Julie’s for February Zoom: the Sea

“The Sea-Bell”

A feature of Tolkien’s writing is how often he expresses the idea of the “sea-longing” – Elves, Men, even Hobbits, all exhibit symptoms of this. Early characters who exhibit this – Aelfwine (Eriol), Tuor, Voronwë, Earendil.

Other races seem more ambivalent. In Treebeard’s song of the Ent and Entwife the two protagonists sing about going into the West together, but would this involve the sea for them? “Together [they] will take the road that leads into the West”, but would this involve the sea? Only one Dwarf as far as we know (Gimli) ever sails West, and that is out of loyalty to his friend Legolas. The Orcs do not look to the West for obvious reasons.

Two famous examples of OE verse from the Exeter Book, i.e. “The Wanderer” and “The Sea-Farer” express the hardship and loneliness of characters who feel this sea-compulsion – whether they are about actual voyages or whether their main purpose is to function as allegories of Christian struggle. “He always has a longing who sets out on the sea” (“The Sea-farer”, line 47). Not a longing for the sea in itself as such but for what one will come to on the other side of it – haven or Heaven or both. The narrator of both poems seems to be wandering in search of lost time – friends, light, warmth, joy, the fellowship of the mead-hall, the generous reward-giving lord – these images could represent real loss, as well as serving as picture-language for what he hopes to gain in the future, after death.

In “The Lord of the Rings” two characters clearly express a desire to return westward across the sea to the undying lands of the Elves, but the language they use expresses ambivalent feelings. Galadriel sings wistfully:

O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

(“Farewell to Lórien”)

Later Saruman bitterly answers her question with a quotation from her own song:

‘You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine. And now, what ship will bear you back across so wide a sea?’ he mocked. ‘It will be a grey ship, and full of ghosts.’

(“Many Partings”)

The last the reader sees of Legolas, he is walking away singing longingly about the Sea, as Galadriel foretold (“The White Rider”) – after he has delivered this message, ‘Gandalf fell silent and shut his eyes.’ Why would he do that? Misgivings?

‘To the sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling,
The voices of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore mel
For our days are ending and our years failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing;
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressëa, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not; land of my people for ever!’

(“The Field of Cormallen”)

Legolas sounds enthusiastic at first, but then he talks about the “grey ship” and a “lonely sailing” to the Lost Isle.

Frodo has a dream in the house of Tom Bombadil:

‘That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams of out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.’ (“Fog on the Barrow-Downs”)

It is a sweet vision, and pre-echoes the description in the antepenultimate paragraph of “The Lord of the Rings”, in which someone (we assume Sam) describes what Frodo smells, hears and sees as he comes to the end of his voyage into the West. Presumably at some point Frodo described his hopeful dream-vision to Sam.

But… not all is sweetness and light

“It is gone forever, and now all is dark and empty,” says Frodo on 13 March 1420. Presumably he means the Ring, but what else? Why should everything be dark and empty? The world of the Ring was itself dark and empty:

“Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr Frodo?” [Sam] 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.” (“Mount Doom”.)

But seven years later (traditionally a significant period of time when mortals have dealings with Elves) and Tolkien published a collection of verse under the title “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”. These poems were originally published in various organs in the 1930s, and then refurbished and published with illustrations by Pauline Baynes in 1962. The conceit again is that they are from the Red Book of Westmarch, just as is the story of the “Downfall of the Lord of the Rings” (as Tolkien calls it here).

The poem “The Sea-Bell” is a longer and transformed version of the old poem previously called “Looney”. Verlyn Flieger points out that “Looney” is reminiscent of Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” in that it begins with a dialogue between the narrator and a bystander. In “The Sea-Bell” the bystander has disappeared and it is just a monologue by the narrator. Tolkien seemed concerned that this poem does not fit with the rest of the material in the book. He carefully apologises for it in the mock-scholarly introduction:

“…No. 15 [“The Sea-Bell”], certainly of hobbit origin, is an exception [i.e. not light-hearted or frivolous, like most of the rest of the collection]. It is the latest piece and belongs to the Fourth Age; but it is included here because a hand has scrawled at its head Frodos Dreme. That is remarkable, and though the piece is most unlikely to have been written by Frodo himself, the title shows that it was associated with the dark and despairing dreams which visited him in March and October during is last three years. But there were certainly other traditions concerning Hobbits that were taken by the ‘wandering-madness’, and if they ever returned, were afterwards queer and uncommunicable. The thought of the Sea was ever-present in the background of hobbit imagination; but fear of it and distrust of all Elvish lore, was the prevailing mood I the Shire at the end of the Third Age, and that mood was certainly not entirely dispelled by the events and changes with which that Age ended.”

Tolkien certainly seems to have experienced a lot of anxiety about “The Sea-Bell”. He expressed qualms to Pauline Baynes (Letter 6 December 1961 (p. 312), calling it “the poorest” in the collection. Yet he did not pull it and in the end the illustration on the dust jacket features it (the character holds a sea-shell and there is a sea-bell clearly visible (Scull & Hammond say it depicts the mariner in “Errantry” but it seems more probable to me that it is the narrator of “The Sea-Bell”) – why would Tolkien allow the figure in “The Sea-Bell” to feature on the cover if he really thought it was a poor poem?)

Why did Tolkien at this point (1962) make the poem explicitly about Frodo when it was not before. He recognises that it fits very well with Frodo’s tendency to dream about the sea and in particular the disturbing dreams he was experiencing during his last few sad years in the Shire. What implication does this have for Frodo’s vision in the house of Tom Bombadil and Sam’s assumptions about his eventual destiny?

It has features in common with the two OE poems mentioned above. Exile, loneliness, alienation, cold, winter, emblematic of Frodo’s trials and struggles – but when the narrator arrives at his destination he does not find what the vision in Tom Bombadil’s house suggested that he would

At the beginning, the narrator sees a boat, “empty and grey” suggestive of Saruman’s mocking of Galadriel, but he gets into it anyway. He arrives in the West but the fairi s hide from him wherever he goes and respond to his challenge ‘Speak to me words! Show me a face!’ with silence and absence, and then suddenly the imagery changes. We go from starlight, jewel dust etc, to negative words with dark connotations – “Black came a cloud as a night-shroud…” and it turns out that fairy time has kicked in and the protagonist is suddenly old. His voyage back to the mortal world is described in bleak and depressing language – “sea-wrack”, “cold caves”, “seals barking, and rocks snarling”, “the gulping of waves”, winter, snow, ice darkess, rain, the sea shell silent and dead. He discovers on his return that he is now shunned by his fellow mortals as he was by the longed-for fairies.

As Verlyn Flieger points out, “The Sea-Bell” turns the promise of the vision in the house of TB to “fairy gold” (p.213). Is this really going to be Frodo’s fate once the ship arrives at Tol Eressëa or is it just a deception, a despair-inducing result of Saruman’s parting remarks to him? ’Do not expect me to wish you health and long life,’ he says. ‘You will have neither. But that is not my doing. I merely foretell.’ (“The Scouring of the Shire”). That Tolkien could even imagine Frodo finding such a non-welcome in the West is deeply depressing. He did suffer from periods of severe doubt regarding his own belief in God and the afterlife but it seems a shame he extended this to his fictional creation. Frodo deserved a break!

Books I looked at

“The Letters of J R R Tolkien.” Ed. H Carpenter. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1991)
“A Question of Time.” Verlyn Flieger. (Kent State University Press, 1997)
“The J R R Tolkien Companion and Guide”. Christina Scull & Wayne Hammond. (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006)
“The Lord of the Rings.” J R R Tolkien. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1968 – 11th impression 1972)
“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” J R R Tolkien. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1962 – 3rd impression 1968)
“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” J R R Tolkien, ed. Christina Scull & Wayne Hammnd. (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014)
“Old and Middle English: an anthology”. Ed. E. Traherne. (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000)

Lynn’s for February Zoom: the Sea

Aesthetics of the Sea

This is a very subjective topic but there do seem to be moments in the wider legendarium that offer the heightened expression of the sea, the shore, and those who experience them. Aesthetics is usually taken to name an ideology and philosophy of beauty, and this combination changes with time, but I will not try to compare Tolkien’s aesthetics with those of the early twentieth century in general, or of our time, but focus on some examples that seem to me to be ‘beautifully’ expressed. I will leave aside the poetry that deals specifically with the Sea, and look only at prose examples that seem to achieve the level of poetic expression.

In the Book of Lost Tales 1 the mariner Eriol protests that he has had enough of the seas but the lady Meril-i- Turinqi tells him “Nay … on a day of autumn will come the winds and a driven gull, maybe, will wail overhead and lo! you will be filled with desire, remembering the black coasts of your home.’ This encapsulates the mutability of desire, but the aesthetic effect derives from imagery and word order that is characteristic of poetry, or at least from the tradition of ‘poetic expression’: e.g. ‘on a day of autumn’ was not colloquial English even in the early twentieth century, but it well expresses the indeterminate nature of *** In addition, the image of the ‘black coasts’ contrasts with the sunshine and flowers of Meril’s land and lends a sense of bleakness and alienation to the characterisation of Eriol himself, if this is indeed the environment to which he will wish to return.

Although Laura reminded me of Osse’s special interest in shorelines and shallow seas, I am only focussing on land- and seascapes, and ‘The Coming of the Elves’ offers some particularly beautiful descriptions such as ‘So danced the Solosimpi upon the waves’ brink, and the love of the sea and rocky coasts entered into their hearts.’ And again, ‘the Solosimpi dwelt far off amid the sea and made windy music on their pipes of shell. These Elves would later mutate in Tolkien’s development of his legendarium to become the Teleri, equally devoted to life by the sea, but in their earliest incarnation their name ‘Solosimpi’, apparently influenced by Tolkien’s interest in Finnish, does not signify their association with their preferred environment in the way their name in English states it plainly – these are the ‘Shoreland pipers’. There are variations on this name, and almost all the variations include the ‘shore’, and some reference indicating music.

There is an innocence about the depiction of this delight in being on the seashore but also a sense of isolation; of being like the environment, marginal and insecure or fragile, like the shell pipes and windy music, which themselves suggest a thin sound, quickly blown away and thus beautiful but insubstantial.

Perhaps the most aesthetically familiar sequence would be the episode of Earendil and Elwing, but the Solosimpi and Eriol episodes have their own poignant, wistful beauty too in their inevitable opposition of the huge instability of the sea against the existence of those who live by it, even if they are immortals. The Solosimpi will become the Teleri and live at Alqualonde. Orthographically, this is consistent with Tolkien’s created names, but spoken aloud is close to being a portmanteau word, in spite of the diaresis on the final ‘e’. The word suggests the combination of water ‘aqua’ with ‘londe’, itself a medieval spelling of ‘land’. This again accurately names the marginal, liminal of the place and those who choose to live there.

I realise that this has become a consideration of the aesthetics of the marginal or liminal as much as of the shoreline rather than the sea itself, but the shoreline does not exist without the sea.

Comments:

Laura remarked that shorelines make for the best walks, and that the ‘shoreland pipers’ remind her of the little birds that run piping along the water line of the sea shore.

From Laura for February Zoom: the Sea

TOLKIEN ZOOMOOT
20 February 2021
The Sea: Cirdan Laura

Background:
One could be forgiven for thinking that Cirdan only has a small role in Middle-Earth from reading LOTR and The Hobbit. He’s a shipbuilder/harbourmaster/coastguard. In the F I L M he is in the background when Gilgalad, Galadriel and Cirdan are wearing the Three Rings and also at the end when Galadriel, Celeborn (??!), Elrond, Gandalf, Cirdan, Bilbo and Frodo leave for the West by ship.
However, Cirdan appears more in the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle-Earth (quite a lot of information about him is repeated as we know) and his role is crucial to the saving of Middle-Earth ironically for men. Tolkien did write a whole section on Cirdan in Last Writings written in the early 1970s as part of the chapter on Wizards.

What Cirdan Does:
After the arrival of the Elves in Middle-Earth, Cirdan became the lord of the elves that lived on the seashore – these elves were loved by Ossë, Ulmo’s right hand maia, who preferred coastlines rather than the deep sea (married to Uinen who loved rivers). The Elves were in the throes of travelling to the West or staying in Middle-Earth; Ossë persuaded some of the Teleri elves to stay on the shoreline and not risk the journey to the West – possibly for selfish reasons but he taught them shipbuilding and sailing.
The elves also stayed because of their loyalty to their leaders, Olwë and Elwë (Thingol). Olwë had travelled to the West and they hoped to be with him. Elwë has disappeared because he is in a trance with Melian. This is a very sad period because many elves are waiting on the shore for Ulmo to return and take them to the West but he never does. These elves were called the Forsaken.
Cirdan’s name is Sindarin for Shipbuilder but his original name was Nowë, in line with Elwë and Olwë. He could see further into the future than anyone else including the wizards. It is likely that a Palantir was located at the Grey Havens although it seems that it faced the sea so that Elendil could see as far as possible to the West and was not used for communication.
Cirdan also wanted to leave and had built a ship but he was warned by the Valar not to attempt it because he had a major role to play in Middle-Earth. He saw a white shining boat above him like a star, presumably Earendil’s ship. Earendil was Cirdan’s apprentice.
Cirdan does have links beyond the coast. He sent pearls to Thingol (Elwë) so that he could use them to pay for dwarves’ work – one was as large as a dove’s egg. Thingol also learnt from Cirdan about the Kinslaying and the burning of the ships (that must have been hard).
Morgoth continued to plan and act on the destruction of the elves and attacked Beleriand driving Cirdan and his force back to the sea. Morgoth had circulated rumours about the Noldor elves to drive a wedge between Thingol and Finrod’s sons – Cirdan was astute enough to see through this and to warn Thingol.
Cirdan was able to hold the Grey Havens against attack; he offered shelter; he participated in battles; his sailors harried further up and down the coast to attack Morgoth’s forces. However, in the First Age, Morgoth managed to destroy the Grey Havens including the main tower after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Cirdan and his remaining people were forced to sail to the Isle of Balar. Cirdan sent seven (magic number!) ships into the West to ask for help but only one returned without success with the mission. This ship was captained by Voronwë, a key figure in the history of Tuor and Gondolin.
Cirdan also played a part in the history of Turin. Ulmo gave Cirdan a message for Turin at Nargothrond. The messenger relayed Ulmo’s words, essentially do not leave Nargothrond and destroy the city’s bridge. Turin had no intention of doing this and was rude about Cirdan saying that he knows nothing.
Cirdan provided ships and crew to take men to Numenor – about five to ten thousand people over fifty years. Aldarion, the sailor king of Numenor, learnt how to build ships and to sail and how to build sea defences from Cirdan. Cirdan gave him an eagle figurehead for his ship.
Early in the Second Age, Celebrimbor made the three Great Rings and Sauron made the Ruling Ring in Mordor. Cirdan was given Narya the Great, the Ring of Fire, gold with a ruby. Gilgalad was given Vilya, the Ring of Water and the most powerful, gold with a sapphire. He later gave this to Elrond. Galadriel was given Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, mithril and diamond. In the Third Age, Elrond and Galadriel still have their rings and Cirdan has given his ring to Gandalf because he knew that Gandalf had a chief role in defeating Sauron – “to rekindle hearts in a chilly world”. He tells Gandalf that he will stay until the last ship sails to the West and will wait for him. Cirdan was the only person who saw the wizards arrive in Middle-Earth, seeing them land but there is no explanation or description of the ship.
Cirdan and his forces joined in battles eg supporting Arvedui in which Cirdan and Elrond defeat the Witch King. Arvedui’s sons were sheltered by Cirdan.
Cirdan was with Elrond and Gilgalad at the defeat of Sauron. He was witness to Isildur’s failure to destroy the Ruling Ring.
In the Third Age, at the Council of Elrond, Galdor was sent on an errand by Cirdan to Rivendell, possibly to get information rather than give it, specifically about the true identity of the Ring and about Saruman’s activities and intentions.
The best description, perhaps only description, of Cirdan is at the end of LOTR when he greets those sailing in the last ship. “Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said: “All is now ready”. Their ship is white which could be the vision that Cirdan had at the very beginning. It is not spelt out but Cirdan must be granted his original wish and sail with them.

Cirdan today – imaging solutions for pathology labs and a financial services company! Also a Sailing Trust for Young People – their emblem includes seven white stars on a blue sail! Two of their sailing ships are called Faramir and Queen Galadriel. They are based near Maldon!

Julie said that Nowë could be similar to Noah and that a mediaeval spelling is also Noe.
Chris wondered if Cirdan was hard done by, similarly to Gollum, given that they were both manipulated.

Comments:

Chris also noted that Cirdan didn’t trust Saruman and so gave Gandalf the ring he bore, but that he must have lost some of his power when he gave up that ring.

In response to the Gollum comparison, Laura observed that there is more of a sense of free will and access to resources about Cirdan.

Angela remarked that Elves specifically don’t have beards, but Cirdan has..

Tim noted that he is a ‘gatekeeper’ for those going into the West.

Chris wondered if Cirdan saw the sea-faring hobbits, but Ian suggested that they didn’t necessarily leave from major ports.

From Eileen for February Zoom: the Sea

[With apologies for the reproduction of Eileen’s email. I did edit her comments on the poem but they seem to have reverted to the shape they took in the email and won’t respond to editing here.]

This poem has been taken from The Book of Lost Tales by Tolkien, and edited by Christopher Tolkien. One of these tales is about the great voyages undertaken by Earendil, the mariner, and wanderer. He is described by Tolkien in The Silmarillion: ‘of unsurpassing beauty was Earendil for a light was in his face as the light of heaven; and he had the beauty and the wisdom of the Eldar, and the strength and hardihood of the men of old, and the sea spoke ever in his ear and heart, even as with Tuor his father.

The shores of Faery;

East of the Moon,west of the Sun

There stands a lonely hill;

Its feet are in the pale green sea,

Its towers are white and still,

Beyond Taniquetil

In Valinor,

Comes never there but one lone star

That fled before the moon;

And there the Two Trees naked are

That bore Night’s silver bloom,

That bore the globed fruit of Noon

In Valinor

There are the shores of Faery

With their moonlit pebbled strand

Whose foam is silver music

On the opalescent floor

Beyond the great sea-shadows

On the marches of the sand

That stretches on for ever

To the dragonheaded door

The gateway of the Moon

Beyond Taniquetil

In Valinor.

West of the Sun, East of the Moon

Lies the haven of the star,

The white town of the Wanderer

And the rocks of Eglamar;

There Wingelot is harboured

While Earendil looks afar

O’er the darkness of the waters

Between here and Eglamar-

Out, out, beyond Taniquetil

In Valinor afar.

Analysis

There is vivid sea imagery in the poem and in the environment that is linked to the sea. We have colours that enhance e. g, ‘pale green sea’, ’white towers’, ‘silver bloom’ ‘silver music’ ‘opalescent floor’. This imagery suggests a harmonious place. But there are examples of negative imagery too – e. g. ‘Two Trees naked’ they used to bloom and bear fruit, but now appear barren.

‘dragonheaded door’suggests horror,and the line

‘gateway of the Moon’begs a question- why is the moon linked

with ‘dragonheaded’. but there is a previous line by Tolkien,when

he writes ‘come never there but one lone star

That fled before the moon’-an element of fear is suggested here in

‘fled’-and then we come to the repetition,in ‘lonely hill’,and ‘lone

star’-

Tolkien  also writes of Earendil’s ship ,being ‘harboured’, and the

loneliness and sadness of Earendil,as he ‘looks afar

O’er the darkness of the waters…..’

Earendil’s mood is reflected by the negative imagery,and it would appear that the enticing sea imagery fails to console him.

From Chris for February Zoom meeting: The Sea

HOBBITS AND THE SEA IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS

We first hear about the Hobbits’ relationship to the sea in the Prologue to the LotR. Here it says in the distant past a few Hobbits actually sailed out to sea but few ever came back. This made the Hobbits fear the sea, indeed any body of water, and they began to regard it as a token of death “Sea became a word of fear among them, and a token of death, and they turned their faces away from the hills in the west.”  The fact that Frodo’s parents drowned in a boating accident must have enforced this fear of water. Hobbits, therefore, had no interest in gaining any knowledge of the sea and this is shown when the four Hobbits set out from the Shire and see some elves clearly planning to leave Middle-earth. Although they knew they were going to a harbour “neither he (Sam) nor any of them knew how far it was to the Sea.”

As the Hobbits’ journey progresses Tolkien begins to add in imagery of the sea as a means of foreboding what is to come. On waking after an uncomfortable night Frodo looks towards the dawn and “ the autumn trees seemed to be sailing rootless in a shadowy sea.” When staying at Crickhollow before setting off through the Old Forest Frodo finds it difficult to sleep but gradually falls into a vague dream where he seems to be looking over a dark sea of tangled trees. He soon realises that these are not trees but the sea itself and he begins to smell the salt air. He has a sudden urge to climb a tower and look out over the sea but at this point is suddenly woken by the other Hobbits getting ready to set off.

Once on their journey through the Old Forest Tolkien again uses a nautical image to describe their situation when they appear lost, “They were on an island in a sea of trees, and the horizon was veiled.”  Once safely rescued by Tom Bombadil, they settle down for the night and this time it is Merry that has a nightmarish dream about water surrounding the house “into a dark shoreless pool” and making him fear he will be drowned.

The sea imagery continues when the Hobbits get into difficulty on the Barrow Downs “Even as they looked out in dismay towards the setting sun, it sank before their eyes into a white sea.” and shortly afterwards this image is stressed when Tolkien describes them heading into “a foggy sea.” On arrival in Lothlórien Frodo immediately senses the sea, “Frodo stood still, hearing far off great seas upon beaches that had long ago been washed away, and sea-birds crying whose race had perished from the earth.” Frodo’s link with the sea is then confirmed when he looks in the Mirror of Galadriel. “The mist cleared and he saw a sight which he had never seen before but knew at once: the Sea.” This connection between Frodo and the sea appears once again when he puts on the Ring to evade Boromir and Frodo “saw, the mighty delta of the River, and myriads of sea-birds whirling like a white dust in the sun, and beneath them a green and silver sea, rippling in endless lines.”

Once at Rivendell on their homeward journey Sam says that after all the things they have seen he still feels he need to set off for home as soon as possible. In reply Frodo says yes we have seen something of everything except the Sea. Frodo then repeats this phrase to himself. Clearly the sea is playing on his mind. This is eventually sated when Frodo joins Gandalf, Bilbo, Elrond and Galadriel on their journey from the Grey Havens. Although there is no indication about Sam’s sea longing he does eventually make the journey to join Frodo.

Perhaps final mention should be made of Gollum as he clearly had no fear of water but there is little indication he had a great deal of knowledge about the sea. Even so when Gollum imagines what he would want to do if he regains the Ring and sees himself as Gollum the Great is simply “Eat fish every day, three times a day; fresh from the sea.” This must indicate the Gollum did have some knowledge of the sea, possibly from stories he heard when he was young..

An addition from across the sea

Our topic for the forthcoming Zoom meeting is The Sea, and one of our virtual followers, the poet Janet Nelson-Alvarez, who lives in California, offered one of her poems as an online contribution and introduction to the topic. I have taken it upon myself to post it here. She writes as jan-u-wine and her style is very economical, but if you stay with it you’ll see exactly what she’s talking about, and who is talking:

That Which They Call Mallë Téra

– jan-u-wine

Ne’er in this life
have I given
much thought
to the meanings that lie
between the silvery voicings
of words.

But now,

ah,

now…..

Now

time lies heavy upon me,

all the small moments
touching,
one to the other….

all

whispering,

like voices
close-held behind
the door of night.

A door which still
I may not pass.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is a chill
to the study
today.

It didn’t used to be
me as let the
fire burn low.

Somehow,

I seem not able to care
for the heat

nor the cold

nor whether the grass
be green

or the fields gold.

Somehow,

I care only for the
soft blossoms
of words

that twine about
my aged fingers,

fall like
long-forgotten song
from my lips.

It is not so easy

for a Gardener
to understand
blossoms
which are not
of this earth.

It is not so easy
to find that which
they call
the Straight Road.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It seems I’ve read the day away.

Scrolls signeted with ancient dust
lie upon the floor,

bent-spined volumes
yellow-paged,
spidered
with half-ledged script,
recline upon the desk.

Deep night

pulls

at the thread of the candle’s flame.

Ah, Elbereth,

I tire
of this journey.

I cannot get my head about this.

I wish………..

I wish

you

were here to read me
these strange words….

You

could always
rightly find
the meaning of things.

Even things
hidden.

No matter.

My finger stops
at the words

which have no meaning
within the Circle
of this World.

They are more like
a Song made in
the Beginning Time:

Mallë:
road…

Téra……
straight.

The Straight Road.

That is the path
you have taken…..

that is the path
I

shall follow.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My mind
stumbles
over darkened
memory,

retreats to a day
faded
by long years.

I see the muted line
of the ship…..

Sails,

white as any snow,
filling and sighing
beneath the wind’s heel.

Here, in the Haven
of Lindon

the ancient shipwright
touches his hand
to the silent bow…

Almost, it seems,
she quickens
beneath his touch…

almost, it seems,
her proud head
rises
from the blue
embrace
of the Sea.

The Sun’s brow
rests
upon the breast
of the Great Water
when you,
at last,
sail.

Soft grey fog,
pearl’d orange
and pink
in the last light,
wisps
and gives way
before the slender
bow.

I well remember,
even now,
how
I watched
her ride out,

grand
and
lonely,

and so
seeming
small.

Swift and light
and

proud,
she passed
the green-gold
hills
that guard
the gates
of the Sea.

And the Song
that drove
her
played out,
vanishing
within  the distance
between us,

and

stopped,

taken, at last,
by the wind

and a Road
which does not lie
in blue-green wave.

She was lost to me.

You
were lost
to me.

It was true-dark, then.

Like the lamp of a solitary
fire-fly,

netted Light called my eye:

Earendil
sails
upon the Sea
of the night.

I smile into the darkness:

you
would be pleased
that you
and he
share
this journey.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The silver-white of the Last Ship
has long left my sight.

Shadow
fills the quay,
a fretting breeze
pulls the comfort
of my cloak from me.

My eyes,
tired with tears,

search the emptied
horizon,
its soft curve
bowed
like an embracing arm.

Nothing stays within it
save weary moon-shadows
and
(were I there to hear them)
the music of the waves.

I should
go
Home
now,

yet

something
holds me,

something
in the scattered Light
of the sky
draws me…..

There.

Above the familiar line
of horizon,
sudden Light…

a Light I have known…

a Light
I have held in my own hand.

It shines there,

caught
with the rest of the stars,

shimmering,

joyous

beside the solemn fire
of Earendil….

Somehow,

as if sound
were leached
from the very light
of the stars,

I hear your voice,
bidding me fare-well.

And the Light
catches

and plays

upon the great
veil of Sky……

catches…….

and

fades

to naught.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is yet night
when I remake
the fire
within the grate.

Little shadows
run
the length of the floor.

The last drops of tea
within the cup are cold
and bitter.

Almost, I imagine,
like the blood of the Sea.

I close my eyes.

Behind them,
a ship of silver
waits,

wind filling star-jeweled
sails,

bow seeking
the Uttermost West.

The Road.

It calls me.

This time,

it is
that which they call

Mallë Téra.

**From the Letters of JRR Tolkien:  “the immortals who were allowed to leave Middle-earth…..set sail in ships specially made and hallowed for this voyage.  They only set out after sundown; but if any keen-eyed observer from that shore had watched one of these ships he might have seen that it never became hull-down but dwindled only by distance until it vanished in the twilight:  it followed the straight road to the true West and not the bent road of the earth’s surface.  The Elves who took this road and those few ‘mortals’ who by special grace went with them, had abandoned the ‘History of the World’ and could play no further part in it.”

Eileen’s Firelight presentation (30 Jan)

I am focusing on the episode ‘Queer Lodgings’, in The Hobbit

With this title we are unsure what to expect-perhaps no danger, or maybe happenings that are unusual, or disturbing in some way. This episode is unusual, but also fascinating. For example the ‘firelight’ has no similarity to the devouring fires in the previous episode, nor the burning wargs, but instead the firelight in this episode is welcoming to the traumatised dwarves and Bilbo.

Here, Tolkien introduces us to an unexpected and joyful episode. It is almost magical at times and fires and feasting are at the heart of it. Tolkien portrays them all sitting at a big table lit by torches placed at strategic points and warmed by a welcoming fire in the centre of the hall. This was a fire they could be seduced by, that was conducive to storytelling, laughter, feasting, sleeping, and warmth.

A magical scene has been conjured up by Tolkien where the characters are able to converse normally, in easeful surroundings. At times, the fire is topped up with logs and two red candles lit and placed at each end of the table. Of course when there is an almost magical scene like this, there is also a sense of timelessness. They are free to have discussions with ease, lulled by the firelight and comfort.

The flickering flames seem to have a greater significance as it grew darker. The movement or flickers of differing flames can induce a sense of seeing shapes or elusive shadows in the fire. That become thought-provoking—so there is a magical quality emanating from the constant flickering flames.

What was also magical, indeed surprising, was that their platters were served up by horses and dogs (with whom Beorn could communicate). Beorn himself was a huge man, clothed in bearskin. Through Tolkien’s playful language Gandalf was able to persuade the reluctant Beorn to eventually accept all the dwarves, and Bilbo.

Persuasion, ploy, and humour were used to achieve this. Beorn used his expertise of ‘time-tables’ to admonish Gandalf over his ploy to slip the dwarves in by degrees. Here, I am reminded of lines in a poem by Emily Dickenson:

Tell all the truth

But tell it slant-

Success in circuit lies-

Bilbo woke up in the night as there were only dying embers of the fire left. He fell asleep while the flames were still flickering, listening to the murmuring of voices, and woke with the dying embers.

Tim’s Firelight presentation (30 Jan)

I will be examining four different examples of the use of firelight in The Hobbit.


Firelight as a mood setting device
In Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party, we are introduced to Bilbo Baggins, Esquire, a hobbit of some standing in the Shire who finds himself hosting an impromptu party for the wizard Gandalf, and Thorin and his dwarves. After much eating and drinking and clearing away, the guests settle down to play some lively music. Tolkien uses the light of the fire, the main source of light in the room, and the Dwarves’ music, to create an intense mood, setting the scene for the serious discussion that is to come later in the night.
The dark came into the room from the little window that opened in the side of The Hill; the firelight flickered—it was April—and still they played on, while the shadow of Gandalf’s beard wagged against the wall.
The dark filled all the room, and the fire died down, and the shadows were lost, and still they played on. And suddenly first one and then another began to sing as they played, deep-throated singing of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes; and this is like a fragment of their song, if it can be like their song without their music.
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old…

Firelight as an alarm signal
By Chapter 6: Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire, the Company has already journeyed far, having emerged from under the Misty Mountains and fleeing some rather irate Goblins. With Wargs and Goblins in pursuit, they all climb trees to evade them, but fires are set by their pursuers at the feet of the trees and escape seems impossible. It is the voices of the wolves that initially draws the attention of the Lord of the Eagles to some mischief going on below. It is distant specks of firelight that catch his eyes.
The Lord of the Eagles of the Misty Mountains had eyes that could look at the sun unblinking, and could see a rabbit moving on the ground a mile below even in the moonlight. So though he could not see the people in the trees, he could make out the commotion among the wolves and see the tiny flashes of fire, and hear the howling and yelping come up faint from far beneath him.

Firelight as a sign of comfort and respite
By Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings, having leapt from frying pan into fire, and flown from eyrie to the Carrock, the Company infiltrates Beorn’s Hall where they find a place to rest and get new supplies and ponies. Although their host is stern and strange and intimidating, his hall is nothing if not welcoming after the stress and peril of the last few days.

Following him they found themselves in a wide hall with a fire-place in the middle… there was a wood-fire burning and the smoke was rising to the blackened rafters in search of the way out through an opening in the roof. They passed through this dim hall, lit only by the fire and the hole above it, and came through another smaller door into a sort of veranda propped on wooden posts made of single tree-trunks. It faced south and was still warm and filled with the light of the westering sun which slanted into it, and fell golden on the garden full of flowers that came right up to the steps.
The dark night came on outside. The fires in the middle of the hall were built with fresh logs and the torches were put out, and still they sat in the light of the dancing flames with the pillars of the house standing tall behind them, and dark at the top like trees of the forest.


Firelight as a peril, loss of firelight as isolation
In the next chapter, Flies and Spiders, Bilbo and the Dwarves are finding their way through Mirkwood, without the aid of Gandalf ho has had to leave them to attend to other matters. The forest is dark, and tangled, and the path that Gandalf told them to stay on without fail is eventually lost to them.
Bombur describes a dream to his companions:
“I was having such beautiful dreams. I dreamed I was walking in a forest rather like this one, only lit with torches on the trees and lamps swinging from the branches and fires burning on the ground; and there was a great feast going on, going on for ever. A woodland king was there with a crown of leaves, and there was a merry singing, and I could not count or describe the things there were to eat and drink.”
His dream appears to be coming real, and the Company begins a rather comical pursuit of torchlight, fire, music and the aroma of cooking. Every time they draw near, the lights are put out. At the end of this, Bilbo finds himself utterly isolated.
They all looked, and a longish way off, it seemed, they saw a red twinkle in the dark; then another and another sprang out beside it. Even Bombur got up, and they hurried along then, not caring if it was trolls or goblins. The light was in front of them and to the left of the path, and when at last they had drawn level with it, it seemed plain that torches and fires were burning under the trees, but a good way off their track.
… No sooner had the first stepped into the clearing than all the lights went out as if by magic. Somebody kicked the fire and it went up in rockets of glittering sparks and vanished. They were lost in a completely lightless dark and they could not even find one another, not for a long time at any rate.
Once again, they espy the lights and make their way towards them.
… When they got to the edge of the circle of lights they pushed Bilbo suddenly from behind. Before he had time to slip on his ring, he stumbled forward into the full blaze of the fire and torches. It was no good. Out went all the lights again and complete darkness fell.
But that was not the last of the lights in the forest. Later when the night must have been getting old, Kili who was watching then, came and roused them all again, saying:
“There’s a regular blaze of light begun not far away—hundreds of torches and many fires must have been lit suddenly and by magic. And hark to the singing and the harps!”
… out stepped Thorin in to their midst.
Dead silence fell in the middle of a word. Out went all light. The fires leaped up in black smokes. Ashes and cinders were in the eyes of the dwarves, and the wood was filled again with their clamour and their cries.
Bilbo found himself running round and round (as he thought) and calling and calling (for the Dwarves)… But the cries of the others got steadily further and fainter, and though after a while it seemed to him they changed to yells and cries for help in the far distance, all noise at last died right away, and he was left alone in complete silence and darkness.

Lynn on Firelight (Jan 30)

Firelight: Dragons and Balrogs

The most charming and homely references to firelight seem to be linked to hobbits in LotR – the fire on the hearth at Bag End warding off the chill of an April morning, Bilbo nodding by a pillar in the Hall of Fire, and his poignant and evocative song ‘I sit beside the fire and think’. But as often as firelight suggests the comforting warmth and security of home, it is then paired with more unpleasant associations with firelight. So at Bag End Frodo’s homely fire reveals the identity of the Ring in fiery letters, a Ring forged in volcanic fire so intense it is proof against even the dragon fire of Ancalagon. This balance of references to fire leads to deceptive hopes, as when Bilbo sees firelight, and hoping for hospitality stumbles instead into the Trolls’ camp. Rather less threatening, but still subverting the association between firelight and comfort, Aragorn comes late to the pleasures of Rivendell saying that he must often put mirth aside. Warmth, shelter, hospitality, are very often treated in this way, when firelight represents the brevity of relaxation for most of the characters who are not hobbits, and for the hobbits who get mixed up with them.

I have already mentioned Ancalagon the Black, whose fire would be no match for the strength of the Ring, and dragon fire seems to be an important comparison here. There is apparently nothing else more powerful than dragon fire, according to Gandalf’s comparison, and dragon fire is still a known quantity in the Third Age. Smaug is the epitome of all that is destructive and terrible in this era of Middle-earth, and his firelight is a sign of constant threat, and as with the few hot dragons in mythology, such as Beowulf’s, it connotes the ultimate test of a hero.

The link to Beowulf’s dragon is most apparent in the description of Glaurung’s onslaught. This echoes the revenge attacks by the dragon on Beowulf’s realm but perhaps on an even greater scale, and firelight now is terrifying. Any references to campfires in the story of Turin are again overwhelmed and rendered signs of impotence by the concept of the firestorm the dragon represents. It is impressive, therefore, that he also has the power of speech, and an hypnotic gaze, qualities not usually characteristic of dragons, except a demonic avatars. But fire is his characteristic weapon and its light is the horrifying signal of his power.

This may seem obvious, but there is a comparison to be made between the two active dragons and that other creature associated with fire – the balrog. The deceptive effects of firelight occur again in Moria as the Fellowship flees the attack of the orcs in the Chamber of Mazarbul. As they approach the exit level Giml notices light, but not daylight, and recognises firelight. Gandalf briefly expresses relief that this burst of subterranean fire actually separates them from pursuing orcs. However, the balrog arrives and as it crosses the rift the fire leaps up to meet it, famously kindling its mane. So this fire responds to the balrog, but is not apparently under its control as dragon fire is governed by the will of the creature. It may carry a whip of fire, but again this is external to it, not part of its physical being. Nevertheless, both of Tolkien’s ‘fire’ creations, the dragons and the balrog have their origins in Thangorodrim, and the firelight associated with them is perhaps symbolic of the fires of this Middle-earth hell which is still capable of penetrating into the Third Age, and is faintly echoed in the contained, domesticated firelight of Bag End and The Hall of Fire, and is not just confined to stories.

Laura on Firelight (Jan 30)

TOLKIEN ZOOMOOT
30 January 2021
Firelight: The Beacons of Gondor

Background:
The idea of firelight is mostly a positive concept as it brings comfort and warmth in possibly a dark world going back thousands of years, keeping away wild animals and ghosts. It can be companionable with people sitting around the fire.
Beacons bring a fierce and bright firelight to celebrate something (like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee) or a warning (like signalling along the south coast of England that the Armada was sighted) or a call for help. The word comes from Anglo-Saxon “becon”; the idea is not at all new. Beacons could be lit from the Isle of Wight to the Thames Valley. Several places have “Beacon” in their name. The Reader’s Companion mentions that beacons are described as warnings and calls for help in the Iliad.
Warning beacons are lit in a series as people see their neighbouring beacon has been lit. This implies that sites of beacons for warning purposes are permanently manned and that someone holds the responsibility for ensuring resources. Celebratory ones are lit at the same time although a much reduced celebratory beacon in the form of the Olympic torch travels in a series of stages. Lightbars on emergency vehicles are also a form of beacon!
In the modern world we use many different ways of signalling a warning such as light houses; foghorns; sirens; church bells. Native Americans used the ancient skill of smoke signals to warn of danger; call to a meeting or send news. They used spirals, puffs and parallel lines. Each tribe had a unique code so they would not alert enemies although there were apparently common signals: one puff – attention/hwaet!; two puffs – all is well; three puffs – danger; help. The Native Americans used firebowls so that they could sit at the fire and manipulate a blanket or leather whereas beacons in our country tend to be massive bonfires or fires lit in braziers on tall poles. Smoke was made with greenery and signals could be passed along a line of fires. Apparently the Boy Scouts of America still have to have this skill! We also watch for smoke signals when a new Pope is announced.

Context:
In Chapter 1, Minas Tirith, of the Return of the King, Pippin is riding with Gandalf to Minas Tirith. Tolkien writes: “A light kindled in the sky, a blaze of yellow fire behind dark barriers..” This frightens Pippin as he has just woken up from a nightmare about what he saw in the Palantir. The light is in fact the Moon, perhaps a pre-echo of the beacon fires.
Then Pippin sees the beacons: “Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in the land? Look, there is another….! The beacons must be massive for Pippin to think they are dragons. Gandalf replies: “….The beacons of Gondor are alight calling for aid. War is kindled.” He lists the seven (seven!) hill tops and forests in which the beacons are sited stretching from Minas Tirith to the borders of Rohan. The sites are marked on the map made by Christopher. While they are riding, Pippin and Gandalf are passed by three horsemen going in the opposite direction; they are carrying the Red Arrow as a token of the crisis at Minas Tirith and asking for military help from Rohan.
The beacons are (starting from Minas Tirith): Amon Dîn; Eilenach; Nardol; Erelas; Calenhad; Min-Rimmon; Halifirien. These appear to have been of different sizes and resources.
Gandalf explains the system of the beacons manned by errand riders to Pippin who is asleep. The sites of the beacons go north but also south. They were not needed previously because the Palantirs were used. He does not say who started this system of protection but they have not been lit in living memory (men presumably rather than elves).
Background to the context:
Tolkien wrote an essay on Eorl and Cirion in the Third Age published in Unfinished Tales. Eorl was the first king of Rohan and Cirion was the twelfth Steward of Gondor. They both swore an oath, calling upon Iluvatar as witness, for eternal friendship and to help each other. This took place at Halifirien (Holy Mountain), the site of the future, last beacon. It is possible that it was the site of Elendil’s tomb.
In the essay, Tolkien describes the Halifirien beacon as having beacon warders who were pleased to go home after their shifts because of whispers heard through the silence (compare lighthouse keeper stories and routines). Tolkien writes: “…as if he expected to hear the echo of a great voice that called from far away and long ago…” Perhaps the voice is that of Iluvator or Elendil.
Yes, the F I L M!
Jackson did not follow Tolkien’s book regarding the beacons. The film shows that Denethor, in his depression, does not want the beacons lit and Gandalf persuades the risk-taker, Pippin, to climb the beacon tower at Minas Tirith and light it. There are some dramatic shots of the other beacons on mountain tops above the clouds but none are shown in high forest clearings. Aragorn is the only person who seems to spot the last beacon and goes to Theoden to tell him that Gondor asks for aid.

Lynn thought that the site of the oath between Eorl and Cirion may have been somewhere that there was a representation of Iluvatar through the sacred fire, specifically as it would become the holiest beacon.
Laura wondered if the control of fire was associated with men given the link between Eorl and Cirion and the setting up of beacons. Elves were born into starlight which may contribute to their rather cold, indifferent natures. Ian explained that stars of course are hot bodies although real fire consumes fuel and the stars in Tolkien’s world may be made of imperishable light.

Comments

Ian observed that the Flame Imperishable does not comsume,