First in July


After a long break on account of illness (mine), a five-week month, and my absence on family matters, it was lovely to be back. I’m picking up the blog from the date above so Tim’s report for the last meeting in June, with its attention to Beren and Luthien (Chapter 19) will be out of sequence as I haven’t posted it yet but will do asap! Our topic for this afternoon’s meeting turned out to be somewhat fluid, but took Chapter 20 ‘Of the Fifth Battle…’ as its focus.

We briefly touched on the change of venue for lunch when the Southfarthing visits the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford next month, then Ian reported on his trip to the Tolkien Society seminar in Leeds earlier this month. The topic was ‘Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens.’ Ian commented on one paper on death and Laura noted the difference between the treatment of Death by Tolkien and Terry Pratchett’s sometimes humorous treatment, which creates something of a paradox. Laura observed that there is nothing humorous about Mandos.

Ian remarked that in Pratchett’s Discworld death affects all races while Mandos controls the fate only of Elves, while the ultimate fate of other races is specifically not known.

Eileen remarked that the treatment of death in the work of the American 19th century poet Emily Dickinson is also paradoxical, and that the Elves do not perhaps regard their immortality as ‘good’, implying another paradox.

Angela agreed that Elves don’t think it is necessarily good, because men with their shorter lives escape the confining world of Arda.

Laura noted that we don’t know about the fate of dwarves after death, only that they are long-lived.

Ian then moved on to comment on another paper which had dealt with the theme of reincarnation, as distinct from resurrection. This had led Ian to his own train of thought involving confrontations with balrogs. Ian argued that Maiar were created by Iluvatar from the Flame Imperishable. Arien, the Maia chosen to guide the Sun, was a spirit of fire in her own right ‘whom Melkor had not deceived or drawn into his service’ (‘Of the Sun and Moon…’). So, Ian went on, Gandalf invokes the Secret Fire against the Dark Fire.

Laura observed that Feanor’s body was consumed by his own inner fire (spirit) in death. I noted that at the death of Fingon under the axe blow of Gothmog Lord of Balrogs (who also killed Feanor) a white flame sprang up.

Tim remarked on the fire of immortality in H. Ryder Haggard’s She. Laura noted that this character lives in a city named ‘Kor.’

Having drawn inspiration for our discussion so far from Ian’s recollection of the seminar, I suggested we should move into the text, but in fact we did not move far away from Death as a topic. I remarked that the aftermath of the Fifth Battle seemed particularly poignant as Tolkien describes the scattering of the survivors of the alliance against Morgoth: ‘but to Hithlum came never back one of Fingon’s host, nor any of the Men of Hador’s house, nor any tidings of the battle and the fate of their lords.’ I thought this described a dreadful uncertainty for those who were left.

Tim observed that Fingon was not just killed but obliterated by his enemies, adding that this act of ‘erasing’ defies the possibility of reincarnation.

Laura commented that this adds insult to injury and is done so the Elves cannot honour the body. She went on to noted that in the Fifth Battle, as in the trenches of WW1, chivalry meets a force that knows no such concept.

Eileen recollected Kipling’s account of his family’s own tragic loss of his own underage son in his poem My Boy Jack.

Laura thought bereavement by death was no more unbearable than the prospect of loss through enslavement, which is just as much a violent act against the individual whose fate is similarly not known to those left behind.

Tim noted that Tolkien’s reference is to the ‘lords’ who were taken in unknown circumstances.

This led me to propose, rather controversially, that heroic literature in all ages is propaganda, but that Tolkien offers a different view.

Ian objected that it isn’t propaganda unless deployed with the intention of persuading.

Eileen remarked that the powers-that-be take advantage of adolescents when recruiting.

Ian picked up the concept that ‘all property is theft’ and commented that war is always about property.

Tim noted that it’s always the ‘poor bloody infantry’ who have to fight for the ‘property’.

Ian proposed that The Lord of the Rings functions as a kind of metaphor for modern insidious forms of warfare like terrorism and cyber-war.

Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings the Shire sent hobbit archers to the last battle in the north, and they never returned.

Eileen remarked that in earlier eras of the primary world, including WW1 the prospect of 3 meals a day had been an attraction for some recruits. Laura added that many young men had been found to be malnourished when they enlisted! And Eileen and Laura both noted that sometimes military service was/is the only job a young man could get. Eileen also observed that the attraction of joining the services is governed by the culture of the nation.

Angela observed the additional aspect of the charisma of the leader, remarking on Aragorn’s.

I briefly looked back to Chapter 19 ‘Of Beren and Luthien’ to pick up a point on which Carol had commented. She noted the optimistic contrast “amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endured.” I suggested that no such joy and light can be found in Chapter 20!

Ian remarked that the story of Beren and Luthien is also about property, because Morgoth possesses the silmaril, so the chapters share the same theme of possession and actions in the service of a ‘higher purpose’.

As we touched momentarily on Chapter 21 ‘Of Turin Turambar’ Angela noted that 2 curses afflict Turin.

Our reading for the next meeting will by Chapter 21. Angela has already reread The Children of Hurin. I hope to add the story of Kullervo from The Kalevala to my preparatory reading.


First meeting in June


Sorry to report that this is only a nod in the direction of a blog as only 3 of us managed to make the meeting: Laura, Ian and me (Lynn). Everyone else being ill, on holiday, or committed elsewhere, we few, we happy few, came to the conclusion that it would be better to leave the discussion of the story of Beren and Luthien until there was at least a quorum! This led me on to confess that I will be away next time, but at least Angela should be able to put forward the points herself that she emailed to me to raise in her absence, although of course, I couldn’t have developed them as she would/will.

Having decided, therefore, to carry over all serious discussion until 23rd June, the three of us engaged in some informal but no less hobbit-like conversation. Our first topic was the propagation of hops, without which there could be no beer in the Ivy Bush, the Eastfarthing or anywhere else.

We went on to consider the choice of luncheon venues in Oxford for our post-exhibition refreshment in August. The choice has been made an approved, we simply acknowledged it as acceptable as an alternative to the Inklings pubs.

Ian and I briefly exchanged thoughts about our various roles in the Tolkien Society and the pressures that led us to give up major volunteering commitments.

Eventually we moved on into matters of dialect, and Ian compared the length of time Joseph Wright’s Dialect Dictionary took to write against the time taken to write The Lord of the Rings. Of course the two are not strictly comparable but Ian was responding to a critic who had remarked on the time The Lord of the Rings had taken. This led me to recall Tolkien’s famous statement that with regard to the legendarium, the languages came first and he then wanted to create the environment in which they existed and operated. I went on to consider the possibility that The Lord of the Rings particularly might be seen in the same light – as a means of giving all sorts of dialect words, archaic and otherwise, a suitable ‘home’. I proposed a comparison with Tolkien’s work on the Anglo-Saxon word ‘ofermod’, for which he wrote his famous 1953 essay and accompanied this with the short drama The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, as an illustration of the environment and consequences in which the term was to be understood in his view.

Ian countered this by observing that The Lord of the Rings has no glossary in the way that The Book of Lost Tales and The Lays of Beleriand have glossaries, because the Dialect Dictionary is that glossary! Ian also argued that in later complex works of sci-fi such as Dune, glossaries are needed because that world is not our world as The Lord of the Rings notionally is. Ian added the distinction between Tolkien and Wright is that Tolkien uses words for art, Wright used them for education.


On that note we actually ran out of time as usual! So our next meeting (which I shall miss) will address the story of Beren and Luthien.


Last meeting in May

Sadly, there is no blog for this meeting as it was cancelled at short notice owing to illness (mine). Nothing interesting, just a virus that has created a most disruptive cough. Good reason to sit in the garden and read.

Looking forward to the first meeting in June!

First meeting in May


We began the afternoon with further discussion of our projected visit to the forthcoming Tolkien Exhibition at the Bodleian Library. Details of arrangement began taking shape subject to getting the booking we want, and included Carol’s idea of lunch afterwards. As soon as I have complete numbers I’ll get on with booking the Library visit.

We were without Ian, who was ill, and Mike, but Julie managed to join us again, as did Tim, so seven of us moved on to the topic for the afternoon, which was the ‘Beren and Luthien’ chapter. A few of Carol’s comments appear at the end but many are part of the report itself.

Eileen remarked that she found it a relief to get on to the story of Beren and Luthien after all the battles described previously.

Laura noted that Melian and Thingol don’t see eye to eye, and Chris commented that both Melian and Galadriel are more prescient. Eileen described then as women who stand up to power. Carol commented that Thingol should have taken heed of Melian who, after all, is a Maia and not a mere elf.

Chris made us all cringe when he compared Luthien dancing for Morgoth to the issues raised in the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Angela then compared Luthien’s challenge to Sauron when his shape-shifting did not release him from Huan’s grip – ‘Ere his spirit left its dark house, Luthien came to him, and said that he should be stripped of his raiment of flesh and his ghost sent quaking back to Morgotth; and she said: ‘There everlastingly thy naked self shall endure the torment of his scorn, pierced by his eyes…’ Angela compared this to the Lord of the Nazgul’s attempt at daunting Eowyn.

I thought that in view of Morgoth’s lust Luthien was actually more vulnerable than Eowyn. Chris noted that there was a further comparison: Wormtongue’s lust for Eowyn.

Laura remarked that ‘Beren and Luthien’ is a wonderfully old-fashioned fairy-tale. Thingol sets the impossible task. Beren completes it but not as expected. However, there is no happy ending.

Eileen noted that Beren has been on his own for a long time. Laura added that he turns up war-worn. Tim compared the ‘grizzled man and Elf’ motif to events in the Third Age. Laura noted that the meeting of Beren and Luthien repeats the meeting of Melian and Thingol. Tim added that both include the ‘frozen time’ motif that occurs in e.g. ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Tim went on to note that Beren and Luthien play their part in the story but the rest of their lives isn’t told and more than the story of Shelob after her wounding by Sam is told. Lots of bits not told.

Laura added the passing presence of the fox looking at the sleeping hobbits as they leave for Buckland. Chris remarked that in this version of the story Daeron the minstrel is not expanded on, and Eileen commented that you can’t glean everyone’s story in life.

I asked whether The Silmarillion sets chronicle-history against the emotion and dialogue of stories of Men. Tim responded that Beren and Luthien is a story not a dry chronicle, perhaps because mortals need to make the most of their brief lives as opposed to Elves who live forever.

Laura went on to note that ‘Beren and Luthien’ is a ‘talking animal’ fairy-tale. Huan is also very powerful and sees that Celegorm is not good, so he’s clearly more than a dog. Chris added that he’s also a herb-master!

Laura proposed that there is an element of ‘magic’ in his story, which includes Luthien singing. Even if ‘magic’ is excused as the science of the Elves, he’s special.

Tim changed tack when he remarked on Sauron’s escape as a vampire, and wondered if this showed the influence of the 1930s’ humanoid Dracula. Laura wondered if there was a connection between the European vampire tradition and the central American chupacabra? I have looked this up on Wiki and this vampire-monster doesn’t seem to have a long history

Tim thought that in order to get free of Huan, Sauron should have thrown a stick!

Carol commented that Beren becomes a vegetarian and it was noted that he doesn’t kill good animals. Laura compared C.S. Lewis on this point and Angela noted that Gan-buri-Gan’s people are also vegetarian. Laura added that Beren’s choice may be compared to the Elves who go hunting.

Eileen remarked on the tragic tale of Gorlim, which was psychologically horrible because he is tortured so much, and Laura observed that he appears as a spirit to Beren.

Carol commented that the Elves of Nargorthrond turn against Finrod too easily. He is by far one of the wiser and most likeable Elves  in Middle-earth at this time. Angela noted that it is Celegorm and Curufin who stir his people up against him. Laura observed that they are Feanor’s sons and thus carry the Curse. Angela added that Celebrimbor repudiates them. Laura then reminded us of Morgoth’s plan to divide Men from Elves. We all seemed to feel that external influences created the problem in Nargothrond.

Angela remarked that Huan’s fight with Carcharoth harks back to the Valar through the hound’s origin as a gift to Celegorm from Orome.

Chris observed that when Beren ‘gets his hand back’, and in Melian’s advice to Thingol, as in the death of Carcharoth, fate is treated as an active agent or participant, unlike it’s less certain role in The Lord of the Rings. Chris also proposed that the involvement of the Silmaril in Beren’s hand at the end adds drama.

Tim wondered if it was Tolkien being playful. Julie remarked that there is an interesting link here to myths and legends where the hero loses a hand. Carol commented that Carcharoth biting off Beren’s hand is like Tyr and the Fenris wolf in Norse mythology.

Having run out of time, but not matters to discuss, we agreed to continue discussing ‘Beren and Luthien’ at our next meeting


Carol’s Comments:

From Chapter 18:

The ring of Barahir is introduced that survives to be passed eventually to Aragorn.

Different meaning of the word ‘hardly’, then it meant a hard fight but now means something very little ‘hardly at all’.

Chapter 19 Of Beren and Luthien

Here’s the nub of it all ‘Ronald/Beren, Edith/Luthien probably the earliest part of the Middle-earth saga written probably a hundred year ago amid the depredations of world war one and the depredations of Morgoth. ‘amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endured.’

‘keen, heart-piercing was her song as the song of the lark that rises from the gates of night and pours its voice among the dying stars, seeing the sun behind the walls of the world; and the song of Luthien released the bonds of winter, and the frozen water spoke, and flowers sprang from the cold earth where her feet has passed.’ Isn’t that lovely, especially the description of lark-song.

‘a brooding silence fell upon the woods, and the shadows lengthened in the kingdom of Thingol.’ This is portentous stuff and very well written.

Is Luthien’s cloak, made of her hair, any relation to the elven cloaks given to the Fellowship by Galadriel?

‘farewell sweet earth’ is just about my all-time favourite Tolkien poem. Simplicity itself in emotion and shape but so profound in its sentiment of deep love for Luthien. In the last line one could replace Luthien’s name with the name of any beloved. Who wouldn’t like to have such a poem written about them? Gorgeous!!

Different meanings of ‘fell’ – ‘winged fell of Thuringwethil’ presumably outward guise; ‘fell voices’ meaning scary and menacing. Other meaning – fell as in moorland and fell as in tumbled.

The eagles coming to the rescue is a repeated theme right through to Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom.

What a film this would make. It has a bad baddie, fell creatures, magic, treason, a great love story, adventure. I still have to read the latest ‘Beren and Luthien’ book.


Last meeting in April


We were only a small group this afternoon, and for that reason we left the discussion of Chapter 19: Beren and Luthien until next time because it is so significant to the entire legendarium, but we found quite enough to keep us busy as we picked up Chapter 18. Carol’s comments are included in the main report as far as possible and her comments on Chapter 17 can be found at the end.

Before starting we considered again the matter of our group visit to the forthcoming Tolkien exhibition in Oxford, and Laura’s suggestion that we should end our outing with dinner in Southampton when we get back. We also need to firm up numbers for the visit in order to book it then we can sort out dinner.

To begin our discussions we ranged around a bit. Angela remarked that Beren comes across as more arrogant when compared to Tuor, and Aragorn. Laura proposed that Tuor is more ‘grounded’ and that his story has the ‘fairy-tale’ element with the prediction of someone coming for whom armour must be left, and a particular kind of armour.’

Angela commented that she likes the Gondolin episode, and Turgon doesn’t have a problem with Men, and is fond of Hurin. He doesn’t object to Idril going with a Man. Laura added that Maeglin is an ominous presence and engages in a bit of nastiness. Hurin and others keep their oaths.

Chris observed that neither Hurin or Huor are turned away from Gondolin. Angela thought Hurin was precocious.

Laura went on to remind us that Sauron was a late incarnation of Morgoth’s lieutenant who was originally the cat-like Tevildo who makes Beren catch mice in his kitchens, before Huan the hound kills Tevildo. For the ailurophiles among us he had always posed something of a problem, but as Laura pointed out, the change alerts us to the many versions of the story.

We moved on to Chapter 18 and Laura remarked that there is general warfare and the most spectacular part is the description of Glaurung in his full power accompanied by Balrogs.

Carol commented: ‘The Battle of Sudden Flame, destroying everything that’s beautiful, along with men and elves, reminds me of ISIS in the middle east, hating everything that’s decent and good. Thugs the lot of them. They want to destroy joy’.

Angela and Laura remarked on the confrontation between Fingolfin and Morgoth. Laura noted the emphatic syntactic structuring of this as Tolkien ends a long descriptive sentence concerning Morgoth with the short telling independent clause: ‘alone of the Valar he knew fear’.

Laura noted the seven wounds inflicted on Morgoth and proposed an inverted echo of the seven redemptive wounds of Christ. These are more complex in their definition than the five wounds on the Cross. Morgoth then suffers another wound from the eagle.

I remarked than this was one of Manwe’s eagles and Laura observed that Melkor and Manwe were brothers.

Moving on Angela commented that Beren’s mother was another of Tolkien’s strong women, signified by her cognomen ‘Manhearted’. Carol also commented that ‘Haleth holds her people together. No women in Tolkien?!’

Angela and Laura both remarked that the ring of Barahir comes ultimately from Finrod and is thus related to Feanor. As Carol commented ‘The ring of Barahir survives to be passed eventually to Aragorn’.

Laura wondered how information about Hurin and Huor gets back to Morgoth. Angela proposed that it gathered from captured elves.

Laura wondered where the horsed archers who chase down the orcs got their horses because the combination implies disciplined training.

We all then discussed Tolkien’s use of significant related phonemes when he constructs names, and particularly, as Laura observed, his representation of medieval naming patterns which shared initial letters. I suggested that this actually helps the reader because if all related characters had unconnected names it would be even harder to follow.

Carol also commented on Tolkien’s use of language, noting the ‘different meaning of the word ‘hardly’, then it meant a hard fight but now means something very little, e.g. ‘hardly at all’.

Laura then noted the arrival of ‘swarthy men’ called ‘Easterlings’, and that everything tends to head West, like the Huns and Mongols in the primary world.

I remarked that I was surprised to see elves with axes. Laura proposed that they were being used as weapons in need, while Angela thought they may originally have been used for ground-clearing and agriculture.

Laura wanted to clarify that the naming of Minas Tirith referred to a completely different fortification. Angela confirmed that in both Ages the name means Tower of Guard but in the Third Age the tower had originally been Minas Anor.

With that, we ran out of time and as we still have Beren and Luthien to discuss next time, we agreed to read on through Chapter 20 The Fifth Battle.


Carol’s Comments pick up Chapter 17 Of the Coming of Men into the West

Finrod comes among men, sealing his fate to be closely associated with them to the end. ‘love for them stirred in his heart.’

‘unfriend’ and ‘unlovely’, unfriend is a bit different from enemy in degree, not as harsh. The green elves don’t want to cause antagonism with the men but are not entirely happy with them. Unlovely is a softer word than ugly. Merely putting ‘un’ in front of adjectives Tolkien conveys different emphases of meaning.

Thingol ‘into Doriath shall no man come while my realm last.’!! Melian foretells Beren’s coming.

First Meeting in April

  1. 4.18

It was good to see Tim again as we gathered for our meeting, although we missed Julie and Mike. We have Carol’s Comments again, and any that we didn’t discuss will be added at the end of the main report. Our reading for this week was chapters 16-18. However we did not finish all our chapters this time so any of Carol’s comments relating to 18 will be held over. Ian was with us, but deeply immersed in establishing links between Tolkien’s poetry and medieval poems, hence he does not appear in our discussions here.

Eileen and Laura began the meeting with their observation that chapter 16 was easier than the previous lists of elves and places.

Carol commented that Eol ensnares Aredhel which isn’t very nice but always feel some sympathy for him especially at the end. Laura agreed, saying that she had sympathy for Eol’s different personality. Eileen remarked that this is the reason why we remember him.

Laura wondered why he preferred to live in the dark. Tim described him as having something of the ‘gothic’, in the sense of being a many-shaded character. Eileen said she felt ambivalent about Eol and wondered if there was some psychological reason for his isolation. Perhaps, she suggested, it is that he can’t listen to reason.

Laura noted his sense of honour – that he was true to himself, and that his association with dwarves showed his creativity. Angela noted the link between Eol, dwarves and a preference for darkness.

Laura thought Aredhel was lured into a relationship with him. Angela was not sure about this. In response to Carol’s question ‘who married him to Aredhel?’ It was observed that there is no religious aspect generally in Middle-earth but there may have been something like a hand-fasting or other ceremony. Laura noted that Eol’s servants may have been present. Tim remarked on the process of public witnessing, but observed that with Aradhel he has ‘enchanted’ her.

Angela and Laura remarked that when Aredhel is in Gondolin she is trapped in a beautiful place but still trapped like Eowyn. She is also a risk-taker and may be drawn to Eol because he’s so different. As she is to him, Angela added.

Eileen commented that Aredhel escapes from the regulations of others.

Laura noted that there are lots of rules, and cited Melian and Thingol’s control over Doriath and its surrounds.

Tim thought this all echoed totalitarianism, taking the security of the state to the verge of paranoia.

Eileen thought there was a sense of a mental prison for Aredhel.

Tim noted that both Eowyn and Aredhel rebel against their ‘imprisonment’ and compared this to ‘gothic’ stories such as Jane Eyre.

Eileen said she admires Eol’s character before Turgon, and this is the way he is.

Laura noted that Turgon doesn’t exercise a king’s privilege and show mercy, therefore the chapter becomes prophetic. Maeglin is nasty, and in his attitude to Idril there are overtones of Wormtongue’s desire for Eowyn. Angela noted that such a relationship is forbidden to the Noldor anyway.

Carol commented: ‘Don’t like Maeglin’.

Chris remarked that Turgon foresees trouble to come, and Laura wondered – did Eol foresee it too and therefore wanted Maeglin back? I commented that I’d never seen more than him wanting to reclaim his son.

Tim thought that Eol’s initial approach to Aredhel, and being stooped by smith-work, makes him sound spider-like as he traps her. Laura said that the stoop and his black outfit reminded her of Richard III.

Eileen remarked that she admired his smithing skill.

Laura remarked that Elves don’t display ‘magic’ but Eol’s ‘enchantment’ of Aredhel introduces the possibility. Tim observed that he uses it for selfish ends.

Angela remarked that the javelin he wields is poisoned showing premeditation. I commented that the motif of the poisoned spear-thrust to the shoulder and its delayed action reminded me of the wounding of Frodo by the Morgul blade, and I wondered if this implied a cultural connection across many millennia.

Carol commented that Eol’s a bit odd in not naming his son for 12 years. What did he call him – son? Angela suggested that Elves had mother and father names suited to their character.

Eileen thought Eol was manipulative and that there was something demonic about him. I thought this suggested that manipulative behaviour was not, then, entirely down to Morgoth. Angela noted that he has objected to the Noldor stirring up Morgoth.

Tim observed that Eol chooses death for himself, and for his son, by proxy. And Tim wondered what happens to Elves who commit suicide?

Eileen remarked that Eol loves his son, but Laura thought that perhaps it is more like Eol trying to exert control as he tries to take his son back.

Angela compared his attitude to that of Denethor towards Faramir.

Chris wondered how Curufin knows that Aredhel doesn’t love Eol any longer? I thought this was implied by Curufin’s remark that maybe Eol had been deceived as his family has gone without him.

Angela noted Curufin’s warning remarks about those who ‘steal the daughters of the Noldor without gift or leave.’ I remarked on the narratorial statement ‘It is not said that [Aredhel] was wholly unwilling …’ Angela challenged this asking ‘who said – male writers!’

Chris picked up Curufin’s threatening observation ‘By the laws of the Eldar I may not slay you at this time’, and compared this to the encounter with Faramir’s attitude to Gollum in ‘The Window on the West’, when he does not slay him ‘ as the law commands.’

Tim observed that Eol sneaks about, and Chris thought this was like Gollum – in the dark.

Eileen commented that Maeglin shows no emotion over the deaths of either his mother or his father. This thought this suggested that he always had a propensity for the behaviour he always displays.

I expressed an interest in the way Felagund is able to read the minds of the Men he encounters and thus picks up their speech very quickly. Eileen thought this was not so strange because it’s not unusual to be able to say something before someone else. Chris added that that this depends on the relationship and the context.

Laura pointed out that it’s not all thoughts that he can read, only what Men wanted to reveal. She then wondered: ‘How do you cloak your thoughts?’ Chris observed that Men don’t know Felagund is among them, and Laura and Tim added that bad experiences in the Mountains may have taught them to cloak.

Angela noted that Aragorn is strong enough to stop Sauron seeing all his mind.

Laura compared Felagund and the harp to the story of King Alfred entering the Viking camp disguised as a minstrel with a harp. Tim proposed that Felagund’s harping was a fragment of the Music.

Laura remarked that Men had been around for a long time. Tim commented that it was long for Men but not for Elves.

Angela observed that Beor dies by relinquishing life, like the later Numenoreans, so this was an ancient ability, and Elves don’t understand it.

Chris remarked that Haleth is another of Tolkien’s strong women, and Carol commented:

‘Haleth holds her people together. No women in Tolkien?!’

We ended our discussion there and because we have not yet discussed all of chapter 17, or 18, we agreed only to add Chapter 18 to our reading for next time.

Carol’s Comments

Chapter 16 Of Maeglin

It’s a sad end for a proud elf, robbed of wife and son and life and so does Maeglin make an end as Eol foretold. The stuff of tragedy.

Chapter 17 Of the Coming of Men into the West

Finrod comes among men, sealing his fate to be closely associated with them to the end. ‘love for them stirred in his heart.’


Last in March


Fortunately all the snow that had caused problems at the start of the week had melted by the time our last meeting in March came round, and Mike and Angela were able to travel in to join us. Although we missed Tim, we look forward to seeing him again soon, and we had Carol’s comments again to add to our discussion of chapters 13-15.

Eileen began the discussion with her remark that she found chapter 13 very difficult and had to read it twice. We all sympathised!

Laura suggested that in it Tolkien is attempting to clarify earlier matters, but fails, although the attempt turns the chapter into a ‘great layer cake’.

Eileen thought these chapters generally lacked emotion, like Eol, while she thought Feanor was at least not bland, but changeable.

Angela noted his ‘disintegration’ to ash as his spirit was released in death, and I thought his spirit was too great, even for death.

Julie, Chris and Angela all compared this to Saruman’s end and took this release of the spirit as a suggestive of the nature of a demi-god.

Ian found quotes in the text that showed that of all the Children of Iluvatar Feanor was closest to one of the Powers.

Laura observed that Morgoth, Sauron and Feanor were all spirits of fire.

Eileen compared them to Ungoliant in the way they are self-consuming.

Carol commented that Feanor embodies all that’s wrong about fire – greed, wrath, vengefulness. He fights Gothmog, lord of the balrogs, bearers of the destructive flame of Udun. Two mislead fire spirits. Unlike Gandalf who fostered the flame that nourishes and warms, Feanor is selfish in death, foreseeing that the Noldor would never defeat Morgoth but swearing his sons ‘to avenge their father’. Still in The Lord of the Rings Gandalf still looks back on Feanor as a great, if mislead, elf with longing.

Mike picked up the comment on Feanor as ‘great’ and qualified this definition, remarking that Feanor is not necessarily ‘good’, just exceptional.

Angela picked up Gandalf’s recollection of Feanor and found the appropriate references in the last chapter of Book 3 of The Two Towers.

I wondered if there was a problem if attributes of the Powers manifested in a lower being?

Angela noted that when Elves “died” – in battle or through grief – their spirits went to the Halls of Mandos, and in some cases their bodies were subsequently reincarnated especially if they had done good deeds while “alive”. (This happened to Finrod and Glorfindel among others). However in Fëanor’s case we are told that “… his likeness has never again appeared in Arda, neither has his spirit left the halls of Mandos(Silmarillion Chapter 13). So his spirit did actually go to Mandos but there was no reincarnation for him. Angela added: I’m not sure whether this was because of the evil he caused or because his body was beyond reincarnating through being turned into ash and smoke!

I thought Morgoth, Sauron and Feanor seemed like a perverse ‘trinity’.

Ian remarked that the place of Melkor, Feanor, and Sauron in such a ‘trinity’ depends on where they have their influence. They are held in balance by their tie to the world, and by their three kinds of rebellion against Iluvatar.

Carol commented that ‘Baddies like Morgoth can use unethical weapons with impugnity and without conscience, like Glaurung and balrogs while the goodies have to fight fair.’ This caused a good deal of dissent and generated some additional ideas in an attempt to  deal with the issues in more precise ways.

Laura, in support, noted that Morgoth uses terror and torture.

Ian observed that even in The Lord of the Rings there is no chivalric code, only a common creed conveyed through the Common Speech.

Mike thought that in The Silmarillion there is no sense of ‘fighting fair’. Oaths bind, but when a truce is agreed both sides turn up with more supporters than had been agreed.

Ian remarked that modern sci-fi writers lay down rules, but in TSil there are no rules.

Mike added that this brings us back to Nietzsche and the responsibility to decide for yourself what the rules are.

Angela noted that in the Shire things run according to the old ‘King’s rules’.

Ian observed that the hobbits return to discover rules written down.

Laura remarked that Melkor broke the rules in his discord.

Julie and Ian commented that it was Feanor who provided the means of writing down rules.

Mike observed that with Tolkien’s work, each reader has to apply their own rules, and apply some order. Without rules, it is also impossible to write anything.

Chris noted that there is a difference between rules to be obeyed and morality. TSil is at the beginning of the process, and there is no sense of ‘law’.

Ian remarked that it includes many bordered realms – each one where someone is imposing rules, but you don’t know that until you try to enter. Ian cited Gondolin and the increasing strictures that govern it. These are not a moral code but barriers to pass.

Mike compared Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale where the reader applies their own understanding of what is implied.

Eileen commented that sometimes rules are so oppressive they have to be broken at times, therefore when rules are imposed, sooner or later they are rebelled against and new rules imposed. Thus rebellion is not always bad.

I asked if the description of Gondolin as a former lake was an indication of evolution taking place, thinking of Chris’s previous remarks on the lack of evolution in TSil. Chris objected that it was not the same thing, and that he had always accepted the development of geographical features.

Ian returned us to the topic of the palantiri, noting that Feanor had the power to create, which neither Sauron or Gandalf (both Maia) had. [We might have noted but didn’t that Sauron created the Rings!]

Chris then wondered if balrogs were always as they appear. Angela reminded us that they were originally Maia. Mike noted that as such they had the ability to take their shape. Chris remarked that this is intentionally the most terrifying.

Laura observed that the balrogs were created to get rid of Ungoliant, but she questioned the origins of the dragons who seem to have no origin in perversion.

Julie then changed our topic when she observed the way Caranthir refers to ‘that Dark Elf’.

Laura questioned whether this amounted to racism, but Mike proposed that it represented tribalism. Laura thought it expressed the feeling against those who never went West, and that similar feeling appears against the Dwarves. Is Tolkien reflecting his own society? Laura wondered.

Mike thought that it reflects the situation after the withdrawal of the Romans and the tribalising that took place in the Holy Roman Empire.

Laura cited Thingol as an example of racial ‘nimby-ism’ – not in my back yard, while Mike compared Beleriand to Europe being carved up. Laura also added the example of General Patton sidelining the British forces during World War 2.

Julie then wondered why the building of Gondolin is expressed as ‘two and fifty years’. Laura proposed that the system of counting was non-decimal.

We moved on, or back, to the topic of fire when Ian drew attention to the Fire Imperishable and the change Melkor forces in some Maia, noting that Gandalf retains this fire and differentiates himself from the balrog, who is condemned to the form imposed by Melkor. Ian considered whether the Maia sacrifice themselves to Melkor, to become fire demons and mechanical dragon, and even dragons themselves. Since the Fire Imperishable is neither good nor evil the Maia make choices.

Laura wondered if it is the Fire Imperishable that makes everything ‘tick’.

Ian observed that there is no balance in the dichotomy between the Flame of Udun and the Flame of Anor, and that TSil is throughout an exploration of the boundaries between good and evil.

As we ran out of time we hastily agreed to read chapter 16-19 for our meeting in April.


Carol’s Comments:

Chapter 13 Of the Return of the Noldor

The Blondell/Richard trope is used by Fingon to find Maedhros.

Seems that Caranthir is his father’s son in being beligerent. O folly!

How Galadriel met Celeborn – in Menegroth.

Chapter 14 Of Beleriand and its Realms

Evil places to Tolkien were comprised of slag heaps and blackness, detritus of mechanical things, and issued black smoke, like his hated industrial towns.

All this written geography is a bit confusing but I think it is the sort of land Tolkien would have loved to live in.

Rivers are male.