Last Saturday in February


We were without Tim this afternoon, but he sent his comments and notes in advance of the meeting. Regretably, I did not have time to print off Tim’s comments, but add them here where appropriate. Many can  be found at the end of the main report, and there I have included some of the discussions from the meeting where they fitted in better with Tim’s detailed observations.


We were discussing the section on ‘The Unwritten Poem’ this week. Having been alerted to the misattribution of a comment on Boromir, Faramir and Denethor, in the last blog, I should say first that although I attributed it to Angela, it was in fact Ian who made the observation, and I’m grateful for the feedback.


This afternoon Ian began our discussion with his observation of Christopher Tolkien’s acknowledgement at various points in The Fall of Arthur of the problems of editing and dating his father’s attempted integration of the Arthurian material with what would become part of the Silmarillion material, at around the time he was working on The Hobbit.


This led Ian to ask ‘so what was the point of the Hobbits in this context?’ In response to his own question he proposed that Tolkien was used to seeing the small figures of all kinds, including grotesque babewyns and Grylli, peering out of the margins of medieval texts.


Angela proposed that Hobbits were an ‘interruption’, and that the four major hobbits seem marginal to the action going on around them in LotR. Mike proposed that hobbits developed in a ‘bubble’ that was the Shire. Laura wondered whether they had been sung into existence in the Music. Mike thought if that was so then they represented the ‘grace notes’. Laura then wondered if Iluvatar had become disenchanted with the life forms he had already created because they were so disruptive, and created something simpler and more peaceful.


Ian suggested as an example the chapter ‘The Shadow of the Past’ in which Gandalf is explaining the huge history of the rings while outside there is a hobbit (Sam) listening by the window – apparently marginal to the action in all possible senses.


Julie reminded us that before art discovered the theory of perspective, lesser figures in paintings were shown at half the height of the major figures, and she cited the case of depictions of saints with images of donors of the pictures as much smaller figures.


Pat then asked why it is that everyone in Tolkien’s stories goes into the West: Arthur as much as the Elves, and selected hobbits. Ian suggested the West represented the great Mystery of what lies beyond the horizon.


Laura noted that the West is used in various sayings, such as ‘Go west young man’. Julie remarked that the fabulous islands of the Hesperides with their golden apples lay to the West. Laura then cited the colloquialism denoting something broken or no longer functioning – ‘it’s gone west’. Mike suggested this derived from military slang ‘U.S’, unserviceable.


Ian noted that ‘gone west’ was also a euphemism for death at the time of the Great War when naming death openly when it was omnipresent was taboo. Angela reminded us that Frodo and Sam go west to be healed. Ian added that this echoed one version of the ending of Arthur’s life in Britain. And I observed that  several Tolkien of Tolkien’s heroic mortal characters head west in ways that suggest death (e.g. Tuor) although some, like Beren return.


Laura thought that in Tolkien’s version of the Arthurian material Guinevere is treated sadly when we are told that she and Lancelot met one last time and parted in grief and without love. In his notes Tim commented:

p.164 Fate of Lancelot and Guinevere – Lancelot meets Guinevere on road from Romeril. They are not the L&G of Malory.

p.166 Last meeting of L&G – desolation and emptiness. “Where is Arthur?”

“Lancelot had no love left but for Arthur.” Not going to live rest of days in penance – sails into the West to follow Arthur, nothing ever heard of him again.

p.167 Tale of Lancelot is re-enactment of tale of Tuor, father of Eärendel. Tuor built Eärámë – Eagle’s pinion – Tuor and Idril sailed into West. Eärendel built Wingelot and voyage to (a) find Idril & Tuor and (b) to reach shores of Valinor. Achieved neither.

p.168 We last see Guinevere watching Lancelot’s ship departing into the west, and her own life of loneliness and self-pity. Last lines of verse – CJRT says they have the “air of an epitaph” –

“Guinevere grew grey in the grey shadow

all things losing who at all things grasped”

 – reminiscent of the Elves diminishing – though Guinevere doesn’t sail into the West.

Angela observed an echo here of the fading of Arwen after Aragorn’s death, and also reminded us that Christopher traces in Lancelot’s question to her ‘Where is Arthur’, an  echo of Morwen’s question to Hurin concerning how their doomed children found each other – which Hurin refused to answer, as Guinevere refused to answer Lancelot.

Pat picked up the rebuking of Arthur when he weeps for the death of Gawain, rather than planning to avenge him. Angela noted that Eomer also condemns grief for the fallen at the Battle of the Pellenor Fields, and Aragorn urges the fellowship not to weep for Gandalf.

Pat also commented that Arthur was a forgiving king, and I observed the difference between Arthur’s compassionate and thoughtful attitude and Gawain’s hotheaded behaviour. Laura remarked that forgiveness was not appreciated in that warrior society. But Mike commented that Caesar forgave Brutus for his betrayal when he joined Pompey against Caesar.  This in effect nullified Brutus’ influence in Rome. Mike remarked that forgiveness can be a powerful political tool.

Laura set us considering the matter of Mordred’s complicated alliance with Saxons, Frisians, Irish, Picts, and assorted ‘Paynims’ (pagans), and the problems of language and communication. Mike explained that battlefield communication would have been done with horn calls, and many of the alliance would have been mercenaries.

The matter of the Nine Worthies required some research. Mike knew Julius Caesar was one, I confused 2 of the Paladins with the 9 but after checking we managed to find all the names of this strange assortment of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian ‘men of renown’.

As we continued our intermittent discussion of what it meant to go west, the Scilly Isles were mentioned, and their relation to Lionesse, while Julie reminded us of the sunken forest recently revealed by the storms in Cardigan bay, concluding that there clearly had been land in the west that was now drowned.

Pat and I then discussed an example of Tolkien’s revision of poetic form, from a gentle expanded form to the tighter alliterative form he favoured for much of the finished poem. Pat described this as a ‘cruel’ form as distinct from the ‘romantic’ and gentle form. I too had been interested in the changes Tolkien made and noted the preponderance of present participles in both forms, but the absence of a number of prepositions and articles from the tighter form. Pat and I differed in our response to the loss of these small ‘unnecessary’ words (my description!) Julie, however, observed that in the ‘gentler’ version they serve as ‘washers’ between hard consonants.

Tim noted pp.135 After Battle of Camlan and the deaths of Arthur & Mordred, robbers search the field – why? For what? Spoils? Excalibur?

We noted that robbers or scavengers were for many centuries usual on battlefields, as Tolkien notes in The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, where they plundered the dead of valuables. Angela considered the apparent absence of scavengers associated with battles in LotR, as orcs don’t seem to rob bodies. However, I thought the references to the eating something better than horse-flesh might have signified their cannibalism, in which case the battlefield would have been ready source of provisions. Julie also pointed out the way they fight over the mithril shirt.

Ian suggested as a result of his reading of this part of The Fall of Arthur that he felt the need to read Tolkien’s The Lost Road, so we added it to our reading list.

But our reading for our next meeting will be to finish The Fall of Arthur.

Tim’s Notes and Comments

pp.126-129 Narrative outline and earlier narrative outline both tantalising and intriguing

pp.129-132 Arthur’s lament; pp.133-134 Arthur’s vow

pp.136 Lancelot sails west & never returns. Eärendel passage. Guinevere flees to Wales.

pp.137 whether Lancelot finds Arthur in Avalon & will return no one knows – also tantalising. 

pp.137 Eärendel passage linking Britain-Avalon-Valinor-Earth’s border

pp.139 departure of Arthur

pp.140 differences between sea & lake re: fate of Excalibur / differences between boat & ship re: fate of Arthur

pp.140 earliest record of Camlan in 10th century Annales Cambriae, entry under A.D. 537 (or 539 depending on which book you read) “Guieth Camlann” (Battle – also translated as Strife – of Camlan)

Full entry: “Guieth Camlann in qua Arthur & Medraut corruerunt”

                   “The Battle of Camlan in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) fell”

Entry doesn’t indicate whether Arthur & Medraut were foes or allies

p.141 location of Camlan – river Camel – Camelford (Cornwall) ?

Arthur buried in hermitage at end of Mort Artu & stanzaic Morte Arthur – not Tolkien’s vision of Arthur’s fate

p.143 Malory – vale of Aveloune – absent from Mort Artu

literature indicates location of Avalon lies out to sea not inland hermitage of Glastonbury

p.144 discovery of Arthur’s “grave” at Glastonbury in 12th century during reign of Henry II.

Giraldus Cambriensis (Gerald of Wales) describes leaden cross affixed to underside of coffin telling how Arthur buried “in insula Avallonia”

Full quote: “Hic iacet sepultus inclytus rex Arthurus cum Wenneveria uxore sua secunda in insula Avallonia”

“Here lies buried the famous King Arthur(us) with Wenneveria his second wife in the isle of   Avallonia”

Gerald equated Glastonbury with Avalon – inis Avallon = insula pomifera

“aval” = British for apple

(Welsh) Ynys Afallach

p.145 Morganis took Arthur to Avalon to heal wounds.

Discovery of grave drew publicity to Glastonbury Abbey – drew pilgrims – drew money

The Fall of Arthur not concerned with Glastonbury. Avalon was island in remote West – only one mention in poem, by Gawain (l.204)

p.146 Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini account of Avalon and Arthur coming to Avalon

“Insula pomorum que fortuna vocatur” – “the Island of Apples which is called the Fortunate Isle”

The Brut of Laȝamon – earliest account of Arthur’s departure. Battle at Camelford. Armies come together at Tamar, long way from Camelford.



“Bruttes ileveð ȝete þat he bon on live,

and wunnien in Avalun      mid fairest alre alven,

and lokieð evere Bruttes ȝete      whan Arður cumen liðe.”



“The Britons believe yet that he lives

and dwells in Avalon with the fairest of all elves

and the Britons ever yet await when Arthur will return.”

Passage is “peculiar” to Laȝamon, nothing like it in Wace’s Brut.


p.149 Relationship of Arthurian Avalon and Tolkien’s Avalon.

Tol Eressëa – the Lonely Isle.

CJRT – relevant to try to discern Tolkien’s thinking on the matter of Avalon when working on FoA.

1930s JRRT and CS Lewis decided to write stories

CSL = space travel – Out of the Silent Planet finished 1937

JRRT = time travel – The Lost Road – not completed. Around this time he began writing LotR. We discussed at the meeting the relationship between Tolkien’s writing and that of C.S. Lewis, as part of the wider discussion of the chronology of Tolkien’s writing, since The Fall of Arthur coincided with The Hobbit, and The Notion Club Papers coincided with his writers’ block during LotR. Mike remarked that CSL had published Out of the Silent Planet in 1937,  and maybe Tolkien was feeling a sense of pressure.

p.150 Tolkien’s time travel hero at drowning of Atlantis, to be Númenor – “Land in the West”

Pairings of father-son all with names meaning “Bliss-friend” & “Elf-friend” —-

Edwin – Elwin in present times

Eädwine –  Ælfwine in c. A.D. 918

Audoin – Alboin in Lombardic legends

Amandil – Elendil – leaders of the loyal party in Númenor when it fell under Sauron’s sway

Documents the beginning of the legend of Númenor and extension of Silmarillion into Second Age

p.151 Fall of Númenor – second version – “Eressëa, the Lonely Island, which was renamed Avallon: for it is hard by Valinor” – one of first occurrences of Avallon for Eressëa

p.152 [quote] “And they [the Valar]… in Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, which is Avallon… the light of the Blessed Realm”

Etymologies (The Lost Road and Other Writings)

LONO-  lóna – island – Avalóna= Tol Eressëa=the outer isle

AWA- away, forth; out. [Quenya] ava – outside, beyond – Avakúma – Exterior Void beyond the World

Etymologies do not accord with “hard by Valinor” in FoA

p.153 Ælfwine 10th century Englishman – mariner who sailed Straight Road – came to Lonely Isle & learned histories from Elves as described in Book of Lost Tales

p.154 “… when some man of Eärendel’s race hath… seen the glimmer of the lamps upon the quays of Avallon”

CJRT – evolution of Silmarillion, plus Lost Road, plus “severe doubts and difficulties” all sufficient to account for JRRT turning from FoA

p.155 circa August 1937 – date of abandonment

p156 CJRT convinced Tol Eressëa connected with Arthurian Avallon

1954 statement re: Eressëa

Avalon (Arthur) and Avallon (Tol Eressëa) associated by both having character of –

“an earthly paradise far over the western ocean”

Lancelot-Eärendel link – ref. Eärendel passage

p.158 “Bay of Faery on the borders of the world”

phrase/reference often found in JRRT’s early writings. (Lays of Beleriand)

p.159 “dragon’s portals” (BoLT1); “dragon headed door” (BoLT2)

“galleon of the Sun” through the Door of Night (Shaping of Middle-earth)

p.160 the Ilurambar – Walls of the World; Ando Lómen – Door of Timeless Night

Great voyage of Eärendel to Valinor in relation to Lancelot to whom Tolkien was “now ascribing a great voyage across the western ocean”

Gawain’s ship Wingelot “Foam-flower” same as Eärendel’s ship, Vingilot / Vingilótë

Chaucer alludes to the “Tale of Wade” in Troilus and Criseyde, also using the phrase “Wade’s boat” (MHYPERLINK “”EWades boot), meaning some sort of trickery, in The Merchant’s Tale. The tale and the boat were familiar to Thomas Speght at the end of 16th century (editor of Chaucer’s works) who noted that Wade’s boat named Guingelot. Wade was ferryman & protector.

Speght’s passing remark: “Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, and also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I pass it over.” 

“Wingelock” is Skeat‘s reconstructed Anglicized form of the boat’s name.

Clive Tolley: “Old English influence on The Lord of the Rings”:

 “Where was Eärendel to get his vessel? Tolkien turned to another legend, preserved in just as fragmentary a state: that of Wade, father of the legendary smith Wayland. Wade is mentioned twice by Chaucer, who revealed he had a famous boat (see Chapter 4, p. 109). Wade’s ship is cited also in 1598, in Thomas Speght’s edition of Chaucer. Speght made the frustrating comment: ‘Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, as also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I passe it over.’ Guingelot is a Norman French version of an original Wingelot, the very name of Eärendel’s ship in Tolkien. The name is highly unlikely to be original as the name of Wade’s ship. It is Celtic in origin and is, in fact, probably a mistake on Speght’s part. It is more usually found as the name of Sir Gawain’s horse in the Arthurian cycle, including in the English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which Tolkien edited and translated. This very anomaly may have been the thing that attracted Tolkien. In his world, the anomaly disappears and Wingelot becomes ‘Foam Flower’, a beautiful name, the meaning of which derives in part from the fortuity that lóte, clearly derived from lotus (a flower with a strong literary tradition going back to the Homeric Odyssey and later including Lord Alfred Tennyson), already meant ‘flower’ in Elvish, Tolkien’s invented language.”

p.161 hills of Avalon (Eärendel passage) means Tol Eressëa

In the context of The Silmarillion Tol Eressëa renamed Avallon

In an Arthurian context Tolkien was writing Avalon for Tol Eressëa

Parallel between two great westward voyages. Second poem – “extraordinary associations”

p.162 two pieces of verse from pp.137-138 – “Eärendel’s Quest” & “Arthur’s Grave” – not clear which came first – EQ more polished so later? CJRT feels EQ came first, changes to names seem to indicate Avalon was Tol Eressëa. 

CJRT’s argument/reasoning seems weak, inevitably speculative – obviously his father isn’t around now to quiz about this. If only. Avalon “in some mysterious sense” is identified with Tol Eressëa.

p.163 quote from The Lost Road – “my father was envisaging a massive and explicit linking of his own legends with those of many other places and times” In the meeting Chris asked us if we thought Christopher Tolkien did not enjoy editing. We thought he was honest in this text about the difficulties he faced working through the huge amount of his father’s manuscripts.


Please see the end of the meeting report above for our next reading.

First Saturday February


In spite of the expected stormy weather everyone who could get into the Library made the trip – a few people were already doing other things – but 8 of us gathered to continue reading The Fall of Arthur, ‘The Poem in Arthurian Tradition’. We had already discovered in our reading that Tolkien drew on the best-known sources of Arthurian legend: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s late 12th century Historia Regum Britanniae, the alliterative Morte Arthure, the French romance Mort Artu, the stanzaic Morte Arthur and Thomas Malory’s late 15th century Death of Arthur.

In view of this range of influential material, I began the discussion by asking if everyone found the chapter on Tolkien’s use of the Arthurian tradition more or less confusing than the Commentaries on sources in Sigurd and Gudrun.

Angela said she needed to make notes, while Laura said she found the Arthurian material less tricky to work through. Tim observed that the chapter we were reading provided a useful summary of sources.

Chris remarked, with a hint of subversion: ‘which version would Peter Jackson make’!

We spent some time discussing the kinds and functions of the sources – especially the political agenda behind Geoffrey of Monmouth’s text. Mike suggested – with reference to critical opinion of the source texts that once academics establish the status of a text there is no challenge. Ian commented on function and motivation that there may also be a desire to record oral history on the part of early authors of what is now called ‘pseudo-history’. That this is not necessarily connected with political legitimation such as that posited for Geoffrey’s work, but might depend on funding from the rich and powerful.

Tim questioned whether it was possible to regard Geoffrey as indulging in his own act of ‘sub-creation’ as he put together tales from ancient sources of his own?

Mike observed that people have always been filling in gaps in what is already known, and that things are taken as fact until they are proved wrong. We all discussed a range of problems associated with knowledge and Ian remarked that knowledge is often a matter of interpretation.

I mentioned that we are used to being sceptical but at the time when the Arthurian source texts were written critical questioning of established authorities was not acceptable and had to cautiously attempted. The classic later example is Galileo, who was forced to recant his heliocentric theory of the universe because it challenged established theory.

Mike returned us to the text when he asked if we thought Tolkien was satisfied with his version of the Arthurian material. Laura remarked that he too was rewriting the old legends. Ian noted that his treatment of Arthur’s return home may have provided a ‘moral’ to the tale but since the poem is not completed Tolkien left the argument unfinished. Mike observed that not finishing things was Tolkien’s problem. Chris remarked that Tolkien just seems to have liked creating the poetry.

Mike observed that Tolkien was making the older, and sometimes difficult, material accessible for a newer audience. Chris added that Tolkien was writing for a modern audience in his characterisation of Guinevere, who is accorded more self-determination, more psychology, and emotion than is customary in the sources. Mike then asked about the characterisation of Mordred, and whether it retained in Tolkien’s poem the same negative aspects traditionally linked with the character. We searched the chapter and found that the alliterative Morte Arthure provided the basis for Mordred’s lust and threats against Guinevere, as well as her escape from him. Other aspects of Mordred’s characterisation were much as we anticipated. But we considered possibilities such as the influence of the wicked regency of King John on Tolkien’s depiction of Mordred as a violent usurper.

Angela compared the relationship of Arthur, Mordred and Gawain with that of Aragorn, Denethor and Boromir, and possibly Faramir, as there are 2 versions of Gawain in the source texts. In the better-known version Gawain is called ‘the Good’ and is heroic and loyal. In the less well-known version he causes a violent feud.

Our discussions were wide-ranging as new topics constantly opened up before us, but it was agreed that we would read the next chapter in the book:The Unwritten Poem, and its relation to The Silmarillion’.