Deviation Actions

TurnerMohan's avatar

The First Men



'And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,' said Gimili. 'It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.'

'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.
Image size
2478x3508px 2.83 MB
© 2016 - 2023 TurnerMohan
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In

Its a miracle that the Elves didn't hunt humans for sport. Or get jealous and slay them all.