First August meeting


It was good to see everyone (only Vicky was absent) at the meeting, and to catch up on various things to do with The Return of the Ring conference, Ian’s new research interest, Angela’s almost-completed book, while munching through Laura’s LotR birthday cup cakes! We did eventually get down to our discussions, and this week we were starting The Book of Lost Tales 2, and the opening chapter ‘The Tale of Tinúviel’.

[A word of explanation, when a name is given below in the form e.g. (later Melian), this means that in late published versions of a story with which we are most familiar this is the name we find, not the versions used in this text.]

Angela began with the observation that when the young Elf Vëannë begins the story saying: ‘I will tell thee the Tale of Tinúviel’, this is almost exactly what Aragorn tells the hobbits when they are oppressed by the darkness on Weathertop. We had noted at our last meeting that some elements of the earliest versions of the Silmarillion stories came down into the published version virtually unchanged, but that there should be a pre-echo of LotR was rather surprising.

Pat took us on to consider a small and interesting detail that Timpinen (Tinfang Warble) travels in a boat drawn by swallows, and she wondered why these birds rather than the more usual swans, or gulls. Laura remarked that swallows are great travellers, and that is apt, but on checking again, what we missed was that Tinfang is described as ‘the breath of the summer’, and it is as he leaves the Lonely Isle in autumn that swallows draw away his boat – a clever interpretation by Tolkien of the departure of swallows that signals the onset of autumn.

Pat then challenged us with her question concerning Tinúviel, why does she dance among hemlock, which is poisonous? I recalled seeing, probably in one of Tolkien’s letters, his justification that as far as he was concerned all umbelliferous flowers were the same. Laura noted a fairy tale element in the way Tinúviel hides from Beren under the leaves of the plants, and Julie thought this raised problems about how big she is supposed to be. Angela thought surely not of the size we would think of from Tolkien’s later descriptions of Elves as rather taller than Men. It was observed that Elf and fairy are used apparently interchangeably in this early text, and size doesn’t seem to be firmly established in Tolkien own mind.

Pat posed another question at this point, asking how Beren, a member of the hated race of Gnomes in this early version, managed to get through the barrier that would later be known as the Girdle of Melian? I suggested that the fairy elements of the story involved us in not asking for a strict kind of logic to be maintained, but as in other fairy stories, things happen because they must, not because they are rational. Angela commented that in The Silmarillion there is mention of a ‘greater Power’ that oversees Beren’s passage into Artanor (later Doriath). Pat remarked that there are instances of the strong influence of the Valar in this early text too.

Angela also went on to observe that in Tolkien’s stories women are almost always described as wearing white. But in this story Gwendeling/Wendeling (later Melian) wears filmy black garments ‘jet-spangled’. We thought this might be attributable to Tolkien’s youth at the time of composition. I was surprised by the statement that Gwendeling was a ‘sprite that escaped from Lórien’s gardens’, and we all expressed surprise at this construction of a rebellious spirit.

Anne wondered whether there was any connection between the name Gwendeling and the name ‘Guinevere’. I could not recall any, except that the ‘Gwen’ part means ‘white’, and Guinevere’s name in the original Welsh versions of Arthurian legend is Gwenhwyfar.

Laura picked up the story of Gwendeling’s life with Tinwelint (later Thingol) and the statement that they “very long indeed were king and queen of the Lost Elves of Artanor or the Land Beyond, or so it is said here”. Laura thought this way of expressing their reign was beautiful and very much in the fairy tale style.

Laura also noted the description of Tinúviel as the ‘twilight lady’, which locates her significantly between times.

Anne wanted to know the significance of the use of ‘thrall’, in comparison to the term ‘enthrall’. We concluded that a number of words of this kind have changed their significance as belief in magic died out. Thrall being originally a term for a slave, ‘enthrall’ meant originally to ‘enslave’ – a purely negative sense, which has now lost its power. Laura cited the example of someone who is ‘enchanted by a glamorous woman’. To enchant once meant to put a spell on, while ‘glamour’ meant ‘occult/ magical’.

After this foray into diachronic meaning changes Pat observed that there is a parallel between the meeting and wooing of Gwendeling and Tinwelint and that between Beren and Tinúviel.

Anne picked up a further linguistic matter, wondering why Tolkien gives 2 versions of Gwendeling’s name, sometimes using ‘Wendeling’. It was observed that different branches of the Elves use these variant forms. Christopher Tolkien adds a note to explain that originally his father had used ‘Wendeling’ throughout, but changed it twice more in various versions.

Laura noted that Gwendeling rebukes Tinwelint when he opposes Beren, but does so in private, while Galadriel also rebukes Celeborn’s harsh condemnation aimed at Gimli, but she does so in front of everyone. Tinwelint clearly forgets or ignores how he had felt about Gwendeling in his opposition to Beren, but this paves the way for what is essentially a fairy tale ‘task’ – the search for a silmaril.

Changing the subject from Elves to cats, Anne was interested in the architecture of Tevildo’s castle which has no doors on the ground floor, and no windows. Laura was of the opinion that cat-flaps were in use, and cats jump very well anyway. I suggested that like any really ancient fortress, a door halfway up a wall was more defensible because it had to be accessed by ladder, which could be drawn up in case of attack.

Mike remarked on Tevildo’s feline doorkeeper who was in need of a snooze after carrying Tinúviel. Chris pointed out this was the effect of the magic garment she was wearing. Pat remarked that people travelling on animals reminded her of the Narnia stories. Laura thought there was a good deal of Tolkien ‘getting at’ cat behaviour, which Angela recast as him taking a swipe(!) at them.

Pat took us back a bit in the text to wonder at Tinúviel being allowed a spinning wheel while in her tree-house prison. We noted its association with the garment that causes drowsiness, and Laura reminded us that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fell into her long sleep.

Julie continued the fairy-story theme, and commented on the avoidance by Tolkien of the exact Rapunzel motif. Tinúviel lets down a rope made of her hair but not for Beren to climb. She climbs down it and escapes. Angela noted that as in our last session, hair continues to be strong and useful.

Chris wondered why Tolkien so carefully provides a justification for the lie Tinúviel tells Tevildo. The little story teller intervenes at this moment to say “yet have I never heard that any of the Eldar blamed her therein nor Beren afterwards, and neither do I.” Mike proposed that it echoes the sentiment behind St Augustine’s justification of the ‘just war’ – it is justifiable if it is needed to avert a greater evil.

After this serious moment, Mike noted a rare instance of Tolkien creating a joke around Beren’s inability to sound like a cat when sewn into the skin of the slain cat-lieutenant Oikeroi. Tinúviel tells him “…thou hast the air of a very noble cat if thou but hold thy tongue.” Mike was also amused by the account of Beren’s dislike of having his tail pulled by Tinúviel.

Pat went on to remark on Tevildo’s magic golden collar, and wondered if it was an early concept later picked up to become the One Ring. Both confer power, and hold ‘magic spells’.

Angela and Laura observed that Tevildo is in fact and ‘evil fay’, and not a real cat. Laura also thought that the name ‘Oikeroi’ looked Greek, while the long version of Tevildo’s name in the second version of the story looks Welsh: Tiberth Bridhon Miaugion.

I was surprised to see that the name ‘Tinúviel’ had originally been given in a Welsh form ‘Tynwfiel’. Laura noted that since the gold collar was given by Melko this must mean that he owned Tevildo. Angela then wondered if the great cat was microchipped!

Pat thought Tinúviel’s dance before Melko highly reminiscent of Salome, and she wondered if indeed flattery does work on tyrants. Mike and Julie were convinced of this.

Laura liked the moment when Beren outfaces Tinwelint declaring that the silmaril is indeed in his hand, but the hand is in Karkaras. I liked Beren’s degradation of the value of the silmaril as he says “it is but a little thing found by the wayside, for once methinks thou hadst one beyond thought more beautiful, and she is now mine.”

With some of us attending RotR between now and our next meeting we agreed to read as much of the next chapter ‘Turambar and the Foalókë’ as we each have time for.

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