On Tolkien and elves and why they sometimes bug me. Me personally, I mean.

I keep wondering if I should try and explain this, because a) it's hard for me to put into words, and b) I've only read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, so my wider Tolkien-verse knowledge is limited (I've read parts of the Silmarillion, but only parts, mostly I pick things up through context, fandom osmosis and wikis). But it's a thing that's bugged me about Tolkien's elves for years, largely for personal reasons, and I figured I'd try and vocalise it.

I really don't like the concept of the Undying Lands, the Great Journey, and the history of the elves. I really don't like it.

Now, for somewhat necessary personal context, I was raised Catholic and wound up mostly (agnostic) atheist. Not through any real crisis of faith, I'm just fundamentally not a believing-type person and never really was. Religion was just never a thing that clicked for me.

Religion in the context of the Middle Earth is of course slightly different in that Eru Iluvatar and the Valar actually are demonstrably real inside their universe. It's a bedrock part of the mythos. This part doesn't bug me much, it's a standard fantasy thing. But how that played out with the Great Journey and the elves in particular always really bugged me.

I seriously struggle to frame this, but basically it's the idea that the closer the elves are to the gods and the Undying Lands, the better and wiser and more noble they're considered. The stages of the Great Journey and how each type of elf fell behind and became judged for that. And while all the various elf races had their own problems, even/especially the great ones like the Noldor and the Sindar, there was still that gradation. The Vanyar are the purest and greatest of the elves. The Noldor, despite their amazing mishaps, are almost always the leaders of the great fights. By the Third Age, the Silvan elves are lead by Sindar, the next bunch up the ladder (I adore Thranduil, don't get me wrong, but actually I'll come to that later because there's a reason), or Noldor, and the Sindar are also often lead by the Noldor in terms of the Last Alliance and their contributions to the War of the Ring. There's always that hierarchy, and that hierarchy was determined from the first essentially by who listened to the gods/Valar and followed them most faithfully (at least originally).

(There's also arguably an element of western/european imperialism to that as well, since the gods live in the west and therefore the more western the elf the greater and more wise they are and the more fit to lead other, lesser elves - the Last Alliance also bugged me in that regard - although the First Age Noldor do generally put a spoke in that theory or at least acknowledge the problems in it. Still, there is a bit of a theme of people going west, gaining enlightenment, and then sometimes returning east to bring that wisdom back for the edification of those who remained behind. Both the Hobbit and LotR, and elements of the Silmarillion like the Last Alliance, have a bit of a thing about the 'rustic, noble, savage east' needing guiding/intervention by the more enlightened west. Mind you, by this logic America is the promised land, which I'm not sure Tolkien necessarily had in mind, so there's that).

In the context of the universe I understand why all those things are, because again the Valar actually are physically real (and have their own problems) and sort of warp the moral geography of their world around them accordingly, but I kind of don't like it that Tolkien deliberately structured things that way. I mean, I understand why he did, I just don't like it.

I suppose I should/would have this problem with any fantasy that has demonstrably real gods who demonstrably built/rule/administer their universes. I'm not entirely sure why it's Tolkien who bothers me so much, but I suspect it's the entrenched hierarchy of it. Let's just say the level to which I identify with the various races of elves tends to run more or less in reverse of that hierarchy, starting with the Silvan/Nandor/Avari and finishing mostly around (some of) the Sindar. I understand the Noldor/Vanyar/Teleri, I just don't empathise with them quite so much, at least not on a race level. Individually it depends on their stories.

And, yes, this is a large part of why Thranduil is my favourite of the major elf leaders in the Third Age, that and the whole Green Man/Summer King/Fairy King thing he had going on in The Hobbit. I much much much prefer the fae-like forest elves to the angel-like high elves, and while Thranduil is Sindar, he chose the forest rather than the West, which inclines me to like him better. The Silvan elves are outright my favourite, and I like that the Greenwood Sindar chose to culturally merge with them rather than holding themselves separate.

Basically, I just don't like the kind of built-in religion-and-enlightenment based hierarchy (geared towards the West) that Tolkien used to structure elven society. It makes sense, naturally, and it's fantastically fleshed out, and I like the elves themselves, but I just flat do not like the system underlying them. The idea of the Great Journey seriously rubs me the wrong way, and the way the universe is geared to back up the hierarchy later (all elves being eventually destined for the Undying Lands and the longer they hold out the more they fade until they're summoned across as spirits) also doesn't much please me.

Now, of course, all this comes with the caveats that these are my personal opinions, backed up by occasionally incomplete-and-possibly-incorrect partial knowledge of the canon, and based on my personal history/outlook. But. I just figured I'd finally lay out why Tolkien's elves in particular sometimes really bug me.


icarus_chained: lurid original bookcover for fantomas, cropped (Default)

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags