Way back in the “Dark Ages” — okay, the mid-1980s — I had been thinking about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, and the various fates of the gem stones in the story. Thinking about it to the degree of considering writing a paper on the matter for Mythcon and possible publication in the journal Mythlore. But the more I got into the matter, the more my ideas wanted to take on the shape of a short play and not an academic analysis. That happens sometimes for me.
I held off a little bit because I didn’t want to trespass on Tolkien’s personal territory. And then I remembered reading somewhere that he had said he hoped his subcreation would indeed inspire other creators to give added expression to his work. I always get wary of fanfiction. But I wasn’t adding anything new to his Middle-earth, but rather giving a new sub-form to one of his tales.
In any case, I happened to be chairing the 1986 Mythcon, and used “rank hath its privileges” to put a performance of the Masque on the program. There had been a table reading of the play the previous year at the Wheaton Mythcon. But this would be the first official performance. (There was supposedly a second performance in Utah a few years ago at a conference at which Paul Nolan Hyde – a member of the original cast – was guest of honor. Unfortunately, I know no more about it other than that conference’s committee asked permission to perform it.)
Anyway, for the original performance, I wanted to make sure that the Valar in the story were distinctive. It seemed appropriate that to create the impression of their majesty, they should have dazzling masks. So I made them.
Manwe and Varda are the principle characters, present in each of the four scenes.
I called this Mask the Sky Face – it seemed appropriate for his character. (I later realized that the design of the mask was also affected by one of my own creations – Adonel and his myth.)
Varda Star Face reflects on her connection of the stars of the sky. It seemed more appropriate to call her by that name than Elbereth, at least in these circumstances.
Yavanna was actually my favorite of the masks. It was fun to think of her hair being made of “evergreen” leaves.
Vaire enters the story in connection with dream visions, so I wanted to convey something of that dreamy quality in this mask. Each of the masks was painted with acrylic paints, and then glitter flourishes were added. I happened to have an iridescent white paint that I mixed with the pinks and lavenders to give it a special luster.
For Nienna, I again used some of the iridescent paint, to add to the watery, weepy nature of her presentation.
Mandos was a challenge to make an image of. How do you portray the keeper of the Halls of the Dead, without making him creepy and scary. Yes, he must be stern, but he is not an enemy, not a “devil.” I was pleased with how this came out.
(In the play itself, the key scene he appears in concerns Luthien and Beren, and Luthien’s choice of a mortal life. The scene turned out to have a comedic tone to it, because although Mandos is very ominous about the whole matter, Luthien and Beren are so fixated on their love for each other they almost ignore the Valar. I promise you – I didn’t intend it to go that way, but the story just ran that way.)
Eonwe was a similar artistic challenge as Mandos. What sort of look would create the impression of a herald right away. It had to be striking. So I went with a look that gives the impression of a burning face, something that would “light the way” whether it was night or day.
The masks were created on flat cardboard with a bit of papier mache to give definition to lips, nose, brows, and some of the side effects in place of hair. They were then painted, and further definition with glitter was added to make them more gem-like under lights. (The mortals and elves in the story were played by actors without masks.) They were then mounted on long rods painted black, because … well, it just felt right, stylistically.
Given their construction, they were very delicate.
THE FATES OF THE MASKS
At the time of the Mythcon when the Masque was performed, there was also an art show and auction at the conference. The Manwe mask was purchased by a friend of mine, and I’m not sure she still has it. The Yavanna mask I gave to Lynn Maudlin (who played the part in the performance), as thanks for several bits of assistance she gave me in preparing the conference. I’m not sure of the fate of that mask.
The other five have lived on my wall for most of the time since that conference. But I have gone through some shifting around in recent years, and the masks have not endured the experience well. Unfortunately, they have been destroyed.
I took the photos of the five that I had shortly before they were destroyed. I thought I would not have pictures of Manwe and Yavanna. Back in 1986, Bonnie GoodKnight Callahan had taken pictures of all seven of the masks, but I thought I’d lost those photos. But they turned up recently (which is why the backgrounds of those images do not match the other five). So now there is a complete record of these creations.