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.




First Meeting in March


March already, and Tolkien Reading Day on the horizon! Happily the snows of last weekend have melted and we were able to meet. We were also delighted to welcome Tim back, although we missed Mike and Julie, as we began our discussion of chapters 10 – 12. But we began by considering the possibility of a group outing to see the forthcoming Oxford exhibition ‘Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth’.

It will run between 1st June and 28th October. Ian mentioned the Oxonmoot committee’s intention to include a visit to the exhibition, but we agreed it would be nice to convert one of our summer reading group meetings into a group visit of our own. The date that seemed most suitable is August 11th but we need to consult absent members.

Once our discussions began Laura observed that although Yavanna is in charge of growing things, Melian sets niphedril growing, and that this marks Luthien as special.

Tim thought Melian was Vana’s Maia. A quick check of the Index showed she was also Este’s Maia, so she was linked to Yavanna, and to the Vala of rest.

Laura noted that in our nominated chapters there are many ‘prophetic’ sentences because the elvish scribes recall the sequence of history.

Ian remarked that there are different ways of presenting a chronicle. The Elves interpret their own history but because they were there it is as close to the truth as possible. This contrasts with the fiction in which they are being created. In The Lord of the Rings Elrond relates the chronicle history, Tolkien therefore has a different way of presenting the truth.

Tim commented that Elves are living history, perhaps keeping records as they go along. We might compare our own position as we have to reconstruct history.

I wondered if Tolkien longed for an indisputable view of history.

Ian proposed that Elves are not unchanging but surely change over time – as things in the world change they change in reflection or reaction to this. I suggested the example of Galadriel, and Chris cited the example of Elrond.

Ian then conjectured that all the Elves should be in the Undying Lands but the Flight although the refusal to go in the first place disturb this. On the other hand, in The Lord of the Rings the last exiles leave, but are not urged to; they cannot stay, but some remain reticient.

Tim remarked that it all depends on Iluvatar’s vision. He put all his eggs in 1 basket, but at the Sundering some Elves yearned eventually to go back, but those who stayed perhaps remained unchanged. Chris reiterated the point that as ‘people’ Elves would be open to change.

Laura observed that Tolkien’s thesis is that Elves do remain in the Primary World but are diminished, and ‘Men usurped’ them.

Angela reprised our observations concerning Galadriel’s change of heart about taking the proffered Ring when she remarked that Galadriel knew Frodo’s mission was to destroy it.

Chris commented that since The Silmarillion was written by Elves it was necessarily biased. Laura compared this to Caesar’s Commentaries – we need to understand who the text has been written for, and Tim added the need to take into account the partiality of a commentator. Ian noted the use of the non-specific ‘some say’.

Angela remarked that Elrond had once been in arms but Rivendell was now a refuge and he was a healer and counsellor, but perhaps he was still preparing a siege.

Ian observed that mutation is ascribed to Morgoth, but in the Primary World it is necessary for evolution to proceed.

We moved on to Chapter 11 and Eileen remarked that it is more interesting to have a shadowed sun.

Angela noted that Arien is a fire spirit but not allied to Melkor. If she had been she could have been a balrog.

Laura suggested that the light of the first sunrise must have been a shock after the moonlight; and that the uncertain moon was reminiscent of Apollo letting his son drive the chariot of the sun.

Angela observed that it is the start of Morgoth and his servants being unable to endure sunlight.

Laura noted that in the new day the dead Trees are left in place, as Nimloth will be later in Minas Tirith.

When I wondered why the evidence of the attack by Morgoth and Ungoliant should be left in place, Ian compared this to a commemoration in the Primary World, corrupted but continued, and suggested that in this the author crosses over between Primary and Secondary Worlds.

Tim observed that the more Morgoth puts out his power into his servants the more this weakens him, and so it will be with Sauron later.

I likened this to the concept of the singularity before the Big Bang and thought that the result fitted with Verlyn Flieger’s theory of the ‘splintered light’ in which creativity is increasingly fragmented. Ian observed the increasingly complexity of the fragmentation as the power dissipates.

Ian continued exploring this idea with his comments that Melkor has competing influences within himself and as his discord gives rise to complexity he becomes the source of all discord in Elves and Men.

Chris remarked that medicine shows that knowledge also develops but Tolkien describes little scientific development.

I proposed that what we are being shown is an epistemological development from myth towards science.

Tim observed that technologically Middle-earth is medieval.

Chris observed that these chapters (10-12) begin the motif of the isolation of various races which is becomes a constant theme in Tolkien’s work, and Eileen remarked that she appreciates the scope of Tolkien’s imagination.

On that note we had to end our discussions and we agreed to read chapters 13-16 for our next meeting.

Last In February


On a chilly but bright afternoon we were happy to see Julie and Eileen back with us again, but missed Mike, and Tim. Rather than focussing on a specific choice of chapters, the rest of us were preparing to discuss the Kinslaying and the Helcaraxë.

Ian referred us to a new (to us) theoretical approach – the Stockdale Paradox – in which individuals in dire situations cope best when they do not hide from its effects and consequences through being wildly optimistic, nor approach it with profound negativity, simply realistically. This offered an insight into the way Sam and Frodo cope with Mordor.

Laura questioned whether this could be applied to Celebrian and her ordeal.

Ian remarked that we are never given more than a distant account of that, but we go along with Frodo and Sam in Mordor.

Angela and Laura both observed that Celebrian and Frodo have to go to the Undying Lands because they never recover from their ordeals.

I wondered if the Stockdale Paradox could be applied to the Kinslaying and/or the Helcaraxë?

Eileen remarked that the Kinslaying episode is full of motion.

Laura compared the long journeys in the primary world in which tribes like the Goths and Huns moved west out of Asia against the Elf ‘tribes’ returning east.  Laura also noted Fëanor’s callousness towards other elves in his host.

Eileen remarked that Fëanor is complex and the language expressing his callousness is recognisable.

Laura commented that right from the start Fëanor cannot do anything right, then his Curse condemns him.

Chris noted that part of Fëanor resides in the Simarils as part of Sauron resides in the Ring. I added that Fëanor’s possessive attitude to the silmarils is echoed in the possessiveness shown by Olwë and the Teleri in the matter of their white ships.

Laura noted that the difference lies in the fact that the Teleri create the white ships as a group enterprise. Ian observed that Fëanor is an individual craftsman who produces 1 result and he doesn’t understand the group effort of the Teleri.

Eileen noted the motif of obsession here and in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela commented that that Teleri think the Noldor are doing the wrong thing by leaving.

Angela remarked that of those who tackle the Helcaraxë, some had the determination to go on, not back, with Fingolfin and Finrod and Galadriel.

Laura observed that Elves make weapons, but asked ‘where do they learn to fight?’ Angela thought that Fëanor starts that. Laura wondered about the elves’ development of weapons. Angela proposed that perhaps it starts with Oromë hunting.

Ian commented that Tolkien was not concerned with how the Elves got weapons, but there are beneficial influences that can be the source of the things that are needed to counter the malign influences. Ian also noted the possible influence of Aule as a craftsman, but in peace development took place for its own sake, until Feanor thought he would use those tools to shape the world.

Angela suggested that Melkor introduces the understanding of the need for weapons, and then the Noldor vied for excellence in weapons making.

Ian observed that the motivation for starting gives rise to to the reason for using but the process is not explored.

I wondered if the creation of and function of weapons owed anything to Tolkien’s understanding of the reasons behind the spectacular weapon furnishings (hilts, scabbard decorations etc) found at Sutton Hoo. Laura noted the power and status associated with it.

Angela noted that Fëanor married the daughter of a great smith.

Ian traced the development from craft to artistic crafts and the appearance of aggression.

Eileen compared this to the process of castle building in medieval France and England.

Ian then moved the discussion on to a comparison between the huge classical Greek pantheon, and observed that Tolkien was not repeating this but giving a northern cast to the Greek concept. However, this was not invented by 1 person but by various societies that were trying to make sense of the world around them.

Julie noted that in Genesis the first named smith was Tubal-cain who was the ancestor of workers in iron and copper.

Laura observed that lots of weapons in the primary world have been derived from farming implements, and she went on to remind us of the myth of Wayland Smith.

Julie remarked on the ancient reliance on meteorite iron for sword-making. This led Ian to recall the discovery of gold in rivers. This spurred Julie to make the connection with Goldberry – the River-woman’s daughter recalling ancient access to gold in the river. Laura commented that this was the Rhine-maiden motif too.

Thinking of Fëanor and Melkor, I wondered why it was that the cleverest (most gifted) beings were depicted as causing trouble, and was that how Tolkien saw himself?

Ian proposed that Tolkien felt the need to express himself artistically but was constrained by academic expectations.

Chris remarked that in Tolkien’s work technology goes in reverse – the most complex artefacts come first – e.g. the finest ships, the silmarils.

Ian observed that this leaves us (later ages) in the position of only discovering what already had been. This reminded me of Plato’s ‘forms’.

Julie likened the situation to anomie, while Chris proposed that the difference lay in an opposition between the artistic and the practical.

After another stimulating discussion, as we ran out of time we decided to focus on chapters 10 to 12 for our next meeting.


First meeting in February


On a raw and dismal afternoon some of us had already begun our discussion of aspects of the chapters we have been reading. Although Eileen could not be with us she had spent a good deal of time familiarising herself with Feanor and passed on some thoughts by phone prior to the meeting.

As we began the meeting itself we continued considering Feanor and Ian introduced us to his latest theoretical reading on the concept of ‘post-truth’, – the manipulation of language, which is in fact meaningless, otherwise known as all the spin and ‘flannel’ that is supposed to convince us, and with which we have become familiar. The effect of Melkor’s lies on Feanor leads to the Elf’s destructive actions, and Ian argued that we are more likely to remember such characters in distinction from their background.

Laura remarked that the characters of the Elves in TSilm are not as fleshed out as characters are in The Lord of the Rings, they are more symbolic.

Ian commented that we are not travelling along with them as we are with the characters in the later work, while Chris observed that characters in TSilm are not in ordinary society.

Laura added that if we met one of the ordinary Elves in this story we would be stunned by their difference. Ian added ‘as post-Creation characters in the Bible are extraordinary, so are Elves’.

We went on to compare the treatment of the creation of animals in TSilm and the Bible, seeing it as much less detailed, and Angela noted that Yavanna is simply given responsibility for Olvar (growing things with roots in the earth) and Kelvar (animals, living things that move).

Ian went on to wonder whether in creation things were put in by Iluvatar that cause disruption and therefore he has disruption in his Plan apart from Melkor.

Ian continued by considering whether, as far as Tolkien is concerned, disruption is a device to rekindle the power of fairy-stories, while films are the cheapest way of engaging and audience. Angela objected that it is possible to see the films several times and still find more ‘meaning’.

Ian turned to the perennial topic of free will and remarked that an author can guide the reader in a particular direction. Chris proposed rather that quality films are like good books – there can be a lot in them.

Laura suggested that in both cases the question is one of the level of quality. Ian brought us full circle when he added that it is also about what is said and how it is said.

Laura then asked if Feanor is used as a catalyst for initiating the Plan? And as we went on to consider the power of his language and his oath, I asked what it is that adds particular power to his language and his Oath?

Ian proposed that it lies in the dissemination of information and what is of concern in contemporaneous society.

Laura observed that the Oath and the Prophecy are expressed in strong language and it is dreadful when Mandos (probably) – the King of Death himself, pronounces doom on Feanor.

Ian and Laura then both suggested that constant reiteration defines things, and Ian added that effectiveness depends on how a speaker applies words, not what words they are.

Laura went on to remark that knowing about Tolkien himself has enriched knowledge and understanding of his stories.

Angela commented that his attitudes to his characters are interesting.

Ian went on to wonder if Melkor and others believe the Eldar’s creativity could rival that of the Valar.

Laura noted that Melkor said Orome was a threat when he was leading the Elves out of Middle-earth, so Melkor was overridingly dangerous to Elves.

Ian wondered whether, because Aule is also disruptive, he too sees the Elves as problem creators.

As usual we ran out of time and as we had been taking on various topics rather than discussing chapters, I promised that at our next meeting we would definitely discuss the Kinslaying and the passage of the Helcaraxe, so there is no appointed reading for our next meeting.

Last meeting in January


We were sorry to miss Chris and Julie at our meeting this afternoon but 7 of us gathered on a gloomy and damp afternoon to continue our reading of chapters 8 and 9. We spent the meeting discussing their philosophical and ethical content.

Ian began the discussion by referring to his reading of Patrick Curry’s Defending Middle-earth and its rather undeveloped arguments. By contrast Ian noted the elvish use of creativity for aesthetic ends and pure science. Dwarves were more practical in their use of nature and the material world when they were created by Aule. Thus Tolkien introduces 2 ways of using materials of Middle-earth. Furthermore, Aule’s selfish interest displays a motivation more characteristic of Melkor.

Laura remarked on how human the Valar and the Elves are – we perceive the Valar making mistakes, as well as elvish arrogance.

Angela proposed that later in the legendarium some Elves display better qualities. In The Lord of the Rings Galadriel and Elrond are depicted as good so that it is a shock in The Silmarillion to find that Galadriel once wanted to exercise power.

I noted that although Galadriel originally wants it in The Lord of the Rings she rejects the possibility in what seems like an act of contrition for her original desire.

Angela observed that Tolkien considered rewriting her character later on, after writing The Lord of the Rings.

Eileen remarked that she found Galadriel too good on first reading The Lord of the Rings.

Angela thought she might be compared with Eowyn because both only have brothers. Laura added that like Eowyn, Galadriel is also trapped in her feminine life. Eileen remarked that in TSil Galadriel has power.

Laura went on to note that in the chapters dealing with Feanor’s rebellion and flight lots of Elves are treated as canon-fodder.

Mike then turned our attention to Melkor and his bargain with Ungoliant which he reinforces with an oath – to give ‘with both hands’, Mike thought this formulation was very Tolkienesque.

Laura thought the phrase sounded biblical and Mike agreed that it is in the King James ‘register’, implying the ‘gods speak like that’.

Laura observed that Ungoliant finally implodes like a black hole and Ian proposed that her final act addresses a cultural reality that it must finally consume itself. Eileen thought her final act was unreal but oddly believable. Ian remarked that it was therefore rational.

Mike then asked what we thought of Feanor’s great speech. I thought he had good points, while Eileen thought his reluctance to give up the Silmarils showed he was flawed, but he valued his family and in this could be compared to Boromir.

Mike thought Feanor depicts different difficult moral situation. It is very human to persist even with a wrong decision. Feanor persists, becoming more extreme.

Laura thought there was a process of self-justification.

Mike commented that Tolkien makes us think about ourselves at times.

Eileen questioned whether Feanor was selfish. Laura thought he was obsessed, and Laura remarked that Finwe was devoted to Feanor.

Ian observed that Feanor was a very good manipulator of the fabric of the world, of existence as he traps the power of the Valar’s creation. Melkor searches for the Silmarils in his search for ‘something’ but can’t find it because he is part of it, so he seeks these things that are outside himself.

Laura noted that Feanor repeats exactly Melkor’s lies about Men taking Middle-earth and Elves being captive.

When we discussed the interpretation of the good and evil in TSil Mike observed that this interpretation depends on your own axioms.

Angela commented that the Elves are not prisoners in Valinor, they were invited to go there, had choice, and some exercised the choice not to go.

Mike suggested that creation here implies ownership, while Eileen thought the Valar are limited in their outlook.

Laura remarked that they didn’t write the Song, but were part of it.

Eileen noted that there was a theme of Elves and tribes splitting off and further fragmenting into groups.

Laura considered this as the creation of a ‘diaspora’. Mike noted that this is a term used in reference to a central homeland. Eileen remarked, however, that fragmentation leads to survival.

We will continue our analysis of chapters 8 and 9 while reading 10 and 11.

First meeting in January 2018


Seven of us gathered for our first meeting of the New Year. We will not have Carol’s comments for a while because she is still enjoying the sunshine in Australia!

Meanwhile in dismal England we began our discussions in this new year by revisiting a topic I raised before Christmas. I had proposed that we might find it useful for our approach to the matters of good and evil in The Silmarillion if we looked at other philosophical approaches, such as that of Zoroastranism, or even the works of Nietzsche in order to see if we could find new dimensions to the way Tolkien deals with these matters. With this in mind Laura had kindly brought along a print-out of some material on Zoroastranism. ; ;

I had to confess that owing to time constraints I had not had time to do the reading I had hoped to do, but Mike said he had read the material, and he began our discussion with the question: is the Supreme (the Creator/Divine) actually beyond good and evil? And in all these matters can we judge from within what is in fact the ‘goldfish bowl’ of our existence, from which we are necessarily looking out. In The Silmarillion Iluvatar is presented as ‘Good’, but is that in fact true?

Eileen proposed that good and evil turn on the need to understand others.

Laura thought that such concepts provided sets of rules for survival, and offered the example in modern literature of depictions of post-apocalyptic societies descending into violence.

I suggested that Richard Dawkins’s theory of the selfish gene and the paradox of altruism could account for survival.

Ian proposed that intellect rather than genetic survival led to the development of different cultural forms, and cited Aule’s disobedient creation of the Dwarves. Ian argued that it was the choice Aule made.

Mike remarked that Lucifer also had a choice.

Ian added that Aule’s was the wrong moral choice.

Mike queried ‘it was not predestined?’ And went on to propose that what we are reading in The Silmarillion is only part of a physical manifestation Iluvatar in an account written by Elves.

Laura compared the general non-intervention of Iluvatar to the theory of the absent clock-maker who makes a clock, sets it going and then moves away to create another clock while the first one slowly runs down.

Mike argued that both philosophy and religion are an ongoing search for explanation.

Ian noted that now we don’t have to fight for survive – this is what we pass on.

Laura raised the spectre of tribalism but Angela commented that there was a problem of tarring all with the same brush.

Chris observed that the cut-throat impulse is still necessary in business, and Ian noted that competition hones skills.

I asked if The Silmarillion, and myth generally, is a kind of simplification of the actual complexity of good and evil in human life, citing the pairing of Melkor and Ungoliant, who finally consumes herself?

Mike went on to observe that myth is necessarily a simplification, and that Ungoliant was a literary device.

I thought it was time to ask if a philosophical approach assisted our approach to The Silmarillion.

Chris observed that in The Silmarillion all races are directly created by Iluvatar but in the real world there cannot be any similar certainty of a Creator God. Chris then queried whether Tolkien believed in evolution?

Laura agreed that we are far removed from our own beginning, and questioned whether if the 5th Age of Middle-earth had been recorded a loss of belief would have emerged?

Angela noted that into the 4th age, beings such as Galadriel for example had seen the Valar, and Mike added that she had been with Feanor in Valinor. This led Angela to wonder if Galadriel had seen Melkor!

Chris found parallels between Feanor and Gollum, insofar as both go off alone.

Laura remarked that all our discussion show that Tolkien is by no means simple, and Eileen observed that he can still shock.

Ian commented that he shows us a reflection of ourselves like that in a shop window.

We had spent so long on our philosophical approach good and evil as far as we have read in The Silmarillion that we had barely addressed the chapters in our appointed reading so next time we will discuss chapters 8 and 9.