First meeting in February


I was sadly unable to get to this meeting, but Tim kindly took the notes for this blog and they follow here:

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

The fellowship gathered in the Seminar Room on a blustery but occasionally sunny Saturday afternoon. We missed Lynn and Julie, who were unable to join us for this session.
Following some preambulatory conversation amongst the group, Ian opened the Tolkien-related discussion with a report on a crowdfunding that has been started up for Sarehole Mill, in order to return it to full working order (Ted Sandyman’s been letting it slide, so me ol’ Gaffer says). The original target was £6,500, which was quickly reached and exceeded, and was then extended to £8,000 – which has, in turn, been exceeded!
Details of the crowdfunding and the project may be seen at:

Laura introduced a suggestion for the next text for the group to study – not one of Tolkien’s own creations, but works that inspired him. Laura thought we might consider The House of the Wolfings by William Morris (he of the Arts and Crafts Movement, poet, novelist, translator, proto-socialist) which is one of the myriad inspirations for Tolkien’s own journeys into lore and mythology. It is a tale of the struggle of the Teutons against the invading Roman legions.
The general consensus of the group was in favour of studying the book, subject to further discussion with Lynn.
Angela started the discussion on The Fall of Gondolin. In the section entitled “The Conclusion of the Quenta Noldorinwa” (p.250) Ungoliant is described as having been slain by Eärendel, as opposed to the description in The Silmarillion (p.81) in which it is told that: “Of the fate of Ungoliant no tale tells. Yet some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.”
Chris noted how many Balrogs were killed during the battle of Gondolin, as well as Dragons. Ian referred to what Gandalf had said with regard to destroying the One Ring: “not even Ancalagon the Black could destroy the Ring”. At time of speaking he couldn’t, Ian noted, since he was dead.
On the subject of the Ring, Eileen observed that Frodo destroyed the Ring as his finger was still in it when Gollum fell into the Crack of Doom. This provoked some discussion about who did destroy the Ring: Frodo, Gollum or the Valar?
Chris returned to the Fall of Gondolin, noting that Ulmo came out on top regarding Gondolin. Eärendel escaped, representing hope for the future. Ulmo’s “Plan B”.
Laura commented that the earlier version of the battle shows Tolkien’s obsession with heraldic symbols and imagery, like a “heraldic spreadsheet” – colours, symbols for each military unit. Tim likened it to regimental colours. Laura felt it seemed overdone.
Ian considered it to be a reaction to a utilitarian approach to large groups. People can relate to common links of attributes, for example, in medieval imagery. There might be a variety of world views present without the need to go how any group might view the world – different aspects and values. Visual imagery.
Laura thought the description was all gorgeous – rich colours – which contrasted with descriptions of Tuor, or Aragorn, when they were in the wild, in “mufti”. Ian said there is complacency in wearing dress gear – ceremonial. Different kindreds were identifiable through their liveries or uniforms. Laura said there was a contrast with Maeglin, who was all in black.
The session was drawing to an early close, since Angela and Chris had to leave earlier than usual due to transportation issues.
Ian informed the group that a forthcoming episode of the fantasy series DC’s Legends of Tomorrow entitled “Fellowship of the Spear” would be set in the First World War, and would feature a young British Army officer named Lieutenant Tolkien. It will be on Pick TV Freeview channel 11 at 8.00pm on Monday 18th February 2019. (It is also available on Pick +1 at 9.00pm on the same day, and is currently available online on NOWTV – subscription service.)
With that, Angela and Chris made their apologies and left to catch their bus, and Eileen left soon after to get her bus home.
Laura, Ian and Tim wound up the proceedings at about 3.20pm.
The next meeting will be at 1.30pm on Saturday 23rd February 2019.


Last in January


Back to our usual format today, but with pleasant memories of our ’moot. After the stimulating presentations of that meeting, and with news of subsequent developments in the work of some of our writers, we turned again to The Fall of Gondolin. Carol had sent comments on some matters and those topics she covered and we addressed are included here. We were sorry not to see Julie and Tim, but hope to see them in February.

Eileen began the afternoon by questioning why Tuor’s father, and thus Tuor, does not lie under the same curse as their kinsmen, Hurin and Túrin. I suggested it was Morgoth’s particular attempt to punish Hurin, and Angela added that Hurin had defied and mocked Melkor, so his family torment is his punishment. Huor does not irritate Melkor in the same way.

Ian observed that the tormenting of Hurin resembles the coercive colonial technique where a family member was separated from the group or tribe by the colonial power and treated differently so that when they are returned they are the subject of suspicion.

Chris noted that although Gollum doesn’t exactly mock Sauron he does lie to him.

Laura remarked that in the new Gondolin book lots of animals are described as Morgoth’s spies, including great weasels, owls, falcons, and the sons of orcs. Laura commented that this is the only time we hear about ‘sons of orcs’, and she noted that there are great weasels on Madagascar that hunt lemurs, and we discussed the characteristics of the animals named, and pondered the possibility that the concept of great weasels had its source in The Wind in the Willows.

Carol also commented on a reference to ” ‘Gothmog lord of balrogs, son of Melko…’ in all my readings of Tolkien this is the only time I’ve found off spring attributed to a Vala.”

Carol had commented that “we can’t understand what it must have been like for Tuor seeing the sea for the first time. I would think that most of us were brought up with seeing the sea, if only on holiday, from before we can remember. I know when I became conscious of the sea on holiday, it came as no surprise: water ebbing and flowing, unlike streams and rivers running forward all the time.

I can’t begin to understand Tuor’s solitariness. I live alone but with people and buildings around me, but to wander alone in wild country would scare me. I like my own company but have recourse to phone and personal contact too. But then Tuor’s a hero in heroic mode but even he began to want to company of other humans.”

Eileen agreed that Tuor’s experiences were impossible to imagine, and Ian remarked on the effect of air pollution in towns. [This surely must have added point to Tolkien’s descriptions, because he had experienced the dirt of early twentieth-century Birmingham, and even pollution from the mill at Sarehole.

Carol added that “Tolkien has a great imagination for landscape and narration. To write about a journey of one person so far is no easy task.”

Angela noted that Aragorn often travels alone and this must entail practical difficulties such as coping with illness and finding food.

Laura remarked, however, that North American fur trappers also travelled alone in hazardous circumstances. Ian commented that they focussed on making a living by trading.

Angela wondered whether we are to accept that Tuor was indeed the first Man to see the Sea, as the narration says. I wondered if this statement was part of the sense of a foundational or taxonomic myth, like his naming of butterflies and plants.

Carol commented that in the new book, “this is a different tale of the coming of Voronwe from that in TS. So far, I think I prefer TS version but then that’s the one I’m most familiar with.

There’s also a different account in Unfinished Tales of the journey of Tuor and Voronwe, going overland in snow, dodging orcs and almost meeting Turin. Also in UT, when Voronwe and Tuor find the hidden door to Gondolin, they are taken via several strong doors upward to reach the city; and Tuor’s parentage is different.”

Eileen also remarked on the difference between the versions of Tuor’s journey and the in which Voronwe finds it hard to cope in the snow and Tuor has to encourage him.

Angela noted that in one version it is Gwindor who needs encouraging.

Laura observed that in one version of the story, Voronwe is an escaped thrall, and so is ready to flee, but it was noted that the status of thrall is given to Gwindor in another version.

Laura also noted that Voronwe is named Bronweg in the Cottage of Lost Play.

Eileen noted that in yet another version, Voronwe is the last surviving mariner of those sent out by Turgon.

Chris remarked that it is Ulmo who saves him from shipwreck, and this fits better with the theme of helping Tuor.

Laura suggested that there is a Great Plan, but it goes wrong. Chris proposed that Ulmo didn’t know Turgon would refuse his command, but Laura wondered if Ulmo was really aware?

Carol commented that ‘Turgon is still too proud to hearken to Tuor’s words but reasons are given: the sending out of elves to find aid from the Valar, never returning, and the Valar seemingly ignoring the pleas from Middle-earth. Chris pondered whether Ulmo would, in this context, be considered a “troublemaker”?

Eileen noted the significance of the number 7 in the story, and changing tack, went on to consider the relevance of characters being given the chance to change through the option of pity. Although this is most obvious with Gollum, Eileen mentioned Turin ignoring the chance.

Ian then drew our attention to the motif of blackening and burning when characters handle the One Ring, and also the Silmarils. Ian elaborated when he noted that the Rings are made by Celebrimbor and Sauron creates the Ruling Ring using the same technology. After the Fall of Numenor he is rendered non-corporeal and this could not wear the Ring so he when returns to Middle-earth he has to fashion himself a new form so he can have a corporeal presence. [The topic of ‘self-fashioning’ was not addressed at the time, but would be worth discussing.]

Ian continued: Fire is one of the elements that goes into the making of the major artefacts – both the Ring and the Silmarils and into the self, both Sauron and Feanor, but all Sauron represents is the artefact.

Angela noted that during Sauron’s time of influence on Numenor the Temple of Fire was a place of burnt sacrifice.

Laura then questioned when Sauron went to Dol Guldur. Angela replied that it was after the Ring was cut from his hand.

Ian suggested that Sauron must have left the Ring in Middle-earth when he went as hostage to Numenor.

Laura asked if he wouldn’t always have it with him?

Ian went on to consider the original burning associated with the silmarils and therefore all they represent. They could have rekindled the light of the 2 Trees but Feanor refused. When the silmarils were stolen they burn even Morgoth, However, Beren was not burned, although Carcharoth was destroyed. When Sauron created the One Rone he puts some of himself into it, but he is part of the Flame Imperishable being a Maia. Therefore the heat of Sauron is still in the Ring as heat is still in Sauron, but this connection to the Flame Imperishable diminishes – as Chris and Angela observed of the Ring’s time in the Anduin – until Gollum can handle it.


We ran short of time but agreed to continue with our reading of The Fall of Gondolin at our next meeting, in hopes that we will actually get round to the siege and its consequences






First meeting in January 2019

What a long time since we last met, but here we are back for another year of Tolkien!

12.1.19                        Wessexmoot

 It seems like an auspicious way to begin a new year with a celebratory Wessexmoot. Everyone who could attend was present for the afternoon, which was stimulating because we had 5 widely different presentations, and might have had more but for a lack of time.

The presentations were given by Chris, Eileen, Julie, Laura and Ian.

Because Chris is in the process of working up his presentation as a serious piece of research intended for submission for publication, I will only give a brief outline here. The topic is spying and infiltration in Tolkien’s works. It marks a departure for Chris’s recent interests in comparative research in which he has considered relationship between Tolkien’s work and Russian literature; Frankenstein; and other literature. In his presentation Chris isolated topics such as motivation, and the nature of characters who undertake spying and infiltration. We found much about this fascinating and hugely diverse topic to focus our comments and queries.

We moved on to Eileen’s presentation on the cousins Túrin and Tuor. She had been deeply interested in the difference between them and the degree to which their upbringing could be seen as defining their actions. Considering the effect of nature v. nurture, Eileen argued that this raises the matter of motherhood, as their mothers behave differently towards their sons. In her comments later, Laura noted the challenge presented by the bereaved mother.

In the case of Túrin, the main subject of her study, Eileen pointed out that while he rejects Thingol, in spite of being pardoned by him, he shows some empathy with Mim the dwarf. He is too short-sighted in his actions in spite of his privileges, and he fails people. Commenting afterwards, Tim described Túrin as a Jonah.

Eileen also defined an irony in Hurin and Morwen being together in death although separated in life.

Eileen’s paper certainly offered some tantalizing options for approaching the differences between the two cousins, going beyond the obvious external, patriarchal, and moral influences.

Julie’s presentation was a poem she had shared at New Year via Facebook, but as some of our group do not subscribe to such social media it was welcome by those who had not seen it, and it was in any case delightful to hear it read aloud. The poem in question was by Malcolm Guite, from his book ‘The Singing Bowl’. Julie introduced the Guite as in the tradition of priest-poets, and the poem was full of references to the trees and leaves so characteristic of Tolkien’s work, but also genuinely infused with his sense of the spiritual. Commenting on the poem later, Tim defined the structure and images as an interconnected poetic technique.

Laura changed the artistic medium with her presentation on The Gates of Gondolin. Using two examples of paintings from the many illustrations to be found on the Internet, one of which was Tolkien’s own depiction of the Gates, Laura showed the progression of Gates from Wood to Steel. While all the Gates in both illustrations showed appropriate details, Laura noted that the steel gate is described in such a way as to suggest stainless steel, and it was made by Maeglin. It differed from Turgon’s earlier gates in its design concept, and was finally no defense because Gondolin fell from treachery not direct assault. Laura pointed out that Turgon’s gates show a progression: wood, stone, bronze, iron, silver=white marble, gold=yellow marble, and have been partly associated with the Ages of pre-history. Commenting afterwards, Chris observed that Turgon’s gates show increasing sophistication and wealth. Laura’s presentation certainly revealed the contrast between the appearance of strength, wealth and glamour, and the folly of pride and complacency.

Ian gave us the final presentation which was on his reading, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Ian suggested that the author’s theory of decoupled self-identity from the external illuminates Frodo’s statement in the Sammath Naur, ‘I have come…’ Ian argued that in fact the true self here is not Frodo’s but Sauron’s, which is decoupled at this point from the perception that has been running the War, having been infused into the Ring during its forging. We didn’t have time to discuss this thought-provoking concept, but no doubt will be able to revisit it at a later time.

As Julie and Eileen were not able to join us for our post-meeting refreshments or our dinner at the Piccolo Mondo restaurant later, we have agreed to try to arrange another dinner, perhaps around the time or Reading Day.

Our next meeting at the end of January will continue our reading and discussion of The Fall of Gondolin in all its manifestations.



Last meeting of 2018, how fast this year has gone! Actually, I was convinced there was one more meeting before Christmas, having failed to notice that we don’t meet on 22nd. So this will be the only blog in December. There seems something significant about the fact that as the year draws to a close we have just begun our reading of the various versions of The Fall of Gondolin.

However, Eileen initiated our discussions by referring us back to the story of Turin in TSil. As expressed an interest in what she described as his ‘psychotic’ episodes which lead him to engage in the romance and bravado of life as an outlaw.

Angela described his story as a process of decline while Tim argued that Turin is changing and reacting to circumstances.

Ian and Tim observed that among the outlaws he develops an identity.

Angela noted that Turin’s mother sends him away to Doriath as a child but she is too proud to go too, and so they are separated.

Ian remarked that many heroes of Men of the age had already been lost, so there was loss of status and this led to the need for fostering out, but here it is in an alien culture, where Turin eventually feels his honour to be slighted; and he’s not prepared to face the justice of Thingol. All the time he is trying to find his way in the world.

Eileen asked why Turin couldn’t ask for forgiveness and Tim responded that for him pride = honour and he doesn’t see what he has done wrong.

Eileen remarked that Turin constantly just misses out on things and people.

Ian noted that the stories of Tuor and Turin almost meet, but Tuor is fated to be addressed by a ‘god’ – Ulmo, while Turin is fated to be addressed by a demon – Glaurung speaking with the voice of Melkor.

Laura thought that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Morgoth and his torment of Hurin by means of Turin’s suffering. So Turin can’t avoid this.

Angela noted that of the 2 cousins, one, Turin, is under the curse of Morgoth, while the other, Tuor, is favoured by the ‘god’. Ian saw them as both the same – under the control of Powers.

Moving on into our specified reading, both Laura and Angela described Turgon as an arrogant idiot.

Chris noted that Voronwe was lifted up on a wave, that saved him.

Tim remarked that Tuor wants to be part of Gondolin and relates to others, in contrast to Turin who, as Ian pointed out, cannot and will not accept that there is anything greater than himself.

Ian went on to remark that there is a need for a reflection in order to develop a sense of self, but Turin lives by his own rules. Ian went on to compare Gondolin itself to Turin.

Laura pointed out that Gondolin collapses through the treachery of Maeglin, but also observed that the whole episode is like a fairy-story.

Angela noted that in the new Fall of Gondolin book Idril is more feisty than in other versions, and is described as wearing mail and fighting ‘like a tigress’.

Laura remarked that Tolkien had worked on the Gondolin story from 1917 to the 1950s.

Angela observed that there is really very little of the story in TSil., and Chris added that it has still not been all put together as a coherent story, even in the new book.

I asked what everyone thought would be the point of our studying all the versions?

Eileen thought it would show up positive and negative characterisations in the family groups, and reveal the ‘ripple effect’ of how not to do things.

Chris referred us to Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov in which the 3 brothers are all different.

Tim remarked that Gondolin is about the ending of things. He noted that other hidden cities had already fallen, and wondered if this motif of the end of the old order stemmed from Tolkien’s experience of seeing exactly this in World War One.

Chris observed that there are other hidden kingdoms in The Lord of the Rings and that this seems to be a theme in Tolkien’s works.

Ian commented that in TSil. the hidden kingdoms are not founded by conquest but returning Elves found these secret enclaves, and these include Rivendell and Lothlorien. These, however, are not civilisations – they know they will leave one day. Gondolin doesn’t see the prospect of leaving. Ian went on to propose that in ‘founding’ Gondolin, Tolkien perhaps didn’t originally foresee this either, but post WW1 set out to make the Gondolin story more ‘realistic’ or coherent. It was proposed that we could check the Letters for evidence of this change, but it was also acknowledged that they are only a partial (in both senses) indication of what Tolkien was thinking and feeling at any point in his life.

Laura went on to note the contrast between the fate of Gondolin and the prediction of the coming of a remarkable baby.

I thought Tuor’s message from Ulmo to Turgon acknowledged but dismissed the terrible fate that awaited Gondolin if it did as Ulmo demanded. Genocide seem implicitly to be anticipated, but must be endured ‘for the greater good’, according to Ulmo. I wondered how this might have reflected Tolkien’s view of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Turkey in WW1, which was largely ignored in the West.

Ian proposed that in the era of ethnic cleansing and colonial exploitation so perhaps Gondolin represents a message that you can’t go on in the same way forever. Ulmo’s message is that you have to go and face down evil for yourself.

Tim observed that Morgoth is a Vala, so the Valar should sort it out, but Ulmo’s message is ‘your world, sort it.’

Laura observed that Turgon must have known Tuor when he saw him because Ulmo had told Turgon to leave armour in his former realm for him.

Tim noted that in the context of WW1, all the monarchs of Europe were related and could have talked to one another. Ian added that this approach was disrupted by the rise of other ‘Powers’.

Laura then remarked that this is the first time Tuor – a Man – has seem a Vala but lots of Elves have, and Turgon rejects his counsel.

Ian commented that the images of the mechanical beasts as destroyers represent the ‘modern’ world invading. But Laura remarked that Maeglin betrayed the realm so they could get in, and Ian qualified this by describing Maeglin as the ‘bit in the middle’ facilitating things.

Laura observed that Tolkien creates a nasty combination of balrogs, which are organic, and mechanical devices and she compared this to Tolkien’s experience in war where there was a combination of tanks and human evil.

Ian thought the combination represented the calamity overtaking humanity in the 20th century.

I wondered what the effect was of Tolkien’s presentation of the story variously in alliterative verse form and prose? Ian responded that they addressed different ‘audiences’.

Chris observed that The Fall of Gondolin stays essentially the same through the decades and forms, it’s just details that are developed. Chris compared this to The Lord of the Rings where major changes happened during its initial writing.

Ian noted that The Lord of the Rings developed out of The Hobbit and some bits didn’t work in initial creation and so needed revising. With Gondolin the basic essentials didn’t need changing because it was always internally consistent. Tolkien knew the story from start to finish and just developed elements. On the other hand, in the creation of The Lord of the Rings some bits, like Faramir, just ‘arrived’.

We had found a great deal to explore among the versions of the Gondolin story, and we will go on reading it for our next meeting in January.




Last Meeting in November


Six of us gathered on one of those chilly damp November afternoons when it’s good to be indoors, and happily the seminar room where we meet was warm this week. It was with some determination that we set about finishing our reading of The Silmarillion. Carol had sent comments, which are included in the main blog.

We began by looking forward to our next reading, which will be any version of The Fall of Gondolin, or any combination of versions, including the new book. Angela and I both commented on the problems and difficulties facing editors, and noted the effect of their decisions on the editions we read, whatever they may be.

When we eventually turned our attention to the last chapter of The Silmarillion, Carol had noted that when the TSilm account of the founding of the North Kingdom references ‘many barrows’ these are the same barrows the hobbits will walk by on the Barrow Downs, and she describes this as “history in topography”.

I remarked that this collapsing of history is signaled by the unusual change of tense. The narration changes from past tense to present tense: ‘towers they raised … and there remain many barrows …’

Laura commented that in the New Forest the group of musicians known as ‘Nine Barrows’ is reminiscent of TSilm topography, but this is more apparent in the topography of Wiltshire, with its many barrows, and the standing stones of Stonehenge.

Angela returned us to the text when she observed that the description of the storm which brought the Numenorean ships to land looks dreadful, and suggests the travelers must have been seasick! We all agreed that the description of the huge waves is reminiscent of a tsunami, and that this was highly likely as Numenor was swallowed up.

I thought Isildur was mean, when he took ship and left his brother to defend Osgiliath alone. Angela countered this view with the proposal that he is foresighted and may have been escaping to save his youngest son, and the seedling of the Tree, both of which were eventually essential for saving the line of the kings.

Eileen compared this to Túrin leaving his mother and sister.

Laura wondered if both instances make up part of the ‘grand plan’ to preserve the family line as a matter of survival taking precedence over love.

Eileen and Laura noted the Isildur’s flight marks the division between the North and South Kingdoms.

Angela observed that in the flight from Numenor, 1 ship goes north and 2 go south.

Eileen wondered, as Tolkien had 3 sons, how would he have felt at the separation from his sons.

Angela and Chris noted that in Tolkien’s Letters it becomes apparent that he is closer to his son Christopher because they have more in common, and thus favours him, rather than John and Michael. [Considering our first topic this afternoon, we might have discussed the choices of the editor, Humphrey Carpenter, who obviously chose letters with the greatest bearing on Tolkien’s creativity, which was shared closely with Christopher. Topics shared particularly between John and Michael and their father are less obvious among Carpenter’s selection. Maybe a better guide can be found in The Father Christmas Letters?]

I remarked that the moment when Earnur the king meets the Lord of the Nazgul in single combat outside Minas Ithil/Morgul is one among many such confrontations.

Angela noted that the Lord of the Nazgul is called out at other times, and it is during one of these that Glorfindel speaks the prophecy ‘not by the hand of Man …’. This implicitly disregards the other races of Middle-earth who are not Men, so Elves, Eowyn and Merry are not perhaps considered.

Laura remarked that the Nazgul thinks he’s immortal because of this prophecy.

Laura noted that at the Gate of Minas Tirith the Lord of the Nazgul is not Gandalf’s equal, and Angela added that he was a mortal man. Laura responded that the Nazgul has Sauron backing him up and directing his actions, so the Nazgul is just following ordere, but Gandalf’s most powerful back up is far away in the West so he has to work out his own plans.

Eileen asked if this was good, or bad? Laura responded that Gandalf has the freedom and is trusted to do right.

Chris went on to compare Beregond in Minas Tirith acting on his own initiative to the internal conflicts between groups of orcs.

Laura also thought the ‘good guys’ show compassion, and Angela remarked that the Captains of the West follow Aragorn out of love, as Eowyn says. I compared this to the orcs in Mordor who have to be whipped along.

Laura then went on to observe that Denethor is affected by the palantir as Boromir is affected by the Ring. I suggested that in the comparison set up between Faramir and Boromir, Tolkien might have been suggesting that culture is a defense against the desire for Power. I cited the examples of Aragorn and his singing and Frodo and Bilbo with their knowledge of Elvish and historical and literary interests.

Laura extended this idea by suggesting that it was lineage in combination with culture that was important, and noted Tolkien’s insistence on his descent from the Suffields, who were his mother’s family.

Angela commented that in Aragorn’s case his resistance to the Ring’s temptation is due to guilt and that he is engaged in trying to repair Isildur’s fault.

Carol questioned the potential consequences if Isildur had indeed cast the Ring into the fire when he had it.

Chris noted that although Sauron comes out of Mordor and is vanquished, Elrond does not necessarily urge Isildur to act on that day. It may not have happened until everyone else had gone away, although anyone in the proximity of Isildur may not have survived. Chris went on to remark that after the Alliance the participants are divided again.

Eileen questioned why the Dwarves did not participate and Angela concluded that they regarded it as ‘not our problem’. Laura noted that the animals also choose sides.

Angela wondered when the anomalous assertion that Frodo threw the Ring into Mount Doom was actually written. Chris wondered if it was while Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings , before later revision. I observed that TSilm is throughout an Elvish version of history.

Ian supported this by remarking that it is history by Elves for Elves, and to them Gollum perhaps wasn’t important because the story of how the Ring was destroyed didn’t get transmitted to them. Only Legolas was present at the Field of Cormallen, so the Gollum element didn’t reach Elvish historians.

Chris noted that after the rescue of Frodo and Sam, Gollum is never mentioned again. Laura remarked on it as an impersonal account of hobbit-folk.

Eileen found the comment that ‘help came from the hands of the weak when the Wise faltered’ profound, and Chris observed that the last battle was not won by strength. Eileen added that Tolkien seems to be suggesting ways of achieving things, other than war.

And so we ran out of time. It has taken us a long time to work through TSilm, but next time we meet we shall begin The Fall of Gondolin, in any of its redactions.

First in November


Seven of us gathered this afternoon and we all tried to dodge the heavy showers today to get to our meeting. We only got drizzled on while moving from our coffee venue to the Library. Carol had sent her comments, some of which are included here, but others are held over again because we didn’t get through our reading. This had been ‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’.

I started the meeting by asking if everyone thought we would finish The Silmarillion at the meeting. Laura responded instantly with an emphatic ‘No!’, not because she doubted our resolution but because she didn’t want to relinquish what she described as the ‘wonderful book.’

Eileen supported this view remarking on the complexity in which there are what she called ‘so many “tribes”’ and so many changes.

Laura picked up the quest for immortality and Tim remarked that he had been rereading the Akallabeth and Mens’ quest for the Undying Lands, which he compared to the attitude of the Egyptians, as an undercurrent to Tolkien’s story.

Laura noted that Numenorean ‘Ar-Pharazon’ echoes ‘Pharaoh’.

I recalled that Tolkien acknowledged that the High Crown of Gondor used by kings of Numenoeran descent had been influenced by the shape of the crown of upper Egypt.

Tim noted that Ar-Pharazon’s pride incurs the wrath of the ‘gods’.

Laura observed that the Numenoreans’ desire for eternal life does not take the form of mummification. And that they have the ability to choose when to die.

Angela remarked that this allowed them to hand on the ruleship.

Ian, who is still finding his reading of Sapiens supporting and enlightening Tolkien’s work, referred to what is called the Gilgamesh Project in Sapiens. This is the search for eternal life in the Gilgamesh legend but can be equated to the search for things we don’t know.

Eileen observed that this is the basis of religion which requires faith to cope with what you don’t know.

Ian remarked that for the Elves there is nothing they don’t know about their eventual end. He went on to comment that most polytheistic belief systems, such as exists in Tolkien’s Middle-earth,  recognize a supreme power devoid of interest in the specific, and that in pushing Melkor beyond the walls of the world it was the Valar who separated ‘good’ from ‘evil’ and not Iluvatar.

Laura observed that often in polytheistic religions the minor ‘gods’ battle against one another, and we have noted that the Valar often do the same.

Ian noted that a single author (Tolkien) has constructed the same, and good and bad are not differentiated by the Supreme Power.

Eileen picked out the examples of Túrin and Nienor and Hurin and Morwen and wondered how a loving God could let their suffering happen? And was it the result of their free will?

Angela noted that there have been lots of discussions about free will.

Ian proposed that what we have been looking at were examples of a Supreme Power adding the unexpected.

Eileen thought there was always evil, even when Melkor is gone or absent.

Laura observed that we know little about the religious beliefs of the Dwarves and the hobbits.

Chris proposed that the Dwarves may have reverenced Aule as he was their creator.

Ian went on to note that there is little technology in the Shire, and apparently no market for it. The gunpowder suggested in the ‘blasting fire’ at Helm’s Deep, and Gandalf’s fireworks at the party, are associated with wizardry.

Tim asked ‘but are they gunpowder?’

I then drew attention to Sauron’s non-repentance at the start of the Chapter, motivated by his anxiety over humiliation, and wondered at the possibility of historicizing this idea of humiliation.

Laura cited the treatment of Germany by France at the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler’s subsequent devastation as retribution of the location at Versailles where the railway carriage and triumphal statue stood.

Angela noted that Morgoth is also humiliated. But Tim observed that humiliation depends on how the individual reacts.

Eileen remarked that the ‘nearly-repenting’ of Gollum is particularly interesting.

Chris commented that the Ring would not have been destroyed if Gollum had repented. Ian qualified this by observing that it would have been Smeagol who repented.

Chris also noted that Sauron must have had a conscience if he was ashamed. Eileen remarked that he didn’t want to show this in front of his peers.

Angela remarked on the bonds Melkor puts on Sauron and wondered what the hold actually was.

Tim proposed that Melkor’s power over Sauron is equivalent to the Ring’s power over Gollum.

Angela remarked that she has often thought of the seductive hold of Melkor over Sauron in terms of drug addiction.

Chris observed that the Ring has part of Sauron in it and that is what corrupts Gollum.

In the context of the effect of the rings on those to whom they are given, I remarked that unlike other life forms, dwarves cannot be turned into ‘shadows’. Ian observed that they cannot be corrupted in this way because they are not the creation of Iluvatar.

Laura noted the poetic description of the Ringwraiths: that they ‘cried with the voices of death’.

Ian then proposed that the Ringwraiths were and extension of Sauron’s desire for control and destruction.

Angela moved on to consider the statement that Elrond gathers the wise in Rivendell, and wondered who, apart from the Heirs of Isildur, because the arrival of Gandalf post-dated the founding of Rivendell by many centuries?

Tim and Angela noted that Rivendell was founded in the Second Age, and Tim remarked that they need not have gathered all at once, but that could have been an evolution of incomers.

Laura questioned whether these are other than Elves and Men? We had already ruled out Dwarves.

Carol commented that the 3 rings ‘could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world’, so Galadriel uses Nenya to maintain Lothlorien, which isn’t natural.

Angela remarked that Lorien is timeless and protected not just by Galadriel’s magic but by the warrior Elves who patrol its borders.

Carol went on: ‘though the ring of sapphire is with Elrond at Rivendell, it doesn’t confer timelessness like Nenya, and Rivendell, though hidden, is accessible at times by mortals’.

Tim noted that Rivendell is on the other side of the mountains, and Angela remarked that it is hidden by the landscape while Lorien is on the flat.

It was generally agreed that we still haven’t finished with this chapter, so we will pick it up again next time. Meanwhile, we still have the Fall of Gondolin to prepare for the time when we can call The Silmarillion finished (!)

Last meeting in October


On the first really chilly afternoon of autumn seven of us gathered to finish reading Chapter 24 of The Silmarillion. But in fact we didn’t spend much time on this reading. Nevertheless, we managed to complete it and move on to the ‘Akallabeth’. Carol’s comments on this are included here.

Before we began we needed to consider the unfortunate matter of the cost of our meetings next year. Thanks to Laura for taking on this tedious job.

With that matter concluded, Ian began the meeting proper by drawing our attention to his latest theoretical reading: Sapiens – a Brief History of Humanity. Ian explained the book’s emphasis on the necessity for contradictory beliefs and cognitive dissonance, drawing parallels with Tolkien presentation of the Music, defining this as a consideration of contradictions and their functions.

Laura wondered if this led towards the theory that good and evil must exist together.

Ian noted that dissonance is clustered all in one place in the Creation sequence of The Silmarillion.

Eileen expressed her doubt as to whether it is evil that actually triumphs in Tolkien’s work because it seems that evil is never completely overthrown.

Tim proposed that the presence of evil emerges through all the choices that are given to characters, but are the choices made good or bad, and are they part of Iluvatar’s design?

Ian then wondered if in the choices of those created we witness Iluvatar’s own kinds of choice? And Chris wondered if Iluvatar is actually making mistakes and testing things out? But Tim asked: ‘Are they mistakes?’

Chris went on to note that after a while each Middle-earth society in The Silmarillion becomes corrupted.

Ian observed that these are all cultures which actively seek to halt the progress of time, and that it is unnatural to try to stop this.

Eileen then asked if Sauron is evil. Angela replied that he is not at first, and Ian added that Morgoth is. Eileen then wondered about the connection between change and the causes of evil.

Chris noted the link between change and corruption in all peoples.

Tim observed that evolution is about change.

Chris then moved the discussion from these theoretical matters to more concrete topics when he remarked that the Numenoreans began taking slaves back from the east of Middle-earth, and wondered if Tolkien was acknowledging the same tendency in the Primary World.

Ian remarked that when you ascribe a commercial value not just to things but among groups of people.

Eileen commented that amid all this she found the sending of Gandalf uplifting.

Chris noted that in Numenor there is evidence of religious ceremonies and Angela remarked that the place was hallowed to Iluvatar. Eileen observed that the White Tree continues, and Angela noted that Amandil blessed the last fruit of Nimloth.

Laura remarked that the Numenoreans worshipped themselves and Sauron.

Carol commented that Sauron, like the serpent in Eden, is father of lies.

I thought Sauron’s response to Armenelos was enlightening because even he, a Maia, is impressed by this work of Men, but it spurs his envy and hatred.

Ian wondered if Armenelos represents technological advance. Without the aid of a mythical agent like Sauron a mortal culture has achieved technological advance without mythical intervention, this then sows fear in the heart of Sauron.

Eileen wondered why Men were the ‘easiest to corrupt’. Laura suggested it was because they were not so strong. I proposed it was because they had become sundered from the Elves.

Chris observed that most corruption of Men is because they want power, and because they don’t know what will happen to them after death.

Tim noted that the earliest Numenorean bloodline remains uncorrupted and leads eventually to Aragorn and this is why he still has the ability to resist temptation.

Angela reminded us that some Nazgul were Numenorean.

Carol commented that the ban of the Valar is like God telling Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Of course people are going to sail or eat. Human beings are like that.

Chris likened the fate of Ar-Pharazon and his men, pinned under the fallen hill, to the story of King Arthur.

This reminded me of a biblical passage, and have found in Revelation 6:16

Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the commanders, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?” It also appears in Luke 23:30

Tim saw this as an image of the stasis that seems to afflict unsuccessful societies in Middle-earth. Or maybe this should be interpreted as a form of limbo.

Carol commented on the drowning of Numenor: ‘it has been said before that this is like the tale of the deluge of Atlantis, and that Tolkien dreamed of this many times but the nightmares were purged when he wrote about it. Faramir has the same nightmare in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela remarked that Julie wrote her MA thesis on such flood images.

Our reading for our next meeting will be ‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’.

Once we have finished The Silmarillion we shall turn our attention to all versions of The Fall of Gondolin.