We have had what seems like a very long break from our discussions, although it was only 1 meeting that was cancelled on account of the Olympic flame and the traffic congestion we anticipated. It was nice to see everyone again after the break, although we missed Ian, Julie and Mike who were all otherwise engaged. We welcomed back Laura after her brief sojourn in the local Houses of Healing, and there was some discussion of matters relating to the attendance of members of the Southfarthing at the forthcoming Return of the Ring Conference.
I also asked for clarification regarding what to do about the compilations of early blog reports, and Chris reminded me that it had been proposed previously that they should be offered as a resource on the Tolkien Society Education web pages. I can report now that this has been done, the webmaster had transformed them into a pdf, and a link is now on the Education Pages.
Eventually, though, we turned to the reading. But that was no simple matter because we decided to revisit the chapters that only Mike and Anne and I had considered at our last meeting, thus delaying our move into The Book of Lost Tales 2, but that should mean that we will all be able to begin this together! Therefore – our last discussion in July was about the last 2 chapters of The Book of Lost Tales 1.
Laura began with the observation that although in the chapter ‘The Hiding of Valinor’ the Valar are even more otiose and unwilling to engage with the state of the wider world than in The Silmarillion, the quality of some of the writing is still of a quality to raise the hairs on the back of the neck, and she cited particularly the statement “and the Valar went not at that time forth to conquer Melko, and the greatest ruth was that to them thereafter, and yet is, for the great glory of the Valar by reason of that error came not to its fullness in many ages of the earth, and still doth the world await it.” The italics show the part Laura picked out as especially lovely.
Anne then questioned whether this particularly archaic and elegant linguistic register had been invented by Tolkien. I replied that he would have known how to create this effect from his academic scholarship because the manipulation of word order that can be seen even in this short passage is reminiscent of medieval and renaissance ‘high style’ which was itself derived from Latin texts. Tolkien’s knowledge of this archaic form ‘from the inside’ as it were is what, I believe, makes his prose style so convincing, in contrast to the self-conscious archaising of writers with a less profound knowledge of early styles of writing.
Pat remarked that she had been concerned that we would be starting BLT 2, because she has a deep aversion to cats. She was more comfortable with the final chapters of BLT 1 except that ‘Ulmo’s deep-sea car’ puzzled her. We all contributed to explaining the use of ‘car’ as the shortened form of ‘chariot’ which is often found in e.g. Shakespeare’s and Spenser’s writing. Laura and Kathleen both thought they caught echoes of C.S. Lewis in some parts of the text.
There was some discussion of the strangeness of Oromë’s ‘thong of gold’, especially as it was made in part from strands of Vána’s hair which he had begged. The making of a ‘rainbow bridge’ (echoes of the Norse Bifrost) from this long lash was only one of the things we remarked upon, but it led us to consider the retention of some early motifs throughout the long years of Tolkien’s development of the legendarium.
Angela was surprised at the use by the Valar of Ungoliant’s webs of darkness to obscure their land from prying eyes, as we thought these webs would have been infected with her evil and thus be repulsive to the touch of the Valar.
We spent rather a long time considering the mythic and folk elements in the construction of time as three aged men take the Valar by surprise. Chris and Laura drew attention to this as an example of what the Valar don’t know, and have to accommodate.
Pat commented on the personfication of the Sun and The Moon, and I noted that they were both conceived as vessels guided by spirit beings, so the personification as metaphor has an ‘earlier stage’ which, I thought, implies a justification for concepts such as ‘a wandering Moon’.
Pat and Laura noticed in ‘Gilfanon’s Tale: The Travail of the Noldoli and the Awakening of Men’ the motif of the diminishing of the ‘fairies’, and its echo in the later story that Elves have diminished as the power of Men has grown. Christopher Tolkien notes the ambiguity of the passage as he tracks his way through various versions, drafts, and manuscripts. This very fragmented chapter shows a work in progress and is again interesting for what can be seen to come down to finished publications, and which ideas were changed or rejected.
Anne asked why the elven drink limpë continued to be denied to Eriol, and Kathleen remarked that it was too strong for mortals.
We agreed to read the first chapter of The Book of Lost Tales 2 for our next meeting, with a special dispensation for Pat who has already encountered Tevildo and Oikeroi. For someone who has an aversion to cats, these are quite a challenge!