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12 April 2012 @ 04:15 pm
Sauron really is rather clever  
Until this morning I'd never realized how explicitly Sauron was targeting the flaws in Arda's worldbuilding,

What are the two things that make everyone in Arda miserable, largely independent of Melkor's influence?

1. The Waning of the Elves

I know Tolkien attributes this to the Melkor-taint on the land, but frankly that explanation doesn't add up:

• The younger elves should be born taint-free, and they should therefore be able to stay for as long as their ancestors did. Emigration should be a rite of passage, a sort of retirement cruise for elves who have lived a long and productive lifespan in Middle-earth. Instead the entire species is emigrating en masse. This isn't a contamination that's building up in the tissues of individual elves from a tainted food supply, this is a change in the land that's making it uninhabitable.

• If we assume Men were always part of the divine plan, then so was the elf-waning. Otherwise there's no need for men and their existence would just generate endless territorial conflict. The only reason they're able to take over without Silmarillion 2.0 is because the elves are either fading or leaving- cut the waning out of the picture and you'd be left with Israel/Palestine. I'd hope even Iluvatar wasn't stupid enough to set that one up.

• The other immortalish species like the dragons and the ents appear to be experiencing no ill-effects from the taint. The ents are turning back into trees, but that in no way resembles the fading of the elves, and it seems to be largely attributable to missing the entwives and to habitat destruction carried out by men, who are just fulfilling their divinely ordained ecological niche as agriculturalists. The dragons seem just fine.

2. Elves Are Immortal, No One Else Is

Men especially aren't, and they're pissed off about it. I don't blame them. Anyone would be pissed off. Tolkien blames Melkor for this, but it's a problem inbuilt in the system. If Iluvatar thought he could give his two main homonoid species radically different lifespans without it becoming a problem at some point, he's a fuckwit. Unless Melkor was the mastermind behind Beren/Luthien, this was a worldbuilding error that was always going to bring innocent people to grief. The humans are understandably jealous, the elves are constantly sad because their doggy/horsey/dwarfy/hobbity/humany friends keep dying on them, and Aman's food web is really fucked up ecologically.

I noticed a long time ago that the main power of the Rings is preservation (which when you think about it is pretty strange for an evil super-weapon), but it never occurred to me why. This is why. Melkor has an elf-brain and just went after the shiniest things he could see, but Sauron is a thinker. He sat down and figured out the fundamental chinks in the worldbuilding.

Arda's major bugbear (because it's Tolkien's major bugbear) is preservation: of the elves' habitable world, of men's habitable bodies. So the Three (which Sauron didn't design himself, but which answer to the One and which draw their power from it) address Problem 1, and the Nine address Problem 2.

It's really a pity the Valar are such useless douchebags, because they're in charge of a planet that's fundamentally fucked up and Sauron and Celebrimbor are the first people to make a serious attempt at hacking the worldbuilding to fix it. Sauron can't be left to his own devices to work on this project because he goes all Dark Lord on everyone, but with adequate supervision he could probably do a lot of good for Middle-earth. Unfortunately the Valar can't be bothered to do anything except call on Iluvatar to drown a bunch of civilians whenever there's a risk they might have to get up off their arses for five minutes, so instead we get the War of the Ring. Twats.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth: http://kainosite.dreamwidth.org/3550.html. Comment there or here.
hemulenofdoomhemulenofdoom on April 13th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
I think Tolkien (and his specifically Catholic Christian ideology) would say that the Valar's useless douchebaggery is built-in (by Iluvatar) to allow for free will on the parts of both Elves and Men.

Arda was (if I remember rightly - answering here off the top of my head) marred by Melkor well before the Elves awoke, so their fading might well be attributed to him.

In addition, I seem to recall that, from the very beginning at Cuiviénen, Elves were being abducted by Melkor's servants, and slowly transformed into Orcs (who might also have been immortal, but don't let me get started on them, as I have theories about them..). So it would make sense that, once contacted by That-Valar-Guy (sorry - forgotten which one it was), they'd be tempted by the offer of safety, eternal bliss etc.

The real problem for me is that Tolkien doesn't do politics (at least, not amongst the good-guys). I'm always happy to read (and write) fanfic involving political shenanigens in post-Ringwar Middle Earth (ahem - http://grondfic.livejournal.com/46352.html)
kainositekainosite on April 13th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
I think Tolkien (and his specifically Catholic Christian ideology) would say that the Valar's useless douchebaggery is built-in (by Iluvatar) to allow for free will on the parts of both Elves and Men.

Which would be fine with me, except a) they're happy to intervene to drown people and b) Sauron is a Maia. When the elves are having a spat with the dwarves I'm happy for them to put their hands up and say "Okay, you kids sort this one out for yourselves," but it's unacceptable in my view to let other gods run around terrorizing people who haven't got the powers to fight back. That's not a free will issue, that's just bad governance.

In Melkor's case there were ecological problems around fighting him so I can understand why they held back for so long, but Sauron's too weak to challenge them and historically he's been unwilling to do it. If they'd sent a party of Valar to arrest him instead of sending the wizards over to try to bully the homonoids into dealing with him, he'd almost certainly have surrendered immediately and saved everyone a lot of misery.

Arda was marred by Melkor well before the Elves awoke

You're right; the taint is inbuilt into the fabric of the whole planet. It's not that the timeline doesn't work in that sense, it's that the waning doesn't behave like an environmental toxin. If it were it should affect everyone, not just the elves, and it shouldn't pop up all of a sudden at the end of the Third Age and afflict all the elves equally when Galadriel has been eating contaminated food since the First Age and Elrohir is only a few hundred years old. Plus there's the issue about whether the Middle-earth handover from elves to men was intended, and if not WTF Iluvatar was thinking.

I can see why people like Legolas who've never been to Valinor might want to check it out, but remember, Galadriel has been and come back to Middle-earth. She didn't sound thrilled about having to go back again, in LoTR. (And last time she was there 'Eternal Bliss' got Feanored, so I suspect the Noldor take that promise with a grain of salt.)

don't let me get started on them, as I have theories about them

Do tell!

The real problem for me is that Tolkien doesn't do politics

Or economics. It will never stop bothering me where the elves get their damn grain from. XD

(And I think I remember that story from my days lurking in Tolkien fandom eons ago! Off for a reread...)
hemulenofdoomhemulenofdoom on April 14th, 2012 08:33 am (UTC)
Actually as regards the drowning of Numenor, that was Iluvatar's doing. It's stated that when Ar-Pharazon set foot on the Blessed Realm the Valar laid down their authority and called upon the One, Who then did His stuff.

So it's an act of Pilate-type hand-washing on the Valar's part, rather than active destruction. They really are rather passive and withdrawn in the face of most crises, aren't they.

I think the free-will issue around Sauron relates to him primarily. It's like they give him enough rope, and hope he sees the error of his ways; but try to mitigate his damage elsewhere by sending in the Istari (like ...Whut!?!).

Elvish fading seems to me to be a psychic (for want of a better word) rather than a physical thing. Uber Weltschmerz if you like. (Incidentally, I have doubts about whether Elrohir had it fully. He was Half-human after all. I wonder if he departed with his father and twin because of family-feeling ...?? Fic needed to explore that one methinks).

So again, it's an act of free will on the part of the Elves who go, rather than remaining in Middle Earth and .. I dunno, becoming one with nature or genii loci or whatever.

Re Orcs: I'm afraid I'm going to refer you to fic again, particularly Evil in the Beginning, where *cough*theAuthor*cough* sets out in some (horrid) detail the making of Orcs from Elves in the First Age. (Incidentally Author also posits the possible immortality of Orcs, and Orcs having the battered remains of Elvish souls (Fëa)).


FRAGMENT: CIRITH UNGOL REVISITED (a half sequel to Hope for the Uruk):

EVIL IN THE BEGINNING (some Shagrat backstory and other matters. Set in the same Universe as Hope for the Uruk)

Hey - I'm cluttering up your LJ aren't I? Just one final point on Middle Earth economics - it's ironic you should say that, because Tolkien accused C S Lewis of not thinking-through Narnian economics (Crumpets in Fimbulwinter??). I guess those crafty Feanorians invented hydroponics but didn't let on.

Edited at 2012-04-14 08:35 am (UTC)
kainositekainosite on April 15th, 2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
Actually as regards the drowning of Numenor, that was Iluvatar's doing

True, but they bothered to go running to Teacher. Couldn't be arsed when Melkor or Sauron were running roughshod over Middle-earth, but God forbid they should have an unwelcome visitor!

It's especially absurd when you consider that Ulmo controls the frickin' ocean, and presumably could just have a big headwind come up against the Numenoreans until the fleet got bored and sailed home.

I think the free-will issue around Sauron relates to him primarily.

Oh, I see what you mean now. Explains Saruman too, actually, because Varda knew that was going to go down like a lead balloon and sent him anyway.

That does seem like a plausible explanation, but it's almost as inexcusable as the laziness one. You can let people exercise their free will without issuing an open invitation to hurt others. Leaving Sauron loose in Middle-earth is like leaving a known pedophile loose in a school- it's awesome if he can manage to do the right thing, but you have a duty of care to the children that trumps your obligation to give him an opportunity for personal growth.

Incidentally, I have doubts about whether Elrohir had it fully.

Okay, fair point. Legolas vs. Galadriel then. There doesn't seem to be an age difference in their degree of waning, and if it's related to the taint accumulating in the elves' spirits rather than a change in the earth from Age to Age, as Tolkien would have it, then that's an inconsistency.

Hey - I'm cluttering up your LJ aren't I?

Clutter away! I'll go check out the fics as soon as I get a chance; that looks great.

Tolkien accused C S Lewis of not thinking-through Narnian economics (Crumpets in Fimbulwinter??)

Well, C. S. Lewis is the poster child for terrible economics/ecology. XD

Tolkien's at least passes a casual inspection, but collapses when you probe it deeper. I'm sure he doesn't realize giving all the animals in Aman 100x the lifespan totally screws up the food chain, but boy does it ever.