Monday 16 August 2021

Why do Men replace elves in Middle Earth, when elves are so much better?

This is a question which surely must strike all lovers of Tolkien's world at one point or another, and which Tolkien fails satisfactorily to answer (explicitly) in his published work. 

But there is an implicit simple answer - an explanation of why and how Men are better than elves, despite all contrary appearances - an answer that is clear, beautiful and of universal relevance. 

Over at The Notion Club Papers blog...


Stephen Macdonald said...

As I read the Notion Papers Club piece it occurred to me that Men are in need of Christ, whereas Elves are not, at least not in the same way. Elves are complete in themselves, whereas Men are only truly Men when they achieve union with God through Christ Jesus. Paradoxically it is the incompleteness and "weakness" of Men -- the yearning need for Christ -- that makes Men "better" than Elves.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nova - I don't think that was what Tolkien intended, because he always said that elves envied Men. It just wasn't terribly convincing that this was the case!

When writing LotR Tolkien did not want to have any Christian elements in the story (where allegorical or an explicit foreshadowing) - but *did* want to make the story wholly compatible with 'real' history and the advent of Christ.

However... In 'The debate' piece, Tolkien did include a somewhat vague, but definite, sense of the need for Christ to heal the marring of Arda, and that Eru would therefore surely make it happen at some point - but of course this was not published until a couple of decades after JRR had died.

It was, I think for mostly that reason, excluded from the 1978 Silmarillion - despite being (IMO) perhaps the greatest literary work of Tolkien's from the entire non-LotR Legendarium.

In The Debate Tolkien did suggest a possible situation in which Men were Lords in 'Heaven' but elves (and presumably dwarves - and I guess Ents, though these aren't mentioned) were also present, and living with Men - yet in a subordinate position; the situation reversed from what it has been in Middle Earth.

Elves would (I guess) have become as near to perfect as the un-resurrected could become - but short of resurrected 'Sons-of-Eru' perfection.