Poetic Fusions of Classics and J. R.R. Tolkien’s work

When using the term «European literature», it is easy to make the mistake of falling into an argument stemming from this dichotomy: those who see European literature as a single entity and those who find the term wrong because there are many European literatures. I prefer a golden mean between these two stances. I see European literature as an umbrella term which indeed encompasses various literatures. Yet, I find that through the passing of time, due to the widespread dissemination of works and the frequent imitation of old writers, it is safe to talk about a European literary identity as manifested in a plethora of similarities which constitute a shared literary pool. These similarities are enhanced by both stylistic conventions and certain traits that are part of human nature and leak through literature since the beginning of time.

This realization occurred when I first started studying English Literature. I was an ardent reader of Professor Tolkien’s works by then and it was interesting to see his influences from old literatures. I decided to start a creative project called «Literature fusions» where I take pieces of classic works that I find they have a thematic relevance to sequences written by Tolkien and I combine elements of both. The reason I started doing this is on the grounds of literary experimentation and exploration. By taking a Stylistics class (a branch of applied linguistics dealing with the study of linguistic choices and their effects in a text), I found it fascinating to see the different effects that different stylistic choices produce while often remaining concerned with timeless themes. It is interesting to see, for instance, the effect of a fantasy character speaking in a Shakespearean manner or the motives of an unlikable one becoming more understandable by approaching them with the sensibility of a Romantic style; without changing the nature of Tolkien’s original characters. Finally, I found that doing this emphasizes the aforementioned similarities found in European literatures.

I have used pieces of various genres and periods, such as Romantic, Victorian, Renaissance and Medieval. Here, I provide one classical abstract from the «Iliad» and one from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” fused with «Silmarillion» sequences.

The «Iliad» and «The Silmarillion»

«Achilles gives Nestor the prize for wisdom at the funeral games held in honor of Patroklos during the Trojan War.»
By Joseph-Désiré Court

The «Silmarillion» is written in an epic scope but not in an epic language. Since many of its themes, characters and events are epic in scope, I wanted to experiment with using the traditional epic decorum. In the Iliad fusion, the Homeric elevated language preserves and intensifies the nature of the characters involved and the gravity of the matter. The classical linguistic register can further give the impression of remote antiquity. Moreover, the deterministic nature of the sequence with the Noldor,[1] who with their actions fulfilled the Doom of Mandos, is here thematically similar to the ancient Greek fatalistic worldview as seen when Achilles and Agamemnon are entangled in the plans of superior powers. We can, also, see the millennia-old games of power of the patriarchal and ruling sphere as repeated throughout history. The pride and wrath of both Fëanor and Achilles may lead to destruction, yet eternal glory is won and their deeds were indeed the matter of song until the last days of Arda.

“Sing, O minstrels, the anger of Fëanor son of Finwë, that brought countless ills upon the Noldor. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying to Mandos, and many a hero did it yield a prey to Orcs and vultures, for so was the Doom of Mandos fulfilled from the day on which the son of Fëanor, king of Noldor, and great Fingolfin, first fell out with one another. 

And which of the Valar was it that set them on to quarrel? 
It was Melkor, the Black Foe of the World; for he was angry with the Elves and sent discord upon Tirion to plague the Noldor, because the Valar had fought him for their sake.”

«Paradise Lost» and «The Silmarillion»

«Paradise Lost illustration».
By Gustave Doré

Here I present a Noldo bitterly regretting his decision to leave Valinor after seeing the darkness of Middle-earth, reminiscent of the Fall of the Angels after they lost heaven. I find that the elevated language suits the High Elven spirit: None other than an immortal race that had reached the zenith of knowledge and prosperity under divine guidance could speak in this lofty and eloquent manner. This passage, also, echoes the Noldorin regret, stubborn pride and hope to make the best of the situation they found themselves in. Amidst their wrongdoing, they do not forget that their losses were done so they can be the masters of themselves. Although by no means do I equate the nature of the Noldor with that of the fallen angels, they both went through the same transition from bliss to fall. Many of the wise Noldor undoubtedly regretted their decision to heed Fëanor, yet, with a few exceptions like Finarfin, they were too proud to go back and seek the pardon of the Valar. The theme fall-from-bliss is an ancient one that still survives nowadays in both literature and religion. It is well-known and obvious that Tolkien was much influenced by Christianity and incorporated many of its themes into his writings. None other work emphasizes this thematic connection better, more tragically and more poetically than Milton’s monumental “Paradise Lost”.

“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,” 
Said then the lost Noldo, “this the seat 
That we must change for Valinor? — this mournful gloom 
For that celestial light? Be it so, since Fëanor 
Who now is sovran can dispose and bid 
What shall be right: fardest from him could be best, 
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields, 
Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail
Dark World! and thou, starlit Beleriand, 
Receive thy new dwellers—those who bring 
A mind not to be changed by place or time. 
The mind is its own place, and in itself 
Can make light of darkness, a darkness of light. 
What matter where, if I be still the same, 
And what I should be, all but less than he 
Whom the Spirit of Fire hath made greater? Here at least 
We shall be free; the Valar have not built 
Here for their envy, will not drive us hence: 
Here we may reign secure; and, in our choice, 
To reign is worth ambition, though in the Dark Lands: 
Better to reign in the Dark Lands than serve in Valinor. 
But shall we let then our faithful kin, 
The associates and co-partners of our rebellion, 
Wait thus forsaken in the cold darkness across Helcaraxë, 
Or bring them hither to share with us their part 
In these unhappy lands, or once more 
With rallied arms to try what may be yet 
Regained in Beleriand, or what more lost in Angband?“

By Krystalia Karamihou

Main theme picture «The Oath of Feanor» by Jenny Dolfen.

——————————————————————————————————————————————- [1] The matter of predestination and free will in Tolkien’s legendarium is open to debate. For the sake of this project, I use the published Silmarillion where it is mentioned that one of the gifts of Eru to the race of Men, unlike to the Elves, was their ability ‘to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else’. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (USA: Random House, 2002), p.35.