Planning Ahead: The Silmarillion

This post is for those of you who are following my Tolkien quest at Silmarillion Blues, or for those who think you might want to.

I’m working a little ahead of schedule behind the scenes right now because I wanted to make certain I had a solid foundation for what’s coming.  This week is the read for Bilbo’s Last Song, and the post will drop at its usual time this Sunday (July 16) at 1 AM CST.  After that, it’s The Silmarillion.  I’ve started working on this now because, in my head, it’s this giant thing that pulls together many of Tolkien’s disciplines, and thus I need to pull together many of mine to attempt anything close to understanding.  I’m probably making it harder than it has to be, but based on the first chapter alone, even that has its rewards.

I feel like I need to outline what it is that I’m bringing to the table here because when you approach great literature, or any art for that matter, there are three levels to the conversation.  You have to understand the point of view of the artist.  There’s the point of view and understanding of the recipient.  The third level is the “communication” between the artist and the audience that creates something wonderfully transcendent.  This is the indefinable aspect that we use to interpret whether or not something is art.

I approach this from a somewhat limited understanding of Tolkien himself.  I know just enough to make me dangerous, having read his biography but not studied his life or the majority of his works in depth until now.  I understand that Tolkien was a linguist first, and a medievalist.  He approaches his art through the lens of language, Medieval history, and that most all-encompassing of cultural shaping tools of Western civilization in the Middle Ages: Christianity. The zeitgeist of Christ is inseparable from any understanding of the Western Medieval world.  While not a religious man, I am spiritual enough to appreciate the concepts in play, and as a medievalist myself, I have had to learn and relearn Christianity and to apply those lessons to everything to reveal the heart and mind of any endeavor I’ve explored, at any level.  Before I was doing this, I was actively engaged in angelology, and to a far lesser extent, its companion discipline of demonology.  These aren’t things I blog much about, but angelology is a study that helped me to shape a higher and deeper level of learning that my joke of a college education simply didn’t provide.  In short, I taught myself how to learn, how to do extensive and unending rabbit hole research, how to organize it, how to make sense of conflicting ideas, and how to see things at different levels, from different perspectives.

While in college, I was an art major, studying first traditional fine arts, and later digital arts.  I understand in terms of pencil and paint and in terms of pixels and light.  I learned to appreciate creator and creation, and to figure out the dialogue produced from a work of art.  It was from this that I was able to apply such things to my other loves of music and literature which also helped to boost my self-education to a higher level.

But I am still self-educated for the most part, and that leaves me at some considerable disadvantage.  I’ve not had the formal instruction that in many of my interests that would give me the leg up on what Professor Tolkien is offering to us.  In that respect, I’ll forever be learning what he has offered us.  As with my other disciplines, I have bookshelves devoted to research and analysis of Tolkien’s work.  I’ve read and absorbed as much as I can, but you can only go so far with this without practical application.  That’s what the quest has been about.  I need to apply what I’ve learned in order to learn more.  So as we hit The Silmarillion and other tomes after it, my weekly blogs are going to be revelations to myself as much as anything else.  Just like I blog about other things in order to align my thoughts into something I can understand and use, the Tolkien quest is all about plucking things from the ether that I’ve read before that maybe at the time I didn’t fully understand or appreciate.  Give the years and amount of material I have gone through, I’m not certain I’ll be able to document my sources.  Many of them do intersect, parallel, or if you’ll forgive the musical idea here, enter a kind of fugue state in my head where things just blend together.  Capturing a particular idea at this point is a lot like trying to catch smoke.  At some point, I may list out a bibliography of all the sources I’m using because I realize that I haven’t done that on this site.  For The Hobbit, I largely used one book by Corey Olsen, which I’ve documented and reviewed.  For The Lord of the Rings, I’ve credited what I learned from Olsen and applied it to the music of The Tolkien Ensemble.  But I’ve certainly used other sources on some subconscious level that seeped in for other aspects of the story.  Some of it is definitely Tolkien-specific, be it analysis in other books or simply what I’ve gleaned over multiple readings at different stages in my life.  Some of it may come from studies of Shakespeare, Star Wars, Leonardo da Vinci, or Beethoven.  Or it could come from my studies of comparative religion and/or angelology.  It’s hard to say.  I’ve read the Ainulindalë a couple of times already in preparing to blog about it, being the opening to The Silmarillion.  Based on my understanding, everything I’ve come to know is going to come to bear to help me to better appreciate this entire book.

And that’s why I’m blogging about this now.  If you’re following along on the quest, if you’re actively joining in, or even if you merely drop in on a blog from time to time, it’s important to understand why I have the perspective on the material that I do.  My perspective will likely be different from Tolkien’s or yours, but there may be overlap.  Nature of the beast.  Hopefully what I bring to the table will help you or otherwise entertain.  And hopefully you’ll be inclined to bring something to the table that’ll do likewise for me as well.

The post for the Ainulindalë will drop on July 23.  My thoughts on what I read will likely go off in a hundred directions between now and then.  Heads up.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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