Today we’re going to feature a project in development by Dresden Codak where he illustrates each chapter of Tolkein’s Silmarillion. If you’re interested, he has an ongoing Tumblr where he’s posting the art as he goes which you should totally check out.
With The Hobbit movies in full stride, this is a lovely idea and his desire to interject a diversity of artistic visions into Middle Earth in a point in time where one vision, the Jackson movie version is uber dominant, is worthy. In his own words:
“It’s a side project I do in my free time to create a painted illustration to accompany every chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, as well as provide supplementary illustrations to round out the characters and world in general. My motivation is to create a Middle-Earth visually unique from the style of the Peter Jackson films. I like the movies, but I miss the days when there was more diversity and interpretation to Tolkien illustrations. A second motivation is to provide a greater representation of women and people of color in the narratives. While Tolkien made more than a few missteps regarding race and gender, the “everyone is white” trend in adaptations is a symptom of other people ignoring what’s in the texts.
Additionally, all of Tolkien’s writings are presented as if they’re written from a limited and flawed historical perspective (LoTR and The Hobbit were “written” by Hobbits, etc). The position of my adaptation is to present what “actually” happened- the events upon which the flawed or biased history is based. Just like with real historians, the presence of women and people of color, and their achievements, are frequently ignored. I’m never going to contradict what’s written, but I’m definitely going to use all of the tools at my disposal to emphasize the importance of those who don’t always get their rightful share of historical credit.”
Occasionally i include the descriptions the artist has included in his Tumblr post, but most often not and you should really head over to the Tumblr to check it all out.
Silmarillion Project Part 2: “Valaquenta – Account of the Valar and Maiar in according to the lore of the Eldar”
The second chapter of The Silmarillion introduces us to the various divine beings (Ainur) who enter Earth (Arda) at its conception: the Valar (a godlike pantheon), the Maiar (lesser spirits) and the Enemy, who at this point is called Melkor. Although Melkor is mightier than any individual Vala, he is not counted among them, as their mission is to craft and preserve the world, while Melkor is hell-bent on twisting it to his will. Several Valar are pictured here. They are, from front to back:
Mandos – Judge of the Dead and Master of Doom. He has foreknowledge of everything that will come to pass on Arda until the end times, but will only reveal pieces at Manwë’s order.
Yavanna – Queen of the Earth and Giver of Fruits. She created the Ents to protect the trees from the axes of Orcs and Dwarves.
Aulë – Craftsman of the Earth and husband of Yavanna. He created the Dwarves with Ilúvatar’s (God’s) blessing, who gave them actual life.
Varda – Queen of Stars. Creator of light and the stars (naturally) and also the first to see Melkor for what he truly was.
Manwë – King of the Valar, master of the sky and husband of Varda. He is also the “twin” broth of Melkor, the Enemy.
Ulmo – Lord of Waters and the sole wandering Vala (never taking residence in the the Undying Lands as they do). Ulmo prefers the open oceans and is an eternal friend to Men and Elves, of whose plight he is always keenly aware.
The accompanying illustrations are of the Enemies:
Melkor – First and mightiest of the Ainur. Obsessed with creating life of his own, which he cannot, so he forever strives to corrupt Creation itself and rule over it. The source of all discord and Evil in Arda. Later called Morgoth, “The Great Enemy,” he is the central antagonist of the Silmarillion.
Sauron – A powerful Maia originally in service of Aulë, Sauron was corrupted by Morgoth, ultimately becoming his second-in-command. Master of all shapes and forms, as well as the crafting of objects of power.
Notes: The Valar don’t have permanent incarnations, so I tried to keep many visual details vague and focus on broad themes. Conversely, while Melkor could take on many forms in earlier days, by the time he stole the Silmarils and was known as Morgoth, he was essentially trapped in the form of an imposing Dark Lord, “tall and terrible.” I wanted to emphasize a weary, corporeal form in contrast to the Valar, a form that will become further scarred before the end. Sauron, on the other hand, is less imposing and more of a crafty sorcerer. While he could change into the form of Elves or Men, I doubt that would have been his default in the First Age, when his main job was ruling an island full of werewolves. Hope you enjoy this one! There are many more to come.
“Silmarillion Chapter 2: Of Aulë and Yavanna” Of all the Valar, Aulë and Yavanna are my favorites, the ultimate husband & wife combo.
Aulë is functionally the god of craftsman, and is said to be most like the villainous Melkor in personality (his servants Sauron and Saruman both turn evil, plus he trained troublemaking Fëanor) but Aulë himself remains virtuous and humble. Even when he created the Dwarves in defiance of Eru, it was meant to be a tribute to the Elves & Men (Eru’s personal creations). As such, the Dwarves were given true life and allowed to be awakened after the Elves. Aulë represents the creative ambition of Melkor without the jealousy or vanity.
Yavanna, creator of the Ents, is great because she’s one of the only Valar who actively tries to keep Middle-Earth from becoming overrun with evil, as her interest is with the actual plants and animals of the world. She’s also the one who chose Radagast to be one of the Istari sent to Middle-Earth. It’s also worth noting that while they got along very well, Aulë’s and Yavanna’s creations or servants did not. Dwarves and Ents have never had good relations, and Saruman despised Radagast to the end of his days.
Silmarillion Chapter 7: Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor For Fëanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he wondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable. Then he began a long secret labour, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils.
Here is the beginning of the end for the peaceful days of the Elves. Never before nor after would anything as beautiful or tragic as the Silmarils ever be created again. Not an easy thing to illustrate, so I kept it pretty abstract. On the topic of Fëanor’s appearance: the Noldor are only described as being more muscular than other Elves, and having darker hair and features. Additionally, we know the Noldor resemble the human House of Bëor, who are described as having brown, “swarthy” skin and dark features. Tolkien’s characters are often all portrayed as white Anglo-Saxon, but in reality this frequently conflicts with his ethnic descriptions.