We began this afternoon began with a couple of matters of special interest. The first involved looking at photos of the unveiling of the blue plaque in Darnely Road, Leeds, commemorating Tolkien’s time there. Everyone who had not been able to attend was glad to see what the plaque was like, and I was delighted to relive the memory of a special day. Congratulations on the achievement of the collaboration with Leeds Civic Trust were due to Ian for all his hard work.
The next matter was the chance the Southfarthing have been given to have a display in the Library to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. That required a fair bit of discussion about posters and other aspects of the display.
When we finally got on to our main discussion of ‘The Nauglafring’ there was a certain amount of catching up to do as some of us had missed the session on Tuor.
Mike started us off with the observation that in general Tolkien’s works show everyone constantly engaged in some kind of struggle, including the struggle against their own nature, or to discover it.
Laura observed that there is a sense of everyone, including Tolkien being ‘driven’, and she noted that Mein Kampf translates as ‘My Struggle’ and that Hitler was profoundly driven.
Ian moved us from political struggle with his comment that Tolkien seems to be struggling to find the spiritual element in the world.
Angela remarked that the story of Tuor in LT2 is more detailed than in The Silmarillion, but that there is still less about Tuor and Idril than about the other ‘great’ couples in the legendarium.
Mike thought that the story of the Nauglafring includes a lot of court politics, an unusual element in Tolkien’s stories.
Laura reminded us that the dwarf necklace is a carcanet and this word has overtones of slave collars, which fits very well with the way its wearers are enslaved to it by desire.
We spent a while discussing what the Nauglafring looked like, and the process by which it was put together to hold the silmaril.
I then asked about the way the dwarves are depicted in this story and Laura observed that it was perhaps easy to be ‘dwarf-ist’ about them. Mike remarked that they reminded him of H.G. Wells’s Morlocks, and Angela noted that they are described as going into battle in the company of orcs – and they don’t like daylight. Mike added that they are cast as untrustworthy, and Angela contrasted this to the way they are shown in LotR as honourable.
The strange Elf who goes by the name Ufedhin prompted our interest and Mike observed that he seems to be a catalyst for trouble, and in spite of the trouble he is associated with, he is not killed.
Laura noted that many curses are involved in the story, including those exchanged, and for Laura these recalled the importance of curses in fairy tales and in Irish folklore. She also noted the use of clever speeches by Ufedhin and others, and likened this to the wily speech of dragons.
Mike observed that in the story gold is evil but needs Elvish or human evil to really work.
I commented on matters of status and shame as Ufedhin comes to Tinwelint’s (later Thingol’s) court dressed more richly than the king himself and proceeds to denigrate the casket in which the silmaril is preserved. We also noted the king’s dismay at being given a crown of gold when he had always worn a crown of scarlet leaves.
Laura noted that the casket is a wooden box bound with iron. Mike wondered if there was some sense of a holy value to the wood, and Angela commented that in LotR Aragorn’s crown is brought in a box made of valuable wood. Mike then wondered if the wood was that of a particularly long-lived tree.
I wondered if the iron banding had some kind of protective quality in the way that witches cannot bear the touch of iron. It was observed however, that Morgoth has the silmaril set in an iron crown, and Angela observed that he lives in places associated with iron. The power of the silmaril to burn the flesh it touches led Laura to suggest the iron was the equivalent of military ‘countermeasures’, while Mike suggested we were looking at an ‘enriched’ silmaril.
Mike and Laura both commented on the humiliation of the last feast imposed on the dwarves by Tinwelint before they leave the court. Their previous humiliation is increased by this enforced hospitality.
Mike drew our attention to the traitor Narthseg, an Elf of Tinwelint’s people who suddenly appears merely to betray the Elf kingdom (later Doriath) and then disappears again.
I then mentioned that I was impressed by the descriptions of the effect of Gwendeling’s (later Melian’s) eyes. Ufedhin shuns their gaze, then cannot dismiss the memory of her ‘dread eyes’, and his heart ‘shrivelled under the memory of their glance.’ I remarked that this reminded me of the threat to Eowyn from the Lord of the Nazgul ‘thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind left naked to the Lidless Eye.’
Angela pointed out that there are in fact many instances a daunting gaze, including Galadriel’s, that abashes all but Aragorn and Legolas, and she thought the power of the gaze was more like a theme.
Laura picked up Gwendeling’s comments about the unravelling of her magic under the attack of the dwarves, likening the imagery to that associated with the Old Norse gods and the Norns who wove and cut the threads of life.
Changing tack, Laura then commented on Ufedhin’s vile joke about the threatened revenge of the king when he says ‘But already is he come’ as the dwarf king enters with the head of Tinwelint.
Mike then observed that when the scene shifts from the plundered court, Beren will not listen to the advice of Luthien and Gwendeling and reject the necklace.
Laura noted the ‘dwarf-ist’ laughter of Beren elves at the sight of ‘ill-shapen’ dwarves fleeing from battle in disarray.
As we have noted with previous tales in BLT 2, there is a good deal more detail in this story than in its later form in The Silmarillion. While in a number of places it can clearly be seen as a ‘work in progress’, it reveals new dimensions to Tolkien’s thinking. Some of these seem strange but we have regarded then as evidence of a younger mind at work, as opposed to the mature revisions of later years, both by Tolkien himself, and by Christopher as his editor.
Our next meeting on 27th will be slightly different as we have agreed to hold our small Hobbit event in the Library (discussed earlier in the year). We shall be downstairs in the ‘comfy chairs’ so as to look after our display, and we shall chat about The Hobbit there.
For our first meeting in November we move smoothly on in BLT 2 to read and discuss The Tale of Eärendel.