Friday, March 22, 2013

Nature & Elements in Unfinished Tales

In the story of Aldarion and Erendis, one of the big causes of strife between the two seems to be their love of different elements of nature: for Aldarion, it's the sea, and for Erendis, trees. The elements themselves seem to be at odds in some way, too: trees must be felled in order to build ships for the sea, and, if I remember correctly, the island of Númenor is eventually swallowed by the sea. This whole thing is so interesting to me because in Tolkien's other works - especially LOTR - there's more of a conflict of fire vs. all the other elements. So what could this particular pitting of sea vs. trees/things that grow mean in the larger story of Númenor, Middle-earth, etc? I see some sort of reflection of the female Yavanna vs. the male Ulmo here, but I'm not completely sure.


Troy Wells said...

I see your point about how trees must be felled in order to make boats for men to travel in the sea, but I don't know if that necessarily means that there is conflict between the two. It could be that men are not meant to be in the sea because it is out of their element and not where they were intended to dwell. Maybe for that reason the only way that man can put himself into the wrong element (the sea as opposed to earth) is to corrupt something else not meant for the sea (the trees) and use its misshapen corpse as a vessel to travel through the trees.
The same could be argued for the Silmarils. Feanor took the light of the Two Trees of Valinor and used it in jewelry which was not its original purpose. This caused Melkor to desire it so he came up with a plan to steal the Silmarils and destroy the Tress.

Austin M. said...

This is a really interesting insight. I agree that this is a bit different from many of the instances of Tolkien's commentaries on nature. I think that in some ways, this mirrors Tolkien's ideas on progress versus nature. While not as blatant as the events of The Scouring of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, Aldarion is still depleting natural resources in the name of exploration and progress. Erendis argues for the simple cultivation of the earth. I think this is a less obvious commentary on the dangers of pushing for progress for progress' sake alone.

sworland said...

That's a great point about industrialization, Austin. I hadn't thought of that at all.

I would say, however, that I see Tolkien portraying both Aldarion and Erendis negatively for their fixations on these elements. Neither of them ends up happy. They're both bitter in the end because they abandoned the happiness they experienced together in favor of elements that cannot return the love and devotion poured into them.

I interpreted the trees and the sea more as complicating agents, symbols of conflict and trouble, in the Aldarion/Erendis relationship. Sort of a man vs. nature conflict that creates a man vs. man conflict.