First in October

13.10.18

October already, and some members of the group are once again following the footsteps of Sam and Frodo and Pippin and Merry day by day and mile by mile. The rest of us are avoiding the Black Riders by still treading the legendary and mythic paths of Middle-earth before the seas were bent.

Seven of us met on an unusually warm day and our first consideration, after a general catch-up on Oxonmoot and its delights, was to address Laura’s concern that we had so far made no provision for Wessexmoot this autumn. With Yule approaching fast, it was decided that our best plan would be to aim for the New Year.

With that out of the way we settled down to our discussion of Chapter 24 ‘of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath.’ Carol’s comments are included.

Tim immediately reminded us that the story of Eärendil was the first thing Tolkien wrote so it was the beginning of Middle-earth.

Laura remarked that this creative engagement with the ‘brightest angel’ reflected and combined Tolkien’s love of Anglo-Saxon with his innate spirituality. It also speaks to our need for hope in darkness as Eärendil is both the morning and the evening star.

Eileen was somewhat disturbed that Elwing was left behind in sorrow when Eärendil sailed the seas, but I proposed that Tolkien actually subverts the stereotypical concept of the passive female because without Elwing the silmaril would never reach Earendil and he would not carry it as a ‘passport’ to the Valar. Thus Elwing, like other apparently passive or constrained female characters is essential to the story in an unexpectedly active role.

Laura remarked on the importance of Círdan in making Eärendil’s ship, and Chris commented on the number of trees that would have had to be felled.

Laura noted that although Elwing sits in sorrow she is not depicted in any necessarily domestic situation. Laura went on to compare her to Penelope who sits weaving while Ulysses is away. To this image Eileen added the example of The Lady of Shallott, and Laura noted that it takes weeks to set up a loom for weaving, but that the image of weaving is constantly associated with high-status women, such as the ‘peace-weavers’ in Anglo-Saxon poetry, and of course with Arwen.

At this point we got deeply involved in a discussion on the nature of the black standard Arwen weaves for Aragorn. Although it seems simple enough, Ian questioned many aspects of this important artifact. How, he asked, did other allies recognize its significance when it broke unexpectedly on the masthead of Aragorn’s galley? How did Arwen know what symbols to weave? After so long working in secret how was the symbolism known to other races? We attempted some answers.

Laura remarked on the importance of battle standards, citing the demoralizing consequences to the enemy after the Anglo-Saxons captured the black raven standard of a Viking army.

Angela observed that when Aragorn’s standard is unfurled at the Stone of Erech is appears entirely black, yet the Dead rally to it.

Ian then objected that if it can’t be seen [except by the Dead?] who else rallies?

Angela, Laura and Tim all commented that it has mithril symbols on it and they shine in the sun as the ships arrive. Angela at this point found the exact description of the standard.

Ian proposed that the power of the signs would be different for different people, but they are not known to everyone.

I suggested that recognition turns on the fact that, even if someone doesn’t recognize the significance of the 7 stars, or the white tree, anyone would recognize that it doesn’t carry a red eye, a white hand, or any of the heraldry of Harad and the easterlings.

Tim identified it as the royal standard of the kings of Gondor.

Laura remarked that as it was Arwen’s work it provided a boost to Aragorn’s morale. Angela added that Arwen is ‘with’ Aragorn, and not just thinking about him.

At this point I felt we should return to our appointed chapter and both Angela and I noted the fact that it is Elwing and the people with her who defend the silmaril from the sons of Fëanor.

Laura remarked on the motifs of refusal to fight and rebellion in this battle.

Angela noted that Elrond and Elros are taken captive at this time, and I commented on the narrative structuring that leaves the reader in doubt as to their fate at this time.

Angela observed that the Tolkien scholar and astronomer Kristine Larson had identified Elwing as the planet Mercury while Eärendil is Venus.

Eileen observed that Elwing and Niennor both choose watery deaths in desperation, although Elwing undergoes an apotheosis as Ulmo transforms her.

Angela noted that in fact Elrond and Elros have been fostered by Maglor, but that Maglor eventually throws a silmaril into the sea, and then throws himself into a fiery chasm.

Eileen then questioned why the chapter is called the War of Wrath? Tim explained that it is because the Valar finally confront Morgoth.

Carol commented that ‘right up to the last it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the hosts of the West will win.

I observed that Tolkien constantly appears to give the final word on everything only to qualify it immediately. He does this with the destruction of Balrogs, orcs and dragons in this battle.

Laura noted that ominously many Men from the east march with Morgoths forces.

Eileen remarked that the sons of Fëanor are finally released from their Oath.

Chris compared the fate of Morgoth – thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void, with the unknown fate of Men who are said only to leave the confines of the World. Chris interpreted this to mean that there were indeed walls around the world, but this leaves the fate of Men unresolved.

Ian proposed that Men in death are no longer held by the story of that particular world, and that it would be a powerful concept for a storytelling folk.

Angela picked up Aragorn’s last words to Arwen in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: ‘Behold! We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.’ Angela saw this as implying an afterlife.

Tim picked up the last words of The Silmarillion, which refers to the ‘dark fruit of evil which will be perpetuated, so that evil is not just one individual/entity but in the hearts of people.

Chris reminded us that at the creation Eru knew all the time that corruption would happen.

Carol commented: I don’t seem to have much to say about this chapter. As Tolkien writes, life has “passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin”. Living with power among the ‘high and the beautiful’ seems to ruin both Elves and Men who seem to be born with stubbornness and pride that tends to darkness and ruin, both individually and generally. Dissatisfied with the blessings they have and wanting to possess more and more, this brings about ruin. As we shall see, no lessons learned.

With discussions raging in all directions around the table we nevertheless agreed that our reading for next time would be ‘The Akallabeth’ and ‘The Third Age’. This will finish the book.

Therefore we also took thought for our next reading and it will be an across-the-board study of The Fall of Gondolin, comparing its treatment in The Silmarillion, the History of Middle-earth and the recently published book focusing on this episode. This means that we can accommodate everyone without the cost of additional books just before Christmas (!) it also makes appropriate use of the books we already have.

 

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First meeting in September

7.9.18

Please note: this will be our only meeting this month as most members will be away at Oxonmoot on our next meeting day.

Our group was somewhat depleted this afternoon but 4 of us eventually met to take on Chapter 23, Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin. At least the room was quiet this time as we began our deliberations. Carol’s comments are included at the end of the main report where they are additional to the topics we took on.

These began with Eileen and Ian discussing the use and significance of oaths and curses. Eileen observed that in the case of Turin’s family, the curse’s effect is often upon other people.

Ian declared that there was no such thing as a curse, only other people’s perception, rather than some general malevolent directional power over another, or others. Thus Hurin is indeed powerless, but what he sees is tinged with his understanding of being powerless. What happens is really in the control of those who take the actions he witnesses.

Laura related this to people not taking charge of their lives but blaming fate. When the sons of Feanor take their Oath it becomes their fallback position rather than thinking for themselves.

Moving away from these ideas Ian noted that the otter was sacred to Zoroaster, and when Tolkien was pursuing his interest in ‘animalic’ ‘Otter’ was the ‘avatar’ he adopted.

Returning to the chapter in hand, I drew attention to differences between chapters 23 and 24. It seemed to me that Tolkien splits primary aspects of the story of Kullervo (from The Kalevala) between the cousins Turin and Tuor. To Turin he gives the incest motif while to Tuor he gives the enslavement.

Carol observed that Turin and Tuor are within sight of one another and Eileen noted that they are going in different directions.

Ian remarked that Turin keeps creating new identities for himself by means of new names, each time he encounters a reverse or new situation. But Tuor stays himself, his sense of self remains even when he suffers similarly to his cousin.

Laura noted that both their stories share the theme of betrayal.

Carol commented that all elven lords become proud, and ‘pride goes before a fall’. I wondered if the downfalls of Thingol and Turgon, which both turn on their great pride, are a sign of the detrimental effect of the freedom both have found in Middle-earth, as they rule their own kingdoms free from the control or dominance (however benign) of the Valar. Laura noted that The Lost Tales includes a passage in which the Valar are condemned.

Eileen remarked that Tolkien was opening up various views to thought and discussion.

Thinking back to Chris’s previous comment that there seems no sense of evolution in TSilm, I wondered if there was a particular significance to the fact that Ulmo is adviser to both Turin and Tuor which turns on the fact that he is the Vala associated with water, and water is the element of change. His approaches to the cousins are clearly intended to effect change.

Ian agreed that Ulmo is dynamic. Laura observed that Yavanna is linked to change but this is cyclical.

Ian noted that Ulmo represents an element, while the other Valar are representative of aspects of the world. He symbolizes the direction taken by characters who are not going around cyclically repeating their actions, but engage in progressive change. Ian went on to argue that in the primary world evolution affects everything, but not in Middle-earth. There, change and evolution happens to races through characters changing from one state to another. Those who think they have achieved the right or ideal situation never change.

Ian remarked that Ulmo is present all the time in the waters, so this is in effect his steady-state even though it doesn’t appear to be ‘steady’. His ‘steady-state’ is actually change, and water represents change in both primary and secondary worlds.

I then picked up the matter of compassion that we addressed last time, when I suggested that there is a thematic lack of compassion in TSilm and Tim pointed out the importance of pity in LotR. Ian commented that ethical values evolve through the different stories.

Laura wondered if the arrival of Gandalf in Middle-earth brings pity to it because he spends time in the West in the company of Nienna, Lady of Pity.

I questioned whether there was pity in the fosterings of Turin and Tuor, or whether this was just pragmatic on the part of their foster families.

Ian remarked that problems in the lives of individuals may engender new sets of values. Life conditions and problems create new ways of doing things. Emerging sets of values may be dictated by changing conditions and in a/the story are signaled by e.g. the end of an Age, or a controlling power.

And so our meeting also came to an end. Next time we will move on to Chapter 24 ‘Of the Voyage of Earendil and the War of Wrath’. Please note: that next meeting will be the 13th October.

 

Carol’s comments:

Chapter 23 ‘Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin’

Tuor finds the arms left ‘for him’ in Vinyamar.

So Maeglin dies as his father said he would and in the same fashion.

 

Last meeting in August

25.8.18

Six of us returned this afternoon to our discussion of The Silmarillion after taking the first session in August off to visit the Oxford Tolkien exhibition. We also had to move our preliminary get-together to our alternative coffee venue because of a major event in Guildhall Square, and thanks to the thoughtfulness of the duty librarian, we were able to move to an alternative meeting room to avoid the thunderous music and general celebrations outside.

Carol’s comments are mostly included.

Leaving behind an afternoon full of music and lightheartedness, we picked up our reading topics by revisiting Turin Turambar. Laura felt that the characterization of Turin was really quite realistic because there are people whose obstinacy leads them to make unfortunate decisions.

Eileen wondered if Turin’s situation was just because he was cursed. Tim allowed that this could be the case, but he also seems self-destructive. Eileen added that Turin appealed to her because of his bravery.

Angela reminded us that it’s actually the relationship between Hurin and Morgoth that drives Turin’s misfortune. Laura noted that Turin is also trapped in Glaurung’s gaze.

Angela noted that echoing Niniel’s watery suicide, Hurin throws himself into the sea.

We moved on to ‘The Ruin of Doriath’ as Laura remarked that the meeting between Hurin and Morwen is terribly sad. We considered whether it might have been more detailed and elaborate, but I felt that the brevity of a simple touch of hands immediately before Morwen’s death was very touching. Angela noted that she takes Hurin’s hand. Laura observed that they have been very strong people but are now worn out, while Tim remarked that Morwen is never ‘conquered’ but Hurin has been conquered by Morgoth.

Carol commented on the start of the chapter: ‘At this point I always want to tell Hurin that he’s welcome in my house. Knowing my own character, I always go for the oppressed and despised. At the very least I would have given him a donation as if he were a homeless person on the street.

 

I remarked on the perpetual presence of Morwen’s marker stone on Tol Morwen in the sea even after the shape of the world is changed. Laura interpreted this as a sign that Iluvatar leaves to show that Men had been as significant as Elves.

Laura also noted that Morgoth allows Hurin to leave but he is escorted first by orcs, and then a shadow follows him.

Angela remarked that Thingol goes a bit mad as 2 curses meet in this chapter – Morgoth’s and Feanor’s. Laura wondered if Hurin picks out the Nauglamir in Nargothrond because Morgoth knows how it will affect Thingol? Tim observed it was a case of ‘what goes around comes around’.

Laura noted that Hurin looks in Melian’s eyes, and she wondered if this is when he realizes how his perspective has been affected by Morgoth, and is now freed. Laura went on to ponder whether Ulmo takes care of him at the end.

We all remarked on the effect of the Silmaril on Thingol – that it is ‘precious’, like the One Ring. Tim commented that it’s the same for the Dwarves with the Nauglamir.

Chris commented ‘then Thingol adds the Silmaril to the Nauglamir!’ Carol commented: ‘it’s wanting to possess the work of hands that is the wrong thing to do. The dwarves are now caught up in the Curse of Mandos. The possessions possess you.

 

Laura observed that the Silmaril is full of the light of the Two Trees and might be expected to exert a calming influence, but it doesn’t. Tim suggested that the power in possession overrides this possibility.

Laura commented that Thingol dies a very mean death for one who has seen the Trees. Tim likened the murder to Thingol by the Dwarves to the assassination of Julius Caeser.

Eileen remarked that in The Lord of the Rings she thought the Dwarves were looked down on, but she could see why after this. She also observed that Thingol doesn’t gaze on Melian in death.

Laura thought it was ironic that he dies gazing on the light of the Trees that he had actually seen. Angela thought Thingol had always been overbearing. Laura observed that as in the balance of power between Celeborn and Galadriel, top male Elves like Thingol are not as wise as their wives.

Angela noted that Celeborn in The Lord of the Rings cannot accept Gimli’s arrival because Celeborn was in Doriath when Thingol was killed.

Carol commented ‘I’ve never liked the way in which Melian deserts Middle-earth after Thingol’s killed, thus removing her protective girdle. Has she no feeling for the elves of Menegroth and what happens to them without her protection? Maia or not, she should have stayed.

 

Chris wondered if the withdrawal of Melian’s girdle came from outside Doriath. Angela noted that its withdrawal is described in the passive voice, thus the ‘voice’ is external. Laura wondered if the purpose for her has gone? Chris and Laura both noted that the Valar don’t bother, but Angela remarked that it’s all part of Iluvatar’s plan.

Chris thought this related to Tolkien’s own religious view.

Angela noted that the Valar have to wait. Chris remarked that the Valar mirror the situation in war in reality.

Carol commented: Tolkien has created, for me at least, one of the saddest of sagas in TSilm and The Lord of the Rings. The continuation of men and elves is done by the skin of their teeth. War after war is fought, thousands, including the heroes, perish. But the races still continue and it is my thought that all this bloodshed allows the farmers and ordinary people to survive, to plough and make, eat and toil, so that the races will be perpetuated. I think it was in The Magnificent Seven that Chriss says only the farmers win after bloodshed. And so we continue and strive through whatever adversity, personal and universal.

 

Laura disagreed, remarking that ordinary folk suffer too, and I was reminded of the Norman Harrowing of the North in which thousands were slaughtered. Angela countered this with a story from the Civil War when some rural folk did not know that the Royalists and the Parliamentarians were fighting. Chris commented that there were too many orcs infesting Middle-earth for anyone to be unaffected by the wars.

 

Pondering the balance between the war exploits of which the stories tell – those of lords and warriors – as against the effect of the wars on those who provide their necessities, Angela noted that Aragorn muddy but well made boots, so someone must have made them.

I proposed that the situation with the Valar and the Children of Iluvatar is the difference between the end and the process, and that there is no compassion. Laura wondered if mortal races are just nasty? And there is no sense of later New Testament-style forgiveness. Chris and Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings  compassion comes in the form of Gandalf’s mantra of ‘pity’. Tim added that the Istari were sent in the Third Age to help the free people of Middle-earth. Eileen wondered if The Silmarillion was equivalent to the Old Testament while The Lord of the Rings was equivalent to the New? Tim proposed that it was redressing the early Silmarillion.

Tim added that TSilm is much more mythological than The Lord of the Rings  and ordinary folk are not important to the narrative, while The Lord of the Rings  is more socially aware.

Chris remarked that there are more monsters in TSilm than in The Lord of the Rings .

We agreed to read on as far as the beginning of The Akalabeth, and it was agreed that there would be no meeting on September 22nd because almost everyone will be at Oxonmoot.

Carol’s further comments:

Of the Ruin of Doriath.

 

 

Mim: ‘before the proud ones came from over the sea…I have but returned to take what is mine.’  Mim gets my sympathy here because elves have indeed been proud and even hunted Mim’s people but this will be the fulfilment of the prophecy that one of the house of Hador would get revenge on Mim for his betrayal on Amon Rudh.

 

First Meeting in August – in Oxford!

11.8.18

The Southfarthing trip to Oxford.

This was the Southfarthing’s group outing to visit the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Sadly, even before we started we learned that Carol and Rosemary would be unable to join the party because Rosemary had developed flu-like symptoms overnight. This was such a shame as we haven’t seen them for a very long time.

They would have travelled to Oxford by car, and we were still expecting Eileen to travel there by car while most of us travelled from Southampton together by train – no strikes, and seats all the way! Julie joined the train at Reading and we all met up on the platform at a sunny and warm Oxford.

It’s a manageable walk from the station to the Bodleian, but the narrow pavements were packed with tourists of all kinds and it was a matter of keeping our eyes peeled so we didn’t continually but inadvertently photo-bomb their mementos. The walk also gave us time to go on chatting.

Broad Street was similarly packed but it’s always exciting to look right into Turl Street and see Exeter College, although the Radcliffe Camera really dominates the view, and Julie reminded us of its influence on Tolkien as his idea of Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Numenor.

We assembled on the steps of the new Bodleian building across the road from the Camera to wait for Eileen to arrive. But as our entry time of 11.30 arrived without her, we made contingency plans and went into the exhibition.

It was the script and the image of the Ring on the left hand wall of the vestibule that grabbed my attention until Angela’s attention to the floor alerted me to something even more dramatic – the floor was illuminated by sections of the Map of Middle-earth which moved, so it seemed as though it was possible to walk on it. As if this was not dramatic enough, raising ones’ eyes, revealed the Doors of Durin on the end wall – only a projection of course but entirely taking up the wall and brilliantly showing the mithril lines. It was such a shame that photography was not permitted – it was a perfect photo-opportunity.

Everyone of us, including Eileen who eventually managed to join us after being held up in heavy traffic, seemed to find something of special interest in the exhibition itself. It was well laid out, although some of the manuscripts were a little high up for convenient reading. Some of their content was reproduced on lower panels and some of them would have needed to be flat on a table to be read with a magnifying glass, so faded was the writing after all these years. But seeing one of C.S. Lewis’s letters from 1949, reading Terry Pratchett’s enthusiasm for Farmer Giles of Ham [please see Julie’s comment below on this letter] and Iris Murdoch’s enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings were significant moments for me. Julie later wondered what it was about Smith of Wootton Major that resonated with a young ‘Terence’ Pratchett, as he signed himself. Eileen found the material on the genesis of The Silmarillion enlightening, and Ian found connections between the books on Tolkien’s desk and the early Tolkien family holidays in Wales.

It was astonishing to see the desk at which Tolkien used to write in all its shabby ordinariness and to realize that upon that homely piece of brown furniture the scope and scale, diversity, and imagination of Middle-earth and its off-shoots developed and were laboured over. It gave me a more profound sense of the man who was the author than anything else, although the mock exam paper he once created for an Inklings meeting added a fleeting subversive scurrility that has hitherto been missing.

Adding a further, and highly artistic dimension were all the newspaper fragments upon which Tolkien had created multi-coloured doodles as exquisitely detailed patterns. These, all drawn over the columns of type, really revealed Tolkien’s love of colour and shape as distinct from his better-known designs that illustrate elements of his stories. We were all surprised and impressed by these doodles in different ways. Laura identified one as looking distinctly Anglo-Saxon in its intricacy and colours, but Tim thought it looked more Celtic. I liked the ‘paisley’ designs, and the fact that the crosswords which seemed to have led to the creation of the ‘doodles’ were filled-in in alternating coloured pencils. Chris pointed out that all the crosswords (cryptic of course) were completed. Ian noted that one paper mentioned Bournemouth, another, the New Forest. Julie and I stopped for a while to look at the illuminated 3-D map table which showed the routes taken by various members of the Fellowship after Parth Galen. It was unexpectedly instructive to see the routes traced out by moving lights and to see in 3-D the relative distances. Laura found it touching to see Boromir’s last journey down Anduin.

If we hadn’t had a table booked for a late lunch it’s possible we might have lingered over the exhibits until closing time. Pondering over the burn hole in one of the maps, from a lit pipe; considering the selection of pipes; the small sketch book of water colours, the box of water colours, and the conte pencils, and the lineage of the characteristic script, first seem in Mabel’s letter home to English relatives thanking them for the ‘aprons’ for the boys. Tolkien’s acknowledgement of his mother’s influence on his calligraphy also got a mention, but seeing her tiny delicate calligraphic handwriting made that influence quite unmistakable.

Finally we tore ourselves away. Some of us briefly headed for the gift shop, without being greatly impressed by the range, or some of the prices. A Windsor chair of the kind Tolkien used at his desk was to be had for £800. No decent sized tote bags, which are always useful, or pens, but pretty cuff-links (who wears them these days?). Minor discontents, though, and hardly to be compared to the wonderful time spent immersed in Tolkien’s larger world.

So we headed off through the hordes to Brown’s for a much-needed lunch. I highly recommend their mango, pineapple and passion-fruit smoothie – very refreshing. The fish and chips chosen by most of our group came with fish the size of half a whale, and the service was friendly and attentive. Gave us plenty of time to relax and discuss what we had seen, and there was so much that we were still there when they started serving afternoon teas!

Tearing ourselves away once more as Eileen’s daughters arrived to collect her, the rest of us headed back to the station as the drizzle began to fall. Next time we meet I think we are still going to have plenty to talk about!

Last meeting in July

28.7.18

A cooler and very windy afternoon made getting to our meeting rather less demanding than it has been recently. Six of us got together and confirmed our arrangements for the Oxford visit, coming up fast now. Then we turned our attention to the chapter on Túrin Turambar.

Laura immediately picked up the danger of waking Túrin, likening it to the terrible stories of the SAS members who have unintentionally killed family members under similar circumstances.

Angela observed that the recent book The Children of Húrin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, from his father’s other versions of the story, is much more detailed than the account of Túrin’s life in The Silmarillion. Chris noted that this is actually mentioned in the shorter work, but CT collected all versions into 1 book.

Laura remarked that this is yet another miserable chapter, but then changed her designation to ‘grim’.

Eileen thought it is bleak, but noted that Túrin has his own strategy.

Laura allowed that he is undeniably brave, but ‘stuffed with ofermod’. He could make different choices but these would not fit his mind-set, so he is treading out his doom.

Eileen commented that he sticks to his own opinion but is not stubborn.

Laura noted that he changes his name every time something goes wrong.

Eileen suggested that he outgrew situations.

Laura considered Túrin to be learning his ‘craft’. Angela noted how this related to his return to Doriath.

Laura remarked on the way he is constantly missing people, including those who are absent from his life and with whom he never catches up.

Angela referred this to the effect of the curse of Morgoth, and I suggested that what happens to Túrin and his family is intended for the prolonged punishment of Hurin, who has to watch all these misfortunes unravel.

Laura noted, however, that Túrin, in his pride, even persuades Orodreth to ignore the message sent from Ulmo.

Eileen remarked that Túrin doesn’t seem to learn caution. Laura wondered if possession of the Dragon-helm and the sword Anglachel make him feel invincible?

Chris observed that the Dragon-Helm frightens people. Laura commented that it doesn’t protect him, and compared reports of the feeling of wearing a recreation of the Sutton Hoo helm [I can testify to the feeling of protection, having tried on a replica of the Benty Grange boar helm]. Laura also noted the latest research carried out on the Staffordshire Hoard and the conclusion that Anglo-Saxons saw an advantage in going into battle looking as splendid as possible.

I thought Túrin is characterized in terms of someone who is ‘born unlucky’.

Ian wondered if Tolkien is trying to describe such evils as Túrin faces in terms of Morgoth’s malice, but if Túrin makes wrong choices as part of Morgoth’s torment of Hurin then no comparison can be made with circumstances in the Primary World because that presupposes the controlling intervention of an evil power.

Angela commented that Morgoth does send the plague that kills Túrin’s sister Lalaith, and in the context of grief she wondered if Morwen is too unemotional. It was conjectured that this may have affected Túrin.

Chris remarked that Morgoth’s power doesn’t see through the Girdle of Melian.

Laura also noted that some captive elves tunnel out of Angband. She also commented on the special horror of elves, with their love of starlight being confined in mines.

Angela and Laura remarked that when Túrin encounters Glaurung, the dragon speaks ‘by the evil spirit that was in him’.

Angela likened the deceitful power of the dragon’s speech to the power of Saruman’s voice in The Lord of the Rings.

Chris noted that after tormenting Túrin the dragon ‘turned to his own pleasure’, and shows his independence in his gathering of treasure to rest on. So his power is his own not just Morgoth’s.

We considered other torments as Laura noted the ‘St Edmund’ moments when orcs throw knives at Beleg who is bound to a tree, and then Finduilas is killed by being pinned to a tree with a spear. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Edmund-original-Patron-Saint-of-England/

Laura also remarked on the dreadful racism in the treatment of the Petty-Dwarves, and wondered at Tolkien’s choice of the word of French origin.

Ian commented on the way Túrin carries out justice according to his own world view, which is different to that of the Elves, and thus kills Saeros and judges himself, fearing captivity. He acts on this assumption, though Thingol pardons him. In fact, Túrin  constantly judges himself, and is bound or incarcerated by various actions.

Laura noted that Melian warns Beleg not to take the sword Anglachel.

Eileen remarked that it seems as if some weapons have a life of their own and are affected by circumstances, or have some control.

I thought Anglachel behaved like a sword in essence by willingly taking Túrin’s life, because that’s what swords are made to do. Angela and Ian thought that was not really the case because the sword speaks its ‘motivation’. As Ian noted, it is not ‘guilty’ of Beleg’s death. Laura added that Melian characterized the sword as evil but Beleg ignored her.

Angela noted that Gwindor thought it was strange, and both Angela and Laura remarked that Beleg was actually named after his bow, Cúthalion – Strongbow.

Our meeting ended with the prospect of lots of reading time ahead as our next meeting day will be taken up with our visit to the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford. Nevertheless, we agreed to read specifically up to and including ‘The Fall of Gondolin’.

 

This is June’s report

Thanks to Tim for the following report, and apologies that it’s posted out of sequence.

Present: Laura, Eileen, Chris, Angela, Ian, Tim
Apologies: Lynn, Julie

On a very hot June afternoon, six Southfarthingas gathered at the Artisan Café in Southampton’s Guildhall Square for a pre-meeting coffee and a chat, including anticipation of the group outing to the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford in August, and also some Oxonmoot discussions.
We were missing Lynn, who had had a prior arrangement, and Julie.
This week, the group moved onto consideration of Chapter 20: Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad.
Angela opened the proceedings, making reference to her notes. I have noted some of her points – please see AN’s notes for more detail. The first paragraph prompts a conflict of feelings: joyful, sad, scary, sinister. The second life of Beren has a purpose to it, it is a different sort of existence. Lúthien is now mortal but she still has the power to heal.
Laura wondered if all her energies went into creating Dior. The Valar (= puppet masters) with regard to bloodline matters have foreseen this development. Are Beren and Lúthien zombies? Are they soulless? Do they go to Mandos?
Angela noted that Arwen and Aragorn’s relationship is more straightforward by comparison.
Laura observed that Arwen and Aragorn are more public figures.
There was a discussion of the nature of limbo/hell/purgatory relating to the Oathbreakers.
Chris commented that Beren died and came back to life, whereas Aragorn didn’t.
Tim observed how the first paragraph of the chapter seemed like a closing paragraph – as if it belonged to end of the previous chapter.
Laura noted that it was like a recap. Lúthien and Arwen both chose to give up immortality. She mentioned the Scottish legends of the seal people – selkies – who give up being seals by shedding their skins to take on human form and fall in love with mortals.
Tim made reference to The Little Mermaid. Eileen said there is an element of interspecies relations.
There followed a general discussion about interspecies mating and umbrellas, with some reference to the Isle of Wight and eagles, and preserved railways. No express trains or dragons were harmed in the making of this discussion.
Laura highlighted the treachery of Men. The Elves get it wrong. Those Men who betrayed others didn’t get what they wanted. Some significance that the battle took place on Midsummer’s Day. The Oath of Fëanor is in play. Maedhros is trying to bring the Elves together but the Oath is working way out of that. Laura felt it was a savage chapter describing the cruelty shown by Morgoth’s captains.
Eileen noted that there is an air of foreboding.
Gelmir reminded Laura of St. Edmund (as in the town of Bury St Edmunds), the East Anglian king captured by Vikings and cruelly treated. Tolkien was perhaps thinking of Vikings.
Tim said that Morgoth galvanised the Elves into action.
Laura noted that the Naugrim – Dwarves – wore hideous masks, like the Samurai did. It was scary when the dwarves’ leader was killed by the dragon Glaurung – the Dwarves upped sticks and went. Azaghâl’s body was taken from the battlefield.
Since Glaurung is the Father of Dragons, Laura wondered, were there female dragons? Reference was variously made to Shrek, Terry Pratchett, Harry Potter, and St. George and the Dragon.
Angela raised the matter of Turgon’s discussion of the fate of Gondolin Húrin and Huor. Huor prophesied the rising of a “new star” – it’s usually Elves who prophesy.
Laura talked about Fingon’s death at the hands of Gothmog, white flame issuing from his helm.
Tim: Huor’s poisoned arrow in the eye was a “Hastings” moment.
Laura thought the name of the battle was moving – Unnumbered Tears. A reference to the Somme? The great storm of wind out of the West was too little too late. Eileen said the name conjures up sorrow.
Angela commented that Círdan was making a refuge, and continues to do so in later Ages. Elrond does as well, with Rivendell.
Laura: Círdan was untouchable but many were killed. Seven swift ships were built.
Angela pondered the chronology of the First Age; Tim mentioned that Robert Foster thought it was circa 600 years long.
Laura looked at the fate of Húrin. Tim said that his inability to not look or not hear reminded him of a scene from A Clockwork Orange. Angela noted that Elves could sleep with their eyes open, for example Legolas lying down with his eyes open.
The group agreed that, for next session, they would finish off Fifth Battle and make a start on Chapter 21: Of Túrin Turambar.

First in July

14.7.18

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. http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_jack.htm

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.