So I got this J.R.R. Tolkien boxed collection for my birthday last summer, and finally got around to reading some of it. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize Tolkien wrote more than LOTR and Hobbit, well other than the Silmarilion which everyone hates. Yet here I sat with Book of Lost Tales V1 and V2, Unfinished Tales, The Lays of Beleriand, The shaping of Middle-Earth, and The Lost Road and Other Writings.
Anyway, what I realized very quickly is that Tolkien didn’t write any other books save LOTR and Hobbit, but what he did do was spend a lifetime world-building. Much like the ill-fated Silmarillion, these are all books comprised of Tolkien’s notes, scribbles, thoughts, concepts, blurbs, etc. Unlike ‘us’, however, Tolkien only wrote one thing for his entire life, so while we might world-build for a single book, or even a series of books, we DO NOT do what Tolkien did, not in any way, shape, or form.
Well, on to my greatest revelation in all this… but first let me set the ‘mood’. I was always taken with the ‘age’ of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and the fact that everything was so ancient, that the elves were gawd-awful old, and that Tolkien somehow made it all palpable in age. Nothing I’ve ever read since has felt like Tolkien’s work in the standpoint of historic girth and scope, and today Christopher Tolkien connected something that I’ve felt but never understood before.
Chris quoted his father thus from a letter he wrote to him on 20 September 1963: ‘I am doubtful myself about the undertaking [to write the Silmarillion]. Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new un-attainable vistas are again revealed.’
Like Chris, I go back to the ‘to go there is to destroy the magic’, and when the Silmarilion takes us to the beginning, it steals the very magic that makes LOTR wonderful, because we’ve hit the bottom of the well. Of course Tolkien died before he was halfway through a comprehensive rewrite of The Silmarillion, and this work too ends up being a jumble of stories and notes that don’t flow like a novel, yet if we look at it for what it is, perhaps we might come to appreciate the creation of it in the first place. I mean, think of your own children plumbing your study for all your notes and writings on the novels that made you a worldwide name. How many pages of notes, pictures, timelines, Word docs, etc would you have? How many tidbits of cool little twists and plot ties?
Well, along those lines I was drawn to another intriguing correlation, that being Star Wars and the prequels. Star Wars is everything LOTR is, and the ‘towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist’ are the Jedi, the Old Republic, and a dozen other awesome things which make our imaginations go wild. However, Lucas [along with writing three horrible screenplays] destroys that magic, showing us once again the bottom of a well, or at least this is what I now believe.
Ok, enough on that, but it was on my mind…