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The Silver Swan

 February, 23 2006

The place for discussion about Hethlin's new adventures.

Imhiriel, I agree 100% with all of your points.

BUT: There is that fine line Tolkien draws between good and evil magic. He calls the former "Art". And the other is distinguished by imposing one's will by force on other things/beings/phenpmena. And I think the disappearance of Art is what is sad.

Yes, very true. I get the sense that Soledad's vision of the power of the Avari is like that and I must read more of her stuff because that's how I see it too.

Lórien deteriorates so rapidly after the departure of Galadriel because she kept it beautiful and magical and, yes, unchanging, by means of Nenya. After the Three Rings lose their power, the sudden withdrawal of this stay is like a shock to the wood, like all these centuries catching up at once with the present. In contrast to this I see Eryn Lasgalen. Held without any Rings of Powers, and therefore, despite Dol Guldur and spiders etc. "healthier". IIRC, Elrond used his Ring only sparingly, which would speak for Rivendell better able to accomodate the change after the fall of Sauron.

Exactly how I see it. Galadriel trod the line between artfully guiding/protecting and imposing her will. The lack of change in Lorien represents, to me, not only the physical damage that can be done when an unchanging power is imposed on the material world of dynamic change, but also the spiritual damage it can do. Mortals weren't welcome in the Golden Wood, while Thranduil and Elrond kept open ties with communities of men. Lorien was this ideal place that mortals weren't allowed to access, it stood as a reprimand to them: "no matter how noble of heart you are, no matter how courageous or intelligent you are, we exceed you. You cannot achieve what we inherently are; you cannot affect us and we don't care enough to affect you." It's a reflection of the Valar's weird attitude towards Middle Earth and its mortal inhabitants (and those of its immortal inhabitants who didn't jump on the Train to Aman). The whole Ban imposed on the Numenoreans -- "you've got a nice little island, and we might come and visit you sometimes, or at least the Elves will, but you can't come to our Even Better Place That Never Changes!" -- set mortals in a real conundrum. They knew that there were beings who were wiser than they, who had ways of knowing and ways of affecting the material world that they themselves could not access. It's very hard to find your own, innovative way forward when you've got people far ahead of you in knowledge. You'll just do your best to copy them. It won't occur to you to look for another way to find knowledge. Knowledge is possessed by others, not you. You'll just strive to become more like them ... which is a sad thing for mortals to do.

I think Tolkien recognized that on some level, when he mentioned of the Gift of Men. He attributed their failure to recognize it as such to Morgoth's, and later Sauron's, corruptive influence. I can't help but think that the Elves, and possibly even the Valar themselves, unwittingly contributed to that devaluation of mortality. The Elves were superior to men in strength, in knowledge, in art, in beauty -- in just about every way imaginable. People in Dol Amroth strive to emulate Elven ways. Numenoreans look more Elven than other men do, and the Numenorean standard of beauty holds sway. As long as the Elves remain in Middle Earth, men will, in vain, try to be like them. In some ways, to their detriment.

But to me, it's not Sherlock Holmes that leaps to my mind, but rather the image of the Renaissance-man: highly educated, curious, open for all kinds of knowledge, sciences, arts, looking not only into the future with new discoveries, but also with an eye to preserving what is worthy from the past - Leonardo da Vinci. And "The Machine that changed the World" fits awfully well in this renaissance theme, don't you think?

That's exactly how I see it! There is a brilliant triology called The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson, which features as some of its central characters Leibniz and Newton. I know, that's the Enlightenment rather than the Renaissance, but the same spirit of inquisitiveness and genius held sway then too. Really fascinating people, I'm awed by them (and the Renaissance figures like Da Vinci or Galileo too, of course). The questions they posed, and their means of investigating those questions; to create empirical knowledge that is replicable and demonstrable instead of taken on faith is such an enormous transformation of the way that people made meaning of the world. Amazing stuff!!

OK, back to the world of Silver Swan: I think the passing of the Elves and magic is definitely sad on some levels. Because they're so beautiful and wise and have such lovely hair. And excellent fashion sense! But sad for them as much as for the mortals they leave behind. As a place devoid of change (and devoid by that point of even the Feanorians), Valinor sounds like a snoozefest. All the interesting stuff is going to be happening in Middle Earth, and it's going to be people like Amrothos, and also possibly in her own way Hethlin, who will make it interesting. Amrothos by inventing printing presses and explosives and perhaps some binoculars. Hethlin by breaking the old mold of leadership and making more room for people with talents that extend beyond the roles assigned to them by tradition.

I'm sorry to see the Elves leave... of course. But I'm excited for men. Excited and apprehensive.

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