First Meeting In June


We were joined today by Carol and Rosemary, making for a rather celebratory feel to our meeting, and to add to the special nature of the day, the sun came out!

We were looking at Chapters 7, on the Flight of the Noldoli and 8 on The Tale of the Sun and Moon, and both Carol and Rosemary remarked that they did not enjoy them because they seemed to them too long-winded especially in comparison to the later versions of both stories in The Silmarillion. Ian commented that while TSil shows us the work of an older writer, these versions give depth of detail for the later work. This was a theme we revisited during the afternoon.

Laura remarked on the way Tolkien’s search for a vehicle for both his invented languages and his love of Faerie can be more clearly observed in these early versions. She went on to draw attention to the strange prophecy concerning the fall of Gondolin which none of the Elves understands because it has yet to occur; the point being that it was already part of Tolkien’s plan. When Laura then suggested that a pre-echo of the Inklings could be seen in the exchanges between the Gnomes Gilfanon and Lindo concerning who should tell the Tales, Ian objected to Laura’s observation on the grounds that when Tolkien wrote these chapters there was no such group as The Inklings! True if the pre-echo had been Tolkien’s intention. Not exactly true for us.

Rosemary got us out of the problems of chronological logic by noting the very different kinds of vocabulary used in these chapters from that used in the same chapters in TSil. Mike, Carol and I observed the way language and mythmaking were both being analysed throughout the chapters. Carol went on to note that both language and myth are elements which bind peoples and cultures together. Mike, Carol and Laura expanded on this by commenting on the importance of both for national cohesion and sense of identity.

Carol commented on Tolkien’s interest in Finnish, pondering the likelihood that this was because it was not like Indo-European. Ian looked up some significant dates and found that Sanskrit’s affinity with Greek and Latin had been posited in 1786, and the Rosseta stone had been deciphered in 1799 – we were exploring the background to the apparent explosion of interest in both philology and mythology in the century before Tolkien, and which underpinned his education. The spread of languages not related to Indo-European was addressed by Diane and Mike who both noted the effect of massive migrations across Asia and into Europe which led to the dislocation of similar language groups.

Laura and Carol then remarked on the frailties of the Valar, Carol citing particularly their remarkable selfishness when they only eventually consider that other parts of Middle-earth might like a bit of bright light too. Diane commented that the weeping Valar recalled the weeping Norse gods who are faced with the loss of their immortality when the giants take Freya as recompense for their building work.

Carol then commented that in relation to the tale-telling in the Cottage and the marvellous and mythic elements in the tales, Tolkien recognised the passing of an English rural society and its similar tale-telling traditions.

I asked what everyone made of Yavanna’s informal title as ‘mother of magics’? and Carol observed that her tree-making is certainly magic. Diane proposed that quite apart from any aptness within the story, the phrase sounds good, has a kind of ‘glamour’ to it, and therefore seems like a youthful choice.

Diane went on to question the assertion by Yavanna that the trees and the ‘magic sun’ can only be made once. Mike suggested this defined a level of external control beyond which the powers of the Valar cannot go.

Mike then went on to note that the making of the sun is a long account of disasters and disappointments as things go wrong, and he wondered why Tolkien chose to structure it in this way. Diane suggested he was writing a dialectic before creating a final draft, and it was observed that this allowed him to work through many potential problems and cover all the bases before editing everything down to a more condensed and effective form in the later Sil.

Chris commented on the ‘depleted’ condition of Palurien (Yavanna) as a result of her creativity, and drew parallels with the ‘depletion’ of Sauron who put a great deal of his power into the One Ring. This theme of depletion through exertion of power, Angela suggested, can be seen in the concept of Morgoth’s Ring which is not like Sauron’s ring, but is the defensive perimeter Morgoth creates in Middle-earth.

Laura then noted that the Valar were surprised that the sun was so hot and bright. Ian whimsically suggested they should have made sunglasses first! I thought the description of the minor Valar Urwendi and her maidens stepping into the firey bath in preparation for piloting the sun reminded me of Rider-Haggard’s She. And Carol commented that we can see the writing of a young man in the description of the naked maiden.

As we started running out of time, I asked for everyone’s responses to The Man in the Moon poem that ends the Sun and Moon chapter. It is a very early version of a poem of the same name in the collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Laura observed that the first stanza of the early version, reminded her of Holman Hunt’s painting ‘The Light of the World’; especially perhaps ‘He was girt with gold and inaureoled / With gold about his head. / Clad in silken robe in his great white globe / He opened an ivory door / With a crystal key, and in secrecy / He stole o’er a shadowy floor.’ 

The rest of Tolkien’s poem is highly entertaining, but I noted that he seems to have had a fascination with the idea of ‘aureoles’ at this time, as the word occurs again in the slightly later poem ‘Perro and Podex’ (Boot and Bottom), which was the first incarnation of the Troll Song sung much, much later by Sam. Carol reminded us then of the way in which Aragorn is depicted in terms of ‘The Light of the World’ when he visits Minas Tirith before taking up the crown after the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Mike explained that haloes only came into pictorial fashion after the 4th century because Constantine has been a sun-worshipper. In an effort to hedge his bets over the matter of religion the sun-halo was introduced in depictions of saints and deities.

Kathleen posed the final question of the afternoon when she asked if there really was a house with many chimneys near to Great Haywood in Staffordshire, similar to the House of a Hundred Chimneys in Tavrobel? The character Gilfanon is said to come from ‘Tavrobel’ which was Great Haywood in Tolkien’s original concept for tying real places into his story of the Elves. We were surprised at Christopher Tolkien’s admission that he had never got round to visiting the place in spite of its connections with his parents and could not enlighten us, but Ian Googled and found that Shugborough Hall near Great Haywood as 80 chimneys!

With that definitive link between life and legendarium we ended our meeting. Our next reading will be the last 2 chapters of The Book of Lost Tales 1, with any appendices we have time and energy for. After that we shall move smoothly on to The Book of Lost Tales 2.

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