Monday, February 20, 2012

Unfinished Tales: Aldarion and Erendis

Part 2 of Unfinished Tales continues with the most unfinished of the eponymous tales, "Aldarion and Erendis."

"Aldarion and Erendis" stands out in the corpus of Middle-earth texts for various reasons. For one thing, it is the only story of any detail set in Númenor before the end of that island (the tale of its end is found in The Silmarillion as "The Akallabêth). It takes place in the earlier years of the Second Age, shortly after the Númenóreans began sailing back to Middle-earth for the first time and before Sauron forged the Rings, sparking war with the Elves. The preceding "tale" in the collection, "A Description of the Island of Númenor" functions as a companion piece to "Aldarion and Erendis," fleshing out the geographic and cultural environment of the Númenor of their tale.

"Aldarion and Erendis" is also unique among Tolkien's works because the chief source of its drama is the marriage of the titular characters: Tar-Aldarion the 6th King of Númenor and his wife, the only commoner-born Queen of that land. Mind you, while this marital drama is forefront, the tale is not solely about the tragedy of one family. "Aldarion and Erendis" shows how the earliest seeds of the Akallabêth were laid, what Tolkien called "the shadow of the shadow" that would later fall on Númenor. As the great ship-king of Númenor, Tar-Aldarion's reign laid the foundations for his people's intervention into the later war of Sauron and the Elves, paving the way for the destruction of Númenor at Sauron's conniving and the involvement of Aragorn and Gondor in The Lord of the Rings.

One particular point where "Aldarion and Erendis" converge with Aragorn's tale is the White Tree of Gondor. In The Lord of the Rings we learn that the White Tree, the symbol of Gondor's kings, is descended from a tree on the Elven island of Tol Eressëa. For so long as a descendent of that tree blossoms, the descendent of Elendil rule Gondor. In the same way that Elendil's people came from Númenor, the first White Tree of Gondor came from Númenor as a sapling. Its parent tree, cut down by Sauron in Númenor's last days, was planted during "Aldarion and Erendis"--a wedding gift from the Elves of Tol Eressëa. The prophecy connecting the tree to the kings would not come until later, beyond the scope of this story.

My vignette--and a simple vignette it is--for this story shows Aldarion and the tree. Aldarion's marriage fell apart when he went back to sea and returned several years late. Erendis had returned to her native part of the island and their house together in Armenelos, the royal city, was empty. Aldarion went to visit his wife once he returned, but they were both too proud to bridge the impasse between them and Aldarion returned to Armenelos in cold anger. He then ordered his house there destroyed. The text of this part of the tale, which comes near the point where Tolkien ceased to work on it, reads:

On the next day he gathered men in Rómenna and brought them to Armenelos. There he bade some fell all the trees, save one, in his garden, and take them to the shipyards; others he commanded to raze his house to the ground. The white Elven-tree alone he spared; and when the woodcutters were gone he looked at it, standing amid the desolation, and he saw for the first time that it was in itself beautiful. In its slow Elven growth it was yet but twelve feet high, straight, slender, youthful, now budded with its winter flowers upon upheld branches pointing to the sky.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Unfinished Tales: A Description of the Island of Númenor

Discussion of Unfinished Tales resumed on the Barrow-downs this past week with the first tale of the book's second Part. Except that it isn't a tale, precisely speaking. This piece is "A Description of the Island of Númenor" and it is a pretty much complete, fairly short account of the island-kingdom of Númenor. As such, it doesn't actually tell a story, but it does give an otherwise unparalleled look into the geography and culture of the Númenóreans.

Part 2 of Unfinished Tales is about the Second Age, which began with the defeat of the Dark Lord Morgoth. In reward for their loyalty against him, the three houses of Men allied with the Elves were given the island of Númenor, which was raised from the depths of the ocean especially for them. The Second Age would end after the cumulative effects of the Númenóreans fighting Sauron, being seduced by Sauron, being destroyed (ala Atlantis) by the Powers-that-be for that seduction, and a remnant of the Númenóreans riding the tidal waves to Middle-earth where they would establish the Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor and face Sauron again, and win, in the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, when Sauron was defeated and his Ring taken.

In other words, the Second Age was pretty much the Age of Númenor. From the point of view of The Lord of the Rings, the most important thing that happened outside of Númenor was the creation of the Rings of Power and the war between the Elves and Sauron that followed--a war that the Númenóreans entered on the side of the Elves, decisively defeating Sauron (yes, even with his ring), starting the whole cycle of Sauron-related events that would destroy their kingdom and begin the Third Age.

So Númenor is clearly and important part of Tolkien's legendarium. It isn't exactly in Middle-earth, which generally refers to the lands East of the Sea, but it certainly isn't "The West," where Frodo is taken at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where normally only Elves can go. Instead, Númenor occupies a special halfway spot, the closest thing to paradise that Men can have on this earth. Most significantly, Men lose Númenor in a "second fall" of sorts, one which is mostly their own fault. Sauron eggs them on at the end and probably hastens their demise, but the Númenóreans really have no one to blame but themselves.

Obviously, if Númenor is so important, you would expect Tolkien to have written a lot about it--but he didn't; not really. Thus, "A Description of the Island of Númenor," despite its brevity (it's about 9 pages, counting footnotes), has a lot of interest to the Tolkien fan wanting to know more about this crucial, but enigmatic, race.

Unfortunately, the picture I composed for this "tale" isn't great. The lack of particular characters and the emphasis on geography made it a challenge to come up with a relatively simple scene and the final result is a bit lacklustre--mostly because I left the stud-wide strip of green at the bottom of the backdrop baseplate and didn't orient the backdrop at a 90 degree angle. This was also a fairly lazy build, since I simply imported the smithy from 6918 Blacksmith Attack.

Ignoring the deficiencies of my building, however, this scene draws on a few brief lines in the "tale" that mention the scarcity of swords in early Númenor. Before they began exploring back to Middle-earth, the Númenóreans had almost no use for swords. The ones that had were heirlooms from the First Age and their part in the war against Morgoth. The only swords that WERE being forged in Númenor were for the King's Heir on the day he took at that office. Thus we see a royal or high official with a more junior assistant at the smithy to inspect the smith's handiwork.

The background, apart from hiding the brick wall against which this photograph was taken, allowed me to work a little bit of Númenor's geography into this image. The single mountain is Meneltarma, Númenor's only mountain. Meneltarma was the place of worship for the Númenóreans, which is part of the reason we don't see much religion in The Lord of the Rings: because, rather like the Jewish temple, the place of worship was lost, although there was a legend that the mountain was not drowned with the rest of Númenor, but rose again above the waves.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


LEGO building, like most artistic endeavours, is a skill that one generally builds by imitating what other people have done, and for most LEGO fans the first master they study is the LEGO Company itself. Most MOCing techniques in a budding builder are based on what he's been taught to use in a LEGO set and when a builder steps out for the first time to build a MOC, the results are often close to official sets.

While I would like to think that I'm a bit beyond simple imitation of what goes on in official sets, I still do the occasional "paint job." I'm calling it that because the finished product is an official set, but painted with different-coloured pieces. This car is the most recent example:

Like a lot of paint jobs, this revisited car is a smaller vehicle. I tend to enjoy this scale because the smaller size makes it easier to find the pieces required in another colour to replicate the original. It's also a scale that LEGO does well. With most buildings they either have to skimp on parts or on size to keep the set's piece-count down to a manageable level, but this is not generally the case with vehicles.

The main reason for repainting this police car as a fire chief's car was the fact that I had the red 3x4 slope with wheel-wells and it even had the fire sticker on it, a relic from 6525 Blaze Commander, one of my earliest Town sets. I also had a spare 4x6x2 sloped cockpit. Between the desire to put both these parts to use and having more wheels and tires than I'll EVER use (true of most LEGO fans), this car fell together without much difficulty. It helps that it doesn't require any rare pieces.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Unfinished Tales: Narn i Chîn Húrin

A week ago I put up the first chapter-illustration from Unfinished Tales and with the Chapter-by-Chapter discussion on the Barrow-downs due to resume in the coming week or so, this is the second illustration.

The second tale in the collection also belongs to Part I of the book, tales of the First Age. Like "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin," this second tale is found in The Silmarillion in a shorter form that puts it in the context of the larger tale of the High Elves and their fight against the Dark Lord; but unlike "Of Tuor," this tale is far more complete.

This tale is the "Narn i Chîn Húrin,"* the Tale of the Children of Húrin. In the Silmarillion this is the chapter called "Of Túrin Turambar," who is one of the titular children of Húrin and the main character of this tale.

Túrin is a Man, the first cousin of Tuor from the previous tale, about seven or eight years older than him, and he also loses his father, the great hero Húrin, in the battle when the Dark Lord Morgoth's armies destroy the great alliance of Elven kingdoms, crushing some of the Elven kingdoms in the process. After that, only three Elven kingdoms remain, all of which are hidden or guarded: Gondolin, which figures into Tuor's story; Nargothrond, and Doriath. Túrin's mother sends him to Doriath to be fostered, but she stays behind because she is pregnant and it's winter.

Fast-forward about twenty years and Túrin grows up and leaves Doriath on bad terms. He joins a band of outlaws and turns them into guerillas fighting Morgoth's orks and has some success before he is betrayed and captured. His best friend rescues him by night, but Túrin kills him thinking he's an ork. Another freed prisoner leads him to the secret Elven kingdom of Nargothrond.

Once again, Túrin becomes a leader and the Elves of Nargothrond begin to wage open war on the forces of Morgoth. This attracts the Dark Lord's attention and he sends a massive army led by the dragon Glaurung to destroy the city, which happens--largely thanks to Túrin's pride. The dragon lets Túrin go, to mess with him further (I should have mentioned that Morgoth put a curse on Húrin's family) and reminds him of his mother and sister suffering in his homeland. Túrin then abandons any thought of freeing the captives taken at Nargothrond, which included his One True Love/Elven Princess to go and rescue his family.

That's where this picture comes in...

Túrin arrives back home only to discover that his mother and sister are long gone, so he goes to the hall of the local Easterling lord, who has taken over the lands since Morgoth's victory, where he hopes to learn of them. He does, but in the process he asserts his rights as the proper lord of the land, starts a fight, kills the lord, and burns the place to the ground. This picture shows his standing outside the hall with Sador Labadal, a lamed servant he knew as a child who has joined in the uprising against the Easterling lord. Sador now tells him to go (and it will be seen from the whole passage that I've changed the appearance of things slightly):

"Then he [Túrin] rested, leaning against a pillar, and the fire of his rage was as ashes. But old Sador crept up to him and clutched him about the knees, for he was wounded to the death. 'Thrice seven years and more, it was long to wait for this hour,' he said. 'But now go, go, lord! Go, and do not come back, unless with greater strength. They will raise the land against you. Many have run from the hall. Go, or you will end here. Farewell!' Then he slipped down and died."

Obviously, I've moved Túrin outdoors, into the winter snow that forms a chilly contrast to the flames of the burning hall, and to make the picture more striking, he isn't leaning against a pillar but standing proud while Sador beseeches him to leave. I've also moved Sador from clutching at his knees for the same reason--and because of the difficulty of getting the LEGO figures posed that easily.

After this scene is the most finished part of this unfinished tale, which includes Túrin's (incestuous) reunion with his sister, his final confrontation with the dragon Glaurung, and death for everyone--much like Hamlet, there's hardly anyone left onstage at the end of the "Narn" to deliver the final lines.

Compared with my previous depiction of Túrin, one can see that I've updated the figure a little. The hairpiece is one that only came out in the past few years; mine comes from the Prince of Persia sets and many more will be available with The Lord of the Rings sets coming out this year. I've also updated his face--I'm not sure if it was available in 2004/2005, but I certainly didn't have any, and while it might be a little grim for the entirety of Túrin's story, it is a grim story and this is a grim part.

One thing that hasn't changed is his black sword. Túrin's black sword, Gurthang, was originally a gift to his friend, Beren, from the King of Doriath, and Túrin used it in accidentally slaying Beren, and then became famed for wielding it as a soldier of Nargothrond. He would carry it until the end of the story when he faces the dragon again. My version of Gurthang is a LEGO great sword that has been painted black. It was one of my original chrome great swords from 1995 that had lost nearly all its chrome so painting it black was a way of salvaging it. It works fairly well, even about the hilt where the paint has partially worn off from the minifig's hand grasping at it.

As a final note, it's worth mentioning that the "Narn" was cleaned up and published in 2007 as a stand-alone work, The Children of Húrin. If you consider that it's a long enough tale to carry an entire book, you'll see that my synopsis here is VERY brief and I heartily commend checking it out. Although it is far more dire than The Lord of the Rings, it might be more approachable for the reader just getting into Middle-earth's other tales, since it has a single narrative and fewer characters, unlike The Silmarillion, the usual starting point.

*In Unfinished Tales it is actually the Narn i hîn Húrin, but we know from The History of Middle-earth series that Christopher Tolkien dropped the "ch" in favour of "h" to distract people from pronouncing it as you would in "not by the hairs of my chinny chin chin." In Elvish tongues, the "ch" is always pronounced as in German, e.g. "Bach."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Aquazone Breakfast News: 074

It should be noted that Deputy Jake's opinion of the LEGO Company is not my own--I have spent far too much money on LEGO in the last few years because the themes they've offered have been so good. That said, I really don't know why they haven't returned to a "Wild West" theme yet: they barely scratched the surface in 1996-7 and it seems like a surefire success. I can thus sympathize with the Deputy's frustration--even if my wallet is glad they've held off.