Blog 8.12.12
Happily we are safely on the other side of the Mayan Prophecy without any more disturbing signs of the Apocalypse than we are used to, so it is time for another blog, but only a short one as we spent a lot of time discussing other matters, including converting our final meeting before Christmas into a group trip to see the new Hobbit film.
Our reading for this meeting was the final chapter of BLT2 concerning Eriol/Aelfwine and Tolkien’s attempts to tie his emerging mythology to the landscape, geography and ancient history of England. The extracts in which the Elves almost coincide with the Romans, the presence of Vikings in others, and the sense that Elves like Romans and Vikings are part of English ‘history’ was, I found, made more believable in some instances. The group opinion tended, however, towards finding the fragmentary nature of the compilations that make up the chapters of BLT2 difficult to enjoy. The pleasures that are a characteristic response to Tolkien’s storytelling are largely absent when the reader is confronted with the fifth or sixth version of a small section of e.g. the story of Earendil or Turin. And Chris felt the BLTs were essential reading for Tolkien scholars researching the development of the mythology but were hard going for anyone reading for pleasure.
Laura felt that the pronounced Anglo-Saxon elements of the Eriol/Aelfwine extracts were interesting and pleasing to anyone who shared her love of the Anglo-Saxon period. She and Anne and I found a good deal to enjoy in the poetry, and particularly in this chapter the heightened poetic quality of some of the prose – the equal of anything found in LotR.
Laura also drew our attention to the physical geography described in the context of Eriol’s origins. The black cliffs for which he longs, and the land in the east, is Heligoland, which stands in a distant relationship to Numenor. Laura pointed out that in a strange case of life imitating art the actual physical shape of the island of Heligoland was changed after World War 2 when the British military used it to set off the biggest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded. The population (Frisians and hence ancient descendants of those mentioned in the OE Fight at Finnsburg – part of the Beowulf MS) have apparently never forgiven the British for this reshaping.
Mike questioned the sources for the idea of ‘limpe’ which Eriol wishes to drink, and is warned against. None of us knew anything definitive about possible sources for this idea, except my trivial recollection of Alice drinking something that changes her size when she is down the rabbit hole. I suspected that there are folk tales about dangerous drinks, and mortals drinking the nectar of the gods, but have not had a chance to research this.
Laura took us back to Eriol’s post-limpe longing for the black cliffs of his home and likened this to the kind of longing experienced by many island people who find themselves in distant places only to be troubled by home-sickness.
Mike noted that Eriol is no longer permitted to choose loyalty to any race of Men after he drinks limpe but is warned that he will have to side with the Elves in the wars with invading races.
I asked about what I felt was a particularly enigmatic reference to ‘the horizon of men’s knowledge’, and Mike felt that this indicated that men’s knowledge would be forever limited.
Angela was delighted that Tolkien’s Ancient Mariner in the extracts turned out to be Ulmo with his stone shoes. It was interesting that Tolkien pinched Coleridge’s terminology but gave it a more mythic and much less gothic significance, unless the spirit that follows the ship in Coleridge’s version could be regarded as Ulmo!
That was about all we had time for, except for our choosing of the next reading. Julie had long ago expressed an interest in reading some of the saga. Chris was concerned that we should not just read bits – as we did with the Kalevala, and I blithely assured everyone that the sagas were not usually long enough to warrant just reading bits, only to suggest one that is really rather long. However, it was agreed that we would read Njal’s Saga next.
It is available in various formats, including as a free download from Project Gutenberg and at minimal cost from Amazon’s used books section. The Gutenberg option has the benefit of being the Dasent edition that Tolkien would have known. He praised the saga, so it will be interesting to find out why.