Last Saturday in July


Our meeting this afternoon was a little depleted, with Tim, Julie and Mike all busy elsewhere, as befits a hot summer Saturday! We needed windows open and fans at full power in the seminar room. Anne has also been out of action after a nasty encounter with a comfy chair, but Pat was with us again, having braved the uncertainties of the buses.

Our nominated reading was ‘Sellic Spell’ – Tolkien’s imaginative re-creation of the original folk story underlying the Beowulf poem, but before we turned our attention to that, Ian updated us on the remarkable computer model he has created of ‘Thackley’, the house built for Joseph Wright in early 20th century Oxford, and thus the house in which Tolkien had tutorials with Wright while an undergraduate. We all congratulated Ian on his detailed work on the 3D walk-around model, and hope he will consider making it accessible to a wider audience at some point.

Angela then launched us into our chosen text with her observation that the prose ‘Sellic Spell’ and its shorter companion piece in verse ‘The Lay of Beowulf’ were both easier than the Beowulf translation itself.

Ian remarked that ‘Sellic Spell’ has a touch of Roverandom about it, reading like a useful version of the Beowulf story for children, as well as showing where the OE story comes from. Laura described ‘Sellic Spell’ as the afternoon version, suitable for a matinee! Ian commented that the change of names delivers a very different story.

Pat picked up the idea of names and expressed her delight in the names in ‘Sellic Spell’, in their translated form they can be seen to be very apt as Beowulf becomes Beewolf (i.e. ‘bear’), Unferth becomes Unfriend, and Hondscio becomes Handshoe (i.e. glove), and Grendel becomes Grinder. Each name defines the special ability or quality that defines the character, e.g. Handshoe has a special attribute in his gloves with which he can complete extraordinary tasks. Pat specifically noted how Beewolf’s strength was specifically that associated with a bear – strength of hand and arm.

Laura observed that although the 3 characters have special characteristics, it is Beewolf’s strength that lasts better in ‘Sellic Spell’.

Ian noted that this could not be the case in the OE Beowulf because that deals with the aging process.

Laura thought the names in ‘Sellic Spell’ were more Anglo-Saxon than in Beowulf.

Ian noted that this reminded him of Egil’s Saga and the bear-like strength of Skallagrim. Angela remarked that Beewolf reminded her of Beorn in The Hobbit.

Pat then noted the number of times distinctive trios of names are found in Tolkien’s works, as with Beewolf, Unfriend and Handshoe, but also many in LotR, of whom she named Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli, but we recognised many others.

Laura commented that she was interested in the invented detail that Beewolf was found as a child living with bears, and compared this to the present-day fascination with children said to have been found living among animals.

Chris then startled us with his question about the form of ‘Sellic Spell’ – does it constitute an example of Tolkien writing fan-fiction? This really made us sit up and think. There was some concern to define what we identified as fan-fiction. Ian thought there is a difference between a writer working a folk-tale mode and those just extrapolating from existing work, because a folk-tale is a composite by many different ‘authors’.

I wondered if we should not consider LotR a kind of fan-fiction if we were identifying that mode of writing as merely extrapolating from existing works because we can so easily identify the presence in LotR of many sources.

Chris added that where folk-tales show a need to develop a motif along similar lines, Tolkien was always writing his own version.

Pat noted an instance of Tolkien’s individual development when she drew attention to his insertion of Unfriend’s his length of rope in the episode of the Mere. Although this is completely absent from the Mere episode in Beowulf Chris noted that it does have echoes in LotR when Sam uses his rope on the Emyn Muil, and Angela noted the similarity between the waterfall described in Tolkien’s version of the Mere episode and the Window on the West in LotR.

Chris observed that there are many more similarities between LotR and ‘Sellic Spell’, right down to the level of shared phrases.

Pat noted that there are more extended use of runes in LotR than in ‘Sellic Spell’, where they are only used for names on swords. Ian was puzzled by references to Hrunting being given, cast aside, then returned, and this led on to Pat wondering who the old sword in the cave had belonged to.

Angela noted that there are references to the state of being ‘unfriend’ in The Silmarillion.

Pat was interested in the difference between possible examples of ‘magic’ in ‘Sellic Spell’, such as the melting of the ancient sword, and the construction of ‘wizardry’ in LotR. Sadly we did not develop this complicated topic, but we did give further thought to Pat’s observation that the baleful light in Grinder’s eyes goes out once he has been beheaded. This sequence is not the same as that in the OE poem, but Laura observed that the poetic ‘Lay of Beowulf’ shows Tolkien trying out a different version of Grendel/ Grinder’s eyes.

I then confessed to a late-breaking moment of enlightenment when reading Christopher Tolkien’s comments about the formation of the ‘Sellic Spell’ text. What I read was

“The manuscript C was closely followed by a careful typescript ‘D’ that in all probability I made at the same time as my typescript of the translation of Beowulf.”

For years CT’s dedication to editing and publishing what his father left has impressed me for the selfless effort involved. But suddenly I realised the extent to which CT has always had a vested interest in the editing and publishing process because he had been so constantly involved as his father’s informal amanuensis. In effect, it seemed to me, CT’s efforts to get his father’s remaining works published are also an acknowledgement of his own participation in the developmental process.

Ian observed that in these last books that he has edited CT has been less constrained about his involvement, and Angela wondered if CT’s preoccupation with his father’s work had contributed to the failure of his own first marriage.

Having finished the Beowulf book, we agreed that for our next meeting we will return to Unfinished Tales and pick up our reading with ‘The Line of Elros’ and ‘Galadriel and Celeborn’.




First Saturday in July


We continued this afternoon with our reading of the Beowulf translation. To begin with Ian updated us on his review of the significance of the publication of the three latest Tolkien works: Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur and Beowulf. I then diverted us slightly back to our last meeting and Tim’s response to Pat’s question about the significance of ‘twisted gold’ in the text – Tim had suggested that it implied an added value. While reading for other reasons, I had come across a text that I thought shed some light on this:

Emilie Amt’s book on women in medieval Europe includes examples of the wills of Anglo-Saxon women and in one of these is a woman named Wynflæd (d. c. 950) who bequeathed to Eadwold (a man) ‘her gold adorned wooden cup in order that he may enlarge his armlet with the gold’.

Tim remarked that perhaps the increasing of a man’s ‘beag’ (armlet/arm-ring) in this way approximated the adding of ‘ribbons’ to medals – a sign of personal worth rewarded rather than mere monetary value.

Ian suggested that the gift implied added status for the man, while I thought it might also signal to others his place in an important relationship, since the woman was wealthy enough not just to bequeath the gold-covered cup, but had the status that allowed her the privilege of making a will – not something many women could achieve.

Laura thought there was an historic dimension implied in the making, and reworking, of jewellery, establishing a connection with ancestral skills in society.

Ian directed our attention to Tolkien’s long commentary on the place of Christianity within the Beowulf poem. I remarked that the whole section read rather as though Tolkien was ‘evangelising’. Ian responded by observing that Tolkien was arguing for the way his students should approach the text, and that the poem was originally educating its audience in the mixing of Christianity in the heroic age. We noted that the translation pre-dates Tolkien’s seminal essay Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics.

Laura turned our attention then to the matter of the comparison between the 2 queens the virtuous Hygd and the cruel maiden Þryđ (Thryth) who then becomes the perfect queen when married to the right man. Angela suggested that this was the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ motif, and indeed Klaeber noted as much in his OE edition of the poem.

Laura noted that the Commentary reveals the problem of the ‘difficult bits’ of the poem – lines and sections which resist definitive translation and which are shown to admit various possible translations.

I mentioned that while reading and checking various bits of the translation against the Klaeber OE edition I had come across the term hysteron proteron. Investigating it revealed its classical Greek origin as a rhetorical device in which the natural order of chronological events is reversed. Ian suggested the example ‘put on your shoes and socks’ – logic tells us we can’t put socks on after putting on shoes. The Beowulf poem includes not only this rhetorical device, but further reading shows it to be full of others, some of which can be seen to influence Tolkien’s prose in LotR. Angela recalled an example of hysteron proteron in the chapter ‘The Passing of the Grey Company’ when Aragorn had ‘neither rested nor slept’. Ian, using his palantir, discovered the website Silva rhetorica which confirmed the definition of hysteron proteron.

Part of the difficulty of Tolkien’s Beowulf translation, where the syntax is indeed strangely contorted, must be due to his wish to retain the underlying significance implied by the original use of rhetorical devices. These are detailed in a Christian context in a work by Bede, although Tolkien probably knew them anyway from his early training as a classicist.

Ian observed that, as in the poem, Tolkien reuses various terms and, as in the poem, that reuse brings in additional significance from the external sources. If a translator oversimplifies a translation some of that is bound to be lost.

Laura then asked if we should not give some thought to the dragon? And quoted Tolkien’s assertion that ‘a dragon is a dragon’, but that the dragon might also be seen as old age – the one thing Beowulf the hero cannot overcome – the final defeat. Time wondered if the dragon fight was a metaphor for Beowulf battling himself and his reputation in old age, while Ian wondered if the dragon represented the Geats themselves.

Ian observed that in the final battle Wiglaf is the human hero in place of Beowulf the mythic hero who was also the totem of his kingdom, holding it together, but who can no longer exist in the newer world. Ian went on to note that Beowulf’s slaying of the dragon is not wholly welcome because he dies and leaves his people open to attack by the Swedes.

Laura commented that Wiglaf’s last speech of rebuke to the men of the household who could not face the dragon reminded her of the old retainer’s ‘mod scal þe mære…’ exhortation at the end of the Battle of Maldon – an injunction to stand and fight or face inevitable destruction. Beowulf’s Geats will be overrun by their Swedish enemies because Beowulf dies as the English will be overrun by Vikings (also mostly Swedes!) at Maldon.

Tim noted that after the dragon is killed many twisted armlets are discovered and Laura described the investigation of the barrow as like an Anglo-Saxon ‘Time Team’ as the Geats excavate many ancient objects from it. Ian added that there is then a realisation that this is a bad move as they finally rebury the treasure.

This led us to finding clear links with Tolkien’s stories when Tim remarked on the discovery of the ‘ancient blades’ in the Barrow-wight’s mound and Angela noted the discovery of the Elven swords in the troll cave in The Hobbit. Tim noted that Beowulf’s sword Nailing fails in his last conflict as Narsil fails Elendil in his confrontation with the great destructive force that was Sauron.

Laura remarked that the blade of the giant sword Beowulf uses to kill Grendel’s mother melts away as does the blade of the Morgul knife used to stab Frodo, and Angela noted the same melting of the blade of Merry’s sword after he stabs the Lord of the Nazgûl. We considered the difference between the 2 instances of melting.

Chris observed that the treatment of swords in LotR and TH suggests the societies represented in those stories are ‘deskilled’, because there is a constant reliance on old swords and ancestral artefacts.

Ian thought this implied the need for special attributes in order to be able to wield those special items.

Chris added that there is plenty of ‘new weaponry’ such as catapults and ‘dynamite’ (Saruman’s blasting fire), but these weapons do not have ‘status’.

Laura observed that for the Anglo-Saxons any marvellous sword of ancient ancestry ‘might’ have been forged by the mythic Germanic smith Weland.

I had drawn attention to a Bilbo and Frodo moment in the translation where a corslet, sword and ring are passed by an old warrior to a younger one, and Ian remarked that when weapons are given as gifts the relationship between the donor and recipient is protected by the giving.

Ian noted that dire consequences were associated with dragon treasure in the poem so it was returned to the earth and stories were made about it instead.

Angela also noted that the dragon is said to have burned itself, and Laura remarked that Beowulf gets hot under his masked helmet, which reminded her of the Sutton Hoo helmet with its mask (OE grima), which may have belonged to Rædwald.

Tim then thought he spotted a ‘fox’ moment – in the translation/poem when the raven is mentioned. I noted that the raven is in association with the eagle and the wolf and together they are the Anglo-Saxon ‘beasts of battle’.

Chris observed that the pessimistic tone of the Beowulf poem and translation fits perfectly with Tolkien’s other work which does not specialise in happy endings. Ian remarked that this pessimism represented northern acceptance of ‘how things are’ – there is no salvation in the pagan northern tradition [something Tolkien picks up and deals with in Beowulf, The Monsters and the Critics], and Laura noted that there is no sense that Beowulf is going to heaven in spite of all the biblical references.

After an afternoon’s wide-ranging and quite intense discussion (at times), we agreed that for our next meeting we would finish reading the Commentary and the ‘Sellic Spell’.

Last Saturday in June


This afternoon was what has become our annual special gathering because Carol and Rosemary joined us, and after her long absence so did Pat. Our reading for the meeting was as much of Beowulf as we could individually manage, so we were able to move around in the text.

Ian began the discussion with his observation that the Commentary is outstanding in the amount of insight and information it provides, and the quality of these.

Pat, who has not had time to read very much of the poem remarked that she encountered problems with all the names, especially the sons and relatives of Hrothgar whose names also begin with ‘h’. Pat also noted the many Christian references and asked if they were an addition. I explained that their exact place in relation to the development of the poem remains the subject of scholarly debate, but they are a feature of the poem in its existing manuscript form and so belong to the Anglo-Saxon period, but have been considered evidence of scribal insertion, and also as evidence of accretion as the conversion process took place – patchy and insecure as it was.

Carol remarked that the end of the Preface reads like Christopher Tolkien’s swansong for his father’s work, and Ian added that he was recalling here his father’s work of academic scholarship in contrast to all his creativity.

Pat then asked why there was a specific reference to Beowulf being rewarded with ‘twisted gold’? Tim responded that if it was twisted then it has been worked by craftsmen and this gave it added value. There is surely a point to be considered about the Anglo-Saxon value placed on aesthetics and craftsmanship here, and Tim reminded us of the brilliance of much Anglo-Saxon goldwork such as the Sutton Hoo treasures.

Laura picked up the matter of wealth and found it poignant in the context of what the original audience knows will happen in the end.

Pat questioned what we are told of Grendel’s descent from Cain, and wondered if it implied his destiny. Laura noted that Grendel is denied any prospect of redemption.

Ian pointed out that there is no redemption for Beowulf either, but he is an ‘outsider’ who is acceptable to the society of Heorot. Carol remarked that Grendel is excluded.

Rosemary wondered why Tolkien adopted such an archaic style for his translation, and Laura thought the style of the translation was more ‘Round Table’ than ‘mead hall’, and felt that the Christian bits seemed to be ‘shoe-horned’ into the older pagan text.

Carol thought perhaps Tolkien would have cringed in later life at this work of his younger academic career.

Rosemary observed that the translation style slows down the reading process and Julie noted the frequent inversions of word order.

Laura noted with approval Tolkien’s retention of the many famous ‘kennings’ on the original, and Tim picked up their complexity in terms of the semiotics of language.

I addressed the problem levelled at both LotR and Beowulf that there are ‘no women’, or that women are treated as merely types. While we all agreed that this was a outdated assessment on relation to LotR, I argued that there is much to be learned about the lives and treatment of aristocratic women in Anglo-Saxon society and poetry. I particularly contested the notion of women as ‘peace-weavers’ because although the term is used, its reality is subverted by the example of Hildeburh, whose peace-making marriage ends in slaughter as the ‘in-laws’ revive their old feud.

Pat wondered at the status of royal women who, she suggested, were being treated as nothing more than servants as they carried the mead to the warriors. I commented that in doing so they were in fact honouring their guests.

Our discussion was so wide-ranging and detailed that I made fewer notes than usual and so this completes the report for this meeting.

For our next meeting we will finish what we haven’t yet read of the poem and the remainder of the Commentary.

First Saturday in June


We had to decide whether to have fresh air or (relative) peace and quiet for our discussions this afternoon as there was a good deal of loud noise pollution going on in the vicinity of the Library seminar room. It was decided that closed windows and fans were advisable.

We were missing Julie and Mike, and Carol has only just started reading the book so will catch up with us at the next meeting when she and Rosemary come for their annual visit.

Before we began, Angela and Chris shared some of their holiday photos with us – the statue of Gandalf carved from a tree was particularly effective, and the views of the lava field on the volcanic mountain were impressive. It was nice to know I’m not the only member who walks around different places with an eye to their relationship to scenes in Middle-earth!

Our reading for this week was the first part of the new Beowulf book up to the maiming of Grendel and his escape from Heorot. There were many aspects to consider and some of us had come well furnished with additional texts. Tim brought C.L. Wrenn’s translation, as well as the beautifully illustrated translation by Magnus Magnusson and Julian Glover. Laura also came with other translations, as did Angela, whose 1991 translation opened its Introduction with ‘In 1938, J. R. R. Tolkien …’ – a useful illustration of a point I had been making about the fact that most translations we are likely to come across will be those done after the one edited now by Christopher Tolkien from his father’s translation and lecture notes from 1926. And all translations after 1936 have been done in the knowledge of Tolkien’s Monsters and Critics essay which ‘stopped the clocks’ as far as Beowulf research was concerned for some 20 years.

I had brought along my treasured Beowulf, 3rd edition, edited by F. Klaeber – the version of the Old English text Tolkien used (but not, of course the actual book he worked from), and it came in useful for checking what Ian identified as a typo in the Tolkien translation. Ian directed our attention to lines 479-83:

 ‘I tell thee for a truth, son of Ecglaf, that never would Grendel have achieved so many a deed of horror, fierce slayer and dire, in thy lord’s despite, humbling him in Heorot, if they heart and soul were thus fell in war as thou thyself accountest.’

Ian challenged the ‘they’ before ‘heart’, which does not make grammatical sense, and Klaeber confirmed the OE has ‘gif þin hige wære sefa swa searogrim…’ ‘if thy heart were thus fierce in battle…’

I remarked that for me the most significant thing about the Tolkien edition is the way Christopher’s Introduction explains the power of Tolkien’s prose style. This is something we have often remarked when reading LotR and to a lesser extent The Silmarillion, and at last the metrical basis of his prose has been revealed. It is clear enough in Tom Bombadil’s prose, which reflects the metrical rhythms of his songs, but the metrical patterning of other episodes – based as it seems on OE metrics – is, at Ian noted, a sign of Tolkien’s attention to the craft of writing prose which he seems not to distinguish – in terms of artistry – from the writing of poetry. Ian expanded this idea to suggest that Tolkien wrote LotR prose ‘as if’ he were actually translating it from an original poetic form!

The aspect of the translation that seems out of place is Tolkien’s preference for apparent later medieval chivalric vocabulary at times in his choice of ‘knight’ in place of the more usual ‘warrior’. Laura noted that Tolkien actually prefers ‘knight’ to ‘þegn’ (thane). And Angela observed that in LotR ‘knights’ are referred to in the chapters ‘Minas Tirith’ and ‘The Field of Cormallen’.

Laura drew our attention to an unexpected element in the lecture notes/commentary when she noted influences from Arthurian legends including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which, as Laura pointed out, also includes a monster (the Green Knight) who invades a hall and its society, and has to be confronted by a hero other than the lord of the hall.

[I note after further consideration that there is a significant contrast between SGGK and Beowulf because the Green Knight, although ‘unnatural’ in his invulnerability, is closely akin to medieval figures of ‘misrule’ associated with Christmas, and he operates from within the chivalric world in order to challenge it. Grendel, on the other hand, operates entirely outside the structures of the society represented in Beowulf and for which the poem was created. (This thought was late in coming to me!)]

Tim pointed out that Tolkien may have been using Arthurian language to create a sense of coherence because the original legend of Arthur (as a Romano-British warrior who took on the Saxons) dates from around the same time as the origins of the Beowulf story – the 6th/7th centuries.

Ian thought the Arthurian tradition included the tradition of the unexpected hero and the need for him to prove himself – which is how Beowulf first appears.

I found it hard account for Tolkien’s reference to the Round Table as a way of describing Hroðgar’s chosen warriors, and I wondered if Tolkien was including Arthurian references in his lecture notes either as a familiar context for his students, or under the influence of his Pembroke colleague from 1926 onward, R.G. Collingwood.

Tim brought us back to the matter of poetic prose when he remarked on the pace of language at line 81 in the translation:

Even thus did the men of that company live in mirth and happiness, until one began to work deeds of wrong, a fiend of hell. Grendel was that grim creature called, the ill-famed haunter of the marches of the land, who kept the moors, the fastness of the fens, and unhappy one, inhabited long while the troll-kind’s home.

Tim observed that this maintains a ‘mead-hall beat’ – a characteristic rhythm, and he proposed that this might be regarded here as an experimental style.

Chris asked if the Tolkien translation had added anything new the understanding of the OE poem. I commented that the translation successfully conveyed the well-known sequence describing Grendel’s isolation and the threat of what lay beyond the bright society of the meadhall. Fear of the intense darkness of a world that humans could not control.

This connected with Laura’s observations regarding Tolkien’s avoidance of translating ‘ylfe’ as ‘elf’, preferring ‘goblins’, as the Anglo-Saxon wariness regarding elves belonged with a general sense of unseen threats to human society. This theme is, I thought, well expressed in the translation as Grendel cannot be dealt with in any recognised human manner. As Ian noted, the way this is expressed makes plain the attempts by the Heorot community to make a truce, or buy the troll off with treasure, but this is a creature existing beyond the structures known to the community of Heorot and the Anglo-Saxon audience.

Laura had brought along a map showing the relationship between the lands of the Danes, Swedes, Geats, and the Jutes – a matter of local interest for us as one of our local tribes – the Ytene of the New Forest – were originally Jutes. And there has been some debate concerning the identification of Jutes and Giants in Beowulf. Christopher Tolkien in his notes refers readers to the Glossary of Names in Alan Bliss’s edition of Finn and Hengist. I found this less than helpful, but comparison between word forms in the Klaeber glossary shows how confusion might arise. Happily, editors capitalise the tribal name!

Following my arcane wanderings around eotenas and Eotenas, Tim picked up the idea of the ancient fear of what inhabits the dark and threatens human life, referring us to the recent film The Grey, which uses exactly these fears to great effect, including the red eyes in the dark – not only a signal of the wolves in the film, but of Grendel’s eyes like flame in the dark.

Laura then picked up the matter of the water monsters that Beowulf encounters as she had come across a reference to a ‘nix’ as a kind of water monster, and she queried whether there was any connection with the ‘nicors’ that attack Beowulf. Klaeber again came in useful, showing that there is indeed an etymological link – ‘nix’ seems to be a Germanic form.

Ian kept our attention on the mere – the home of Grendel – infested with ‘nicors’. But Ian’s focus was on the relative geography of Denmark now and then. He had discovered that there are indeed collapsed caves on the island of Bornholm giving rise to ‘sink holes’. Ian also commented that Bornholm lies between Denmark and modern Sweden, but was always an ‘in-between’ island, a liminal space suited to marginal creatures.

The afternoon went even more quickly than usual and then we had the tricky decision of what and how much to read for our next meeting. It was finally agreed that we should read as much of the translation and/or the commentary as we can manage.


Last meeting in May

24. 5. 14

We were continuing with our reading of Narn i Hȋn Húrin, and Carol’s comments are included as an appendix; but we began with excitement and celebration because we had almost all obtained our copies of the new Beowulf translation and Sellíc Spell. No one had had time to read very much, but I was gratified to see the translation had been done in proper scholarly fashion, i.e. in prose. Tim recalled Tolkien’s comments on translation that he had included in the Introduction to Wrenn’s edition of Beowulf and Ian conjectured that readers who are unfamiliar with the academic convention of translating poetry into prose may well be surprised that the great expert in Old English did not attempt to translate into the OE long line poetic form.

Please Note: With Beowulf in our hands, we decided to break off in the middle of our reading of Unfinished Tales and move straight into reading the new book, that is our reading for the next 3 weeks at least (this month has 5 Saturdays so we will not meet again for 3 weeks).

As we put aside our lovely new books with the embossed dragon on the front to turn to other matters, Ian remarked that he has noticed an unusual cluster of visits to his blog site for the Leeds Blue Plaque.  All the visits seem to be from the USA and we conjectured that a class had been set an end of year project, or maybe conference-goers attending the Leeds IMC had been looking up places of interest. Whatever the facts, it shows the value of Ian’s blog.

We at last moved on to the story of Túrin, and Tim noted that Christopher Tolkien interrupts the story after Túrin and his outlaws move into the dwarf caves with Mȋm. Suddenly readers are directed to the continuation of the story in The Silmarillion, and to an Appendix to the story before them, given at the end. As Tim observed, the editorial technique makes the reading of the story generally rather ‘bitty’.

The unfinished state of the material on the Unfinished Tales was a matter for comment throughout the afternoon.

I asked if anyone else had found the story hard to get through? Mike replied that it read like Tess of the D’Urberfields in the woods! Laura observed that it is a tragic tale, but not much is said about the fate of Niniel’s baby which is killed in her suicide.

Mike thought that the problem lies in the basic need for good to win, which the Narn does not satisfy, but Laura and Tim suggested that because Glaurung has been killed and thus Morgoth’s control is at least interrupted, then good of a kind does prevail.

This gave rise to a debate between Laura and Mike over the unknown extent of Illuvatar’s overall plan.

There was general agreement on the richness of the writing. Mike considered the description of the river ‘grinding its teeth’ cleverly compact.

Tim remarked that Turin is a Frodo-like sacrificial hero, although he is doer not a thinker like Frodo.

Julie thought Turin was a Coriolanus-type warrior. I remarked that Turin never seems to me as ‘sympathetic’ as Coriolanus.

Ian commented that from ‘The Coming of Glaurung’ there seem to be many unexplained misfortunes, but also considered that events and situations were being ‘spun’ by Melkor expressly to torment Hurin. Mike noted that there is no reminder of this. Ian picked up his previous point remarking that the reader sees what is given by the author as Hurin sees what Morgoth permits.

Laura then wondered if Morgoth intentionally sacrifices Glaurung. Mike thought that the author avoids limiting interpretive and structural possibilities by saying too much.

Mike also revealed that he had found a laugh! Turin and Hunthor are clambered along of the Teiglin Gorge with Glaurung above them, Turin praises Hunthor for his help. Simultaneously Hunthor is hit on the head by a falling rock and killed. Grim humour indeed.

Mike then wondered why Niniel/ Nienor does not cover up the apparently dead Turin. Laura remarked that she has now had her ‘Romeo’ moment.

Tim observed that the story is very much a work in progress as shown by the fact that there are so many versions of the Turin story. Laura remarked that in comparison to the Narn, the version in The Silmarillion feels very ‘thin’.

I asked if there are many versions, and we are participating in interpreting the meaning, does that make the story of Turin a genuine myth. Mike did not think so, because there is no development on from Tolkien’s original. Julie, on the other hand, thought there were signs of independent development in the form of fan-fiction. Ian objected that Tolkien’s myth cannot be played out in the real world in the way that Greek and other myths can be seen to.

Tim observed that the story needs to be free of copyright, like Shakespeare – Mike added.

Changing tack completely, Ian noted that Tolkien’s ‘word-bombs’ – unexpected or anachronistic words – are used to wake us up by referencing other works and real world relationships.

I then asked if anyone had come across more information about the mode of Elvish verse called Minlamed thent / estent in which the Narn is said to have been originally written. It was thought that it was a fictionalising of the different kinds of poetry for special occasions, and the different forms of writing used for different kinds of sagas.

I also introduced a very grim thought when I asked if it was possible that the reference to the outlaws killing orcs and hanging their bodies on trees could have been influenced by the infamous World War 1 photo of a body draped in a tree following an explosion. Julie thought it read like the actions of gamekeepers who hang dead rooks and crows in places where they will deter others of the same kind. But, Julie thought, it could also be regarded as a war crime. Laura thought the dishonourable treatment of dead orcs was because they were ‘just’ orcs, so it was not dishonourable to treat them in that way.

Please note- we move on to Beowulf now, reading up to page 36, or further if time permits.

Carol’s Comments


I’m glad Hunthor chides Dorlas because Dorlas proves craven in the end and Hunthor sets out Brandir’s plight perfectly.

pp.131-2 this section between Brandir and Niniel, like the rest of it, is bitter. Niniel is going headlong to meet death and poor Brandir is unmanned. In hard time, gentleness and healing are thought little of, more’s the pity, and especially in a man.




p.133 Dorlas pays in more than shame. ‘watched a white star far above…’ – there’s always the star above danger, reminding that some things can’t be touched by evil. See also Sam going across Mordor.

p.134 even though Hunthor dies he lives long enough to save Turin from falling and therefore finishing the job.  If for nothing else, fate seems to have brought Turin to this point to kill Glaurung and at least rid the world of a great and wicked danger. But at such a human cost…

p.138 Nienor’s tragic realisation. Her end is worthy of an opera. The whole story is worthy of an opera.

The death of Turin

p. 142 although it’s too late, I’m glad Turin repents of his words and actions against Brandir. All the main player pay dearly.



First Meeting in May


This week we were missing Chris and Angela who are on holiday, as well as Mike, but the rest of us discussed future plans and were updated by Ian on his latest research project. Carol had sent comments and as usual those that are not embedded will be found at the end of the meeting report.

And so we turned to the Narn i Hín Húrin. Ian observed that with regard to the death of Urwen in the story, the daughter of Joseph Wright, Tolkien’s very influential tutor, also died in childhood, raising the possibility of an echo here.

Ian also suggested that in the representation of the lame servant Sador there was apparently a touch of light relief, although the character turns out to be important to the story.

Tim remarked that Sador functions as a father figure to Túrin, and Carol observed “I like the exchanges beween Sador and Túrin, they’re the closest we come to ordinary domesticity and love. Henceforth Túrin’s life will be turmoil.”

Carol noted that several things are raised in Túrin’s conversation with Labadal: man’s mortality v. elves immortality, should both live in close proximity; being so close to elves has raised men to greater levels but there’s always that chance of envy of their immortality as we see later in Numenor. Túrin is not showing his feelings, I can relate to that: showing feelings opens vulnerability. So far so good – but Túrin isn’t yet being an obdurate *!*!!*.

Laura thought this story of the children of Húrin reads like a post-apocalyptic novel, that Túrin is clearly a depressive, and that joining the robber band seems contrary to his elite status, but we thought the robbers, though vile and violent, were the kind of people who would be survivors in the ‘post-apocalyptic’ environment in which Túrin has grown to adulthood.

Carol commented that Morgoth’s curse on Húrin’s family is dire, and what Morgoth says about the dire curse on the family comes about, but could Túrin have turned that aside with wiser decisions, not that he knew that Morgoth had cursed his family. Is the curse Túrin’s obstinate nature just bringing out the innate, like Morwen’s. Who’s to say but it damned well annoys me.

Ian described the whole situation as grim, and Tim remarked that this was a case of the survival of the fittest.

Laura extended her earlier motif to suggest that Thingol and Melian sheltered in Doriath with the Girdle functioning like a nuclear bunker.

Ian noted that Elves only collaborate with other groups and races as it suits their particular interests, and he likened this to the situation revealed in Icelandic sagas, where collaboration is usually for advantage.

I added that Morwen, Húrin’s wife and Túrin mother, reminded me of Bergthora, Njal’s stern wife in Njal’s Saga. Carol wondered, ‘why is it that Rian and Gloredhel die of grief? Sad yes that their husbands have died in battle but why couldn’t they carry on? What about the children? Morwen does carry on but she’s hard. “alms were bitter to Morwen.” Thank god her children made her less proud.

Laura changed the cultural parallels when she observed that Túrin in many ways resembles Shakespeare’s unique tragic hero Coriolanus, including in the multiple changes to his name. Tim also compared Aragorn’s many names, and Julie added Gandalf’s different names given by different races. Julie added that even Frodo is named differently by the different races he encounters.

Further parallels between Túrin and Coriolanus include their relationships with stern mothers, the absent warrior father, and, I suggested, the motif of changing sides, as Túrin joins up with the outlaws, and Coriolanus joins the Volsces. Tim observed that Túrin is in the tradition of Shakespearean tragic heroes.

Laura wondered whether Túrin was just a miserable child or whether his dour state is a sign of Morgoth’s influence already affecting his life? Carol remarked that Morgoth’s curse on Húrin’s family is dire, and what Morgoth says about the curse on the family comes about, but could Túrin have turned that aside with wiser decisions? Not that he knew that Morgoth had cursed his family. Is the curse, Carol asked, Túrin’s obstinate nature just bringing out the innate, like Morwen’s? Who’s to say, but it damned well annoys me.

Tim also wondered whether it was just ‘nurture’ rather than nature, as he is the son of a lost father, a stern mother, is then fostered far away, and later outcast from his home as his family is torn apart by invasion. Laura observed that it is typical of a war situation.

Carol observed: “I like Sador’s definition of a thrall: ‘a man who was a man but is treated as a beast.’ and the rest of his remarks are very accurate and scary.”

Ian commented that the pattern of war and invasion in Beleriand represented in the story and its consequences may be characteristic of an island view as opposed to a continental attitude.

Laura then drew attention to the references to an ‘ill wind’ and the ‘pestilence’ it brought that killed children, noting the resemblance to the plagues of Egypt and the last one that slew the firstborn. We discussed other similar instances of plagues targeting children or younger people and Tim noted that Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin’ drew on stories of the mortality of children due to plague.

Both Tim and Julie thought Túrin was much like the usual morose teenager, and Tim enlarged on this by likening Túrin to the young Egils, although it was allowed that his saga shows that Egils did grow more politic with age. But with Laura, he agreed that some other characters take to Túrin.

Laura balanced this by commenting on Saeros’s jealousy, and as Tim and Ian noted, this Elf mocks Túrin as ‘woodwose’. Ian observed that Sador had been a woodworker, and Laura remarked that Beleg the Elf, Túrin’s friend, was skilled in woodcraft. There was some discussion as to whether this made Beleg the Middle-earth equivalent of Bear Grylls but Tim likened him to Ray Mears – less given to being outlandish.

Carol commented: if Morwen hadn’t been so proud and gone to Doriath with Nienor, Túrin’s final doom of inadvertently marrying his sister would have been averted. Enter snake in the grass Saeros. The episode with Saeros is good. Shows Saeros for what he is, especially the remark about the women of Hithlum running about naked. Bad move! And I think Túrin’s most restrained throughout this whole episode, but he’s too stubborn when it comes to going back to be judged by Thingol.

We changed tack at this point to consider Tolkien’s problem with great waves, and whether this was an instance of folk-memory, or whether Tolkien communicated his preoccupation to his son. Julie noted that he had travelled to England by sea as a child.

Returning to our main topic, it was noted that when Túrin as a child names Sador – Labadal – this would be considered politically incorrect. Laura added that Brandir was also crippled, and I wondered why Tolkien included two characters with similar problems in the same story. Carol remarked, however, “I always feel pity for Brandir. He’s in love with Niniel and there could be some jealousy there. Even so, he’s not valued for his healing arts and certainly not for being lame. But he’s wiser than most of his colleagues and senses something not quite right in Turambar. But such are the times and the values: martial skill valued over gentler activities but it was a tough time in which to be alive.

Ian went on to compare the episodic form of Egils’ Saga with that of the story of Tuor, and Laura noted the use of ‘saying’ in the story with are specific to it, i.e. they are not Primary World sayings, or proverbs.

I was surprised to see Morgoth claim to be the Elder King when challenged by Húrin, and Tim confirmed that Manwë was the Elder King, thus making Morgoth a liar and aligning him with Satan as ‘father of lies’. Carol observed that Morgoth’s arrogance is great. “In a sense he is king of Arda because Manwë seems to have washed his hands of Middle-earth while Morgoth is involved, if only for domination and evil. Húrin must have been made of stern stuff to endure what Morgoth thrust on him and not go raving mad but none of the Valar come to help him which must have enforced what Morgoth said about being the arbiter of the fields of Arda.”

Carol noted that the Doriath episode includes nice background on the dragon helm and Thingol’s armoury. Then, as we considered the episode with Mȋm I remarked on the use of ‘dwarf visors’ derived from the dwarf smiths’ protective helmets. This of course gave rise to the customary ‘elf and safety’ comment, and to Ian’s observation that on the ‘American Chopper’ TV programme protective helmets are visored and decorated.

Carol noted: this surely is an unfinished tale as it doesn’t tell of Mȋm’s betrayal of Túrin and his gang, but Mȋm lives by expediency and owes loyalty to no man, especially those who killed his son. I always feel rather sorry for him

Laura remarked on the explicit xenophobia of the treatment of the dwarves by Túrin, the outlaws, and other races. She also noted Mȋm’s echo of the Anglo-Saxon rage over the name changes imposed by the invaders, in his bitter comment on the way the Elves changed all the names. Laura also wondered at the use of the word ‘chines’ to describe ravines near Mȋm’s cave. Based on the local use of the word for geographical features on the Isle of Wight and near Bournemouth, she wondered if the word had Jutish origins. Having investigated, I discovered 2 definitions:

Chine 1. Spine, backbone, back, meat from the back [<Old French eschine = backbone <Germanic]

Chine 2. A deep or narrow ravine or fissure [Old English cinu]

By this time we had run out of time and hastily agreed to finish the Narn for our next meeting.


Carol’s additional comments:

First a question: why do people in Middle-earth name their children to rhyme with their own as in Húrin/Túrin, Huor/Tuor?

When Túrin meets Beleg for the first time, Beleg’s doom is settled too.


Túrin among the outlaws: ‘Neithan the wronged’, the first of Túrin’s a.k.a.s.


Túrin still has common decency in rescuing the woman from Forweg but still doesn’t take her side. These are stern times.


Beleg tells Túrin to meet him in Dimbar – foresighted? for so it turns out.


Of Mȋm the dwarf

Remember Húrin is seeing all this happen and will avenge himself on Mȋm before the end. Fair comment from Mȋm about resources: ‘we do not teach men to find them [roots]…for men are greedy and thriftless.’ Yeah!


When he crosses paths with Tuor and Voronwë, Túrin seems to bring disaster wherever he goes.


The coming of Túrin to Brethil

So he’s come to the scene of his final disaster. Funny the orcs recognise the black sword but not the woodsman. So he takes the name of Turambar, master of fate (by fate mastered).


The journey of Morwen and Nienor to Nargothrond

Morwen being pig-headed: Rian died of a broken heart because Huor was killed at the Nirnaeth; Morwen’s the opposite. Is there no happy medium among these women? Still, walk a mile in their shoes…!


The hunting of the wolf, referring back to Beren and Carcaroth and Mablung, like the venture even less.


‘fey are you both’: Silly proud women. I just don’t understand Morwen’s mindset or perhaps family was pulling very strongly; ditto Nienor. Puzzle! Now though it isn’t a matter of family pulling them into danger. Glaurung has just created some of his havoc and everyone goes every which way in his confusion – truly Morgoth has cursed Húrin’s family and this time nobody can alter that. I would pass out coming on Glaurung as Nienor does.


Glaurung-Mablung-Nienor: a picture of absolute desolation. It’s all so doom-laden. Morgoth knows how to torture without using physical means. Trouble is, even when he’s bound outside Arda eventually, evil doesn’t stop.



Last Meeting in April


After missing out the first meeting in April because of the recent Tolkien Society AGM, we spent some time at the start of this afternoon considering matters arising from the AGM – more on this, hopefully, in due course and following wider consultation.

Our topic for this afternoon was the first section of the Unfinished Tales ‘Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin’. Carol sent her comments and any not integrated will be added at the end of the main report.

Tim, however, with a nod towards the newest Tolkien book remarked that John Garth had reminded him that The Lost Road (one of the volumes of The Histories of Middle-earth), has a small extract from Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, and the much-debated ‘Hwæt’ is there translated as ‘Lo!’ The translation of the Old English word has often been a topic for debate among us, and we were still not entirely satisfied, even with Tolkien’s choice (!) and thought it was probably best left untranslated.

We then turned our attention to Tuor and Laura observed that while reading it she was aware of the differences between this version and those in The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales. I asked if the fact that there are a number of versions was confusing, but Laura replied that it is shame that so much is lost in TSilm and BLT when compared to the Tuor story in UT.

Tim remarked that the earlier versions seem so much richer in detail compared to Tolkien’s later, ‘drier’ version in TSilm. Angela noted that the Introduction to UT gives an account of the earliest versions and Tolkien’s preferences.

Laura observed that the appearance of Ulmo that is so impressive is lost from the later version of the story in TSilm.

Tim commented on the absorbing nature of Tuor’s passage through the 7 gates of Gondolin that ends so abruptly – unfinished.

Chris remarked that the gates that Tuor has to pass reminded him of the 7 gates of Minas Tirith in LotR. Angela noted that there was an original Minas Tirith on Tol Sirion before the drowning of Beleriand. Tim saw Tolkien’s ‘reworking’ of Minas Tirith in LotR as an homage to the Beleriand Minas Tirith.

Tim directed our attention to one of Tolkien’s letters written after LotR in which he refers to his work on Gondolin. Laura observed that the original work on The Fall of Gondolin was carried out in 1916/17. Tim, Angela and Chris noted that it is mentioned in the Introduction to UT, that work on Tuor and his Coming was as late as 1951. Tim remarked that this explained why the quality of the writing was on a par with LotR: Tolkien was at the peak of his powers as a writer. Angela commented on the contrast described between this and what the Introduction describes as the ‘extreme archaic style’ of the 1916/17 Fall of Gondolin.

Carol too commented: ‘lovely writing. Once Tolkien gets into the flow through Voronwë his powers of description are hypnotising.’

Laura went on to observe that Tuor and his Coming reads like a fairy tale, full of symbolism.

I had been impressed by the pictorial qualities of the narrative, and Tim remarked that as Tolkien was an artist he had an artist’s ‘feeling’ for things.

Laura drew our attention to Tuor’s distant view of his tragic cousin Túrin passing by. As Carol remarked: ‘just a little time-line check about the fall of Nargothrond. They sort of cross paths with Túrin, each to such different ends, though close kin, yet strangers.

Together with observations by Voronwë Tuor’s new Elf companion and guide of the evidence that Glaurung has been there, as the two stories momentarily intersect, Tolkien draws attention to Túrin through this ‘intertextuality.’

Angela then noted that Voronwë and Tuor were nice, and quite different to e.g. Túrin, who is frequently arrogant, as are other leading male characters.

Tim thought there is a touch of Aragorn about Tuor in his solitary travelling. Angela added that both have prophecies attached to them, but Tuor in finished versions passes into the West, perhaps because of his service as the messenger of Ulmo.

Tim noted that Tuor is also Elrond’s great-grandfather ‘And Aragorn’s ancestor!’ Angela added, going on to note that Voronwë’s mother is kin of Cirdan.

While discussing the appearance of Ulmo, Laura noted that he is described as flickering with ‘sea-fire’, so he shines with phosphorescence.

Carol commented: Ulmo sounds like one of the prophet of doom in the Hebrew Bible.

Tim observed that Tuor sets out on his journey to find Gondolin in winter just as the Fellowship sets out in winter in LotR. Both he and Laura discussed the nature of the ‘lappett’ that Ulmo pulled from his own cloak to cover and conceal Tuor during his journey. Tim thought it should have been made of fur if it was to keep Tuor warm. But its quality of shadowy concealing was more like the cloaks given by Galadriel.

I wondered if Voronwë’s account of being saved from drowning when he was born up ‘on the shoulder’ of a great wave meant that this is to be interpreted as Ulmo’s intervention too. Laura saw echoes of the story of St Christopher in this image, just as I had seen echoes of the story of St. Martin in Ulmo’s gift of a part of his cloak to Tuor. Chris and Angela noted a reference to Ossë driving the storm that besets Voronwë.

Laura noted a reference to an phenomenon like the Severn Bore, before observing that Ulmo’s plan fails because the great Elven kings Turgon and Thingol are devoted to things rather than having a larger view. Turgon is devoted to his city and Thingol to treasure. Tim thought this made the Elves just as fallible as everyone else.

Laura remarked one Ulmo’s reference to ‘fate’ and the rift in it. Ulmo is going against the decisions of the Valar by actively intervening in Middle-earth, and his image of the rift, and the ‘breach’ in the walls of Doom show that fate is not a relentless plodding, and that what seems like the End to mortals is only their view of the ‘full-making.’

Angela commented that Tuor is thus constructed as ‘hope’ – prefiguring Aragorn.

Running out of time – as usual – we agreed that our next reading would be Narn I Hin Hurin as far as the section ‘The Coming of Glaurung’.

Carol’s comments:

Unfinished Tales, Unwin 89 (80)

Introduction p.2:

I’m one of those moved by ‘the curious effect that a story has’ and who ‘clamour for sheer information’.

Just a brief note on Christopher Tolkien’s writing style – it is not for ninnies, complex sentence structure, obscure references etc.


He is at great pains to explain things in his introduction, meticulous. For me he could have invented the whole lot, close as he was to his dad. But for this very reason, he’s faithful to his dad’s writings, also perhaps bearing in mind some fans might be nit-pickers if any inaccuracies are found, and also bearing in mind many fans are academics too. And showing to detractors the seriousness with which we regard the works of JRRT.


Part One The First Age Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin

p.17: Rian leaving Tuor and going to die on Huor’s grave: theres something very selfish in some Middle-earth parents – leaving their children – e.g. Elwing and Earendil. Children leaving parents is fine; that’s the way it should be, but vice versa – unnatural I call it.


pp.24-5: It’s hard for us to imagine what it must be like to see the sea for the first time, especially living in Scarborough and Southampton, but Tuor must have been totally amazed, water that flows and ebbs, rises and falls, and passes widely to a horizon. What a sight!

For all Gondolin must have been a wondrous place to see, it’s very hard, metallic and stoney. I know it was a hidden kingdom on a war footing but I like Meduseld better, softer, kinder.

I’m not really interested in commentary. I like reading the Unfinished Tales because they give more information, padding out The Silmarillion account. And I always want to know more.

I’ve enjoyed reading ‘Tuor’ again, apart from expanding TSilm story. It’s very well written and holds one’s interest in a mode of tale that’s not easy to keep interesting. For a large part about a solitary wanderer, and then with only two wanderers, spiked by the appearance of Ulmo and at the end other elves to converse with. Tuor and Voronwe are made of tough fibre, their main battle being against the elements.


Last meeting in March (Reading Day Meeting)


As the meeting closest to Reading Day we began with a discussion of the Reading Day topic which this year has been ‘Hope’. Omer’s contribution on the topic follows the meeting report.

After that we moved on to consider Finn and Hengist. However, we did indulge in some initial conjecture about the forthcoming Tolkien translation of Beowulf – a suitable introduction to Reading Day.

When we moved on, our discussion of Hope in Tolkien’s works began with Laura observing that although many bad and sad things happen throughout the legendarium the general trend of the stories is towards eventual Hope, as even after the Scouring and Frodo’s increasing distress everything moves towards the promise of the West.

Tim added that one of his favourite quotes was Frodo’s last vision of: ‘a far green country under a swift sunrise’ (RotK ‘The Grey Havens’), which implies hope.

Julie picked out the terrible time when Sam and Frodo are in Mordor when hope seemed to die but didn’t.

Laura reminded us of the myth of Pandora’s Box which when opened released all the ills of the world, so that only hope remained in the Box – to look after Mankind. [On the matter of the Box please also see Ian's comments added as an Appendix later that raise significant intersections between this and references to Boxes in LotR]

Mike distinguished between the expression of a wish, e.g. hoping something will happen – which Angela described as hope in what’s known – versus that Christian certainty of hope. Mike quoted from St. Paul, that suffering requires endurance which evokes hope. Obstacles can only be overcome through hope, and Mike remarked that this is a quality seen in Sam even when Frodo loses hope.

Angela noted that Aragorn retains hope but Denethor loses it, and she cited Vol. 10 of The Histories of Middle-earth and the debate between Andreth and Finrod concerning hope. This is probably Tolkien’s most detailed consideration of Hope, written in the classical form of a debate between two characters and distinguishes between kinds of hope, ‘Amdir’ and ‘Estel’, of which the latter is the deepest form and is equated with Trust.

Mike recast this as ‘something worth putting up with things for’, while Angela suggested that Hope is inbuilt into our nature, and while Aragorn temporarily loses ‘Amdir’ he never loses ‘Estel’. Angela also noted that Eärendil was also known as ‘Gil-Estel’, Star Hope.

Tim compared this to the concept of ‘wishing on a star’, and Laura remarked on its like to the thematic importance of light in the legendarium.

Angela later added the following for clarification: “My comment that Aragorn temporarily loses ‘amdir’ but never loses ‘estel‘ should be credited to Elizabeth M. Stephen as she discusses this subject in detail in her book Hobbit to Hero.  My own references to the Finrod/Andreth debate in Aragorn: J R R Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero relate to discussions on elf/mortal unions and pity rather than hope.”

The general trend of the discussion up to this point had been optimistic – that Tolkien’s work tends intentionally towards hope. However, after giving the topic some thought I had come to the opposite conclusion – that what we see is the final absence of Hope, which is more like a social construct. Mike objected that this was not Tolkien’s point, which was rather the endless need for endurance aided by faith in order to avoid complacency.

Both Angela and Mike considered hope an inbuilt human response, but wondered why that should be? Laura pondered the possibility that if hope was not a spiritual quality, what is it? She suggested it might be tied to the need for the race/tribe to continue. Tim expanded this, suggesting the need of endurance for survival. Mike found this a rather practical impulse linked to benefits.

Ian proposed that the quality of Hope developed because we live on a dynamic planet and hope helps us deal with the prospect of the future which is inevitably one of change.

Mike observed that Hope is very necessary in absence and suffering. Hope helps people carry on, Thus the outcome of LotR is hopeful and shows how to endure. The sensitivity and subtlety upon which it is based has been part of humanity for aeons.

Laura then wondered why Hope is specific to humans but not other animals –as far as we know. We did not address the matter of ‘rationality’, but Angela noted that in LotR, Appendix A the backstory of Aragorn declares that even in the face of his high and demanding ‘doom’: ‘hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart’, and Chris remarked that Hope may be equated with ‘belief’.

Our discussion moved in the direction of ethics, as it had been tending all afternoon, until Laura remarked on the status of the Eagles, suggesting first that that they were symbols of hope, or that those who herald their approach announce hope, but then Laura rethought this, seeing the Eagles rather as coming to put things right, like the classical Furies.

Tim picked up this link between arrival and hope when he reminded us of the arrival of the Rohirrim at cockcrow, in opposition to the arrival of the Lord of the Nazgul. Tim regarded this as mortal action signifying the arrival of Hope.

Angela contrasted this to Denethor’s response to Pippin’s reminder of Gandalf: ‘The fool’s hope has failed’.

Julie contrasted this to Sam’s song in the Tower of Cirith Ungol which emphasises in ‘I will not say the day is done…’ hope as an act of will.

Mike took a wider view of Hope when he observed that writers need to keep hope up: readers need to hope for a good ending. Hope may also be part of the drama of a story.

With that long perspective, and because we had had quite an intense discussion of the topic of Hope, it seemed a good time to move on to our reading and discuss our responses to Finn and Hengist the name given by the editor to Tolkien’s lectures on two related texts which tell the same story. One is known as the Fragment and the other is the Episode (from its inclusion in the Beowulf poem).

Ian started by commenting that the book was not conveniently laid out. Laura observed that it was perhaps more representative of the structure of Tolkien’s lectures on the material. Alan Bliss, the editor, contributed very little of his own commentary, preferring to rely heavily on the notes Tolkien compiled for lectures he gave at Oxford during the 1930s and 40s.

We missed Christopher Tolkien’s editorial style, and Ian remarked that it would have helped if Professor Bliss had included the Widsith text to which he and Tolkien often refer.

Laura, however, remarked that it was good to have Tolkien’s own words, and insights into his ‘day job’, and the editorial process had retained his lecturing style.

Ian and Laura both commented on the difference between Finn and Hengist and Tolkien’s other work: the Fragment and the Episode lectures deal in real history, as revealed by Tolkien’s insights into the proper names.

Angela was particularly struck by the strange coincidence that she has been continuing her reading of books to do with the Jacobites. When she came to read Finn and Hengist she discovered that the Fragment had been first discovered by George Hickes in Lambeth Palace Library c. 1700, and Hickes was a Jacobite supporter. The Fragment has been lost, and Tim noted that even the copy used to print Hickes’s inaccurate transcript has been lost.

Angela then went on to note that some names from the Fragment and Episode appear in LotR, citing ‘Guthlaf’, and ‘Garulf’ – men of Rohan naturally. Tim picked out ‘Guđulf > Gundulf’, and Laura drew attention to ‘græghama’ > grey hame, but in the Fragment meaning ‘wolf’.

Chris wondered what Christopher Tolkien thought of Alan Bliss’s edition of the work, given that his father had appointed Prof. Bliss as his editor during his lifetime.

Julie commented that it was interesting that Tolkien trusted someone other than his son.


Our next meeting will not be until the last Saturday in April because the TS AGM will be held on our usual second Saturday of the month. We have therefore not yet set our reading for our April meeting, but according to our suggested reading list, our next reading should be Unfinished Tales.


Omer’s Comments [Ian's  comments follow these]

Tolkien and Hope: there are a number of times where such elements (i.e. of Hope, related to hopefulness etc) come before us, in various works by Prof Tolkien, especially in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I recollect to some extent these lines, which always struck me as rather special and significant in this respect, when at one place Gandalf tells Frodo that ‘…there was something … at work beyond the design of the Ring-maker’–and that ‘Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it’.

As I see it, even during the darkest hour, Tolkien finds a greater, universal pattern at work in which there is always hope, where evil is tempered with good and causes and effects fall into place in a manner that is no mere coincidence. This applies both to Middle-earth and to this earth that we inhabit, I think, in Tolkien’s view. We, too, quite often come across such instances in our lives where the light of hope springs out of the abysmal darkness, where we feel that ‘something there is’ beyond our ken that promises good. It’s hard to pinpoint this accurately but there it is.

I don’t know if this is at all useful, or any good, but somehow, these lines remain with me and are alive with suggestion and meaning.

Best regards,


Appendix – Ian’s comments on Boxes


Book I:                  3 instances         :Bilbo (1), Party (1), Sam [tinder] (1)

Book II:                 6 instances         :Bilbo (2), Sam [salt] [‘G’] (4)

Book III:               1 instances         :Orc (1)

Book IV:               4 instances         :Sam [tinder][salt] (2), ‘tree’ (2)

Book V:                                0 instances

Book VI:               3 instances         :Sam [‘G’] (3)


Lord of the Rings

Book II, The Ring Goes South

Chapter 8 Farewell to Lorien

`For you little gardener and lover of trees,’ she said to Sam, `I have only a small gift.’ She put into his hand a little box of plain grey wood, unadorned save for a single silver rune upon the lid. `Here is set G for Galadriel,’ she said; `but also it may stand for garden in your tongue. In this box there is earth from my orchard, and such blessing as Galadriel has still to bestow is upon it.

It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you.

Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there. Then you may remember Galadriel, and catch a glimpse far off of Lorien, that you have seen only in our winter. For our spring and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.’ Sam went red to the ears and muttered something inaudible, as he clutched the box and bowed as well as he could.

Book VI The End of the Third Age

Chapter 3 Mount Doom

The hateful night passed slowly and reluctantly. Such daylight as followed was dim; for here as the Mountain drew near the air was ever mirky, while out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself. Frodo was lying on his back not moving. Sam stood beside him, reluctant to speak, and yet knowing that the word now lay with him: he must set his master’s will to work for another effort. At length, stooping and caressing Frodo’s brow, he spoke in his ear. ‘Wake up, Master!’ he said. ‘Time for another start.’ As if roused by a sudden bell, Frodo rose quickly, and stood up and looked away southwards; but when his eyes beheld the Mountain and the desert he quailed again. ‘I can’t manage it, Sam,’ he said. ‘It is such a weight to carry, such a weight.’ Sam knew before he spoke, that it was vain, and that such words might do more harm than good, but in his pity he could not keep silent. ‘Then let me carry it a bit for you, Master,’ he said. ‘You know I would, and gladly, as long as I have any strength.’ A wild light came into Frodo’s eyes. ‘Stand away! Don’t touch me!’ he cried. ‘It is mine, I say. Be off!’ His hand strayed to his sword-hilt. But then quickly his voice changed. ‘No, no, Sam,’ he said sadly. ‘But you must understand. It is my burden, and no one else can bear it. It is too late now, Sam dear. You can’t help me in that way again.

I am almost in its power now. I could not give it up, and if you tried to take it I should go mad.’

Sam nodded. ‘I understand,’ he said. ‘But I’ve been thinking, Mr. Frodo, there’s other things we might do without. Why not lighten the load a bit? We’re going that way now, as straight as we can make it.’ He pointed to the Mountain.

‘It’s no good taking anything we’re not sure to need.’

Frodo looked again towards the Mountain. ‘No,’ he said,

‘we shan’t need much on that road. And at its end nothing.’

Picking up his orc-shield he flung it away and threw his helmet after it. Then pulling off the grey cloak he undid the heavy belt and let it fall to the ground, and the sheathed sword with it. The shreds of the black cloak he tore off and scattered. ‘There, I’ll be an orc no more,’ he cried, ‘and I’ll bear no weapon fair or foul. Let them take me, if they will!’ Sam did likewise, and put aside his orc-gear; and he took out all the things in his pack. Somehow each of them had become dear to him, if only because he had borne them so far with so much toil. Hardest of all it was to part with his cooking-gear. Tears welled in his eyes at the thought of casting it away. ‘Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?’ he said. ‘And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir’s country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?’ ‘No, I am afraid not, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark. Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades.’ Sam went to him and kissed his hand. ‘Then the sooner we’re rid of it, the sooner to rest,’ he said haltingly, finding no better words to say. ‘Talking won’t mend nothing,’ he muttered to himself, as he gathered up all the things that they had chosen to cast away. He was not willing to leave them lying open in the wilderness for any eyes to see. ‘Stinker picked up that orc-shirt, seemingly, and he isn’t going to add a sword to it. His hands are bad enough when empty. And he isn’t going to mess with my pans!’ With that he carried all the gear away to one of the many gaping fissures that scored the land and threw them in. The clatter of his precious pans as they fell down into the dark was like a death-knell to his heart. He came back to Frodo, and then of his elven-rope he cut a short piece to serve his master as a girdle and bind the grey cloak close about his waist.

The rest he carefully coiled and put back in his pack. Beside that he kept only the remnants of their waybread and the water-bottle, and Sting still hanging by his belt; and hidden away in a pocket of his tunic next his breast the phial of Galadriel and the little box that she gave him for his own.

Now at last they turned their faces to the Mountain and set out, thinking no more of concealment, bending their weariness and failing wills only to the one task of going on.


Chapter 4 The Field of Cormallen

‘ .. now it must be nearly noon.’ ‘Noon?’ said Sam, trying to calculate. ‘Noon of what day?’ ‘The fourteenth of the New Year,’ said Gandalf; ‘or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning.? But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. You shall eat and drink with him. When you are ready I will lead you to him.’ ‘The King?’ said Sam. ‘What king, and who is he?’ ‘The King of Gondor and Lord of the Western Lands,’ said Gandalf ‘and he has taken back all his ancient realm. He will ride soon to his crowning, but he waits for you.’ ‘What shall we wear?’ said Sam; for all he could see was the old and tattered clothes that they had journeyed in, lying folded on the ground beside their beds. ‘The clothes that you wore on your way to Mordor,’ said Gandalf. ‘Even the orc-rags that you bore in the black land; Frodo, shall be preserved. No silks and linens, nor any armour or heraldry could be more honourable. But later I will find some other clothes, perhaps.’ Then he held out his hands to them, and they saw that one shone with light. ‘What have you got there?’ Frodo cried. ‘Can it be – ?’

‘Yes, I have brought your two treasures. They were found on Sam when you were rescued. The Lady Galadriel’s gifts: your glass, Frodo, and your box, Sam. You will be glad to have these safe again.’

Chapter 9 The Grey Havens

Then suddenly one day, for he [Sam] had been too busy for weeks to give a thought to his adventures, he remembered the gift of Galadriel. He brought the box out and showed it to the other Travellers (for so they were now called by everyone), and asked their advice. ‘I wondered when you would think of it,’ said Frodo. ‘Open it!’ Inside it was filled with a grey dust, soft and fine, in the middle of which was a seed, like a small nut with a silver shell. ‘What can I do with this?’ said Sam. ‘Throw it in the air on a breezy day and let it do its work!’ said Pippin. ‘On what?’ said Sam. ‘Choose one spot as a nursery, and see what happens to the plants there,’ said Merry.

But I’m sure the Lady would not like me to keep it all for my own garden, now so many folk have suffered,’ said Sam.

‘Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.’ So Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each. He went up and down the Shire in this labour; but if he paid special attention to Hobbiton and Bywater no one blamed him. And at the end he found that he still had a little of the dust left; so he went to the Three-Farthing Stone, which is as near the centre of the Shire as no matter, and cast it in the air with his blessing. The little silver nut he planted in the Party Field where the tree had once been; and he wondered what would come of it. All through the winter he remained as patient as he could, and tried to restrain himself from going round constantly to see if anything was happening.

Spring surpassed his wildest hopes.

His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty. In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.


First Saturday, March


This blog is rather shorter than usual as we spent a good deal of time in a discussion of the transmission of technology and culture – a topic provoked primarily by all the publicity current about the Viking exhibition in London. The topic was relevant to the matter of Arthur, but we did not get round to discussing the transmission of the various strands of the Arthurian legend, even though this was our final week reading The Fall of Arthur.

When we did get on to our reading, Ian informed us that he had discovered that only 1 review of the poem has appeared so far, in Amon Hen, and that was only a analysis of errors discovered in Christopher Tolkien’s Commentary on the medieval sources – hardly a helpful or representative overview of the poem itself, its relationship to its sources, and to Tolkien’s wider legendarium. [Ed. The matter is in hand]

Tim noted Christopher’s expressions of regret that his father did not finish the poem, and that no background material to Canto V seems to exist. Ian remarked on Christopher’s desire for more. Tim said he would have been willing to wait a bit longer for LotR if we could have had The Fall of Arthur finished.

Ian went on to comment on the subtleties of some of the changes of wording Tolkien made during his revisions, which show different motives behind his descriptions. Ian noted that Christopher provides further insights into his father’s process of writing – sometimes careful, sometimes hasty.

Julie observed the ease with which Tolkien lapses into the rhythms and style of alliterative verse even in prose, having just been reading ‘The Window on the West’ in LotR, where the prose shows at times all the aspects of alliterative verse. Angela remarked that the alliterative form was natural to Tolkien.

Ian remarked on Tolkien’s creation of a series of synopses to guide the creation of the poem. These show intended changes of mode.

I asked what the effect would have been if the original Canto 1 introducing the poem with the relationship between Mordred and Guinevere had not been replaced with Arthur’s journey into the Saxon lands? Tim thought it would have introduced the poem with a more negative feel. Chris observed that sidelining Arthur in that way would have misled readers.

Ian remarked the poem has a feeling of positive activity, but knowledge of Mordred gives the reader a sense of ‘the enemy within’ while Guinevere is the one who influences everything. The blame shifts to Mordred and Guinevere, and the present Canto 1 shows Arthur’s fault in leaving his kingdom.

Laura directed our attention Lancelot and Guinevere – referring us to the fact that we were meeting on International Women’s Day. But she thought the story rather overdid the courtly love idea.

Tim thought Arthur’s treatment of Lancelot and Guinevere revealed his ‘fatal flaw’, and Laura thought his treatment of them was intended to show his area of weakness.

Angela drew our attention to Christopher’s naming of a ‘final’ version of the text of the poem, in contrast to our understanding that with Tolkien no text was ever entirely ‘final’. Julie added that he went on considering whether to use the spelling ‘orc’ or ‘ork’, even after publication of the relevant works.

For our next meeting, closest to Reading Day, we will choose any Tolkien text we like that deals with the topic of HOPE. If time permits, we will also begin looking at Finn and Hengist.

Last Saturday in February


We were without Tim this afternoon, but he sent his comments and notes in advance of the meeting. Regretably, I did not have time to print off Tim’s comments, but add them here where appropriate. Many can  be found at the end of the main report, and there I have included some of the discussions from the meeting where they fitted in better with Tim’s detailed observations.


We were discussing the section on ‘The Unwritten Poem’ this week. Having been alerted to the misattribution of a comment on Boromir, Faramir and Denethor, in the last blog, I should say first that although I attributed it to Angela, it was in fact Ian who made the observation, and I’m grateful for the feedback.


This afternoon Ian began our discussion with his observation of Christopher Tolkien’s acknowledgement at various points in The Fall of Arthur of the problems of editing and dating his father’s attempted integration of the Arthurian material with what would become part of the Silmarillion material, at around the time he was working on The Hobbit.


This led Ian to ask ‘so what was the point of the Hobbits in this context?’ In response to his own question he proposed that Tolkien was used to seeing the small figures of all kinds, including grotesque babewyns and Grylli, peering out of the margins of medieval texts.


Angela proposed that Hobbits were an ‘interruption’, and that the four major hobbits seem marginal to the action going on around them in LotR. Mike proposed that hobbits developed in a ‘bubble’ that was the Shire. Laura wondered whether they had been sung into existence in the Music. Mike thought if that was so then they represented the ‘grace notes’. Laura then wondered if Iluvatar had become disenchanted with the life forms he had already created because they were so disruptive, and created something simpler and more peaceful.


Ian suggested as an example the chapter ‘The Shadow of the Past’ in which Gandalf is explaining the huge history of the rings while outside there is a hobbit (Sam) listening by the window – apparently marginal to the action in all possible senses.


Julie reminded us that before art discovered the theory of perspective, lesser figures in paintings were shown at half the height of the major figures, and she cited the case of depictions of saints with images of donors of the pictures as much smaller figures.


Pat then asked why it is that everyone in Tolkien’s stories goes into the West: Arthur as much as the Elves, and selected hobbits. Ian suggested the West represented the great Mystery of what lies beyond the horizon.


Laura noted that the West is used in various sayings, such as ‘Go west young man’. Julie remarked that the fabulous islands of the Hesperides with their golden apples lay to the West. Laura then cited the colloquialism denoting something broken or no longer functioning – ‘it’s gone west’. Mike suggested this derived from military slang ‘U.S’, unserviceable.


Ian noted that ‘gone west’ was also a euphemism for death at the time of the Great War when naming death openly when it was omnipresent was taboo. Angela reminded us that Frodo and Sam go west to be healed. Ian added that this echoed one version of the ending of Arthur’s life in Britain. And I observed that  several Tolkien of Tolkien’s heroic mortal characters head west in ways that suggest death (e.g. Tuor) although some, like Beren return.


Laura thought that in Tolkien’s version of the Arthurian material Guinevere is treated sadly when we are told that she and Lancelot met one last time and parted in grief and without love. In his notes Tim commented:

p.164 Fate of Lancelot and Guinevere – Lancelot meets Guinevere on road from Romeril. They are not the L&G of Malory.

p.166 Last meeting of L&G – desolation and emptiness. “Where is Arthur?”

“Lancelot had no love left but for Arthur.” Not going to live rest of days in penance – sails into the West to follow Arthur, nothing ever heard of him again.

p.167 Tale of Lancelot is re-enactment of tale of Tuor, father of Eärendel. Tuor built Eärámë – Eagle’s pinion – Tuor and Idril sailed into West. Eärendel built Wingelot and voyage to (a) find Idril & Tuor and (b) to reach shores of Valinor. Achieved neither.

p.168 We last see Guinevere watching Lancelot’s ship departing into the west, and her own life of loneliness and self-pity. Last lines of verse – CJRT says they have the “air of an epitaph” –

“Guinevere grew grey in the grey shadow

all things losing who at all things grasped”

 - reminiscent of the Elves diminishing – though Guinevere doesn’t sail into the West.

Angela observed an echo here of the fading of Arwen after Aragorn’s death, and also reminded us that Christopher traces in Lancelot’s question to her ‘Where is Arthur’, an  echo of Morwen’s question to Hurin concerning how their doomed children found each other – which Hurin refused to answer, as Guinevere refused to answer Lancelot.

Pat picked up the rebuking of Arthur when he weeps for the death of Gawain, rather than planning to avenge him. Angela noted that Eomer also condemns grief for the fallen at the Battle of the Pellenor Fields, and Aragorn urges the fellowship not to weep for Gandalf.

Pat also commented that Arthur was a forgiving king, and I observed the difference between Arthur’s compassionate and thoughtful attitude and Gawain’s hotheaded behaviour. Laura remarked that forgiveness was not appreciated in that warrior society. But Mike commented that Caesar forgave Brutus for his betrayal when he joined Pompey against Caesar.  This in effect nullified Brutus’ influence in Rome. Mike remarked that forgiveness can be a powerful political tool.

Laura set us considering the matter of Mordred’s complicated alliance with Saxons, Frisians, Irish, Picts, and assorted ‘Paynims’ (pagans), and the problems of language and communication. Mike explained that battlefield communication would have been done with horn calls, and many of the alliance would have been mercenaries.

The matter of the Nine Worthies required some research. Mike knew Julius Caesar was one, I confused 2 of the Paladins with the 9 but after checking we managed to find all the names of this strange assortment of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian ‘men of renown’.

As we continued our intermittent discussion of what it meant to go west, the Scilly Isles were mentioned, and their relation to Lionesse, while Julie reminded us of the sunken forest recently revealed by the storms in Cardigan bay, concluding that there clearly had been land in the west that was now drowned.

Pat and I then discussed an example of Tolkien’s revision of poetic form, from a gentle expanded form to the tighter alliterative form he favoured for much of the finished poem. Pat described this as a ‘cruel’ form as distinct from the ‘romantic’ and gentle form. I too had been interested in the changes Tolkien made and noted the preponderance of present participles in both forms, but the absence of a number of prepositions and articles from the tighter form. Pat and I differed in our response to the loss of these small ‘unnecessary’ words (my description!) Julie, however, observed that in the ‘gentler’ version they serve as ‘washers’ between hard consonants.

Tim noted pp.135 After Battle of Camlan and the deaths of Arthur & Mordred, robbers search the field – why? For what? Spoils? Excalibur?

We noted that robbers or scavengers were for many centuries usual on battlefields, as Tolkien notes in The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, where they plundered the dead of valuables. Angela considered the apparent absence of scavengers associated with battles in LotR, as orcs don’t seem to rob bodies. However, I thought the references to the eating something better than horse-flesh might have signified their cannibalism, in which case the battlefield would have been ready source of provisions. Julie also pointed out the way they fight over the mithril shirt.

Ian suggested as a result of his reading of this part of The Fall of Arthur that he felt the need to read Tolkien’s The Lost Road, so we added it to our reading list.

But our reading for our next meeting will be to finish The Fall of Arthur.

Tim’s Notes and Comments

pp.126-129 Narrative outline and earlier narrative outline both tantalising and intriguing

pp.129-132 Arthur’s lament; pp.133-134 Arthur’s vow

pp.136 Lancelot sails west & never returns. Eärendel passage. Guinevere flees to Wales.

pp.137 whether Lancelot finds Arthur in Avalon & will return no one knows – also tantalising. 

pp.137 Eärendel passage linking Britain-Avalon-Valinor-Earth’s border

pp.139 departure of Arthur

pp.140 differences between sea & lake re: fate of Excalibur / differences between boat & ship re: fate of Arthur

pp.140 earliest record of Camlan in 10th century Annales Cambriae, entry under A.D. 537 (or 539 depending on which book you read) “Guieth Camlann” (Battle – also translated as Strife – of Camlan)

Full entry: “Guieth Camlann in qua Arthur & Medraut corruerunt”

                   “The Battle of Camlan in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) fell”

Entry doesn’t indicate whether Arthur & Medraut were foes or allies

p.141 location of Camlan – river Camel – Camelford (Cornwall) ?

Arthur buried in hermitage at end of Mort Artu & stanzaic Morte Arthur – not Tolkien’s vision of Arthur’s fate

p.143 Malory – vale of Aveloune – absent from Mort Artu

literature indicates location of Avalon lies out to sea not inland hermitage of Glastonbury

p.144 discovery of Arthur’s “grave” at Glastonbury in 12th century during reign of Henry II.

Giraldus Cambriensis (Gerald of Wales) describes leaden cross affixed to underside of coffin telling how Arthur buried “in insula Avallonia”

Full quote: “Hic iacet sepultus inclytus rex Arthurus cum Wenneveria uxore sua secunda in insula Avallonia”

“Here lies buried the famous King Arthur(us) with Wenneveria his second wife in the isle of   Avallonia”

Gerald equated Glastonbury with Avalon – inis Avallon = insula pomifera

“aval” = British for apple

(Welsh) Ynys Afallach

p.145 Morganis took Arthur to Avalon to heal wounds.

Discovery of grave drew publicity to Glastonbury Abbey – drew pilgrims – drew money

The Fall of Arthur not concerned with Glastonbury. Avalon was island in remote West – only one mention in poem, by Gawain (l.204)

p.146 Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini account of Avalon and Arthur coming to Avalon

“Insula pomorum que fortuna vocatur” – “the Island of Apples which is called the Fortunate Isle”

The Brut of Laȝamon – earliest account of Arthur’s departure. Battle at Camelford. Armies come together at Tamar, long way from Camelford.



“Bruttes ileveð ȝete þat he bon on live,

and wunnien in Avalun      mid fairest alre alven,

and lokieð evere Bruttes ȝete      whan Arður cumen liðe.”



“The Britons believe yet that he lives

and dwells in Avalon with the fairest of all elves

and the Britons ever yet await when Arthur will return.”

Passage is “peculiar” to Laȝamon, nothing like it in Wace’s Brut.


p.149 Relationship of Arthurian Avalon and Tolkien’s Avalon.

Tol Eressëa – the Lonely Isle.

CJRT – relevant to try to discern Tolkien’s thinking on the matter of Avalon when working on FoA.

1930s JRRT and CS Lewis decided to write stories

CSL = space travel – Out of the Silent Planet finished 1937

JRRT = time travel – The Lost Road – not completed. Around this time he began writing LotR. We discussed at the meeting the relationship between Tolkien’s writing and that of C.S. Lewis, as part of the wider discussion of the chronology of Tolkien’s writing, since The Fall of Arthur coincided with The Hobbit, and The Notion Club Papers coincided with his writers’ block during LotR. Mike remarked that CSL had published Out of the Silent Planet in 1937,  and maybe Tolkien was feeling a sense of pressure.

p.150 Tolkien’s time travel hero at drowning of Atlantis, to be Númenor – “Land in the West”

Pairings of father-son all with names meaning “Bliss-friend” & “Elf-friend” —-

Edwin – Elwin in present times

Eädwine -  Ælfwine in c. A.D. 918

Audoin – Alboin in Lombardic legends

Amandil – Elendil – leaders of the loyal party in Númenor when it fell under Sauron’s sway

Documents the beginning of the legend of Númenor and extension of Silmarillion into Second Age

p.151 Fall of Númenor – second version – “Eressëa, the Lonely Island, which was renamed Avallon: for it is hard by Valinor” – one of first occurrences of Avallon for Eressëa

p.152 [quote] “And they [the Valar]… in Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, which is Avallon… the light of the Blessed Realm”

Etymologies (The Lost Road and Other Writings)

LONO-  lóna – island – Avalóna= Tol Eressëa=the outer isle

AWA- away, forth; out. [Quenya] ava – outside, beyond – Avakúma – Exterior Void beyond the World

Etymologies do not accord with “hard by Valinor” in FoA

p.153 Ælfwine 10th century Englishman – mariner who sailed Straight Road – came to Lonely Isle & learned histories from Elves as described in Book of Lost Tales

p.154 “… when some man of Eärendel’s race hath… seen the glimmer of the lamps upon the quays of Avallon”

CJRT – evolution of Silmarillion, plus Lost Road, plus “severe doubts and difficulties” all sufficient to account for JRRT turning from FoA

p.155 circa August 1937 – date of abandonment

p156 CJRT convinced Tol Eressëa connected with Arthurian Avallon

1954 statement re: Eressëa

Avalon (Arthur) and Avallon (Tol Eressëa) associated by both having character of -

“an earthly paradise far over the western ocean”

Lancelot-Eärendel link – ref. Eärendel passage

p.158 “Bay of Faery on the borders of the world”

phrase/reference often found in JRRT’s early writings. (Lays of Beleriand)

p.159 “dragon’s portals” (BoLT1); “dragon headed door” (BoLT2)

“galleon of the Sun” through the Door of Night (Shaping of Middle-earth)

p.160 the Ilurambar – Walls of the World; Ando Lómen – Door of Timeless Night

Great voyage of Eärendel to Valinor in relation to Lancelot to whom Tolkien was “now ascribing a great voyage across the western ocean”

Gawain’s ship Wingelot “Foam-flower” same as Eärendel’s ship, Vingilot / Vingilótë

Chaucer alludes to the “Tale of Wade” in Troilus and Criseyde, also using the phrase “Wade’s boat” (MHYPERLINK “”EWades boot), meaning some sort of trickery, in The Merchant’s Tale. The tale and the boat were familiar to Thomas Speght at the end of 16th century (editor of Chaucer’s works) who noted that Wade’s boat named Guingelot. Wade was ferryman & protector.

Speght’s passing remark: “Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, and also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I pass it over.” 

“Wingelock” is Skeat‘s reconstructed Anglicized form of the boat’s name.

Clive Tolley: “Old English influence on The Lord of the Rings”:

 “Where was Eärendel to get his vessel? Tolkien turned to another legend, preserved in just as fragmentary a state: that of Wade, father of the legendary smith Wayland. Wade is mentioned twice by Chaucer, who revealed he had a famous boat (see Chapter 4, p. 109). Wade’s ship is cited also in 1598, in Thomas Speght’s edition of Chaucer. Speght made the frustrating comment: ‘Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, as also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I passe it over.’ Guingelot is a Norman French version of an original Wingelot, the very name of Eärendel’s ship in Tolkien. The name is highly unlikely to be original as the name of Wade’s ship. It is Celtic in origin and is, in fact, probably a mistake on Speght’s part. It is more usually found as the name of Sir Gawain’s horse in the Arthurian cycle, including in the English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which Tolkien edited and translated. This very anomaly may have been the thing that attracted Tolkien. In his world, the anomaly disappears and Wingelot becomes ‘Foam Flower’, a beautiful name, the meaning of which derives in part from the fortuity that lóte, clearly derived from lotus (a flower with a strong literary tradition going back to the Homeric Odyssey and later including Lord Alfred Tennyson), already meant ‘flower’ in Elvish, Tolkien’s invented language.”

p.161 hills of Avalon (Eärendel passage) means Tol Eressëa

In the context of The Silmarillion Tol Eressëa renamed Avallon

In an Arthurian context Tolkien was writing Avalon for Tol Eressëa

Parallel between two great westward voyages. Second poem – “extraordinary associations”

p.162 two pieces of verse from pp.137-138 – “Eärendel’s Quest” & “Arthur’s Grave” – not clear which came first – EQ more polished so later? CJRT feels EQ came first, changes to names seem to indicate Avalon was Tol Eressëa. 

CJRT’s argument/reasoning seems weak, inevitably speculative – obviously his father isn’t around now to quiz about this. If only. Avalon “in some mysterious sense” is identified with Tol Eressëa.

p.163 quote from The Lost Road – “my father was envisaging a massive and explicit linking of his own legends with those of many other places and times” In the meeting Chris asked us if we thought Christopher Tolkien did not enjoy editing. We thought he was honest in this text about the difficulties he faced working through the huge amount of his father’s manuscripts.


Please see the end of the meeting report above for our next reading.


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