'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,' said Legolas. 'And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimili.'
--The Return of the King, V.9
Here, put as succinctly as anywhere in Tolkien's writing, we are offered what is, to my mind, the most fascinating and unique aspect of his legendarium. From our earliest days, humanity has been telling faerie stories about our mythic forerunners: elves, dwarves, giants, gods, heroes and monsters which inhabited the world before our time. In his Middle-Earth, Tolkien presents us with a version of that mythic prehistory more complete and consistent with itself than any offered by the genuine ancient myths that inspired him, and a consistent theme of Tolkien's presentation of his mythos - arguably the very center of it - is the "faerie perspective" on mankind; what we humans looked like when seen through the eyes of those mythic beings.
Humans first enter into the narrative of the Elves and their war against the forces of Darkness while still in their infancy. Their arrival is entirely unlooked for, being discovered by chance by the Noldor prince Finrod, and they become quickly adopted, with varying degrees of success, into the service and tutelage of the high elves, from which they are soon elevated. it's a consequential change, Man's appearance, and almost immediately, as the elves would reckon it, the arrival of men into the world, under the new risen sun, marks the end of the elves' time, and a transition in their appointed role in the world from the favored children of Illuvatar to stewards and teachers for the younger race.
The "after-comers" - as men are called, among other, more unfavorable names - must seem an odd and in many ways disappointing follow-up to the elves. As craftsmen they are almost astonishingly inept, and they tread the earth with a heavy plodding foot, adopting from their earliest days an abusive, dominating, often wasteful relationship to the natural world around them. They are like children, stumbling blindly through life, prone to sickness, ever at odds with the world, which they are designed to inhabit for only a short while. And yet - as it must especially seem to the Eldar - there's something kind of amazing about men. Far from the weak, compliant creatures which Feanor (who knew nothing about them) had predicted, they prove to be a race of proud, fearsome, at times destructively self-willed beings. They embrace the curious fate they've been given with courage, and accept the humility of their position in a world of ancient others. they are brave and rash and live in the moment, understanding their own ignorance and not letting it hinder them. they are Middle-Earth's holy fools, and more than any other race, its moral wildcards.
I imagine the first men to arrive in Beleriand got there still in a savage state; their material culture, language and much of their knowledge of the world a creole of jumbled influences from the dwarves and avarin elves. Hunters and fighters, clothing themselves in animal skins, decorated with teeth and claws and the odd bit of metal work traded/ransomed/stolen from dwarves, or their own poor imitations. hundreds of clans and tribes, banded together by vague blood-ties, spurred onward by varied, confused beliefs about the world, the gods, and what they'll find at the end of their journey to the West. it seems likely - inescapable even - that the elves, being creatures of deep perception, would quickly recognize the metaphysical significance - above the ents, orcs, dwarves or even themselves - of the "after-comers," God's second children, and the ones that - in the end, despite all their failings and deficiencies - will inherit the world.
I think you get Tolkien's world and narrative better than what most can hope to do.
Hat off to you sir!
Hello my friend, my apologies for this late response, I've been away from deviantart for a long while (just general life requirements, mostly work) and am going through messages I missed.
Thanks! Middle-earth's elder days (the real ones, the first age and the pre-sun world before it) took me a while to get into, I think it does for everybody coming to the silmarillion from the lord of the rings, and a big part of this, I think, is that everyone's default mental image of tolkiens world is (in a very broad sense of the term) a"medieval" world, a world of castles and Tudor-style inns and longswords wielded by mounted knights in chainmail, etc. This is mostly true (maybe not the inns) of the first age in the silmarillion also, and so I think people are generally steered into this impression of medieval stasis, where the realms of beleriand in the first age are not so different from those we see some +6,000 years later at the time of the hobbit/lotr, and because of the comparative vagueness of tolkiens writing on the first age (none of the great castles or cities of the noldor are described in the same sort of detail as minas truth or isengard) theres not much to refute this automatic impression of "sameness". At some point it hit me that Tolkien's descriptive vocabulary (and this is a thing I have to say kind of carefully among hardcore fans) is somewhat limited, intentionally so I think, like he was choosing words to describe things that sounded the most authentic to the ancient parts of english, words that would be most likely to be used to describe their thing in, say, the translated side of beowulf, and therefore everything is "told" through that lenses, through the, roughly, anglosaxon mind and terminology. A big turning point for me (and it's part of why I've drawn that weird karma helmet so many times) was seeing tolkiens drawings of numenorean/first age design work/materials/castles. In large part it's his weird personal style as an artist (though not solely that, his numenorean design work is distinctly "calssical" in the same broad sense I use "medieval") but the effect is of a different world entirely, elven towers and cities of beleriand and aman beyond the sea are alien things only Described for us in anglosaxon terms, it is a translation ( like english from westron, "Theoden" from "Turak" or "Merry" from "Kalimac") into terms we can understand of another world. The "hard facts" we have of this distant world are actually kind of few in tolkiens text, and have to be spotted carefully, a big one, probably the big one for him, were the languages and alphabets, when you see the inscription on the ring, or hear words or names or spells in elvish, you are seeing and hearing these things as they really were, they are our anchors, but most of the rest is up for interpertation/inferring from tolkiens suggestions, the way he writes things, his taste, even in a sense his character (which always is a big part of any author's creation) I like to think (and tolkien allows for this with his different versions and never settled major points) that the exact age of the race of men at the time we first encounter them in beleriand is up for debate, maybe a few hundred years as the silmarillion offers, or maybe that is a translation, the way the count of years in ancient mythologies is never as long as we now know real history was, but in any event the race of men is "very young" in the first age, several thousand years younger than they are in LOTR (by which time they are basically still young) and really just starting out. What a picture - and what a better one than to have beren or turin be interchangeable to aragorn or bard - that offers: holocene man, coming into the world of the elves when it really was their world, earning favor of these, basically, ancient-alien-God beings and being brought up to some cultural level that never really existed, half barbaric and half demigod.
That went on a bit but having read enough of your comments I know you appreciate a good word or two. Myself and Artigas have been hard at work on a collaborative project I think you'd like :)
Thank you kindly for sharing this insight in detail! I very much appreciate it, and savour the length. Fully agreed on the impression of sameness being a conscious translation from something altogether more alien. Seeing Tolkien's own designs in art had much the same effect on me; it hit home the sheer historical depth and ancient exoticness which lurks behind the limited textual descriptions.
Keep going strong! I do look forward to it. :)
Also, no worries on belatedness (by the way, my view of time is geological, according to annoyed friends, so I never found it belated at all). We get around to correspondence eventually, when the time is right and life permits. Waiting does not hurt. We shan't be slaves to tech and our interest sites; rather, they shall serve us, and be platforms for healthy lettered communication.
Your musings shine a lot of light on Tolkien's writing, which I often taken for granted. And that, in turn, shines light on other writers. Thank you.
i'm sure she'd be complimented to hear you say so. The first age was back long before fast food had been invented, so i expect youd find a lot of formidable cheekbones among the first men
It is significant to me that when Finrod finds Beor's band, he comes across them seated about the fire at the end of a day of labor, and making music. They play instruments and sing, raising up their voices in celebration of discovering a land free of Darkness. And in that time of listening to their song, Finrod realizes he has found the foretold Atani, the After-comers. The Elves are the first Speakers, to whom language is more than communication, description, or the voice of command, but the essence of personal expression. These people around the fire are also Speakers, and who else but the Second Children could be capable of such a thing?
i'm glad you agree that the technology and advancement attributed to the edain at the time of their arrival in beleriand (some examples being "rude harps" and spears) do not require from them the roughly early medieval level of cultural sophistication that artists usually portray them at as the default. That default i think is thoughtless and a little ridiculous, as humanity is, at this point, no more than a few generations from its origins, likely having come into the world as naked creatures in an animal state, and having borrowed what scraps of language, culture and technology they could from elves and dwarves on their way west. Also, a big deal is made on more than one occassion of just how elevated the three houses of the edain are by there years in contact with the noldor, why wouldn't that include the simple things like basic textile manufacture? Its an area where i think the generally accepted consensus (again, of a roughly dark age cultural level for men before their "first contact") among tolkien fan artists isnt nearly imaginitive enough.
I will agree, despite that about dwarves, that it would be obvious to finrod and the noldor, upon encountering men, that these are the long-awaited second children. The elven perspective on our species is a subject that endlessly fascinates me, and i would think that what would dominate that perpective (especially in the early years) would be awe; they didnt really know what to expect men would be like - how would you predict the nature of creatures you've never seen but are told will be like you but different? - and when humanity does come into the picture, i feel it would have to be at once obvious and revelatory that we would be the way we are. For one, and perhaps the thought that i most enjoy ruminating upon, i think men are, in every way, more formidable than the elves expected, not speaking only (or even mainly) as warriors, they are a formidable presence in the world, not to be sneezed at or taken lightly. They have this strange life cycle that is so damn short and yet they have full-fledged souls that are the equal of their elven peers who will be around forever. Humanity is dirtier than the eldar, its quicker, less enduring, sloppier, more haphazard, its sexier. That last i think is overwhelmingly true: humans are, no contest, the sex-having children of illuvatar, their period of firtility and their libido lasts even shorter than their short lives, but they feel the pull to it, and usually get on it as soon as they're biologically able, and a human can come to the end of an eighty year life with four or five generations of descendants under them (compare this to the idea that eldarion, born in the fourth age is, on his mother's side, no more than half a dozen generations from the awakening at cuvienen)
this contributes to a point which, while never expressly stated, must be true, and even somewhat intimidating to the elves: humanity VASTLY outnumbers the eldar, probably thousands to one. As legolas says in the quote above, reproducing is the thing you can basically always count on them to do, and its not long after their emergence that the world is teaming with them. The peter jackson movies may have grossly misrepresented the timeframe of the elven departure from middle earth (as a thing that's largely just gotten started in the time the events of the story are taking place, and a thing that finishes with the departure of elrond and Galadriel) but truthfully i think even among book fans theres a tendency to squew the concept of the "eldar days" to a human-centric perpective (one which would categorize any time inwhich elves and dwarves were at large in the world as 'the ancient past') but i think it would be very clear to the elves that the real "elder days", their time, was the world under starlight, that upon meeting men the true significance of the sun and moon would become clear to the eldar (a truth met with a range of emotions from acceptance, regret, melancholy, resentment or defiance, depending upon the elf) that it is no longer their world, that the third theme has begun and their time is over.
Cloth made from wool, linen, or twisted plant fiber is a lot older than most people think. The degree to which they could be refined and decorated has been more of a defining factor than mere construction. Whether or not the three peoples of the Edain had the time to do so in their periodic migrations across Middle-Earth is uncertain, and difficult to decide upon. Dressed furs and deerskins are certain though, and they look splendid. The primitive artistry and vitality of the Edain culture would have been the defining and deciding feature though. Your sketches have something of the noble savage to them that makes the figures attractive and estimable, which was the effect it had on the Elves! The Druedain might be the last vestige of the Edain at the time of their creation, still living the simple life of a simple folk not tied down to field, herd, and hall. (They also shared the same fear of Darkness, and the desire to escape from it.)
It is difficult to reconcile the lifespans and outlooks on life of Elf and Man. this is definitely the author's intention, not to be defeatist or nasty, but to address a sad and inevitable truth in the waning years of the Third Age. Maybe at the beginning of the Second Age things were a little different, but no one could replace Gondolin, Menegroth, Eregion, or the lost Wood-Elf settlements in South Mirkwood, or the warriors laid to rest on the border of Dagorlad, or silence the call of the Sea. Even if the works of the Eldar had endured, Men would probably have surpassed them anyway. The response of Elves to the troubles of the world was to retreat from them to ever more remote holdings. The response of Men to the troubles of the world was to embrace life more fully, loving and living with zeal and delight.