The Silmarillion Model

Master J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings series and putative father of modern fantasy, created and populated his world with a rich tapestry that, aside from striking the reader with its majesty, also felt alive. The Lord of the Rings, as a series and as a world, is the result of a lifetime’s work. The Silmarillion, as we know it today, is a reflection of Tolkien’s work, outside of the trilogy and The Hobbit, to create a world that had its own myths and legends. These myths included the Ainulindalë, the tale of how all things came to being. In that particular tale, we are privy to the moment of divine creation, where Eru, the One, convenes the Ainur, his divine servants, to sing the world into being. By doing so, Tolkien established what I’ll call the Silmarillion model, which is a schema for the creation of worlds in the fantasy genre.

When Eru created the world with the help of the Ainur, his divine choir, Melkor, who was the strongest amongst them tried to influence the act of creation itself. Melkor’s influence brought chaos to the world in his attempt to influence the shaping of things, and he did so out of pride. This story might be familiar to biblical scholars and mythologists of any caliber, given that this is the pattern of Lucifer’s fall. The scholastic debate regarding the details aside, this biblical story’s pattern is mirrored in the Ainulindalë. The greatest of the Creator’s servants believes himself His equal, and so rises to oppose him with his own creation. The Creator, meanwhile, either allows or wills this to happen, and makes his servant an outcast. Then, the Creator declares to the rest of his servants that this will lead to a greater beauty than they themselves could understand. And so, creation carries on, with the divine host dividing itself between those who follow the Creator and those who are cast out for following the rebel. The world, then, comes into being, shaped by the warring influences of the two sides.

The Silmarillion model goes beyond creating the geography of the world. The creatures, the history, the legends are all influenced, if not dictated outright by the conflict that it, the model, places at the core of the universe it creates. This pattern is founded on three things: conflict amongst the divine host that is tasked with shaping his creation, the unknowable mind of a Creator, and a prophecy that alludes to how this conflict will determine the fate of the world. That instability is the driving force behind the universe, even when (such as is the case in The Lord of the Rings) the story does not address that overarching conflict directly. It is the axis, so to speak, around which the world turns, even if the story being told happens at the periphery. The other two elements, the impenetrable will of the creator and the prophecy are there to provide uncertainty as to how the conflict will be resolved, and to distance the omnipotent Creator from the events that unfold.

I will continue to explore this concept as time goes on.

Joe Abercrombie’s world in The Blade Itself

I’m almost done with Book One of the First Law series by Joe Abercrombie, it’s a very enjoyable, quick read. The prose is effective, polished and direct; he emphasizes elements in his description sparingly. He only does so when he needs them to set the atmosphere and accomplish the effect he’s after. The characters are consistent, believable, and thoroughly human. Mr. Abercrombie reveals of each of them, again, just enough to sculpt them as perfectly as he needs to. Both of these characteristics serve him well, as that brevity is vital for the quick pace of the narrative, as well as the other, overarching effect he’s after: telling his story from several points of view, simultaneously.

Each of the narrating characters –the story is told from a mixed third-person perspective– has a palpably different vision of the world, which can only be appreciated when all of their perspectives are assembled together. This effect is at its strongest when the contrast of what one character thinks as commonplace surprises another.

Those multiple perspectives gradually reveal the mechanisms, the cosmology of this universe. The cosmology, in turn, was more or less in plain view of all the characters. However, the significance of each detail is not brought to light until the pieces begin to fit together.

There are hints that sketch a model similar to the one defined in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, where there is one creator atop a long pyramid of quasi-divine servants that has the mortal creatures of the world at its base.

Not everything is revealed in the first book, nevertheless, which could have just as easily been an enjoyable read of a “lighter” incarnation of the genre. Mr. Abercrombie begins to ask the questions that remit me back to Tolkien’s work towards the end. Or rather, I, as a reader, didn’t put the pieces together until then.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience. I look forward to the rest of the series.

How monsters are made.

This is a document I’ll be continuously updating as I put down my own theories on the matter. Every time I do so, it’ll keep on popping up here to the top of the pile. Things I still have to cover:

The medieval creation of symbolic creatures and the implications therein regarding reality.

The shift in perspective with the dawning of the age of reason and insanity.

Modern monsters in some further fashion.

Continue reading → How monsters are made.