This book tells the tale before the popular Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Saga. How it all began, where it all came from and why things developed the way they did. It is a Creation Tale and it reminds the reader that no creation can take place without destruction. The chaos and order, the decay and hope, the fall and the rise – they are all parts of One, the Whole that contains all seemingly incompatible multitudes. And they all are ever-shifting, fluid, nothing remains unchanged forever. The only exception might be Change itself. The cycles build upon each other and sometimes break up, get lost or reappear. What we cannot perceive here and now may become clear after hundreds or thousands of years. That might not feel just to us, yet only if we cling too much to our human wish to control our environment. Viewed from a broader and deeper perspective one can understand the wisdom of immortal Elrond when he speaks of “pointless victories”.
To me, this seems to be one of the crucial and recurring themes in the book – difference of perception and perspective depending on whether one is bound by a finite lifespan or one is bound to live as long as the world lasts. Both fates are bondages, each in its own way. However, it seems that mortal Men perceive their lot as an unjust burden while that of ever-living Elves as a generous gift. I sense this to be the root of all that happens to the race of Men in the tale – their heroism and their weakness, their honour and virtuous deeds and their greedy ambition for power. The Elves, with some occasional deviations, seem to almost always be wiser, think broader, perceive fuller and act nobler. Whenever a Man surpasses an Elf in these qualities he is highly revered, first and foremost among Elves themselves. Yet, as those who have read/seen the Lord of the Rings story know, the Age of Elves comes to an end and a dominion of Men begins. Is it perhaps because gods do not and cannot live on earth?
Another, in my opinion, highly interesting aspect in this tale is that at the very beginning of creation the limited lifespan of Men is referred to as the gift of the Creator. Nobody, not the Elves, not even the gods know why and for what purpose were Men given this gift. But – it is a gift!
One way of looking at it is to say that Men do not have to witness all the sorrow and suffering of the world during their lifetime. It is so brief that they barely scratch the surface of all that has been and all that will come. However, it seems that Men – perhaps due to the painful awareness of their short stay in the world – again and again try to reach and obtain ever more. True, some of the first Elves have also had this, in my view, rather short-sighted pride in them and it haunted even their heirs for several generations. Nonetheless, I keep getting the impression that Elves have a talent for learning from the mistakes of their forefathers while in Men this talent is more often latent. Could this be driven by their gift? By the painful awareness of their finitude that propels them both into miserable and admirable directions in life?
So then – why a mortal race with a rather short lifespan and often a “short” perception but high ambitions and constant eagerness for more in order to somehow cheat death (their gift!) should be the one to gain dominion after the Elves who prefer to leave the world? Is it just another part of the Whole, another cycle of the One’s development? Like Elves before Men, will an altogether different race come after Men? Will there be where to come, something left after Men, since even the gods decided to leave beyond the boundaries of the world, out of reach of the mortals? Have the Men been abandoned or have they been given another gift – that of freedom? If the latter is true, will Men learn to appreciate this gift and perceive the responsibility that comes with it? Or will they stick to their ways of never being happy too long with the gifts they have been given and strive daringly for more, even if at a grave cost? Will Men be Men or will they try to become gods and thus undo themselves?
As you see, these questions go beyond J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth Saga and they are clearly not just about its characters but they are inspired by it. That is, in my opinion, the greatest value of any creative work – to inspire others to transcend their known “lands” and go beyond the boundaries of their “Shires”, even if just in thought. For if we all do that, maybe we can gain at least a little bit of the immortal “Elves” perception.