Friday, 7 February 2014

Who are the Children of Il├║vatar?

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The usual answer is Elves and Men.

But the correct answer is Elves, Men, Angels (Maia) and the Valar including even Melkor/ Morgoth and Manwe.

These are all the same species or kind, evidenced by the fact that they all look pretty much the same - varying mainly by size - and can interbreed. 

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So the Maia are known to be lesser than the Ainur, but of the same kind - and the Maia Melian married and had a child with the Elf Thingol; their half-Maia half-Elven child Luthien had a fertile marriage with Beren; and there were Elf Human marriages between their descendants including Idril and Tuor, and Arwen and Aragorn. 

Furthermore, there was at least one probable recorded marriage of a Silvan Elf and a Prince of Dol Amroth. 

So clearly Men and Elves and Maia were of the same kind, and Maia are Valar - so all of these are, it seems, Children of Iluvitar. 

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Only the primary creator God (the One, Illuvatar, Eru) is set apart as a being of different kind, and outside of the world...

But wait! If we go back to the Lost Tales to try and recover Tolkien's original conception and image of the nature of Illuvatar; in The Music of the Ainur (the Ainur being the senior Valar) we find:

"Behold, Illuvatar dwelt alone. Before all things he sang into being the Ainur first, and greatest is their power and glory of all his creatures within the world and without. Thereafter he fashioned them dwellings in the void, and dwelt among them, teaching them all manner of things, and the greatest of these was music."

And dwelt among them! 

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So, by joining and building these speculative inferences; it seems to be implied, or perhaps simply assumed, that The One, Illuvatar/ Eru is also man-like - God with body, parts and passions!

So, the Father of the Children of Illuvatar is of the same kind as His Children.

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Of these various beings, it seems that only Men are 'mortal', in the sense that at death their spirits leave the world of the 'dwellings' that were fashioned in the void for Valar and Elves; thus Men are only visitors to these dwellings in the void. 

After death, it seems, Men's spirits leave these dwellings in the void and go to where Illuvatar also dwells; and this can be seen as a higher destiny for Men.

Men are the same kind as Illuvatar the creator and Father, and share his dwelling after death; and the Children of Illuvatar (Valar, Elves and Men) are a chain of familiarly-related beings, a 'Heavenly' Father with sons and daughters... 

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The saddest thing about all this is that the family seems to be sundered - with Elves and Valar remaining in the world while Men and Illuvatar will gather outwith that world.  

So, the greatest hope of universal salvation is for a New World, an Arda Remade, where all the Children of Illuvatar can come to dwell again together - as indeed was prophesied, or hoped-for, by Finrod:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/tolkiens-marring-of-men.html

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Thursday, 6 February 2014

What is the meaning of Tolkien's King Sheave legend?

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From  JRR Tolkien The Lost Road edited by Christopher Tolkien (History of Middle Earth Volume Five) , 1987

http://www.thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?KingSheave/ProseVersion

This is my favourite rendition of the versions of the legend Tolkien prepared from various ancient sources including Beowulf, and from his own imagination. It is a very beautiful, haunting, mysterious story.


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To the shore the ship came and strode upon the sand, grinding upon the broken shingle. In the twilight as the sun sank men came down to it, and looked within.

A boy lay there, asleep. He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold. The inner parts of the boat were gold-adorned, a vessel of gold filled with clear water was at his side, [added: at his right was a harp,] beneath his head was a sheaf of corn, the stalks and ears of which gleamed like gold in the dusk. Men knew not what it was.

In wonder they drew the boat high upon the beach, and lifted the boy and bore him up, and laid him sleeping in a wooden house in their burh. They set guards about the door.

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In the morning the chamber was empty. But upon a high rock men saw the boy standing. The sheaf was in his arms.

As the risen sun shone down, he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty. And they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and unguided.

Therefore they took the boy to be king, and they called him Sheaf; and so is his name remembered in song. For his true name was hidden and is forgotten. Yet he taught men many new words, and their speech was enriched.

Song and verse-craft he taught them, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things; and in his time the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs.

The glory of King Sheaf sprang far and wide in the isles of the North. His children were many and fair, and it is sung that of them are come the kings of men of the North Danes and the West Danes, the South Angles and the East Gothfolk. And in the time of the Sheaf-lords there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again.

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Those days songs have called the golden years, while the great mill of Sheaf was guarded still in the island sanctuary of the North; and from the mill came golden grain, and there was no want in all the realms.

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But it came to pass after long years that Sheaf summoned his friends and counsellors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of old age was fallen upon him (out of the East) and he would return whence he came. Then there was great mourning.

But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber; and his lords obeying his commands while he yet ruled and had command of speech set him in a ship.

He lay beside the mast, which was tall, and the sails were golden. Treasures of gold and of gems and fine raiment and costly stuffs were laid beside him. His golden banner flew above his head. In this manner he was arrayed more richly than when he came among them; and they thrust him forth to sea, and the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West out of the sight or thought of men. Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey.

Some have said that that ship found the Straight Road. But none of the children of Sheaf went that way, and many in the beginning lived to a great age, but coming under the shadow of the East they were laid in great tombs of stone or in mounds like green hills; and most of these were by the western sea, high and broad upon the shoulders of the land, whence men can descry them that steer their ships amid the shadows of the sea.

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The legend of King Sheave featured in Tolkien's unfinished novel The Lost Road of 1936 and its revised version The Notion Club Papers of 1944-6. Clearly it fascinated Tolkien, and seemed significant.

On the one hand this purported to be history, and Sheaf was listed as an ancestor of the real-life Kings - and therefore a direct ancestor of the current Queen of England!

On the other hand the legend is clearly mythic, and indeed magical.

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What are the striking features?

1. "they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and unguided."

A strange situation - a lordless people, unguided? Usually somebody takes over, siezes power, when the king's line dies-out. This sounds much like a metaphor for the human condition.

2. "He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold."  "he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty." 

A marvelous boy is washed ashore, and this unguided people are smitten by his beauty and the beauty of his singing. They recognize him as a gift for their good, destined or intended to be their leader, and make him such.

3. "he began to sing in a strange tongue".

Sheaf is not of their people, he is from else where, another culture.

4. "Song and verse-craft he taught them, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things... the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs. The glory of King Sheaf sprang far and wide ... His children were many and fair... of them are come the kings of men ... there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again."

The golden King has all virtues - wisdom, the arts, craft, the secrets of agriculture; he was a great military leader, he was a patriarch with many sons, he established peace and honesty.

5.  "Sheaf summoned his friends and counsellors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of old age was fallen upon him ... he would return whence he came... But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber"

In the mortal world, Sheaf ages, and comes to a time when he needs to return; but he does not die - instead voluntarily falls into a deep sleep.

6. "the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West ... Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey.

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Who was Sheaf? Where did he come from? What was his purpose?

In the context of Tolkien's other work it seems that Sheaf was a Vala or Maia, one of the gods or an angelic representative of similar order to Melian or Gandalf (also Saruman and Sauron).

Indeed, since Sheaf had sons, the closest parallel is specifically with Melian.

Melian (although not 'sent' to do this) wed the High Elf Thingol and their daughter was Luthien who married Beren and thereby brought an elvish (and Maian) strain into Men's ancestry - with descendants such as Earendil, Elrond, Elros and the Numenoreans, Arwen and Aragorn: people whose influence in Middle Earth was profound.

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Thus Sheaf is a male equivalent of Melian - but Sheaf married and had children ('sons') by a mortal woman, or perhaps many women; whereas Melian married an 'immortal' male elf.

Sheaf came from the West - therefore was, presumably, 'sent' by the Valar - to lead wisely and well; to bring prosperity, peace, beauty and good order; and to infuse the blood of humanity (especially the legitimate kings) with the nobility of the gods.

Presumably, when his mortal frame wore-out, Sheaf returned to the West, there to resume his angelic form.

(Rather as did Gandalf the Grey return to the West when slain, returned in spirit presumably, to be restored to his resurrected (?) and perfected body back to Middle Earth - at least for a short period.)

Ultimately, all this is suggested by Sheaf's coming from The West, from his personal qualities, and his return to The West.

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King Sheave is one of several Tolkien stories when 'healing' - knowledge, beauty, order - comes to a society from elsewhere - from The West.

The return of the Noldorian High Elves is one example. Although a very mixed blessing the Noldor did indeed bring arts, crafts, sciences and beauty of life - for example in their great cities such as Gondolin, Doriath and Nargothrond; or the realm of Lothlorien.

Then there was the return of the Numenoreans from The West to Middle Earth, to found Gondor and Arnor. 

And in Smith of Wooton Major, Faery is to the West of the village; and from Faery comes that which elevates and ennobles mundane life - coming via messengers such as the eponymous Smith and his grandfather.

And of course Tolkien's earliest legendarium (Lost Tales, from the 1914-18 world war) had its origins in the story of an Aelfwine (elf-friend) character who sails to - and establishes human contact with - 'Elfland', Tol Eressea, the island of elves to the West.

This theme and basis for the Legendarium continued through thirty more years, including the (finished) Quenta Silmarillion, the unfinished Lost Road and the unfinished Notion Club Papers - after which the idea was finally abandoned.

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But, the intriguing thing about all this is that - plausibly, by Tolkien's understanding of such things - it really happened!

King Sheave 'really happened' in the sense that the evidence that it (or something like it) happened is, while somewhat slim and scattered, of the same general type and authority (ancient writings) as 'normal' historical evidence used to establish 'normal' historical events.

No wonder Tolkien was fascinated.

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