Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In The Beginning of The Beginning of The Beginning

In the book The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, the author recommends that those who wish to learn literature go, not to English classes with an indoctrinatable mind, but to the text with a method. And the method advised is this: that the reader look at every word and ask “Why is this word, and no other, used in this place, and not some other?” and then use this technique to move to larger and larger pieces. Although this is a subtly sexist method (ask me about that. Hee hee), I have no qualms of any sort about using it, except that it takes a long time. Therefore, let us begin.

Begin Quote from the Silmarillion:


Yes, you got it right. I am going to analyze the precise meaning of the one-word title of the first book of The Silmarillion.
First, what does it mean? Underneath the word, Tolkien provides a clue: “The Music of the Ainur.” A more exact translation, however, is The Ainur Sang, or When the Ainur Sang. “Ainu” is Quenya an angelic being, “linda” is Quenya for “To sing” and “le” is the ending that puts the verb in past tense.
Why Quenya? There are two reasons.
Much later in The Silmarillion, Tolkien provides us with one reason. Upon learning of the Kin- slaying of Alqualonde, where one race and linguistic group of elves (the Noldor) slew members of another (the Sindar), King Thingol, the most powerful elven-king in middle-earth, and a member of the Sindar, forbade Quenya, the language of the Noldor and the high tongue of the elves, from being spoken in his lands. The Quenya title alludes to the fact that the events recounted in it are both before the Kinslaying and have Ainu characters, characters who would be immune to the racial disagreements of the elves.
The fact that Quenya is the high tongue of the elves is also significant. In appendix to “The Return of the King” Tolkien calls Quenya an “elven-Latin,” In the days before the liturgical changes of Vatican II (ask me about this too, hee hee), being a time when Ainulindale was most probably written and/or being a time which Tolkien, being the conservative that he was, was likely to have wanted to return to, Latin was the liturgical language of the Catholic Church. Writing the title of this book in Elven-Latin would have had liturgical connotations.
These connotations are reflected in the story itself. Ainulindale is unabashedly a creaton-story, and the Biblical creation story was (and still is) occasionally read in the Catholic Mass, especially at the beginning of the Church year (just as Ainulindale is at the beginning of the Silmarillion). If the Elves prayed within any public ceremonies (Humans did, as is evident from the Akhallabeth), which is likely considering the elvish prayers to Elbereth that are uttered and sung by Frodo, Sam, and the elves themselves, it is likely that some version of the Ainulindale, perhaps the Quenya original of what is in our books today, was used in one of these ceremonies, perhaps chanted by Elrond or Celeborn or Cirdan or Fingofin while all others stood silent, some quivering, perhaps, with mystic delight.
The title tells us that The Ainulindale is a monumental text, the elvish equivalent of Genesis. In our suspension of disbelief that we engage in when we read Tolkien, we can treat it and “feel” it the same way.


Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

Hmmm... This will take a lot of
thought to comment on. It will have
to wait for next year (so I don't
have long to wait).

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

When is the creation story read in
the Mass?

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

The creation story isn't always read in the mass, just sometimes, usually during the beginning of Advent and not every year either.