Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Weird Tolkien (III). Melkor Makes the Moon

So, wanting to refresh my memory of Tolkien's account of the Making of the Sun and Moon for my Flat-Earth paper at Kalamazoo, I went to the pre-eminent Tolkien astronomer, Kristine Larsen, who pointed me to her paper in the 2005 Aston conference proceedings, where she had addressed these very issues.*

I was familiar with the BOOK OF LOST TALES/SILMARILLION story about the Moon being made out of the last fruit or flower of The White Tree of Valinor but had not made any study of the variant legends, and so had missed the odd story told in Text C* of the AINULINDALE (HME.X) in which it is actually Melkor and not the Valar who makes the moon.

Melkor . . . gathered himself together and summoned all his might and his hatred, and he said: 'I will rend the Earth asunder, and break it, and none shall possess it.'

But this Melkor could not do, for the Earth may not be wholly destroyed against its fate; nevertheless Melkor took a portion of it, and seized it for his own, and reft it away; and he made of it a little earth of his own, and it wheeled round about in the sky, following the greater earth wheresoever it went, so that Melkor could observe thence all that happened below, and could send forth his malice and trouble the seas and shake the lands . . . [T]he Valar assaulted the stronghold of Melkor, and cast him out, and removed it further from the Earth, and it remains in the sky, Ithil whom Men call the Moon. There is both blinding heat and cold intolerable, as might be looked for in any work of Melkor, but at least it is clean, yet utterly barren; and nought liveth there, nor ever shall . . . 

Among the many depictions of the Moon Tolkien made, going all the way back to his 1914 Earendel poem, I think this might be the strangest. But perhaps that's only because it's so much at odds with the familiar Lamps > Trees > Sun-ship and Moon-ship stories. Perhaps if this version had appeared, with variation, since the BLT in various iterations of the myth it too wd seem the established moon-myth in Tolkien's cosmogony.  Certainly there are many moments in his Plot Notes to LotR when Tolkien comes up with what seems to us now just wrong which only feel that way because he did, decisively, decide to go a different way instead.

--John R.
--currently at Rockford
--current reading: Derrick.
--visited a Barnes & Nobel today, my first time in a bookstore this week (last week's being a downtown Williamstown bkstr and the gift show of an art museum).

*Kristine Larsen: "A Little Earth of His Own: Tolkien's Lunar Creation Myths", The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference 


Eric said...

It seems as though Tolkien was trying to reconcile his story with astronomy, one of the prevailing theories being that the Moon was created from Earth material ejected by an impact.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Eric:
Yes, this is essentially the point of Larsen's article, which provides an overview of major theories about the moon's formation in Tolkien's lifetime, the three main ones being

1. The Sister theory: the Earth and Moon formed at the same time, and are in essence a dual-planet system.

2. The Wife theory: the Moon was an independent planetoid captured by the Earth.

3. The Daughter theory: the Moon was formed when something struck the Earth and knocked off material that formed into the Moon.*

From what I can tell, a form of the third is the current theoretical favorite, though they now think the object that hit the Earth was pretty large (about the size of Mars) and that the material lost by the Earth mostly came from the surface, which is why the Moon is one-sixth the Earth's size but only one-thirtieth its weight.

It now seems pretty definite that without being an expert Tolkien was interested in astronomy and aware of the major theories. Which is not to say he didn't make mistakes, but that was the topic of Larsen's paper delivered at Kalamazoo just last month, which I hope we'll soon see in print.

--John R.

*one expression of this theory occurs in one of the DOCTOR DOLITTLE books, DOCTOR DOLITTLE IN THE MOON (1928)