The Tolkien Professor

Corey Olsen

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The Tolkien Professor podcast is a series of lectures, discussions, and seminars on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien by Corey Olsen, Assistant Professor of English at Washington College in Maryland. Find me on Facebook at "The Tolkien Professor," on Twitter at @tolkienprof, or at my website at www.tolkienprofessor.com. I have also begun a grand new venture: the Mythgard Institute, offering courses on Tolkien studies for credit at the MA level, or just for fun! Join us at www.mythgard.org.


SilmFilm Episode 1-07: Creating the Lamps, Distressing the Damsel

December 5th, 2015

Episode 296 of 356 episodes

Introduction/Review What’s at stake in Season 1? It is not the bodies of the protagonists, because The Valar don’t have bodies. “But are they going to survive? Are they going to make it out of this one?” is the sort of question we usually see, but they don’t apply to Valar. What’s at stake for them is “How does Arda turn out and does it follow with what Iluvatar wants?” Even tho they are immortal, things can go badly and they can still screw up. “Will the world turn out well or not?” doesn’t have the same immediacy/ability to build a cliffhanger. Are they going to succeed or fail? Putting them in physical danger somehow doesn’t work as well. There are differences in relationship of the body and mind in the Valar, vs the relationship of the body and mind of the Elves, and how that is still different from the relationship of body and mind of Men. We need to make it clear to our viewers the difference between them, and that it retroactively works. Maybe let’s not mention the imperviousness of the Valar to the viewer???????? Metaphorical danger: When Nessa is captured by Ungoliant, it’s not going to be about torture, as it’s not really the issue with the Valar. They can’t be stabbed with a knife and hurt, but they can be corrupted in spirit…how suffering wounds people. Even Melian has to go for a prolonged timeout after the death of Thingol, and retreats to Lorien. She needs time to recover and grieve, and she needs to heal. Suffering (the way the Valar suffer when the Trees are lost) – can Nessa be tormented and hurt? Corruption – will Nessa become “twisted”, so that she ends up falling? There can be a physical correlation to illustrate what’s being done metaphorically When they rescue her, it’s about helping her through out of her spiritual crisis, but this comes across as “hokey” The Valar having bodies exposes them to different temptations than they would have without them. The more time you spend in your body, the more attached to it you become and will want to protect it. The Valar are bound to Arda. (We’re going to depict them changing their bodies when the Elves come) They can walk about without their bodies if they want, but they are committed to Arda, so they keep in their bodies more than they aren’t, as they need to interact physically with Arda. But their bodies change. Re: Melkor’s and Sauron’s weakening of their power with the increased investment in matter: they are desiring to dominate Arda, so they distribute their power in the effort to dominate/relate to things other than themselves. They do need their bodies to interact with the world. We have sequence of events when compared to the book without acknowledging it: specifically, the order of the plants and animals correlates with the lighting of the lamps. There can be light without their being a sun in the sky and without the lamps. Almaren must have had some sort of light (and not be completely pitch black). We have starlight, and we can have some animals, and perhaps fungi/white forest plants that aren’t dependent on light Why make lamps in the first place? The Valar have been shaping the world for quite some time, so it wouldn’t make much sense to do all this in the dark, there had to have been light to work by. The sky itself is like gloomyish dusk…a low-level light, you can see perfectly well even though it’s dim. Stunted plants can grow, but not necessarily trees or flowers. The desire to build lamps can be flawed from the beginning. The collecting of the light into the lamps creates this blissful paradise, but they’re hoarding the light into a smaller space, creating darkness in other corners of the world. (And this could be Melkor’s idea) Middle Earth won’t benefit as much as Almaren (a well-intentioned misstep) References to “liquid light” (Ungoliant drinking it, pools) in the Book of Lost Tales. The cool thing about this project is that we have to think about details on a level beyond what Tolkien has done so far. The shaping of the land takes some time in the Ainulindalë, but when we start the Quenta, there isn’t much said about creation. Fleshing the world out to this extent wasn’t part of his project, but it’s part of THIS project. Every decision has consequences, and they don’t always anticipate what will happen. Great goodness can come about, but also great “evil” and often both together. Now there is darkness for which Ungoliant can hide. This is a pattern among the Valar Then when they dim the lamps, they can see the stars for the first time. Mythgard Announcements Thanks for participating in the fundraising campaign, we raised $37k for Signum. You can still contribute to the annual fund. We have some job openings at Signum University – work-study allows you to barter time and skills for tuition. Work study students are the heart of our staff. bookkeeping web social media HR event planning writers and editors A/V editing and production faculty support (admin assistant) Please send an email to [email protected] Book Context of this Season Ainulindalë/Vala Quenta/Ch. 1-2 Quenta Silmarillion Today’s topic/Discussion Episode 5 – the decision to create the lamps and the introduction of Tulkas In the book, it’s at the wedding feast of Tulkas and Nessa that the lamps are destroyed, which will be the next episode. Will this be a rescue, and if so, who is being rescued? Ungoliant as a human-ish form would be our antagonist, instead of Melkor, as for the moment, we (and the Valar) think that Melkor is good. The lamp idea would be Melkor’s…and Yavanna and Aulë are the most enthusiastic about it, as Yavanna can see the benefits to her creations, and Aulë loves to create, so he would be excited about the challenge. Manwë doesn’t “get” evil, but we don’t want to undermine him or make him look stupid…(Maybe a little naïve) but he wouldn’t be against it. Melkor might think this is actually a good idea and be coming from a “sincere” place His conflict with them is that he thinks he should be the king, not necessarily that he’s outright evil. The discord was his striving to bring more glory to his part of the Music. Melkor’s actually in a happy place when he comes up with the idea of the lamps – everyone sees how awesome he is, and he knows it. This is the “first seed” of Melkor hoarding light. He expects authority and worship from the others. He sees the lamps as his property He sees Almaren and the other Valar as his property as well. Or at least something he has dominion over and to which he is entitled. Melkor is the “happy good light” guy, while Ungoliant is taking light and transforming it into darkness (a more obvious “baddie”) The lighting of the lamps can coincide with the rescue of Nessa, or The lamps can be used to help find Nessa Ulmo should counsel against it, and Varda should be uncomfortable with it. Varda is uncomfortable b/c she has experience with Melkor being a creepy dude. Ulmo is the one who usually goes against the rest of the Valar as he’s usually suspicious. They were only given ONE part of the mind of Iluvatar, so their understanding is limited. They don’t have the wisdom of evil b/c they don’t understand that part of Iluvatar’s mind. It’s ok for them to be a bit clueless. Varda had experience in Episode 2 with Melkor that leads her to think that Melkor’s motivations are less than good. Ulmo would just be suspicious of the idea…what about the rest of Arda? He’s the one that stays in Middle Earth and hangs out with the Children, away from Valinor With the creation of the lamps, there is now a hierarchical structure: some places will have more light (and blessing) than others. This is unjust. Ulmo would want the rest of Middle Earth to have light as well We had talked about this episode being the one where Sauron and Melkor meet Use ‘Mairon’ – and he would be the foreman of Aulë’s people working on the lamps. Mairon can make the crystals that provide the light of the lamps. The lamps should be HOT and fiery Varda and Melkor would have worked together to gather the light Maybe Mairon is somehow involved in the making of the Dwarves (maybe he finds out about Aulë either making the Dwarves and agrees to keep it a secret, or maybe encourages Aulë to make them secretly) Melkor would be interested to know who made the “shiny things” (they don’t actually need to meet on screen just yet, Melkor might be like “I need to go find this guy…”) Easter egg hint for now, and develop Mairon’s character further down the line Maybe Mairon stays in Valinor for a while (like Melkor’s mole) He doesn’t leave until the theft of the Silmarils or possibly after Tulkas and Nessa There is much resistance to the typical “damsel in distress” We have to remember that with the Valar, we are dealing with archetypes. We can resist stereotype but we should be careful not to resist archetype. In LOTR movies, they wrecked the archetypes of Aragorn and Faramir by trying to make them more “relatable” and modern. With the Valar, we are talking about a new level of archetype. “Damsels in distress” are a cliché b/c Nessa was a damsel in distress. The Valar are the embodiment of the archetypes We shouldn’t be reflexive in trying to “correct” archetypes We don’t know much about Nessa, but this particular damsel in distress can play to the Persephone myth – The storyline of corrupted innocence. Nessa/Persephone is depicted collecting flowers, beauty and childlike innocence The creature who lives in darkness (Ungoliant) who desires the innocence (not in a sexual way like Hades) and wishes to suck that light and innocence dry (perhaps literally trying to suck the light out of her face?) This whole season is about the loss of innocence, this scenario can be a metaphor for the grander loss of innocence among the Valar. There are arguments in the text suggesting that Nessa is an active Vala, so she can be more than a passive damsel. She doesn’t have to be a stereotypical wuss. (Swifter than the deer) In Tolkien’s world, females may be few, but they aren’t...

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