"The Cloud of Unseeing": Myths Transformed and Pseudo-scientific Interpretations of the Book of Genesis

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Author: Kristine Larsen
Date: May 2018
From: Journal of Tolkien Research(Vol. 6, Issue 2)
Publisher: The Lutheran University Association, Inc., dba Valparaiso University
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,262 words

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As more than one astute reader of The Silmarillion has mused, how could life--especially plant life--exist in Middle-earth before the creation of the Sun and Moon? After all, in those early days in Arda after the destruction of the Two Lamps, the Two Trees--the progenitors of the Sun and Moon--only lit the Blessed Lands. Tolkien himself was troubled by these scientific inconsistencies, going back at least as far as 1948. That year he loaned to Katherine Farrer a copy of a radical, experimental version of his creation myth termed by Christopher Ainulindale C* (called the "Round World Version" by Tolkien) (MR 39). As Christopher describes, "in C* the Sun is already present from the beginning of Arda ... and the origin of the Moon, similarly 'de-mythologised' by removal from all association with the Two Trees, is placed in the context of the tumults of Arda's making.... There is no indication whatsoever of how the myth of the Two Trees was to be accommodated to these new ideas" (MR 43). While Tolkien never incorporated this Round World version into his cosmology, he revisited these astronomical inconsistencies after completing The Lord of the Rings.

In the so-called "Myths Transformed" essays published in Morgoth's Ring (dated to "the late 1950s") we find Tolkien's further experimentations with, as he called it, "the astronomically absurd business of the making of the Sun and Moon" (MR 369-70). In what Christopher labels Essay IIa, his father theorizes that "The Making of the Sun and Moon must occur long before the coming of the Elves; and cannot be made to be after the death of the Two Trees.. The time allowed is too short. Either could there be woods or flowers . on earth, if there had been no light since the overthrow of the Lamps" (MR 375; emphasis original). Essay V states "The making of the Sun after the Death of the Trees is not only impossible 'mythology' now. it is also impossible chronologically in the Narrative. The Sun existed as part of the Kingdom of Arda. In so far as there was darkness (and diminishment of growth in Arda consequently) when the Valar removed to Aman it was due to obscurations devised by Melkor: clouds and smoke (a volcanic era!)" (MR 389). This idea of a veiling or dimming of sunlight (which had been defiled by Melkor in an earlier attack on the Sun) is more explicitly found in Essay III: "What happened in Valinor after the Death of the Trees? Aman was 'unveiled'--it had been covered with a dome (made by Varda) of mist or cloud down through which no sight would pierce nor light.. It was removed and Aman was lit by the Sun--its blessing was thus removed" (MR 385-6; emphasis original).

One of the major mythological difficulties of moving up the formation of the Sun and Moon was, as Tolkien noted, "how can, nonetheless, the Eldar be called the 'Star-folk'?" (MR 375). In Essay IIa, Tolkien endeavors to solve this problem. Here the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A584600245