Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thoughts on "Kinship"

     Today in class the theme of "Kinship" was mentioned; this stuck out to me because it seemed very different from other people's thoughts on the themes so far in the Silmarillion, but it is a huge part of Tolkien's mythology. Disagreements between kin often lead to more ferocious and devastating conflict than a fight between unrelated forces: Melkor is able to wreak such havoc and cause such personal sorrow to the Valar because he was one of them; Feanor and the Noldor come to great sorrow and loss because of in-fighting, sibling rivalry, and the like.
     All of Tolkien's Middle-earth works emphasize the importance of kin and more specifically of lineage (which we touched on briefly). The Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings and the Tables of the Silmarillion contain several family trees; these don't simply serve to allow the reader to remember names (although they can help with that), they show the significance of family ties and allow readers a deeper understanding of the repercussions of certain characters' actions and the reasons why those actions affect other characters in particular. Lineage is also a source and element of myth within the texts: for example the Dwarves' belief that the Seven Fathers are reincarnated through children who bear their names and thus continue to be great leaders and heroes of their people.
     Are there other examples of kin and/or lineage ties that stick out to you as important in Tolkien's works? Where may have this emphasis on blood relationships and family history come from, for Tolkien?

3 comments:

Estë said...

I certainly agree with you that Kinship is a hugely important theme in Tolkien’s work. As you mentioned, family lineage is important for a number of reasons. Tolkien consistently links characters in the LOTR back to the Eldar days, Aragorn being a prime example of this. His status as a Numenorean is both an important defining characteristic for his bravery and wisdom and also because it ties him to the throne as rightful heir. Another example can be found in the Elves with Elrond and Arwen. Elrond plays a role in the Second Age, as he was present at the battle in which the Ring was cut from Sauron’s finger and tried to convince Isildur to destroy it. He is also an important character in the Third Age, but more so his daughter Arwen, who saves Frodo in the Fellowship and eventually becomes Aragorn’s queen (to name a few examples of her significance). The concept of family lines is important for Tolkien, as he consistently ties important events to various generations of the same line (Hurin and Turin, Bilbo and Frodo are other examples of this, there are many).

I think that the idea of kinship is similarly important for Tolkien. The major kinship that I think of immediately is that of Frodo and Sam. They begin their quest with a master-servant sort of relationship that continues to the end, but I think a really important fact about them is that they were always great friends. The love between Frodo and Sam is, I think, a significant contributor to the success of the destruction of the Ring. The strength of Sam’s support for Frodo is incredible, and he comes to his aid crucially in Shelob’s lair (among many other places). I think that the centrality of Kinship is established firmly with the Fellowship, and this foundational relationship continues to the end, contributing to their success.

Varda said...

I think the idea of kinship was present in depth throughout Tokien's life, perhaps not as literal kinship but more through his numerous friendships created through established groups he was a part of or helped form. These groups, as discussed by Snyder, seem to be less comparable to "clubs" and more comparable to brotherhoods. His childhood friends were very dear to him and many of them were killed in the war. His friendship with many Oxford peers, and even with C.S. Lewis, are results of his organizations, as well. Many of Tolkien's fictional representations of kinship are not necessarily among family members. The Valar are created in a way which makes many of us think of them as siblings, when in reality they are friends, romantic partners, family, and more. Melkor's rebellion illustrates a betrayal, then, among a group of people who are kin in a variety of different ways. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Thorin's group, and a multitude of others are representations of kinship through brotherly friendship, which I think was of great significance to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Ossë said...

Considering Tolkien's fascination with his own ancestry, I think it makes sense that his works include such detailed descriptions of kin. In The Silmarillion, we (obviously) see a lot of discussion on lineage and familial relationships. In addition to familial ties, the friendships and alliances formed throughout the story are important for the events that unfold. One example of kinship in The Silmarillion that I found interesting was marriage. Having not read this story before, I wasn't aware that many of the Valar and Maiar had spouses. These couples help each other in their duties. For example, Manwë and Varda live on Taniquetil, and together, they are able to perceive more than they are when alone. Uinen and Ossë live in the sea. Uinen helped bring Ossë back to the allegiance of Ulmo, and only she can calm Ossë's storms.

In LOTR, kinship and family are equally important. In addition to the characters' lineages, their familial ties are also emphasized. The example that comes to my mind is the hobbits. As Frodo's uncle and guardian, Bilbo plays a huge role in Frodo's life. As a result of this, Frodo ends up with the Ring. Merry and Pippin (who are also related to Frodo) are extremely close and end up on many adventures together.