William Blake’s “When All The Morning Stars Sang Together” Job 38:4,7
Awhile back, in my post of April 19, 2011 titled “English, Welsh, and Imitating Tolkien,” I mentioned that in Howl’s Moving Castle DWJ offers a more interesting way of exploring Tolkien’s themes than you find in the typical Elf-and-Orc Opera that grew so popular following the breakout success of The Lord of the Rings in the late 1960’s. Now that we’ve met Calcifer, it’s time to look at some of his antecedents, both in Judeo-Christian tradition and in Tolkien (who respectfully builds his own cosmology and aesthetics within that tradition).
We’ll begin with a side excursion into Lewis:
“[T]he days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.”
…”Aren’t you a star any longer?” asked Lucy.
“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu….”[W]hen I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at the world’s eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.”
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” [The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Ch. 14]
There is a traditional belief, upon which Lewis is drawing here, that angels and stars are different aspects of the same beings. Consider this wonderful old hymn for Michaelmas (September 29), the patronal feast-day of St. Michael the Archangel:
Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright,
Filled with celestial splendor and light;
These, where the night never followeth day,
Raise the ‘Thrice Holy’ song ever and aye….
Then, when the earth was first poised in mid space,
Then, when the planets first sped on their race,
Then, when were ended the six days’ employ,
Then all the Sons of God shouted for joy.
[“Sons of God” refers to angelic beings of either gender or — what is more likely — of none, at least none that is corporeal. It is high time that our minds and souls were liberated from the 40-year tyranny of Political Correctness.]
Tolkien keeps the stars off to one side, instead offering his imagined youth of the world, when angels both incarnate and non-incarnate interacted directly with humans and other sentient races. At the time of the action of Lord of the Rings Tolkien’s Lucifer figure, Melkor/Morgoth, has been apprehended and is doing time out in the Void, and the chief nuisance is his deputy, Sauron.
Like Melkor, Sauron was of angelic origin, a votary of Aulë, a Vala or angel who in the Elves’ pantheon was equivalent to the god Vulcan. Thus Sauron’s affinity for volcanic fire.
Sauron was among the angelic spirits who chose to take incarnate form and enter into Arda, the physical universe, where there was plenty of havoc waiting to be wrought. Sauron got right to wreaking it. His physical body, once beautiful, was drowned when the island-kingdom of Númenor was destroyed.
Growing a new one took him a couple thousand years and was no doubt quite painful. Sauron determined never to be caught out in this way again. By making nice with the very talented Noldorin Elvish craftsmen of Second Age Middle-earth, he learned their secret of distilling spiritual attributes into physical objects, specifically rings.
Because in his arrogance Sauron could not imagine anyone having the sheer chutzpah, not to mention the strength and courage, to nick a ring right off his big bad finger, he let the better part of his own strength, power, and will to domination pass into this Great Ring, the One Ring to rule all them all.
Big mistake. The man Isildur managed to cut the Ring right off Sauron, finger (or, in the film, hand) and all, weakening him almost fatally. Once again Sauron faced centuries of painfully pulling himself together.
But although he no longer possessed it, the Ring remained a feng shui nightmare, rife with bad-arrow ch’i, cosmic hot potatoes, and general all-purpose evil. It promptly abandoned Isildur, getting him killed. Then it slithered to the bottom of the Great River, where it waited, slowly gathering strength along with its master, until it had worked its way up through the hobbit kingdom from Sméagol to Bilbo to Frodo.
Because hobbits were creatures that neither possessed nor desired power, the Ring could not confer much enhancement of that aspect of hobbitly existence; it did, however, prolong the lives of Bilbo and Sméagol.
And it came within reach of several powerful beings who could have seized it and used it, had they chosen to; one of them, Gandalf, was an angel of the same order as Sauron. Gandalf, however, had sense enough not to take the Ring to himself. He knew he needed too badly the enhanced power it would have given him in the fight against Sauron. He also knew that it would turn on him and begin to work evil.
Stars. Angels. Prolonged life, enhanced power. Keep them in mind as we get better acquainted with Calcifer.
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