First Saturday, March


This blog is rather shorter than usual as we spent a good deal of time in a discussion of the transmission of technology and culture – a topic provoked primarily by all the publicity current about the Viking exhibition in London. The topic was relevant to the matter of Arthur, but we did not get round to discussing the transmission of the various strands of the Arthurian legend, even though this was our final week reading The Fall of Arthur.

When we did get on to our reading, Ian informed us that he had discovered that only 1 review of the poem has appeared so far, in Amon Hen, and that was only a analysis of errors discovered in Christopher Tolkien’s Commentary on the medieval sources – hardly a helpful or representative overview of the poem itself, its relationship to its sources, and to Tolkien’s wider legendarium. [Ed. The matter is in hand]

Tim noted Christopher’s expressions of regret that his father did not finish the poem, and that no background material to Canto V seems to exist. Ian remarked on Christopher’s desire for more. Tim said he would have been willing to wait a bit longer for LotR if we could have had The Fall of Arthur finished.

Ian went on to comment on the subtleties of some of the changes of wording Tolkien made during his revisions, which show different motives behind his descriptions. Ian noted that Christopher provides further insights into his father’s process of writing – sometimes careful, sometimes hasty.

Julie observed the ease with which Tolkien lapses into the rhythms and style of alliterative verse even in prose, having just been reading ‘The Window on the West’ in LotR, where the prose shows at times all the aspects of alliterative verse. Angela remarked that the alliterative form was natural to Tolkien.

Ian remarked on Tolkien’s creation of a series of synopses to guide the creation of the poem. These show intended changes of mode.

I asked what the effect would have been if the original Canto 1 introducing the poem with the relationship between Mordred and Guinevere had not been replaced with Arthur’s journey into the Saxon lands? Tim thought it would have introduced the poem with a more negative feel. Chris observed that sidelining Arthur in that way would have misled readers.

Ian remarked the poem has a feeling of positive activity, but knowledge of Mordred gives the reader a sense of ‘the enemy within’ while Guinevere is the one who influences everything. The blame shifts to Mordred and Guinevere, and the present Canto 1 shows Arthur’s fault in leaving his kingdom.

Laura directed our attention Lancelot and Guinevere – referring us to the fact that we were meeting on International Women’s Day. But she thought the story rather overdid the courtly love idea.

Tim thought Arthur’s treatment of Lancelot and Guinevere revealed his ‘fatal flaw’, and Laura thought his treatment of them was intended to show his area of weakness.

Angela drew our attention to Christopher’s naming of a ‘final’ version of the text of the poem, in contrast to our understanding that with Tolkien no text was ever entirely ‘final’. Julie added that he went on considering whether to use the spelling ‘orc’ or ‘ork’, even after publication of the relevant works.

For our next meeting, closest to Reading Day, we will choose any Tolkien text we like that deals with the topic of HOPE. If time permits, we will also begin looking at Finn and Hengist.

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