December

10.12.17

This will be the only blog for this month as our second meeting would be very close to Christmas.

We began our meeting this afternoon in very hobbit-like fashion by discussing Yule recipes! We missed Laura, who was ill, and Julie. Carol’s comments are missing because she is in the Australian sunshine, but we were happily surprised by Mike’s unexpected arrival.

When we finally began our discussion we had to pick up where we left off before Wessexmoot, and Eileen observed that Aulë’s creativity over-rode his duty to Iluvatar when he made the dwarves, but that this was one of many human frailties displayed by the Valar. Eileen said she also enjoyed the drama of conflict between Aulë and Yavanna.

Angela remarked that among the Valar and their respective ‘responsibilities’ it seems as though animals have no ‘guardian’, but Yavanna takes responsibility for plants AND animals although this is not clear from the Ainulindale.

Eileen thought Iluvatar was generous and understanding towards Aulë.

Chris noted that Iluvatar had to give life to the dwarves, but what about the hobbits?

Ian thought hobbits were part of Yavanna’s brief. As Aulë creates dwarves out of sequence, the entwives that were part of Yavanna’s brief disappear and then hobbits appear. But even the ents don’t know anything about them.

Chris observed that when Tolkien originally conceived the Silmarillion he had no thought of hobbits.

Ian remarked that they were another of Tolkien’s characteristic ‘mysteries’.

Mike commented that Tolkien gives us creation without evolution. Ian remarked that he had to ‘drop hobbits in’, and Chris noted that Tolkien had to ‘retro-fit’ Gollum after writing The Lord of the Rings.

I thought evolution took place at the level of story. I cited the unfinished evolution of the Beren and Luthien story and Angela cited Tolkien’s intention to revise Celeborn in line with his new ideas.

Ian thought Unfinished Tales give insights into the way Tolkien thought about his story-telling and expanding ideas. He compared Aule introducing the dwarves out of sequence, and Melkor doing all sorts of things out of sequence, seeing these as counterpoint to the Music. Ian suggested Tolkien did not work with evolution but with the replication of patterns.

Mike remarked that in Tolkien’s creation ‘you are what you look like’.

Angela remarked that The Lord of the Rings includes many species, not just races, and that Gan-buri-Gan is unprepossessing but has special powers, and in Unfinished Tales he and his species/race are given a backstory.

Mike then proposed that Tolkien could have written The Lord of the Rings without hobbits and could just have assigned their roles to Men, but we all noted that the economics of publishing demanded hobbits.

Ian observed, however, that all the races in the book have different tasks to perform and Merry, Pippin and Sam are observers. If all the characters were Men this would change the psychological focus of the story. I suggested that if all the The Lord of the Rings characters were Men the story would become a political legend.

Chris then remarked that Chapter 7 ‘Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor’ provides an interesting example of the use of ‘fake news’ as Melkor continually stirs things up.

Mike noted the way it proliferates when he picked out the statement ‘But he that sows lies in the end will not lack for harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed while others reap and sow in his stead.’ Mike observed: once you set it rolling it gains momentum.

Chris then questioned the observation in this chapter that Manw ëcannot comprehend evil. I thought this was because of his perfect virtue. Eileen objected that to be virtuous you must overcome evil. Ian proposed that to attach virtue to Manwë was incorrect. Manwë and Melkor are neither virtuous nor evil. Melkor is ego-centric in a world where he is part of a greater whole. Manwë, on the other hand, works as part of a whole. What we see is the contrast between the two.

Mike observed that Nietzsche declared there is no good or evil, only different moralities, and questioned whether Melkor and Manwë have different moralities? Ian thought they showed different ways of classifying views of the world.

Eileen proposed that Manwë and Melkor were like 1 character with 2 opposite sides.

Chris compared the 2 different sides of Gollum, and the 2 aspects of Boromir’s character.

Eileen then wondered why Tolkien emphasises the brotherhood of Manwë and Melkor? Ian suggested it emphasised the commonality between them, and one could compare Cain and Abel.

Mike added that the model of the Trinity could be cited – the 3 ‘persons’ are same being and substance.

I then asked whether Tolkien was using the term ‘evil’ in 2 different ways: evil as a metaphysical concept and evil as the consequence of actions. Mike thought this was the case, and that this was because English language uses the same term for both uses.

That brought us to the end of our meeting. Our next meeting is on January 13th. Our reading for that meeting will finish Chapter 7 and continue with Chapters 8 and 9.

 

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Last in November

25.11.17

This blog report is rather different because it is the record of proceedings at our combined Wessexmoot/Yulemoot. Sadly, Eileen and Julie could not stay for our post-meeting conviviality, which was both very stimulating and great fun, but they were with us for the meeting itself. However, Julie was one of the contributors to the presentation that made up the main part of our meeting. She and Laura had attended a day course Doing Theology in Middle Earth (sic), held in Salisbury on the previous Saturday. Laura’s notes on this course make up the main part of this blog. They prompted ideas and discussions which I have added (in brief) into the notes in square brackets.

Introducing their presentation, Laura observed that the course treated the problem of good and evil in much the same terms as we have always dealt with it in our years of discussing Tolkien’s works.

DOING THEOLOGY IN MIDDLE EARTH

18 November 2017

Sarum College, Salisbury

Dr Stephen Tucker

Notes taken by Laura, with contributions by Julie.

Dr Tucker was taught Anglo-Saxon by Christopher Tolkien!

Christianity is not explicit in Tolkien’s work.

Query over the slaughter of orcs and their treatment as ‘cannon fodder’.

Rhythm of the prose – compared to Anglo-Saxon poetry. Dr Tucker read from ‘Theoden rides out’.

Session 1

Biography: Tolkien’s life – Dr Tucker went through his birth, time at Sarehole, his own declaration that he was a West Midlander. His love for language came from his mother, he always wanted dragons (Fafnir, the great green dragon). Relationship with Francis Morgan. And with Edith.

October 1958 – letter from JRRT regarding his love of trees, good plain food etc – that is what he was like.

JRRT was not originally good at the classics; he preferred Gothic and Finnish. How he came across the poem that inspired Earendel.

The Somme. Creation of the elvish languages. Trench fever. He was writing the earliest version of the Silmarillion. He described to Christopher the setting in which he wrote during the war.

Leeds. Oxford – the Coalbiters – men’s groups. The Inklings. [Tolkien constantly seems to deal with masculine groupings. Ed.].

1930 – the famous blank sheet and The Hobbit!

Tolkien’s work criticised as escapism, but he argued that there must be fear so that it is realistic not just escapism on one level. The work is imbued with “grace”.

The Silmarillion rejected – no hobbits!

1937 – Tolkien started The Lord of the Rings. He typed the work himself! Saw LOTR as a bitter and terrifying romance.

Gave lecture on Fairy Stories at St Andrews University.

Leaf by Niggle – representing his inability to work in an ordered way.

Epic vs “snappy bits” – criticism by JRRT of CSL.

Tolkien also worked on the Jonah chapter of the Jerusalem bible. [This was advertised by the Tolkien Library as: The Book of Jonah, trans. J.R.R. Tolkien (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2009). ISBN-10: 0232527679; ISBN-13: 978-0232527674. Ed.]

Christopher drew the maps for LOTR.

1973 – JRRT left his credit card at the Red Lion in Salisbury. [It was noted that this was the year of his death, and it was conjectured that the stress of this loss may have contributed to it. Ed.]

Luthien and Beren grave in Oxford.

2 Language and Myth

Words can be beautiful if their own right. JRRT invented a language NEVBOSH – “a secret vice”. “Great green dragon” – to do with the rhythm of language. Language comes before the stories. JRRT had a passion for north-west languages and their sound; they seem to reflect hidden things. He regretted no mythology for England.

In the mid 60s, the RC Church was no longer a secure place: liturgy, birth control. The Mass – representing a sacrificial act inspired by love. Sam’s part in the Quest were compared to this.

In 1969, Camilla Unwin (granddaughter of the publisher) wrote to JRRT for help with her essay “What is the purpose of life?” and he responded.

The prayer of praise. God is praised. The speaker compared the ringbearers when they are praised.

He played a recording of Christopher speaking the extract about Beren and Luthien in Doriath. Characters in the Silmarillion are more mystical.

Session 2

  1. Beowulf

Dr T. told the Beowulf story (although he missed out Grendel’s Mother!). Tolkien’s Tower image – Christian or Pagan? The hostile world – man’s inevitable overthrow. The monsters always win but men do not give up.

The battle of Maldon – undefeated in the long defeat – the Christian faith. The worth of defeated valour.

2. Fairy Stories

JRRT gave a lecture in honour of Andrew Lang. Not about fairies but Faerie. The story must be true not a dream etc. You must believe in the sub-creation. Comparison with Science Fiction such as that of Ursula Le Guin whose stories have humans and other creatures. The key is the language coming first in comparison to e.g. Klingon grammar books which came after the drama.

Man is made in God’s image so we want to make our own creation. [Within the group God’s image was thought to be the foundation of the desire to create/sub-create. Tolkien’s depiction of the sub-creation process involving Morgoth and Aule was mentioned. Ed.]

The romance mirrors our own world/reflects on what is happening, such as Satan in Paradise Lost; The Last Battle C.S. Lewis; The Silver Chair C.S. Lewis (in which those living underground see their lives as the only true life).

The eucatastrophe.

C.S. Lewis’s conversion during the walk with JRRT and Hugo Dyson. He was moved by northern myths so why not by Jesus’ death? [The group considered the sacrificial act of Odin/Wotan, and Julie compared the death by treachery of Baldur. Ed.]

Mythopoeia – poem by JRRT (1931) in which he defended mythology.

Humans have a sense of loss – exile from Eden? [The group considered this to be a narrow explanation and it was proposed that in place of the very general ‘humans’, the term ‘Christians’ would be more fitting and accord with the speaker’s focus. Ed.]

  1. Allegories

Are there echoes of Christianity in JRRT’s work? Are there allegories? For JRRT, allegories are too much like pleading [the group was not sure what this meant. Maybe ‘special pleading’? Ed.] LOTR is its own story. Felt that CSL was pleading in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn meet Gandalf in Fangorn. Was this comparable to the resurrection. Seen by His disciples?

Lembas is the eucharist? Galadriel is Mary? 25th March – the Annunication; date of crucifixion in Anglo Saxon times.

Letter to Christopher about there being orcs on our side.

Christianity in LOTR? The beginning of The Silmarillion raises the nature of evil. What is the influence of the Creator? He works through Grace. There are no religious practices (some exceptions – Sauron’s temple; prayers to the Elves) [the group mentioned other examples, such as the grace before meat, and Damrod’s invocation. Ed.] Compare the Book of Job when the sons of God are singing.

Evil is not the equal of good but is a perversion of good. Mention of the views of St. Paul, and of Aquinas.

Why was Shelob described as evil when spiders are good for nature? But she came from Ungoliant who was evil. [I thought Ungoliant personified the process of perversion. Ed.]

Evil: independent: separate or part of?  The speaker described this as ‘The Big Difficulty’.

Free will – independent to do good or to do evil? Humans must have freedom. Humans are a mixture – orcs on our side. Gollum – good and evil. [Eileen proposed that baptism creates the choice. Ed.]

Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm published around the same time as LOTR! [we compared the treatment of power and cruelty in them with The Lord of the Rings and questioned whether it fitted the pessimism of northern mythology. Ed.]

Gandalf’s ring brings light out of darkness.

Session 3

1 The books.

Dr T. read from the Sammath Naur episode when Frodo keeps the ring.

Failure by Frodo.

Gandalf’s restraint.

Gandalf has a veiled power. Why is the book called after Sauron? Is it? [the group considered whether the title refers rather to Iluvatar. Ed.]

The black speech is based on an extinct Turkish language – Hurrian, located in Northern Mesopotamia. The speaker quoted the Ring verse in the Black Speech.

Edwin Muir [poet and critic] criticised LOTR because there’s no room for a tragic Satan. [I thought that this fitted with the difference between Muir’s interests reflected in his poetry, which relates symbolism and some myth to real life, while Tolkien’s work presents total immersion in his secondary world. Ed.]

Slaughter of the orcs – good people doing evil. The Battle of the Five Armies – not clear who is “good” [we considered the theory that it is impossible to have bad without good. Chris reversed this. Ed.]

1944 letter from Christopher. Orcs. No-one is irredeemable. There is a difference between Gorbag and Shagrat [it was proposed that this was a difference in their ‘morals’, or alternatively in their intelligence. Ed.]. Evil only creates counterfeits; it is a parasite.

The Ring represents the power to dominate.

There are three Elvish purposes – to preserve, to keep and invent beauty. Perhaps Sauron attempts to control this – involvement with Celebrimbor and craft creation until seen through.

Hobbits have an unusual resistance. Frodo took on the Quest voluntarily and willingly. He was meant to have it – grace or providence?

Dr T. referred to the Lord’s Prayer regarding trespasses/temptation. The characters cannot save themselves.

Pity is taken on Gollum so the Quest is achieved. Pity could be seen as foolish in the short term but God pities. Frodo is saved from the Ring by Gollum. It is sad that Sam stands in the way of Gollum’s redemption. Sam fails to exercise pity [we qualified this as ‘at all times. He does so occasionally.’ The Quest is a group effort. Ed.]

The wizards are sent to support and advise and encourage rather than intervene directly. Gandalf hands over to the Valar.

Is the book in tune with the pessimistic northern mythology? Or, with reference to 1944 a consideration of power and evil and the weak failure to do anything good.

The long defeat – decision making at Minas Tirith – attack Mordor or the long defeat. A choice of evils.

The long defeat? But the eucatastrophe is achieved. Evil destroys itself [it has no presence of own]. The presence of Sam – he carries Frodo. Compare the act of carrying the cross for Jesus.

  1. The films

How does the film deal with Frodo’s failure? There is a need to be explicit. New dialogue. “I have to believe he can come back.” Frodo says this of Gollum because he is thinking of himself.

(George MacDonald – Lilith – fantasy on punishment and salvation.)

“I have to destroy it for both our sakes.” Not in the book but spelt out for the audience.

Conclusion

LOTR – the Christian questions. Death and transience, e..g. humans and elves? The downside is nostalgia. Elves fight the long defeat.

The final battle has been won through the Cross and what is left is mopping up until the end of the world.

Max Weber – Tolkien was working against the disenchantment of western secular society.

The book represents a Christian truth.

END

As a result of Laura and Julie’s report, and our awareness of the speaker’s discussion of good and evil, I tentatively proposed that if we were ever to break out of the constant recapitulation of the same attitudes to good and evil, we might consider looking at theories of good and evil other than those of Augustine, Aquinas, and Boethius. I proposed looking at something on Zoroastrianism, and venturing into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This suggestion was received with more enthusiasm than I had expected. I will report further developments in this direction in future blogs.

First in November

11.11.17
Dodging some heavy showers, five of us gathered this afternoon. Julie, Ian and Mike were unable to join us for various reasons, and we have heard from Carol that for a while she will not be sending her Comments as she will soon be off on her travels. She will keep in touch via the blog, as will Julie while she is away from the group.
We had not set any specific amount of reading for this week’s meeting but Angela began the afternoon’s discussion by referring back to Ian’s remarks on the Entwives last time. Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings (3.4) in Treebeard’s account to Merry and Pippin it was in the First Age that the Entwives left the Ents and crossed the Anduin. The region later known as the Brown Lands became their gardens but earned their desolate name when they were destroyed during the war of the Last Alliance.
Laura observed that the Ents themselves were keepers of the ancient Rhyme of Lore, and she went on to remark that when Yavanna goes to see Manwe about protection for growing things, she reminds him that some trees had voices to sing during the Creation period.
Eileen remarked that in The Lord of the Rings there seems to be evidence of distant communication between trees.
Laura commented that this seems to echo in the primary world, where the function of microrhyza in the soil benefits plants of all kinds, and in the Navaho tradition planting of 3 specific crops together nourishes all 3. www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet
I questioned the significance of laughter in Chapter 1 of the Quenta Silmarillion. Laura remarked that Tulkas is like a mix of Loki and Thor – the mocking trickster but with physical power. Angela wondered whether the laughter of Tulkas is malicious or a sign of the evaporation of anger.
Laura observed that the planning of the Valar is not good because they don’t forsee the effect of Tulkas on Melkor, thus the Valar are shown to be flawed, like all gods. Laura also wondered if Melkor is suffering from self-loathing as well as self-love?
Angela pondered where the Valar would be without Tulkas.
Laura remarked that there is a lot of detail in the Lost Tales about the Chain used to restrain Melkor, and its magic name. Chris noted that in spite of his punishment Melkor does not change or reform.
Thinking of repentance, I asked if we can compare Melkor and Gollum? Eileen replied that both are subtle in their malice. Laura wondered if both are tools in the great Plan. Eileen suggested that a negative side was needed to show choice and development. I wondered why Iluvatar didn’t obliterate Melkor. Laura noted that Melkor is in effect Iluvatar’s ‘child’, or maybe Melkor cannot be obliterated because he is in Iluvatar’s mind.
Angela observed that at the wedding of Tulkas and Nessa, she danced while Tulkas slept.
Changing the focus, on the matter of presumed omnipotence, Chris noted that Iluvatar clearly doesn’t know about the origin of the Dwarves because he has to accept them.
Laura observed that they were part of the Music but also part of the concept of free will – not known but part of the Final Plan.
Chris remarked that Aulë created the Dwarves to be able to cope with Melkor. Laura wondered if he made them in his own image – skilful and strong. Chris questioned ‘was Iluvatar going to create Dwarves himself but being pre-empted by Aulë had to create hobbits later?’ and pondered whether, if hobbits had not emerged, they would have been the destroyers of the Ring? Laura supported this when she remarked that Dwarves don’t seem to be drawn to the Ring, they don’t amass gold, but they know the value of their own work. Chris noted that the strength of the Dwarves also appears as a characteristic of hobbits.
I wondered why Elves were not capable of destroying the Ring, because they are the favoured race? Laura remarked that all Elves are open to flaws.
Eileen observed that hobbits are unobtrusive and that Legolas and Gimli come from different perspectives to understanding.
Laura referred us to the statement that ‘beasts became monsters of horn and ivory’, and observed that these describe forms we love, but they were perverted form. Laura also remarked that Melkor also spoils the original shape of the world and that he has such a grip on his own melody that he can warp things.
Eileen commented that Melkor is unpredictable but powerful, and Laura remarked that his power is negative. Eileen added that he has a narcissistic trait. Laura compared him to crime novel psychopaths who want to be recognised by the police for their brilliance.
Chris noted that there is no communication between Melkor and Iluvatar, although Aulë and Manwë both communicate directly with the Supreme Power.
Laura noted that while Melkor is being caught, restrained and punished, Olórin (Gandalf) is learning pity from Nienna, but does not communicate this to the other Valar.
Laura remarked that the Old Testament God is also distant. She went on to observe that when Melkor’s underground fortresses are destroyed ‘Sauron they did not find’. Laura thought this inverted syntax particularly impressive. She went on to remark that the Ring of Doom (Judgment) reminded her of the Icelandic Althing where legal disputes were presented for judgment, and that this had the connotation of bleakness and cold. She also observed that the description of the ‘knees of the Valar’ reminded her of the monumental statues of Egyptian pharaohs whose family were often depicted as small figures only knee-high beside the ruler.
Angela argued that the Valar were not exerting control, but teaching. Laura proposed that Melkor was only interested in exerting control.
Angela went on to note the comment that few Men knew of the Vanya Elves as they went into the West and stayed there permanently. In TSil Chapter 3 it explains that the Vanya ‘are the Fair Elves, the beloved of Manwë and Varda, and few among Men have spoken with them.’
Eileen noted that Melkor tries to scare the newly awoken Elves and Laura commented that the ‘dark rider’ prefigures the Black Riders.
Eileen remarked that Melkor began by relying on chaos, but now he has plans.
Laura brought us back to lighter thoughts when she drew attention to the list of stars and remarked that there is an echo of this in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian.
We did not set any particular reading but agreed to read as far as we have time and resume our discussions at Chapter 4 ‘Thingol and Melian’.

Last meeting in October

28.10.17

We missed Julie and Mike this afternoon, and those of us who met battled determinedly against the noise of the local Oktoberfest (nothing like the famous Munich event). Carol sent her comments (quietly) and they can be found at the end of this blog, but in fact we began the meeting with Carol’s thoughts and question:

‘Flame Imperishable’ reminds me of Gandalf especially fighting the balrog. Melkor begins the discord. He wants to create his own ‘things’ apart from Eru’s creation. Melkor is initially the chief of the Ainur but he can’t find the Flame Imperishable. Still not sure what this represents but it’s a secret Eru keeps to himself. Gandalf is guardian of the ring of fire. Is he Eru’s direct emissary, even though only a Maia, who remembers the prime directive of non-interference through power only encouragement. Any elucidation on the Flame Imperishable, what it means etc?

Laura began our responses to this when she remarked that it is too obvious to say that the Flame is the Holy Ghost.

Ian took a positive line on this when he observed that it is something to do with the Holy Ones (i.e. the Valar). He expanded this by noting that Melkor imagines, as opposed to the Valar who bring into being and fulfil and don’t imagine.

I observed that Melkor thinks the Flame is external to him and so he seeks for it when in fact it is part of him.

Ian proposed that Tolkien is exploring ‘possession’ and acquiring as a trait which determines future actions.

Eileen noted the importance of the combination of thought and music.

Laura remarked that Aule creates the Dwarves without wanting the Flame and compared this to Melkor desiring to create in order to possess. Ian commented that Melkor doesn’t create but corrupts.

Chris whimsically suggested that the Flame is an ignition system deployed by Iluvatar so that the Valar can create.

Ian observed that Tolkien himself creates in a way very unlike the 70s fantasts who were working at the time when The Silmarillion appeared because he creates at a semantic level.

Ian went on to remark that if we look for the Flame we ignore the fact that we are the Flame and can therefore sub-create, which is fulfilling the Plan.

Laura observed that there are actually 2 Flames in the myth because the balrog is the Flame of Udun. Laura went on to contrast the Flame Imperishable to the eternal fire in Rider Haggard’s She.

Ian objected that Tolkien’s version is not like Haggard’s, which is an attempt to make myth manifest in a ‘real world’.

I wondered about the difference between Aule’s desire to create the Dwarves and Melkor’s desire to create. Laura commented that Melkor corrupts Elves to create orcs and this is considered the worst of his actions.

Chris observed that Melkor squanders his strength and therefore cannot create. Ian added that Melkor burns out his power. In the context of Melkor as Vala and therefore ‘infused’ with the Flame, Eileen saw this as a paradox. Chris characterised Melkor as ‘wasteful’, and suggested that when Saruman ‘dissipates’ at the end of The Lord of the Rings, this indicated his loss of the Flame. We noted other instances is similar ‘dissipation’ by other corrupted characters. Ian likened this to entropy and the final dissipation of all energy in the universe.

Eileen observed that Dwarves seem to be created with fear and wondered if this was because they were not created for the right reasons. Ian remarked that Aule is a maker, not a creator, and is exceeding his authority. Angela remarks that Iluvatar gives the Dwarves life and for this reason they cower in fear.

I asked if the ‘secret fire’ was the same as the Flame Imperishable and Angela thought so but Chris and Laura suggested it was not the Flame itself, but like the Olympic torch

We moved on to consider the presentation of the Maiar, and Angela and Laura noted that Olórin is only once mentioned in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela continued with the observation that he walks unseen, while Ossë, Ulmo’s Maia, is ‘visible’ in the wildness of the effect he has.

Laura reflected that as ‘we’ are largely composed of water, Ulmo is in all of us through his universal presence in water.

I wondered what might be deduced concerning Olorin’s effect on the hobbits because he is capable of influencing the hearts and minds of Elves? If hobbits are considered more rustic and susceptible, the heroic choice of Frodo would surely be tainted by Olorin’s influence rather than being the choice of a free will.

Laura proposed rather that hobbits are Iluvatar’s secret weapon. Chris noted that Tolkien didn’t go back to The Silmarillion to add in the hobbits after he created them. Laura went on to wonder who in the ‘pantheon’ would have created them. I suggested that Yavanna might have.

Ian wondered about the timescale between the loss of the Entwives and the appearance of the hobbits. This could not be resolved at the meeting, but led us to consider the prospect of miscegenation.

Angela returned us to the main thread of discussion when she asked whether Yavanna would consult Ilúvatar? I remarked that she had consulted Manwë about the plight of growing things, and he had consulted Ilúvatar, and this was the authorisation for the Ents.

Ian brought the discussion back to the problem of fitting elements of fantasy into primary world conditions, identifying this as a problem for readers. 

With that we had to call a halt to the meeting. We did not set specific reading for next time as we shall proceed through the chapters at the pace dictated by the amount of detail thrown up by our discussion.

Carol’s Comments:

VALAQUENTA, of the valar

Tolkien recognises male and female, not just the patriarchal God of Christianity. Mostly, life under the sun needs male and female to procreate.

‘Manwe and Melkor were brethren’ – brother against brother, seems to be a recurring theme in mythology, Cain and Abel for example.

‘for Melkor she [Varda] knew from before the making of the music and rejected him.’ I think this may have contributed to Melkor’s contrariness, loving a female he couldn’t have.

Ulmo-Poseidon? This is how Tuor sees Ulmo while trying to find Gondolin.

The sea-longing is created – which comes down to Legolas and Frodo

‘Of the Enemies’

Can we equate Melkor with Lucifer? They are both fallen angels through want of all-encompassing power over everything.

Valaraukar are balrogs ‘the scourges of fire’. I think Gandalf had to fight a balrog in Moria as they were both maiar of fire, the balrog the Flame of Udun, and Gandalf of the Flame Imperishable.

Sauron, like Gandalf is a maia but I think stronger because he served only himself using cruelty. As evil, he could use dirty tricks with impunity, whereas Gandalf had to play fair.

 

Supplementary to First in October

Apologies for omitting Carol’s Comments from the main blog, here they are:

The Music of the Ainur

Note the high-flown language. ‘themes of music’ – medieval music of the spheres?

‘and the splendour of its end’ – Tolkien never really elucidates further on Arda’s end. We know that the music goes awry in places due to Melkor but at the end ‘then the themes of Iluvatar shall be played aright.’

Melkor creates discord and for some time is allowed to get away with it, him not realising he’ll never be boss – hubris. Then Eru smiles… It is one hell of a piece of writing, The silence rings in one’s ears at ‘the music ceased.’

Whatever evil is done in middle-earth is also part and parcel of Eru’s plan and contributary to the whole. ‘no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me.’ – whatever Melkor may think he’s created of his own volition and pride, Eru is still in charge and in combining all the melodies ‘things more wonderful’ will come of it that Melkor himself ‘hath not imagined’. ‘Iluvatar arose in spendour.’

‘if he will’ – giving choice and free will. I suppose Melkor could be likened to Lucifer, both becoming fallen angels. Melkor wants control ‘to have servants and subjects…and to be master over other wills.’

‘this shall be my own kingdom and I name it unto myself.’ Like the Christian creation story, Melkor want ‘power over’ and not ‘power with’. He wants dominion.

The ‘new world’ created by the Music is described as ‘globed’ but in the first age it is flat and only ‘globed’ at the end of the First Age to make it harder to reach Valinor.

Tolkien is pointing us to the ‘simple’ beauties of nature and not wanting to possess and control them, but to admire them as they are. We’ve lost this, in my opinion, partly due to the Christian creation story where God gives us dominion over. And look where it’s got us, though I admit I do appreciate modcons and comfortable interior sprung mattresses but also appreciate slugs and worms and try not to harm them. I try to let everything have its own being.

Don’t you just know people like Melkor? If they can’t have, they mar. Very childish.

Back again! First meeting in October

14.10.17

As we gathered for our first meeting in October, after a long lapse owing to Oxonmoot and a five-week September, it was good to learn that Ian’s paper at Oxonmoot had been a success. We were also delighted to welcome Mike back to the group this afternoon, as we plunged a little hesitantly into The Silmarillion, once again for most of us, but for the first time for Eileen.

It was no surprise then that Eileen opened the discussion by remarking on the proliferation of names. She went on to ask what the Valar are as characters? I suggested that they are not really ‘characters’ but personifications.

Eileen then questioned whether we are looking at myth or at the work of imagination? I suggested that for the Elves The Silmarillion records very ancient history, but for other later races it would be received as myth, but of course, it is Tolkien’s imagination at work.

Laura picked up my comment that the Valar include spirits of nature when she remarked that many societies had or have beliefs in multiple spirit forms, including nature spirits, but this does not account for Melkor. I suggested that Melkor could also be a ‘nature spirit’ because he controls the kinds of weather that are most inconvenient and destructive. Laura observed that Melkor perverts what other Valar do, and Eileen remarked that he unsettles nature.

Mike commented that Melkor is disruptive before the Creation because he has a bit of everyone else’s gifts. Eileen remarked that he starts with resentment, and Laura noted that discord happens very early.

Mike used the analogy of an orchestra – if one player, though capable of playing all instruments, tries to play all parts, resulting in cacophony. He went on to observe that Ilvúatar is never limited.

Mike also observed that Tolkien does not create a Judeo-Christian parallel in his view of Creation and its participants, and that by contrast ‘Angels’ don’t have free will. Laura wondered if mortals have more free will.

Moving on from this perennial question, Chris directed our attention to the first sentence of the entire work and Tolkien’s statement that ‘There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar.’ Chris wondered – could there, according to this wording, be more than one Universe? We did not find an answer to this.

Ian referred us to a theory that power finally destroys itself. Chris wondered ‘if power corrupts, will Ilúvatar get corrupted?’

I remarked on the need Ian’s reference suggested for limiting the power of evil and good and that there is a need for opposites to control the development of power. Laura remarked that oppositions make Men better. Mike commented that for Men death is the drive to succeed and get better. Laura remarked that it is the drive to make the best of one’s self.

Chris changed the topic with his observation that The Lord of the Rings is not in the end optimistic.

Mike and Angela both remarked that the Elves and Gandalf had served as a ‘backstop’ against trouble, but at the end of The Lord of the Rings they leave the mortals.

Chris continued his theme when he asked ‘why would Ilúvatar create a world with so much sadness, and end in a great battle?’ Mike posed the counter-question about suffering, ‘how then would the virtues, like courage, exist?

Mike then wondered, if the Ainulindale was written down by the Elves, was there divine inspiration, or was it just their view?

I proposed that it was more like the kind of ‘history’ presented in Beowulf – some of the story was indeed recognisable as historical fact as far as its Anglo-Saxon audience was concerned, even though much of it was based in myth and imagination. But this sense of history could not have the same relevance for later readers, and while for the Eldar the Ainulindale had historical relevance, because some of the Elves had lived in Valinor, for mortals it did not have that.

Angela noted, however, that divine blood continues in Aragorn’s bloodline.

Ian commented that Tolkien’s vision was of abstractions personified not subject to primary world limitations, and that Tolkien was feeding back the influences that made him write, particularly ‘northernness’.

Mike commented that many creation myths shared common themes, and he cited Persian myth as an example.

Ian remarked that the impermanence of life leads to the desire to transmit ideas, and also to preserve the earth. Mike observed that it’s about self-preservation, or destruction, and that that this pushed us outwards.

Laura remarked that on the other hand going to the Moon was the result of hatred and rivalry between nations. Ian noted that our power to destroy all life has still not been used, but there is a need to preserve it for the future.

Angela noted that Elves don’t have to sail away, they can stay in Middle Earth and fade, and Laura commented that ‘we’ have diminished them. Ian commented that in the secondary world fate is pre-determined.

Eileen remarked on the importance of transitions in life and the ways of coping with them. Laura observed that Olorin (later Gandalf), learns pity and patience from Nienna.

Ian noted Tolkien’s appropriation of the values of William Morris, including the untarnished elements of the past.

After some intense discussion we had to call our meeting to a halt. With plenty more to say about the 2 chapter we had been considering, we agreed that next time we would address the topics of the Maiar and the Flame Imperishable among other things.

 

First (and only) meeting in September

9.9.17

We were a small group this afternoon, with Chris and Angela otherwise engaged, and Ian attending an event at Sarehole, Tolkien’s childhood location before the move to Birmingham itself for his and Hilary’s education. It has resulted in a shorter than usual blog report, but it was no less intense.

We confirmed that there would be NO meeting on 23rd September because the majority of Reading Group members would be attending Oxonmoot. Then four of us finished the group’s latest reading of The Lord of the Rings, and Eileen’s first. Carol’s comments are added after the main report because her focus remained primarily on Aragorn and Arwen, while ours was directed towards the Shire and the hobbits.

Eileen expressed concern about various members of the Fellowship splitting up but we reassured her that Frodo met Bilbo with Elrond and his companions as they passed through the Shire, and that when they reached the Grey Havens Frodo saw a figure in white beside a great grey horse on the quayside, and that they all sailed away together.

Julie remarked, from personal experience, on the process of sailing down any ‘firth’ and the growing sense of severance it produces.

Laura wondered how long, and in which cultures, the crossing of waters has been a metaphor for or mythical connotation of death. Julie suggested it depended on the geographical location of a culture, but reminded us of the Celtic belief in sailing into the west.

Eileen commented that sailing also had connotations of adventure, but she still experienced a sense of anticlimax as well as shock at the fact that Gandalf was leaving and Frodo was becoming ill.

Julie observed that Frodo’s act of handing over Bag End was part of the process by which he was saying goodbye. Eileen then proposed that Frodo needs and has needed Sam, but gives Sam back what they actually fought for.

Laura and Julie pointed out that Frodo’s illnesses are also the anniversaries of evil, but Eileen objected that until they began she had perceived him as constantly getting over things. Julie observed that what is described is akin to our modern perception of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Laura added that these experiences were worse for Frodo because he had no beloved to return to, and being of an academic tendency he had no real outlet. Julie added that after the Quest he had no task to get on with.

Eileen commented that it was, then, mind over matter while he was on the Quest, but after losing the Ring and not actually completing his undertaking to perfection, Frodo changes.

Julie went on to read Sam’s ‘Well, I’m back’, in the sense of being ‘back in the room’, after a long trip into ‘Faerie land’.

We returned to the matter of where exactly the ship sailed to when it left the Grey Havens, and Laura remarked that the travellers were not going somewhere unfamiliar because they were returning to the Creator.

Julie explained to Eileen the concept of the ‘Straight Road’, which can be hard to grasp, so I offered the analogy of the funeral of Scyld Scefing from Beowulf. Laura was able to quote part of this in the original, while I explained to Eileen that the ship that carries Scyld on his last journey is simply pushed out from the hythe and moves off onto the ocean, and the poet tells us that ‘no one knew who unloaded that ship’. In both cases the ship moves from the temporal world into the mythical.

Laura and Eileen both remarked on the poetic prose of the story, while Carol had commented in the context of the Appendix A story of Aragorn and Arwen that ‘the writing is elegiac.’

Julie and Laura compared Bilbo’s forgetfulness about what Frodo has done with the Ring to the memory loss that is sometimes characteristic of old age.

I then asked about the timeline set out in Appendix B which shows that in Shire Reckoning 1419, the year the Ring goes into the fire, it is August 28 when the hobbits overtake Saruman and he then turns towards the Shire. Noticing that the Battle of Bywater takes place on November 3rd, I wondered how so much destruction could have taken place and the new brick building erected, as well as the Mill, in such a short space of time. Laura remarked that Sam must have seen the truth when he looked in Galadriel’s Mirror. It was not a prediction but a view of what was actually happening at the time! Julie also proposed that the destruction of the Shire must have started quite soon after Frodo and Sam left, when Aragorn was occupied with tracking the hobbits on the Road and meeting them in Bree, leaving the Shire vulnerable to incursions from the South.

Laura suggested that the Shire was protected in order to shelter Frodo.

Eileen noted that some invasions had come from the north in previous ages, and Julie recalled Aragorn’s comment that Barliman lived close to creatures that would ‘freeze his blood’.

I reverted to the Calendar to question how fast the mallorn tree in the Party Field comes into flower. Eileen, Julie and Laura all in various ways remarked that it was an instance of the need for the willing suspension of disbelief, but Julie also noted that Galadriel makes things grow, and that Yavana grew Telperion.

That brought our deliberations on the Appendices to a close, and The Lord of the Rings as a whole.

We took the decision that the group would begin reading (rereading) The Silmarillion. We did not suggest any chapters, but as we will not meet until October perhaps we might simply read as much of the Ainulindale as we have time for.

Carol’s comments:

Glorfindel makes the prophecy: ‘far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall’ – by a woman and a hobbit.

Eorl’s horns coming to the rescue unlooked for to the Gladden Fields is mirrored by the arrival of Theoden and co. to the battle of the Pelennor Fields, in the nick of time.

With Ecthelion II we’re getting close to the time of The Lord of the Rings and in particular Thorongil ‘a great leader of men’. Ecthelion was everything his son was not, though he did show undue favouritism to Thorongil, just as his son would show undue favouritism to his elder son.

Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth is often referred to as kinsman to Denethor but nothing more specific. Here it’s made clear. He is in fact brother-in-law to Denethor and brother to Finduilas, deceased wife of Denethor.

Where did the Dunedain live before the ring quest? The descriptions of Aragorn’s first sight of Arwen at dusk, head bound with stars – Undomiel, even-star of her people. gulp! gulp!

Arwen foresees her doom as the same as Luthien’s. Elrond speaks of his tragedy in losing Arwen to mortality and Tolkien remembers his years apart from Edith.

All the errantry, meeting different people and serving other lords, will make Aragorn the king he becomes – merciful, tolerant, just, wise. When Galadirel clothes him in silver and white, it’s this vision of Aragorn that Frodo sees on Cerin Amroth.

The doom of men does come hard to Arwen in the end but now she understands the motives of the Numenoreans. It’s just too sad for words, not only Arwen and Aragorn gone, but Lorien and Rivendell and legend becomes plain history.