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Old 03-15-2003, 09:16 PM   #32
The Saucepan Man
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Very interesting discussion. I don't think it comes out so much from LotR but, having recently read the Silmarillion for the first time, it does seem that one of the central themes of JRRT's works is the tension between mortality and immortality. When I first read of death being a "gift" given to Men by Iluvatar, this confused me. How could death be a gift? Surely, immortality would be far better?

But herein lies the key to this theme. One might, on initial consideration, think of immortality as the more attractive proposition. But, is it really? I think that this was one of the questions that JRRT was exploring in his works. The two main races of ME, the two strains of the Children of Iluvatar, have one key diffference. One lot is immortal. The other lot ain't. And we learn in the Silmarillion, and other collections of JRRT's writings, such as the Unfinished Tales, of how these two different races react to each other and to the world about them.

I do get the impression that a lot of readers think Tolkien was holding up the Elves as admirable ('Look at this ideal race of PERFECT beings I've created, aren't they wonderful). For me that's not it. He is exploring ideas, & themes such as power vs powerlessness, time & eternity, & ultimately, Death, seen from the perspective of & in contrast to an everliving race.
Spot on, davem. In exploring how an immortal race might react to a changing world, and to the mortal race that they share the world with, JRRT reveals to us the imperfections of immortality. Their attempts to halt the mutability of the world about them have been expressed already with great insight on this thread. But what I find equally fascinating is their reaction to their mortal counterparts, Men. How would you react to someone whose lifespan represents only the flicker of an eye compared with your own lifespan? How would you feel if you knew that a trusted friend and ally, not to mention all of his descendants, would live and die in what would seem only a brief period of your own life?

Though the Eldar clearly respect the three great Houses of Men that they first come across and form strong friendships and alliances with them, they nevertheless seem to regard them as servants and, even, as "cannon fodder". The Houses of Men are taken into their lands, and given domains of their own. But they seem to be expected to serve the Eldar (and apparently do so willingly). It is, for example, regarded as entirely natural that Hurin and Huor should give their lives (well, far more, in Hurin's case) to cover the withdrawal of Turgon in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, notwithstanding that eveyone knows that Turgon and his people will go to the Halls of Mandos on their death, whereas the fate of Men on death is unknown. Do the Elves, possibly, regard Men as inferior, and their lives less valuable, at this stage?

During the Second and Third Ages, Elves seem to come to regard Men more as equals. How does this change come about? Is it a rection to Eru/the Valar's recognition of the worth of Men implicit in the granting to them of the domain of Numenor? Do the Eldar come to accept that to be mortal is not necessarily to be inferior?

By the end of the Third Age, of course, Elves have come to recognise that their time on ME is over and that its future lies with Men. This ties in with their recognition that their attempts to halt change on ME are futile. The times they are a changin', and ME is no longer a place for them, so they must withdraw to Valinor. Men, whose mortality allows them to be infinately more flexible, are far more equipped to deal with the change and so it is they who inherit the earth.
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