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Jeff LaSala

Valinor Darkens (and Ungoliant Sucks)

In Which the Valar Throw a Party, Melkor Takes a Friend, Then Tells the Residents of Valinor Where They Can Stick It (Hint: It’s Where the Light Don’t Shine)

In “Of the Darkening of Valinor,” things are about to get real gloomy in the Blessed Realm. But since its residents don’t know it yet, why not throw a big party? There’s been too much tension in the air; this could be an opportunity to come together in peace and solidarity. Meanwhile, there’s an APB out for Melkor. He knows he can’t stick around, but before he skedaddles for good, he’s got one last trick for his old buddies. To pull it off, he recruits a particularly unsavory and many-legged ally. Remember old Shelob? In The Two Towers, we were told that she was “the last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.” But who, exactly, is that?

Well, it’s time to meet dear Mommy Dearest…

[Click here to read more. Yea, with both hands.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Enter the Silmarils! (U Can’t Touch Them)

In Which the Prize Jewels of the Noldor Are Made, Everyone Gawks, and Melkor Is—Surprise!—Outed As A Big, Big Jerk

In “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor,” we see, at last, the pièce de résistance of all Elvendom. The Silmarils are the reason for the treason and the best excuse for this book’s kick-ass title. How and why they come to be made is a bit mysterious, but then we move right along to see the reactions they elicit in all who behold them—their maker, other Elves, the Valar. Not to mention Melkor. We’ll also learn how everyone’s favorite ex-Vala pisses in the well of paradise, inspires weaponsmithing, and pits brother versus brother.

[Get thee gone, and take thy due place!]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Everything’s Coming Up Fëanor

In Which Arda’s Greatest Overachiever Steps Up and Melkor Is Released On Good Behavior

In the sixth chapter of The Silmarillion, “Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor,” we’re given a short but impressive intro on the guy whose actions will upset the geopolitical foundations of Elvendom in the near future. We met him in the previous chapter and even got as far as the names of his kids, but now we’re taking a step back to look at his early life: the intensity of his birth, the tragedy of his mother, and the dilemmas of his father. Fëanor has so much to offer, and some of it will be to the betterment of all, and some…not so much. There is a bit of a call-back in his nature to the Ainulindalë, to the secret fire and to another who went often alone seeking greater power.

Speaking of whom, at the end of the chapter, Melkor will be released from his three-age prison sentence, which doesn’t bode well for anyone. So what does the most powerful of the Ilúvatar’s offspring brood about in prison? Certainly not rainbows and puppies.

[Take counsel from none. Read on ever swiftly and alone.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Here, There, and Everywhere: Sundered Elves and the Valar Who Love Them

In Which An Elf Lord Sees About a Girl While His Westward-Venturing Friends Take an Unexpected Cruise

“Of Thingol and Melian” is a super short chapter that introduces us to two major characters of the First Age even as it brings them together. “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië,” meanwhile, tells us how all those Oromë-following Elves make it across the Great Sea to join the Valar on the continent of Aman. And just who the heck are these Elves anyway? Well, Tolkien introduces us to them in floodgate fashion, so I’ll focus on discussing the most important ones. One particularly interesting thing about these two chapters is that they’re entirely Melkor-free! That’s right: he’s locked up for “three ages,” however long that is. Now that doesn’t mean there’s no evil in the world—this is Arda Marred, after all—but at least its primary dealer has been contained.

Oh, and hey, this section also introduces us to two Elves familiar to The Lord of the Rings readers: Círdan the Shipwright and Galadriel! (Yeah, they’re really old.)

[A high doom is before you.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Elves, Balrogs, and Nazgûl: 16 Possible Plots for the Lord of the Rings TV Series

Queen Berúthiel’s cat is out of the bag! Amazon made its bewildering announcement last week that it has acquired the rights to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings novels” into a multi-season television show of some kind. Which means it’s obviously time for wild speculation and baseless, unrequited yearning.

What I won’t do right now is overthink this. We just don’t know too much. And now the news is out that Christopher Tolkien himself is no longer part of the Tolkien Estate, which does explain a little bit about what’s going on. As a Tolkien nut, I’m only a little anxious because I’m not particularly fond of where the fantasy genre is at, in relation to television (and I realize I may be alone in that), and I’d hate to see his world sullied by greedy hands in similar fashion. But there is always hope that this series could be amazing in the long run. And frankly, the books themselves will always be unsullied, no matter what they do.

So, care to set aside cynicism and join me for some totally unfounded and ill-considered (if Tookishly adventurous) guesswork?

[Let’s be hasty! Read on.]

Much Ado About Eldar (And Much To Do About Melkor)

In Which the Firstborn Come To, Melkor Gets His Comeuppance (For Now), and Elves Play Follow the Leader

“Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor” finally puts the Firstborn of the Children of Ilúvatar on the board. And there is, of course, much fuss and bother about these Elves, but there’s also some real trouble as Orcs are conceived in their image. We will also see the last of the land-smashing, Valar-based battles for thousands of years and the start of the great Elven trek. You know all that talk of sailing into the West in The Lord of the Rings? This is where that all begins.

[Tarry not! Hearken to the summons.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Dwarves, Interrupted and the Promise of Ents

In Which An Old Married Couple Squabble, Dwarves Are Stopped Short, and Ents Are Recollected.

In “Of Aulë and Yavanna,” two of the most industrious members of the Valar—who just happen to be married—get antsy over their work… with unexpected results. This chapter is a sort of in-world spoiler that Dwarves are going to show up later in the book, and so will Ents (to a lesser degree). Since both races are known well to readers of The Lord of the Rings, this chapter almost feels like fan service on Tolkien’s part. But of course it’s much more, since we’re also witnessing Ilúvatar’s policy, in real time, concerning what he does and does not allow in his creation. This is a short chapter but there’s still much to learn from it. In the case of Aulë, the master of all earthworks, Ilúvatar is both stern and obliging. In the case of Yavanna, it’s more of a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, ‘Hoom-hom!’

[Don’t be hasty!]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

The Silmarillion Primer: The Creation of Life, Eä, and Everything

In Which Ilúvatar, After Creating the World, Presents Specific-Yet-Vague Plans for the Future, and Melkor Becomes a Rebel Without Probable Cause

The Ainulindalë—“the Music of the Ainur” in Elvish—is a kind of prelude story to The Silmarillion proper. It’s the literal beginning to the legendarium, and though it’s only a few pages long, there’s a lot packed in there! For an author famous for long passages and rich detail, J.R.R. Tolkien does a surprisingly good job at concision with his ancient history. With so much foundational material to grasp—and much of it important for future chapters—I am therefore only going to talk about the Ainulindalë in this article.

To start off, if you can pronounce Ainulindalë (eye-noo-LINN-da-lay), you’re already in great shape…

[Click here and ‘Behold your Music!’]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Journeys, Desolations, and Battles: Examining Jackson’s Trifold Hobbit

Yesterday, the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies played in theaters as a prelude to its release on DVD/Blu-ray. And so with battle cries, the clash of weapons, and then a somber dirge, we have seen the trilogy-that-wasn’t-really-a-trilogy conclude. To be honest, I found it to be a curious admixture of satisfying and unfulfilling; the former because as a film saga, there is both excitement and sufficient closure, and the latter because it would have felt more complete, more “extended,” if Peter Jackson had deigned to drop in a few more looked-for elements from the books. But hey, war goats!

[Read more]

Welcome to the Silmarillion Primer: An Introduction

Welcome to the Silmarillion Primer, wherein I discuss, praise, and adoringly poke fun at J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal work in a series of essays, spanning twenty or so installments, as a prep for its would-be readers. I’d warn you that there will be spoilers, but honestly, spoilers just aren’t a thing to the good professor and he sure wouldn’t have cared (hey man, Frodo lives!). But more on that later.

[Sit and hearken, and be glad.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

The Greatest Adventure: Tolkien’s The Hobbit Turns 80!

In a hole in the ground lived one of literature’s smallest badasses, Bilbo Baggins, who in 1937 burst onto the scene in a ring of smoke. That’s right: 80 years ago this week, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fur-footed, waistcoat-wearing protagonist went there and back again for the very first time when George Allen & Unwin Ltd. published The Hobbit.

When it first landed, The Hobbit was a hit, and early readers understandably compared it to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because it’s not like the literary scene was exploding with dragons just yet. Disney’s animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also came out later the same year, so at least there were some people of the short and bearded persuasion on the scene. Although I think we can agree that Thorin Oakenshield is a lot of things, but he sure ain’t Dopey.

[Read away ere break of day!]

Beren and Lúthien and Their Not-So-Little Dog, Too

J.R.R. Tolkien nerds like me already know there’s a new book out—Beren and Lúthien—that again demonstrates that the Professor continues to release great stuff even from beyond the Circles of the World. Now, if you don’t really know much about these two characters, the titular Man and titular Elf, consider delving into their tale at long last! In one of many letters to his publisher, Tolkien had pitched theirs as “the chief story of the Silmarillion,” but more importantly, the tale of these two lovers was extremely close to the heart of the good ol’ Professor himself. Beren and Lúthien are like ripples in the Middle-earth legendarium, touching everything in all directions.

I previously wrote an article about Lúthien showcasing the badassery of the Elven half of this particular celebrity couple (Berúthian?), but this time I’d like to look at the new book itself, discuss some of its outrageous ideas, and admittedly go all fanboy on the real hero of the story (hint: he’s such a good boy). But here’s a sneak peek of Beren and Lúthien:

Sauron’s a kitty-cat and Gimli’s an Elf. Wait, whaaaat?

[Read on to forget the dreadful doom of life!]

Lúthien: Tolkien’s Original Badass Elf Princess

I think it’s fair to assert that the trope of the damsel in distress has been falling away in contemporary fantasy for some time, but I’d like to shine a light on one who helped break that literary mold even in the 1970s: Lúthien Tinúviel. This famous Elfmaiden, who stars in the iconic love story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, didn’t need to be rescued like a video game princess. She broke out of bondage, rescued her own questing boyfriend, and personally took on the big boss at the end of all levels. It’s like… imagine if in the original game, you play as Zelda, and you get to bust her out of Ganon’s prison, find all the Triforce pieces with Link, then fight your way through Death Mountain together.

Let’s be clear. There are innumerable wonderful heroines in the genre, and the list grows every day. I am merely positing that Lúthien, conceptually, is one of the best. This badass heroine rises up from the fairy tale beauty and Eldar privilege of her birthright to get her hands dirty and solve problems like a big girl. She and her mortal betrothed, Beren, are equals even when others around them—immortal and ostensibly wise beings—choose not to see it. They are a two-person army of determination and doom. (To be fair, they do have the help of a magical dog/fifth wheel in their adventures—more on him later.) They are true to one another in the face of every opposition: Lúthien’s own dad, various grudge-bearing Elves, a legion of vile monsters, and a constant barrage of dire prophecies.

[Read more]

The Trial of Galadriel

She was warned—that leaving Valinor would mean exile.

She was given an explanation—indeed, it was made clear to all the Elves that following the vindictive Elf Fëanor boded poorly.

Nevertheless, she persisted—for Galadriel, “the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes, was eager to be gone.”

Casual moviegoers might think of her first as that blond Elf lady who bestows kisses on hobbits and gifts to the heroes. Or maybe as that white-clad, stare-eyed woman who wigs out on Elijah Wood and gets all deep-voiced and creepy. But readers know that Galadriel is so, so much more, especially those who have read beyond the trilogy.

[All shall read on and despair!]