Last Report for May (late)

26.5.12

Apologies for the lateness of this posting. It includes at the end the comments Omer sent in April, so this should now bring us up to date.

We began with lots of ‘Any other Business’ as Ian updated us on his involvement in the Leeds Blue Plaque project and the Sarehole event of last weekend. He also proposed setting up a Twitter account for the Southfarthing, and raised the matter of Tolkien Reading Day – already!

I passed on the news from Carol and Rosemary that they are planning a visit. For technical reasons to do with Google, I also let everyone know that I would have to post blogs on WordPress from now on and Ian said he would link southfarthingmathom.blogspot.com to SouthfarthingMathom2012.wordpress.com.

With all that out of the way, and in spite of the police family day outside, complete with Chinese dragon dancers, drummers, and small children trying out the air-horn on the attendant fire engine, we did our best to get on with our discussion. The chapters were ‘The Coming of the Elves and the Making of Kôr’, and ‘The Theft of Melko’.

Laura said she had woken up during the previous night with the inspiration that something about our reading reminded her of H.Ryder Haggard’s She. When she looked it up she realised that in this story the ‘plains of Kôr’ are, like the Kôr in Tolkien’s tale, a place of great age.

Angela observed that after the mention of snakes last time, in our current reading there were whales – another unusual animal in the Tolkien bestiary. Chris wondered if fish came into the category of pre-existing creatures. Angela reminded us of Ulmo’s ‘fishy car’ – an interesting mode of transport.

Continuing the maritime theme, Laura remarked on the unusual degree of tension between Ulmo and Ossë, who are constantly at odds. She also thought the ‘gods’ in this early version have human flaws much like the ancient Greek and Norse gods.

Ian observed that in the alteration of the characterisation of the Valar from this early form to the later form in TSil we see a development of ideas from the Greek model to Tolkien’s more thoughtful forms.

Mike suggested that we see the development of characters according to catalysts for change. The coming of the Elves was the catalyst for changes to the Valar; later Men and hobbits served as catalysts for changes to the Elves. Mike also noted that in the early version the ‘gods’ are active.

Ian proposed that the reason for Tolkien creating so many versions of his stories was to account for these changes and developments.

Mike remarked that the difference between what was pre-existing and what was created in the music was the difference between spirit and matter. We had wondered about the range of pre-existing creatures mentioned by Tolkien and how this fitted with the Music. Mike suggested that while Ilúvatar created the notes, he left these to the Valar to arrange. [This was a thoughtful line of argument which needs to be recorded, but I have incomplete notes and so the logic has become lost – apologies for this.]

Kathleen said she had found all the personal names confusing, and Angela remarked that their difference and novelty makes The Silmarillion seem easier!

Angela was interested in the 700 seagull means of moving the swan ships, and this led Laura to note that many myths exist concerning human closeness to animals and ability to communicate. Mike regarded the human desire to communicate with animals as morally dangerous. Ian thought there had perhaps been a time when we communicated better with other animals until our development of ‘culture’ intervened. Laura reminded us that in prehistory we had been prey animals. Ian extended this to suggest our species’ need for us to communicate danger, and a resulting intellectual separation.

Discussing similarities and differences, Laura went on to noted that in these chapters there is no mention of Aulë creating the dwarves. Angela observed that Tolkien uses the same motif of jealousy incited by Melko.

Mike wondered if the Valar could be seen as the makers of their own misery because they keep the Elves as ‘pets’. Their arrival even causes Manwë to get so excited he becomes unwary in his judgement of Melko, and Mike drew a parallel between the effect of the serpent in Eden and the effect of Melko in Valmar – both incite ‘better’ beings behave in ways that become humiliating to them.

Laura, Kathleen and Angela all agreed that Manwë came across as reasonable in his judgements, although Laura qualified this by describing Manwë’s approach to Melko as laissé faire.

Chris changed the tone of the discussion with his observation that Tulkas is disobedient. This prompted Ian to declare this Vala a great character. His active part in opposition to Melko was approved and we turned to the vexed question of the treatment of Melko’s herald, who is thrown off the top of Taniquetil. Any assault on a herald was strictly against the rules of chivalric conduct, but Angela thought this episode in ‘The Theft of Melko’ may have been the pattern for the beheading of the Mouth of Sauron by ‘Aragorn’ in RotK the film. Ian noted that Herodotus had set out the rules of conduct in classical times.

Angela then remarked on the confrontation between Ungoliant and the Elf with his sword steeped in Miruvor. It is not the same nectar-like drink here. I commented on the patterns of the encounters between the Elf and Ungoliant (here given 4 different names including Gwerlum). The Elf shears of one of her legs in the first encounter, then Melko grabs the knife from him and stabs it into the Tree, Silpion, which fails and dies from the poison of her black blood on the blade. The pattern for Sam’s maiming of Shelob, and the Ringwraith’s wounding of Frodo with a poisoned blade both seemed to me to have passed down the decades from this early version.

I drew attention to some of the consequences of Melko’s violence, most impressive for me was the reference to Varda riding out with Manwë and carrying a star as a torch to light the way as the Valar hunted down Melko. The reference to the brother and sister warrior ‘gods’ Makar and Meassë was more amusing. As Angela noted, they ride with the Valar, at this time. Previously their allegiance had not been clear. They were not very helpful however: the narration reads: ‘ either Makar was too late or Melko’s cunning defeated him – and the mind of Makar was not oversubtle.’

Laura noted that the ‘gods’ of the ‘underworld’ such as Mandos and Vé did not take part in the hunt.

Laura went on to comment on the creation of gems by the Elves, and was joined by Angela in remarking on the combination of light and colour that make up the Silmarils in this early version. Angela went on to note that the creation of gems almost exhausts the materials out of which they are made, and she saw this a very modern insight. Laura saw it as a reflection of human greed while Kathleen commented that the gems always bring out the worst in people.

Mike posed the question: did Melko only want the gems because others wanted them? Ian responded by wondering why Melko, the personification of evil, would be attracted to beauty, and proposed that the motivation desire for created things because he could not create anything, but the Elves can.

Mike then noted Tolkien’s apparent blindspot about the general infrastructure of Elven and Valar society. Angela observed that some infrastructure was included in LotR because mention of Sam running a bath means that there must be plumbing and hence plumbers! Sam is a reminder that there were gardeners, and we know about postmen too, but there is no such practical structure in the Far West. But it was of course noted that practical matters are not the material of mythology.

After a busy afternoon, we agreed to continue our reading with Chapters 7, on the Noldoli and 8 on the Sun and Moon – quite a lot, but that only leaves us 2 more to go.

Here follow Omer’s comments. He wrote on 27th April:

The latest blog (152) brought to mind several ideas/connections such as (a) the element of greed in Smaug; (b) giant-slayers in myth (of which we have some too), and (c) the theseus/Athenian cycle, the black sails and Denethor – as Theseus’s father also plunged down in despair from a high place, in the tradition of the royal house of Athens. Also worth mentioning is that, supposedly, the first king of Attica was Cecrops – half man, half dragon! Tolkien’s works open up so many complexities!

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