and my schedule is drastically different. I don’t have a whole lot of time for reading anymore, and what time I’ve been carving out, I’m going to have to scale back so that I can actually write. These books are wonderful, but they do take me twice as long to read, so it may be that we only get to part one this month. We’ll see about the nonfiction, as that should go much quicker, but you may just get two unexpected discussion posts out of me!

Until then, though, see you next week!

Previously: The Return of the King | Next: The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two

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she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

4 thoughts on “An Adventure in Tolkien: The Book of Lost Tales, Part One

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