Our meeting today was a matter of negotiating unexpected circumstances. Firstly 2 of our members were unable to be with us for various reason, so only 3 of us met. Secondly, we were all late getting to our usual place of pre-meeting refreshment because of disruptions caused by buses being late (me), and traffic jams (Laura and Tim) caused by all the cruise ships in the port. So by the time we met, bought refreshments and worked out it would just be us, it was considerably later than our usual start time.
However, Laura had brought many good things of an intellectual nature to share, so we bought further refreshment and focussed our discussions around the papers she had heard given on the Oxonmoot Zoom facility.
Laura’s notes on the presentation by Samuel Masters on Dreaming of Bag End: The Hobbit and Mediaeval Dream-Poetry, of which I will not say much because the material makes up part of his PhD thesis, interested me greatly. I am familiar with the medieval dream theory underpinning the presentation but the brief notes Laura had taken prompted me to my own thoughts about Bilbo and Frodo’s dreams.
Aside from the speaker’s focus on these from the perspective of medieval dream theory, it seems to me that the hobbits’ dreams are an indication of the ‘expansion’ of their perception and intellectual acuity once they have left the security of their home in the Shire. The speaker (according to Laura’s notes) asserted that the impact of Bilbo’s dreams recedes when he returns to Hobbiton. This struck me as a pertinent starting point to examine his and Frodo’s dreams, and although I was doing so on the spur of the moment, it seems to me that matters such a Frodo’s ‘sea’ dream can be usefully considered from the point of view of his prior knowledge of the history of Middle-earth. We know he has learnt many things from Bilbo, and from Gandalf, and the power of the Sea is a constant in tales of Elves especially. I also thought his dream of water creeping up around Tom Bombadil’s house could be read as a simple anxious extrapolation based on recent experiences and the historical threat of water in his own biography and in the history he may be expected to know. This may be taken to align with one aspect of medieval dream theory, as may other hobbit dreams, but the important aspect of them to me is that all those we are told about happen beyond the security of the Shire as the hobbits’ minds are increasingly engaged with their immediate circumstances.
However, after I had explained my own response, Tim observed most pertinently, that when Frodo and Sam return to the Shire after the War, Sam says it’s like waking up from a bad dream but Frodo says it’s like falling asleep again. It will be interesting to watch for the publication of Samuel’s thesis in due course because there seems to be much to say about hobbit dreams.
Laura had also attended Jessica Yates’s presentation on Tolkien’s Lost Lecture on Hamlet – Reconstructed. We really had nothing to say about this, but it was interesting to see that Tolkien had participated in a ‘team’ lecture on the great tragedy without much enthusiasm. And it was pointed out that when he gave the lecture in 1937 he had not yet come up with the concept of Smeagol killing Deagol. This was apparently mentioned in the context of Cain killing Abel and Claudius in Hamlet killing his brother Hamlet the king. I felt that the comparison is not immediately relevant as Cain and Claudius kill their brothers, but Smeagol kills his cousin, so only at the level of ‘kinslaying’ does there seem to be a link. It is true that Cain and Smeagol are both outcast after their crimes, but Cain is condemned by God, Smeagol is simply kicked out of the family for being an unpleasant presence.
The potential influence of texts relating to Hamlet on Tolkien’s development of characters or relationships in LotR or elsewhere would seem to be rather tenuous, and perhaps open to further investigation, following on from Kayla McKinney Wiggins’s chapter ‘The Person of a Prince: ‘Echoes of Hamlet in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings’, in Janet Brennan Croft, ed., Tolkien and Shakespeare (2007), which covers much of the material restated in the Oxonmoot presentation.
Laura also gave us an overview of a fascinating talk on archers and archery by a real Spanish archer, who explained the kinds of bows and their uses; the rejection of crossbows by serious longbowmen; and how these matters related to the bows used by Elves, Dwarves and Rohirrim in Middle-earth. Tolkien’s immersive knowledge of medieval culture and society may have included much of this in one form or another, but ongoing research, such as that by Anne Curry and others into the bowmen at Agincourt, and laws governing the production of arrows, may usefully feed into visual and cinematic perceptions of archery and its practitioners in Middle-earth.
We few, we happy few, found much to interest us and stimulate thought in Laura’s notes on the 3 presentations, and there are more to follow! Unhappily our next meeting has had to be cancelled as 2 of us will be absent, so our next meeting will be our major Moot on 22nd October.
In spite of the fact that only 4 of us could get together for this afternoon’s meeting our discussions were so intense that we almost overran our 2 hour time slot. We were considering chapters 7 and 8.
Tim began the meeting with his observation that Fëanor’s investment of huge and diverse kinds of effort in his making of the silmarils is comparable to Sauron’s later investment in his making of the One Ring, and both result in dangerous possessiveness. Tim added that there is an intimation perhaps of sorcery on Fëanor’s part as the composition and construction of the silmarils is not known. But the result is his possession by, as much as of, the silmarils.
Eileen proposed that we need to recall how gifted Fëanor was, and that he wasn’t always bad, but he came under the influence of Melkor.
Tim observed that there is something in Fëanor that just needed a trigger to turn him.
Laura added that Melkor fed him lies, but from birth Fëanor was extraordinary, to the extent that he drained his mother of her vital ‘spark’, and that he had more than his fair share of ‘fire’, which was not wholesome as an Elf.
Eileen thought that the problems started when Finwë his father remarried, leading to Fëanor’s perception of his father’s greater life for Indis than for Míríel. Eileen perceived in the remarriage indications of the attention to sexuality that has often been said to have been ignored by Tolkien in his work.
Tim remarked that it is a human trait to be jealous of step-siblings, and that Tolkien reflects human feelings onto his Elves.
Laura proposed that Fëanor may have been neglected, and Eileen wondered if it was his mother’s death that set him on the wrong path.
Laura pointed out that Manwë hasn’t told the Elves about Men and this causes problems when Melkor tells them of the second-born.
We moved on to chapter 8 and Laura reminded us that in a previous reading we had noted the extent to which Ungoliant resembles a cosmic black hole in the way she swallows light. Eileen admitted that initially she couldn’t the whole of the description of Ungoliant because it is so repulsive. I expressed an interest in the way Ungoliant sits remote and famished, Tim pointed out that even ordinary spiders will sit in remote corners starving, but that Ungoliant is the personification of gluttony.
I proposed that while Melkor is a figure of disruption, she is entirely Other, a personification of absolute corporeality and appetite, although she was once a Maia.
Tim proposed that as a Maia she consumes herself, and as such she is no longer a coherent identity, and as such is all around.
Laura wondered if her drive to consume represents the gluttony in our world which is consumerism and the accumulation of wealth. Tim suggested Ungoliant represents wider forms of greed.
As we debated these matters we ran out of time and hastily agreed to continue with reading chapters 9 and 10 for our August meeting.
Sadly we were not all able to meet this afternoon, so Laura’s talk on The Battle of Edington was postponed till another occasion, but those of us who gathered in the Library took on some of the topics thrown up primarily by Chapter 6 of The Silmarillion. ‘Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor’. Some of them are perennial matters, constantly part of our discussions of Tolkien’s work.
Eileen launched our discussions with her observation that Fëanor appears to have a problem which reminded her of Hamlet’s inability to deal with to with mother’s remarriage. Tim and Eileen compared human relationships with Fëanor’s with his parents and step-siblings. This led us eventually into a discussion of his creation of the silmarils and to comparison with the creation and effect of the One Ring by Sauron.
Tim remarked that the silmarils are like relics once Ungoliant had ‘killed’ the Two Trees. He went on to expand on this by relating the silmarils to the grail in Arthurian legend – possession is the driving motivation.
The relationship, such as it was, between Fëanor and Melkor led Eileen to consider again the Chaining of Melkor, and Laura’s previous references to this. Tim wondered how we should understand the sentence of three ages in the chain, especially when we now know that Tolkien had calculated various kinds of comparative time, so that Valinorian time is not the same as mortal time, and this is governed by the 12 hour cycle of the Two Trees. It appears from Tolkien charts that 144 Valinorian Years = 1 Valinorian Age, but 1 VY = 144 years of Men. The full set of calculations is given in Carl F. Hostetter, ed., The Nature of Middle Earth.
The Unchaining of Melkor led us into a lengthy discussion when I observed that Manwë releases Melkor after he has served his sentence but does not understand the nature of the evil because he himself is ‘free from evil and could not comprehend it’. I found this problematic in the Lord of the Valar.
Eileen thought it was not normal and wondered why Tolkien created Manwë like this.
Tim observed that Manwë was judging Melkor by his own flawless standards, and Manwë is absolute virtue. He recognises evil but not its deceits and tricks.
Eileen remarked that Melkor is a good actor! And is always working towards power.
I suggested that the relationship between Melkor and Manwë at this point has all the features of drama, and the reader is in the position of witnessing understanding more than Manwë. Tim qualified this by remarking that it has features of Greek tragedy.
Eileen commented that Manwë is not capable of protecting his people if he doesn’t understand how evil works. We all agreed that a lord or ruler needs to understand evil, but Tim added that both Tulkas and Ulmo recognise in their own ways that Melkor remains a problem. Eileen added that you can be virtuous yourself but still recognise the working practices of evil.
Tim proposed that Melkor and Manwë are in fact personifications of evil and good.
I wondered if the end of the chapter is an attempt at Elvish ‘spin’, as the text deals with the relationship that has existed between Melkor and Fëanor, following the description of Melkor claiming to have instructed Fëanor in the arts that led to the creation of the silmarils. The text acknowledges that Fëanor was ‘ensnared … in the webs of Melkor’s malice’, but asserts Fëanor’s hatred for Melkor. The strength of the assertion made me wonder if Tolkien wrote this with the intention that this history, being written by the Elves, should be seen to be at pains to excuse one of the greatest figures in their history.
Returning to the topic of evil, Eileen remarked that Fëanor’s lust, his abnormal possessiveness over the silmarils, suggests a tendency to evil.
Tim thought his lustful traits were sinful but not really evil.
Eileen suggested that in any event we are suspicious of him now.
Tim noted that The Silmarillion is a mythology for the Elves, and Eileen added that storytellers embellish the stories they relay.
After a strenuous afternoon’s discussion we agreed that the reading for our next meeting would be chapters 6 and 7.
ST GEORGE and the DRAGON Presentation by Laura, expanded from a talk recently given online by Dr Sam Newton 23 April 2022 (!)
St George and the Dragon (painting by Paulo Uccello) Sam referred to the Middle English poem from the South English Legendary (c 1400s) which relates the tale of St George and the Dragon. This describes George as converting to Christianity as a holy knight. He rode into Libya to the city of Silena where there was an ugly dragon which had to be fed every day. This had started first with sheep. When the sheep ran out, children were given to the dragon, chosen by lots. Eventually, it was the turn of the King’s daughter. (There is a Villa Silene near Leptis Magna in Libya!) Luckily, St George rode by when the princess was waiting for the dragon. She tried to persuade him to leave. He called upon the strength of Christ to help him overcome the dragon. He wounded the dragon. This was watched by the townspeople on the battlements. St George told the Princess to wrap her girdle around the dragon’s neck and it meekly followed her into the city.
An assortment of Dragons (Collective noun? – Google – blaze, doom, wing. Lynn said she had come across the noun: a darkness of dragons, also the title of a book by S A Patrick. Anne McCaffrey uses the word “Weyr” to describe a group of dragons ridden by human like beings to fight off the neighbouring planet’s threat of the caustic “Thread” which the dragons overcome by setting fire to it mid-air.) The White Horse of Uffington was created in the late Iron Age and is believed to be a dragon, sited opposite Dragon Hill, rather than a horse. (Anyone can see it’s a cat.) There is a myth that it moves on the hill, possibly started because when the figure is recut to show off the chalk, it shifts slightly. Other dragons include the apocalyptic dragon killed by St Michael and the world serpent killed by Thor. Fafnir, in the Norse and Germanic myths, was a giant who became a dragon as he was overcome with the need to own the Rhine’s gold. He is killed by Sigurd, the method borrowed by Tolkien when Turin kills Glaurung ie an upper thrust from below. The story of Fafnir and Sigurd into the door surround of the Hylesford Stave Church in Norway.
More local dragons include the Nunnington Worm and the Lambton Worm. Nunnington is on the North Yorkshire moors. A knight, Sir Peter Loschy, fought the dragon because the lady he wished to marry insisted he carried out a brave deed first. Every time he cut the dragon, the pieces joined up, so the knight told his dog to take the pieces to the church yard and bury them. Sadly the dog licked the knight’s face and the dragon’s blood poisoned them both. The Lambton Worm is probably the most famous d. on legend in England. In the fourteenth century, the young John Lambton missed Sunday church and went fishing. He caught a small eel-like creature and threw it into a well. The worm grows, poisons the well and emerges to circle a local hill seven times. It kills livestock and children. The villagers try to placate it with milk. No knight or hero succeeds in killing it. John Lambton returns from the crusades and seeks advice about how to hill the worm. On the advice of a witch who tells him it was his fault anyway, he makes armour studded with spear heads. She also tells him that he must kill the first thing he sees after killing the worm. John arranges with his father that he will sound his hunting horn three times so that his favourite hound will come to him. Unfortunately his father comes out to greet him first, they still kill the dog but the family is cursed for nine generations. Lady Lucinda Lambton is still around! There was a discussion on other mythical animals such as the unicorn and why the unicorn is one of the two heraldic supporters of Britain i.e. the lion is real but the unicorn is not. (The unicorn represents Scotland.) Lynn reminded us (how could we forget!) of the episode in the legend of Sir Bevois of Hampton in which he killed two lions (refusing help from Josian) which are depicted at the Bargate by two statues. Tolkien’s dragons include Smaug; Ancalagon the Black killed by Earendel and whose fire was not hot enough to damage the Ring; Chrysophylax Dives in Farmer Giles of Ham; Glaurung as well as unnamed dragons such as the fire and cold drakes plus the mechanical dragons. Tolkien’s dragons are the only ones who are identified as having a colour – eg Smaug is red-gold.
In our Western European culture, dragons stand for greed and the love of money to hoard which is why they are often found in caves, barrows and wells where they can gloat over their wealth and where they should stay. Jay Johnstone uses the metaphor of greed in the shape of a dragon in his picture of Isildur in which he is holding the Ring and wearing a cloak with a dragon on it. C S Lewis used an example of this in his Narnia novel “The Voyage of The Dawntreader”. Three children find themselves unexpectedly aboard the ship, the Dawntreader, in Narnia. One of the children is self-centred and unpleasant. When they land on an island, he decides to go off on his own to make the others sorry. He finds a cave with treasure and a dead dragon. He puts on a big gold bracelet and goes to sleep. When he wakes up, he has turned into a dragon and the bracelet is agony on his arm. Also in the book, The Silver Chair, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, who has enchanted the heir to the Narnian throne, reveals herself as a poisonous serpent.
St George told the 20,000 people to be baptised and then he would kill the dragon which is what happened. It took eight oxen to pull the body to a big field. This feels like Aragorn killing the Mouth of Sauron in the film – unnecessary and unchivalrous. Sam showed several mediaeval paintings of St George most of which have common images: the mounted St George with his flag; various ugly dragons of differing numbers of legs; the maiden and battlements with people on them. I noticed that in many of the pictures, the princess is accompanied by a small white animal whose identity is not clear. In a 1515 woodcut, it looks like a cat sitting on her gown. There was a debate about it being a lamb, representing Christ protecting the princess and underlying her innocence. There was also a debate about the meaning of the princess’ girdle and why it should have power over the dragon. Definitely not the 1960s garment! Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream says he’ll put a girdle around the earth in 40 minutes – presumably to demonstrate his power and magic. Melian, the Maia, protects Doriath and the elves that live there from the evil outside by surrounding it with her girdle. Lynn reminded us that in Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, Sir Bertilak’s lady gives him a protective green girdle but which he fails to mention to the lord of the castle, going against their agreement. Lynn also told us about the courtly love Lays of Marie de France, dedicated to Henry II of England, in which a knight is protected by a girdle. I have noticed that the princess disappears over time and does not appear in simpler representations of St George. She is forgotten as St George’s role is to save England. St George is included in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints with St Valentine. His story is possibly taken from the myth of Perseus and Andromeda although this involves a sea monster. St George was not regarded as a major saint during the Anglo-Saxon period; preference was for St Edmund and Edward the Confessor. The rise of St George as England’s patron saint started with Edward III at Windsor Castle and the Knights of the Garter in which he was trying to emulate King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Did the girdle in the story turn into the garter?
Oddly, there do not seem to be any female dragons in these stories (apart from the Lady of the Green Kirtle). The only dragon-like female I could think of is the Mesopotamian creator monster, Tiamat, who is sometimes portrayed as a giant snake. Lynn said about the Greek mythological cursed woman/serpent, Lamia, who Keats portrayed in his long poem of the same name. Meteorological phenomena in the sky were often interpreted as dragons such as shooting stars and the Northern Lights. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 793 AD, Northumbrians saw sheets of light, whirlwinds and dragons in the sky; not long after this, the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne. Similarly, Halley’s Comet was seen in 1066 when the country was attacked by the descendants of Vikings. Sam referred to Tolkien several times including the chilling last phrase of his lecture The Monsters and The Critics “until the Dragon comes”.
The first Dragon of English Literature – Beowulf. Stories of heroes fighting dragons predate the story of St George. The earliest authentic description of a dragon is in Beowulf. The dragon is the third monster in the poem and Beowulf is an old man. The dragon moved into a barrow on what was now Beowulf’s land; the barrow contained a vast hoard of pagan treasure and he lived there for three hundred years. Just as with Smaug in The Hobbit, the dragon misses a single cup that has been stolen. This theft causes him to leave his barrow. He is a dragon that can fly and causes major destruction through his fire. The dragon and Beowulf fatally wound each other. Even if you are old and are a wonderful king, the dragon can still come.
In Tolkien’s translation there is a wonderful description of the dragon’s thought processes: Line 1956. “…he trusted in his barrow, in its wall and his own warlike might, and his trust cheated him.” Tolkien so often uses that final phrase to add sinister overtones eg “…and Sauron, they found him not.”
The first Dragon of English Art – the royal shield from Sutton Hoo. The shield was made of limewood in the early 7th century, just like the one that Beowulf uses to fight the dragon. The diameter is a yard across and it would have weighed about 11 lbs. Practical but beautiful bosses hold the straps at the back. There are two figures on the front: one of a dragon and the other of a bird of prey. Both are highly detailed and owe much to the zoomorphic northern style of art. The decorations are covered in tinned and gilt bronze.
The dragon has huge teeth including molars. His eye and wing joints are highlighted with garnets. He has three pairs of wings and swept back tail fins and Sam identified dew claws. It possibly isn’t immediately obvious as a dragon to our eyes but the workmanship is beautiful and any enemy facing the two totemic animals must have been concerned at the least! The powerful animals would have been intended to give the user of the shield greater strength. Erich Von Daniken would probably have argued that the dragon is an alien Chinook of some sort! There is of course a dragon across the top of the helmet, equally beautiful; a bird (eagle; raven?) flying upwards making the nose and moustache with two boars making the eyebrows. Again powerful animals to protect the wearer, give him strength and frighten the enemy. Ian mentioned the tactic of “psyops” – psychological warfare in order to manipulate the enemy.
Sam wished me well in Wessex (he’s still got his pen, The Only Way is Wessex!). I told him that the totemic animal of Wessex is a wyvern, the two-legged dragon which led to a discussion on the taxonomy of dragons – legs but no wings, like Glaurung; the wyverns; the one we most recognise with two wings and four legs etc. (A brief recall of the wonderful comedy sketch “The Class System” – “I look down on him….”)
The group discussed how or why Eastern dragons are different in character from those in Western culture ie they are wise and kind to humans; they are the guardians of Heaven and protectors of the Flaming Pearl which seems to represent different ideas such as wisdom and spirituality.
Lynn wondered if Western dragons only came into being after Christianity as they are the epitome of the opposite to Christianity; would dragons exist without Christianity? St George is an image of a Christian overcoming evil. This led on to consideration of dragons in other cultures. (See Tiamat above.) Tim later considered the expression “sowing dragon’s teeth” meaning an act which leads to trouble or disputes. This comes from Greek mythology in which Cadmus kills a dragon and, on instructions from Athena, sowed its teeth causing soldiers to grow out of the ground and fight each other. This also happened in the legend of Jason and the Argonauts in which the King of Colchis challenged Jason. Dragons are also portrayed in Mesopotamia most famously on the Ishtar Gate although we might not recognise them as dragons – they seem to be made of different animals with the back legs of an eagle, the front legs of a lion and a horned snake’s head. It would be interesting to know what the original word was (Mush-khush-shu!) and how it would be translated. The group also touched on why dragons appear in most cultures. Ian felt it was due to the discovery in ancient times of dinosaur bones. Also race memory may play a part as most humans are hard wired to be wary of serpents. Lynn said that, in early paintings, Lucifer in the Garden of Eden, was often portrayed as a serpent with a woman’s head.
On a bright blustery St. George’s Day (and Shakespeare’s birthday) we met for another delightfully informal supermoot. Sadly, Covid, and family matters, prevented four of our fellowship from being with us, but 5 of us met and took as an intermittent topic the Tolkien Reading Day theme of Love and Friendship. In between catching up generally we reminisced about members of the group and friends who had come and gone over the many years during which the Southfarthing group has been meeting. Angela actually had to look up the date of the first blog that Ian originally set up because I couldn’t remember when exactly I started to group, only that it was done to coincide with Tolkien Reading Day.
Our recollections of former friends evolved into discussions of our own particular thoughts on love and friendship in Tolkien’s works. Tim had created a most interesting circular chart showing interconnecting friendly and loving relationships, and when both are considered together the relationships are wider and more complex than an initial consideration of ‘love and friendship’ might be expected to show. Of particular interest was Sam’s relationship with Frodo, of course, but when I mentioned his love for Rosie, Angela objected that his love for Frodo always takes priority. We also considered the complex relationship between Faramir, Boromir, and Denethor, and it was noted that Pippin and Merry seem to have some kind of friendly relationship with Boromir. I mentioned Denethor’s jealousy of Faramir’s relationship with Gandalf, which is constructed as the of the ‘wizard’s pupil’, but it is Gandalf who tells Faramir that his father will remember his love for his son. We spent some time considering Aragorn’s friendships, especially with Gandalf and Elrond.
As we are currently reading The Silmarillion in our monthly meetings, I had chosen to consider love and friendship in this work, and came to an unexpected conclusion that love and friendship are not described among the Elves. It may be objected that the love between Thingol and Melian is prioritised but this is really between an Elf and a Maia and so belongs within the mythic dimension. My proposition was that love and friendship do not emerge as such until Men enter the story. Tim pointed out that in fact the Elves initially belong within the mythic dimension, but all the memorable friendships and love stories involve Men, thus Tuor and Voronwe, Turin and Beleg, Beren and Luthien. This shades over into LotR and the great love story between Aragorn and Arwen.
Because Eileen could not be with us she sent her thoughts on our topic, which follow here:
I found this small event intriguing—almost hidden, given the terrifying experiences that the hobbits had just been through in ‘The old forest’-it takes place when he sees Goldberry – who is ‘River Daughter’. Frodo becomes so overwhelmed by her grace and beauty that he falls in love with her. Of course,Frodo and the other hobbits have heard her singing before seeing her. Tolkien describes the singing,’then another clear voice,as young and as ancient as Spring, like the sound of a glad water flowing down into the night from a bright morning in the hills, came falling like silver to meet them’-the singing is angelic-as when Tolkien concludes ‘and with that song, the hobbits stood upon the threshold, and a golden light was all about them’-so Frodo is already enchanted with the singing. Tolkien describes her as having long yellow hair that rippled down her shoulders;she wore a green gown, ’green as young reeds,shot with silver like beads of dew; she ‘ran laughing towards them; and as she ran her gown rustled softly like the wind in the flowering borders of a river. The hobbits looked at her in wonder; Frodo felt his heart moved with a joy that he did not understand. Tolkien writes ’he stood as he had at times stood enchanted by fair eleven-voices; but the spell that was now laid upon him was different; ’’deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange’. Frodo addresses her ‘Fair lady Goldberry, now the joy that was hidden in the songs we heard is plain to me’. He suddenly addresses her through poetic prose; beautiful praise- ‘O slender as a willow-wand/O clearer than clear water‘O reed by the living pool/ fair River daughter’. There are two further lines of praise-with the whole poem linking her to the natural beauty of nature. Here,we too are astonished at Frodo’s poetry-but Tolkien had remarked on ‘the spell that was now laid upon him—‘so Frodo has fallen in love, and under its spell he changed from a hobbit burdened by the responsibility of the ring, to a hobbit who we see embracing the state of being in love. However, it doesn’t last, as Tolkien writes ’suddenly he stopped and stammered—-‘ Is there perhaps a force that stops Frodo from being under the power of love,of being in love—he appears to stop so suddenly. However, Goldberry acknowledges his praise, saying’I had not heard the folk of the Shire were so sweet-tongued; but i see that you are an elf-friend, the light in your eyes,and the ring in your voice tells it’. Goldberry here is also using poetic prose, as with a smile, she brushes away Frodo’s embarrassment, using poetic prose herself-and calling him ‘Elf-friend’. The power of Falling in love, the poetic praises from Frodo, the tactful and poetic words from Goldberry contrasts with the pervading evil the hobbits experienced in ‘The Old Forest”. Saved from their ordeal by Tom Bombadil, and offered hospitality by him,and the welcome from Goldberry, good for now had triumphed over evil.
We were only a small group for this meeting as we looked at The Coming of the Elves and the Chaining of Melkor, but as usual we packed our afternoon with stimulating discussion.
Just to complicate our reading, I again brought along Carl F. Hostetter’s new book The Nature of Middle-earth, which has original material not included in either The Silmarillion as published, nor the subsequent collections published by Christopher Tolkien.
This gave new book gave us additional insights into Tolkien’s late thinking on the Awakening of the elves, and Tim wondered why there was such an imbalance in the numbers of elves who made up the immediate cohorts of each of the 3 First elves. But we recognised an inbuilt hierarchical distinction and difference that goes on to be played out in the detailed interactions between Elvish ‘clans’ in The Silmarillion.
Eileen noted that at a more accessible level in a Letter from 1951 Tolkien gives some details of his thinking about the Awakening of the Elves.
Laura remarked that in The Silmarillion, Melkor had corrupted some elves even before Orome had discovered them, and that their perversion into orcs had saddened Iluvatar.
Tim observed that this early corruption and perversion of elves is described as Melkor’s deed which is most hateful to Iluvatar. Eileen and I wondered about the logic of this statement because Iluvatar is omniscient and declares that everything Melkor does is already foreseen and part of his Plan anyway. So why should Iluvatar be accorded such an emotional reaction.
Laura remarked that he lets things work out, and Tim added that existence is unbalanced and needs light and dark. Iluvatar needs this evil even though it is hateful. Laura responded that tests make creatures progress, and Eileen added that existence can’t have endless harmony. As Tim observed, the Elves would simply stagnate under those conditions.
After wrestling with this mythic ontology we spent a very short time on the Chaining of Melkor and may need to return to it to do it justice, but Laura did direct attention to the fact that the Chain itself is created from a ‘fairytale’ alloy of metals, it has a name, and both the manacles and fetters are named.
Our reading for our May meeting will be chapters 4 and 5 of The Silmarillion.
Our meeting was almost inevitably overtaken by the tragic events now taking place far to the east, and a considerable part of our initial discussion was devoted to the circumstances, all of which seemed to me to allow for contextualising in terms of Tolkien’s work, which is replete with conflict and war. I proposed that perhaps we should acknowledge that peace is always a temporary condition (to be cherished) and that the default condition of humankind is, in fact, one of constant conflict at all levels.
Happily, Laura countered this with her observation that it is also characterised with equally frequent acts of kindness.
This led on to observations concerning how good and evil are perceived according to outlook. This prompted Eileen to remark on ‘opportunistic evil’, and the need to recognise evil. Ian observed that Melkor’s remit includes having contact with or insight into all the special areas of influence of the other Valar, which gives him plenty of opportunities, and from his point of view these were not a matter of good or evil, just opportunity.
Laura remarked that Melkor can ruin everything.
Ian added that this is because the Valar opperate in their own separate spheres, until they all work together to defeat him.
As we attempted to address our chosen reading from The Silmarillion, on the Coming of the Elves, I referred frequently to Carl F. Hostetter’s new book, The Nature of Middle-earth, which offers insights into Tolkien’s thinking in the 1950s and 60.
Tim then asked ‘where is Sauron when Angband and Utumno are overthrown by the Valar? Ian reponded by considering Melkor’s absence as emphasising his constant presence in the perception of Valar, and later of the Elves.
We also considered communication between Melkor and the other Valar, and found the new book to have insights into the whole area of language and communication. The Valar do not use language as such, but this is Eru’s gift to the Elves, and is the adopted by the Valar if they communicate with them, but Melkor exploits language to corrupt and disturb the Elves.
Having spent so long pre-occupied with the latest conflict to come out of the east (relatively speaking), we didn’t have time to set specific reading for next time, except to agree to simply read on into the next chapter in The Silmarillion.
Laura has very kindly sent her notes on the meeting in January that she was unable to attend. Having read her comments, I am able to make a small contribution to the topics under consideration, and that is to recommend the recent book by Thomas Hostetter, The Nature of Middle-earth. It is a collection of Tolkien’s own late observations and comments on a number of the issues that have constantly attracted our attention in our debates, but were omitted from Christopher T’s earlier collections. From what I have seen so far, these later ruminations are more often more philosophical. However, apologies for digressing from Laura’s notes which are as follows:
ADDITIONAL NOTES TO TOLKIEN JANUARY 2022 MEETING
The Valar are described twice in The Silmarillion as being “clad in the raiment of the world” and it was not clear to me what that might be. In Morgoth’s Ring (Volume 10 of the History of Middle-Earth), the Valar decided their shape and form because of their love for the Children of Iluvatar who they had seen in the original vision. This is interesting because this is both Elves and Men so perhaps not all the Valar appeared as Elves. There is also an interesting description of how genders were decided amongst the Valar, especially in this woke world! “…..the Valar arrayed them in the form some as of male and some of as female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice; even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment, but is not made thereby.”
The Valaquenta neatly lists the Valar and their responsibilities and companions but changes and clashes occur because of the human errors and feelings that we can recognise e.g. Sauron who goes to the dark side! Saruman who betrays the reason for being on Middle-earth and the White Council; Ulmo does not like company; Ossë nearly joins Melkor and a few Maiar become balrogs. There are spies amongst the Maiar already so the serpent is already in Eden.
In the Beginning of Days, Tulkas arrives late to the party and it is not clear what he is or where he has come from. I see his laughter as mocking which makes Morgoth even more determined to win the whole of Middle-earth and get his revenge. I briefly thought he might be a proto-Tom Bombadil because of the laughter (Tulkas the Strong and the Merry) but that idea quickly failed because he does not have any other traits in common with Tom; also Nessa is not like Goldberry as she enjoys running about with deer rather than sitting with water lilies.
The creation of the Lamps and with Yavanna’s “magic”, plants and animals arrive in the world in order like Eden. The description of the destruction of the lamps and consequently the world by Morgoth is vividly described. I was particularly taken with the description of the aftermath with rotting vegetation and “beasts became monsters of horn and ivory and dyed the earth with blood.” Presumably the blood of peaceful animals. Also that, in The Book of Lost Tales Part One, Morgoth/Melko takes part in the making of the two lamps in that he creates their pillars made of “an imperishable substance of great strength that he had devised; and he lied, for he knew that they were of ice.” This demonstrates the naivete of the Valar and that ice was unknown to them as it was a natural element that became destructive in its extreme state created by Morgoth. It is not clear that it featured in their dream vision of Arda given to them by Iluvatar. Ironically, in several versions, Iluvatar speaks to Ulmo about how Morgoth/Melkor’s damage has not ruined water but that snow, frost and ice are still beautiful forms of water.
The Valar retreat after Morgoth’s apparent victory and appear to forget about Middle-earth. In this state, even Manwë cannot see everything although Ulmo takes on the role of listener and Yavanna watches what is happening. In The Silmarillion, it is recorded that “thus ended the Spring of Arda” an expression that is in use today such as the Arab Spring, a metaphor for hope.
I haven’t included the subject of free will, Men’s mortality and their weakness making them prey for Morgoth as that is probably ideal for discussion.
We were 4 at our meeting this afternoon, and as it happened we benefitted from being in our new downstairs space in the Library because Chinese New Year celebrations were taking place outside. Vibrant as these always are, like other festivals, they do tend to drown out our discussions and distract us with the colour, and the presence of the Dragon/lion.
So in the quiet recesses of the Library we few, we happy few, began our consideration of ‘The Beginning of Days’
We agreed that as Laura could not join us but had done preparatory work, we would be entirely happy to revisit the chapter and the later parts of the Valaquenta, because as Tim observed, we rarely undertake our discussions in a linear fashion, but wander around rather a lot. So our responses listed here can be read as provisional and awaiting Laura’s input.
I began proceedings by drawing attention to the effect of laughter, as part of the characterisation of Tulkas, and for its effect on Melkor when Tulkas laughs as he fights. Tim thought this was contemptuous laughter, and Eileen added that Melkor feels undermined by this.
Ian thought this laughter is ironic as Tulkas laughs to himself, and continued by noting a vocalic echo between Tulkas/Tolkien, adding that Tolkien defined the meaning of his name as ‘Rashbold’, which may well define Tulkas himself.
Eileen observed that Melkor couldn’t tolerate not being confronted with violence.
Tim remarked that laughter demonstrate lack of fear, and together with Eileen, defined Melkor as a typical bully figure.
Tim also related laughter to music and thus to The Music because laughter is represented in music by a kind of ‘lightness’, and in fact Tulkas is strong, bluff and hearty.
I felt him to be an anomalous character, and Tim compared him to Hercules.
Ian observed that he is not attached to anything elemental in the way the other Valar are, and nor is Melkor, although he intervenes in bits of all the others.
I noticed that Tulkas has no attribution and wondered if Iluvatar has created a new independent being, but Ian contested this, and we concurred in seeing Tulkas as a champion figure.
Tim noted that Melkor wants order on his terms, but Tulkas isn’t bothered, indeed, he is rather anarchic. Ian attributed this to his being overloaded with endorphins.
We moved on to consider the statement that ‘because of the light of the lamp Iluin they [the Valar] did not perceive the shadow in the north that was cast afar by Melkor’. This, I thoughts was a strange concept, that light could be almost a danger, but recollected the motif from Beowulf, where within the hall of Heorot there is light and feasting, companionship and music, while outside in the dark – beyond the firelight – Grendel lurks in hatred.
Ian responded that we witness the mythological mindset in Beowulf, and the need to band together and be part of the tribe against the darkness, but Tolkien presents initially all light, but with darkness waiting to destroy the light of the Lamp.
I took a metaphorical leap forward to ask again about Tolkien’s presentation of light, specifically in Gimli’s sadness at leaving Lothlorien, when he tells Legolas that he would not have come on the Quest if he had known the danger of light and joy.
Tim observed that it is a particular kind of light in this place, and Eileen reminded us of the light that Galadriel emanates. Tim thought both kinds were seductive.
We went on to consider one particular description which troubled me, and that is Melkor’s perversion of animal life into ‘monsters of horn and ivory’. I thought this an unfortunate characterisation, but Ian proposed that as the perversion of Yavanna’s beasts, the hardness represents their corruption.
Tim also noted that medieval devils have horns – and hooves, or non-human feet, I would add. The horn reference also reminded me of descriptions of dragons with hides or scales of horn.
This reminded Eileen that Tulkas ‘s laughter undermines Melkor’s selfhood by wrong-footing his expectation, and compared this to Bilbo wrong-footing Smaug by his polite and apparently composed exchange of views. However, Tim observed that Melkor wrong-foots the Valar with his pre-emptive strike on the Lamps.
In the wake of this destruction, Tim noted, the move of the Valar from their island to Valinor was effectively their Plan B.
Allowing that we may wish to revisit some of the points raised here, we nevertheless agreed that we would read for next time the following chapters which are ‘Aule and Yavanna’ and ‘The Coming of Elves and the Captivity of Melkor’.
This is not exactly a report on the first meeting of the year because there were only 3 of us and so we did not try to take on our Silmarillion reading in the way we would usually do. This is a note of our more informal and disparate discussion. we began by chatting about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and tried to comfort Eileen’s feelings about the Beheading Game by explaing that it is a game in a mythological context. Ian’s description of mistletoe growth on local trees as evoking for him the Green Knight’s head! For me this called to mind Treebeard too.
We went on to talk about the Silmarillion reading we had intended – the Valaquenta and The Beginning of Days, but diverted from this, and with regard to the races of Elves, Eileen expressed a very enlightening view of how changing location changes language and identity. This would be best explained again by her.
Ian and I then took different views on how the legendarium fits, or not, with the Primary World. Again this would be best revisited in person at our next meeting, but I can say that I took the view proposed by Tolkien himself that it is a pre-history standing in relation to the Primary World.
We did not, of course, set new reading for our meeting in February, and before then we have our major Moot of 29th, of which more in due course.