Last Saturday in August


It was quite an unusual meeting this afternoon, what with the sudden intrusion of a Lancaster bomber overhead, the lack of 3 of our usual participants, the addition of an accidental new member, and lots of cake! Added to this, Laura brought photos of the triumph of the LonCon masquerade tableau in which Ian had taken the role of Manwë, and Laura had participated in the construction of the spectacular costumes using her beading skills to create decorations, details, and jewellery.

Eventually we turned our attention from the Valar, and cake, to our text: ‘The Disaster of the Gladden Fields’ and ‘Cirion and Eorl’. As in other weeks, Carol sent her comments which are included here.

Angela began our discussion with her observation that Meneldur was glad to be rid of Isildur in the north, and that at last the ancient names now become personalities.

Carol commented:  this was when Isildur wrote his piece about the ring 3434 which Gandalf found and read millinia later.

Boromir inherits Isildur’s pride over the ring and like him realises his mistake before death, surely a cause for Mandos’ grace in both cases, even though the forgiveness is death.

Laura noted that Isildur’s force is ambushed by a band of LOST orcs. Angela added that they didn’t know Sauron had been destroyed, so they were just doing what orcs do, there was no higher command driving them. Laura remarked that they were like the Japanese soldiers at the end of WW2 who held out in the jungle unaware that the war was over.

Laura also noted that the Ring is depicted in this chapter as having greater volition, that it behaves like a puppet-master, and that it’s real presence is more evident.

Chris observed that the description of ‘lurking orcs’ implies that their assault on Isildur was not a determined attack.

Laura then queried the number of Elendilmirs (the single Elvish crystal set in a fillet of mithril worn in place of a crown by kings of Gondor). Angela confirmed there were 2, because a second was made after the first was lost with Isildur.

Pat asked for clarification about the pain Isildur suffers when he puts on the Ring. We explained about the heat of Sauron’s hand lingering. Angela responded by asking whether Isildur felt the pain permanently. Laura wondered whether Isildur’s cry of pain was one of mental anguish, and thought the Ring was like a drug, causing mental and physical anguish.

Pat went on to ask whether the Ring was capable of changing shape because it slipped off Isildur’s hand. I thought there was a statement in LotR to this effect and Angela wondered if this was why Bilbo put the Ring on a chain.

Chris thought the effect of the Ring brought Isildur close to suicide. Angela noted that he admits to his son that he has not the strength to control it. Chris also wondered if Elendil was taking the Ring with him to Rivendell whether he did not know the Ring’s danger? Carol commented, ‘Isildur’s wife and son are at Rivendell, interested to check but only Valandil, the youngest son is mentioned! [All the other sons are riding with Elendil, which bears out Carol’s further comment] All women seem fit for is bearing sons who’ll grow up to die in battle’.

Laura remarked that the chapter shows that even after victory the world is still a dangerous place.

I noted that in this short chapter there were lots of details of battle tactics, and Laura observed that this may be evidence of Tolkien’s time in the Officer Training Corps before WW1.

Angela liked the section on Gimli helping Aragorn (King Elessar) searching Orthanc after the fall of Saruman, in which Gimli’s help leads to the discovery of a ‘steel closet’ found to contain the chain on which Isildur had worn the Ring, and the original Elendilmir. Carol commented:  ‘I like this section because it puts a bit more flesh on the bones of the post-war story. Nothing could really be worse than Saruman’s treachery but finding all these stolen treasures just compounds his crime’.

Angela then remarked on the amount of detail included in the Notes to this chapter, and on the time scale illustrating the long wait for the right king.

Chris wondered if the Great Plague that decimated Gondor affected the Orcs as well. It seems that it did not, so Chris wondered if it came from Sauron. Angela noted that a Númenórean king and his whole family were killed by plague. Laura compared this to the flu pandemic after WW1. Chris then observed that no mundane illnesses are mentioned. I suggested that you can’t have colds in epics, but Angela pointed out that Bilbo gets one in The Hobbit!

We moved on to discuss Cirion and Eorl and the threat posed by the Wainriders out of the east. Chris and Angela remarked on their use of fortified camps of wagons and we discussed the configuration of ‘wains’, as well as the Wainriders’ use of chariots in battle.

Laura and Carol and I all approved of Galadriel’s protective mist created to shield Eorl’s eohere (horse-army) from the surveillance of Dol Guldur as they rode south.

Carol commented on ‘Cirion and Eorl’, ‘what a nice story, putting a bit more flesh onto the bones of TS record. Foretaste of Éomer and Aragorn. Nice revelation of where Elendil is buried. He wasn’t just left to rot in the ruins of Mordor – as if. What else can I say?’

Carol commented on ‘the northmen and the wainriders’: ‘this is like reading “real” history. It also shows Gondor might have grown too proud to even remember the men of the north whom Faramir would call men of the twilight. But they WILL remember eventually and be thankful for the friendship.

No wonder Dagorlad had turned into such a noisome swamp – the dead marshes – when so many people had been killed there and left to rot. If this was really history I think I’d get bored reading about all the fighting but this is Tolkien and as it says on p. 290 without the ride of Eorl and Théoden in the future, the king couldn’t have returned in LotR.’


Carol also asked:

(1) Doesn’t Ondoher (King of Gondor during the assaults of the Wainriders) have spies or scouts? And don’t the enemies have spies or scouts either?

(2) 15 days to travel nearly 1000 miles on horseback, approx. 66 miles per day – can this be done?

(3) was Elendil buried at Halifirien?  If not, what was in the casket that Isildur buried there? And if not, where did Elendil lie?


‘ Numenorean linear measures’

All this section did was send me to my sums. I’m surprised that Numenor was decimal. Decimals have no heart and are cold in colour – black, pale blue and white, whereas old measurements and money are rich in colour and tradition and have grown organically.

We ran out of time at the end of the meeting and did not get round to discussing what to read next. As we have such a long break before our next meeting on 27th September, I suggest at least the next 2 sections of Unfinished Tales. More of course will be fine.



August – First Saturday


It was good to have Julie back with us again this week, and Carol had sent her comments  again as our reading this week picked up Unfinished Tales at ‘The Line of Elros’ and ‘The History of Galadriel and Celeborn’.  But after our usual foray into AOB (any other business), which included Ian recommending the book he had just read Carl Phelpstead’s Tolkien and Wales  for its attention to Arthurian material and the little-known ‘Aotrou and Itroun’. We then noted that ‘Aragorn’s Sword’ from the LotR films is coming up for auction – thanks to Laura’s mother for the newspaper cuttings – we took on the question of ‘whether Elves can commit suicide’. This was a question from a non-Southfarthing member which prompted opposing answers from Laura and me at the time, and elicited a range of responses at the meeting.

My immediate response had been that Elves can commit suicide, but Laura had asserted that this was not possible because they were tied to the existence of Arda. Angela reminded us that Feänor’s mother gave up her life, and it was variously noted that Elves can be re-incarnated, or may be left in the Halls of Mandos, from which Ian extrapolated the suggestion that they could commit relinquish their lives but would be judged by Mandos according to whether they were culpable or whether they deserved to be re-incarnated because their relinquishment amounted to a selfless act.

Angela gave the example of Glorfindel1 who sacrificed his life battling a balrog during the Fall of Gondolin and was later reincarnated in the Second Age. I thought Amroth probably counted as culpable for throwing away his life in a tempestuous sea even though he was in love.

Chris then pointed out the fascinating fact that all the Elves who sail into the West may be said to be giving up on life, and Tim thought this was true of Frodo, although/because he has suffered so much he cannot sustain living any longer.

We considered situation of Arwen, who gives her immortality to Frodo, as well as the situation of Elros and Elrond, one of whom relinquishes immortality in favour of eventual death. Angela then drew our attention to the practice of Númenórean kings who originally laid down their lives and chose when to die.

This rather neatly brought us to ‘The Line of Elros’. Laura said she found it ‘rivetting’ and observed that it reads rather like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, including specific forms of words for dying. It also shows evidence of political thinking. Tim observed that its form equates to tasters of information that prompt the reader’s interest, and that the list of kings emphasises Aragorn’s nobility and lineage.

Tim then noted that the 13th king refused to ‘lay down his life’ and this was part of his general rebelliousness.

Angela observed that the 5th king, Tar-Meneldur, resigned his kingship in favour of his son Aldarion because he realised he was not up to the job.

Laura then noted that Aldarion’s daughter rejected her father’s connections with Gil-galad, but Angela remarked that this showed the extent to which she was influenced by her mother Erendis. I thought it showed that she had no grasp of ‘foreign policy’ and Angela observed that it showed that she was lacking the influence of her father.

Angela went on to notice that Aldarion’s daughter Ancalimë gives rise to a number of female rulers, and a number of daughters who refused to rule.

Laura remarked that the sceptre of Numenor was the sign of the right to rule as it was in Egypt and is in England. Angela observed that this is the sceptre brought by Elrond to the coronation of Aragorn.

Laura then noted that there is a mention of Sauron’s presence later in Numenor, but it is not  developed. She also remarked that by noticing the length of each ruler’s reign it is possible to see the life spans of rulers diminishing.

Ian considered that the great life spans are an effective way of constructing a sense of great spans of time passing.

Laura then remarked that the story of the queen Tar-Miriel is worthy of a book on its own. While Angela joined her in observing that Tar-Atanamir the Great (the 13th king) was dragon-like in his greed. Angela added that the 12th, Tar-Ciryatan, bullied his father out of the crown.

I was interested in the cultural situation during the reign of Tar-Ancalimon when Elvish fell out of favour in the Royal house except for the royal titles which were still in Quenya ‘out of ancient custom rather than love, for fear lest the breaking of the old usage should bring ill-fortune’. I took this to indicate that the dilution or loss of meaning of an historical tradition leads to superstition.

I then questioned why Tolkien created so many versions of some of the most important elements of his stories – even ones already published, or otherwise regarded as completed. Ian suggested that the various versions represented what Tolkien regarded as improvements, but that he was always writing in small chunks. In the case of ‘Galadriel and Celeborn’ the various version might be understood as ‘frames’ which could then be put together.

Laura observed that Tolkien clearly lived with his head full of ideas which needed to be expressed. Ian added that Tolkien recognised that his languages needed stories in which they could ‘live’.

Moving on to ‘Galadriel and Celeborn’, I noted that Galadriel, as one of the Noldor, is described as having been a pupil of  Aulë  and we had previously observed that Aulë’s pupils all tended towards rebellion of various kinds, following (apparently) their master’s original act of disobedience in making the Dwarves. Carol commented:  “Sauron like others who grab power – Saruman, Feänor e.g. – in that he is associated with Aulë who also overreaches himself in creating the Dwarves but unlike the others, comes back into Eru’s fold.”

Tim declared Galadriel to be a rebel, while Laura suggested that at least she was honest with herself when she rejected the pardon of the Valar. Angela added that when she is described as ‘fighting alongside Celeborn at the Kinslaying’ she sounds like a warrior but the concept of fighting probably indicates something other than armed activity.

This led us on to considerations of female warrior elves (!), which then led to the conduct of Thranduil in the second Hobbit film.  Carol had commented that in Appendix B ‘The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves’: “I like it when you get little snippets not found elsewhere or rarely, like Oropher as Thranduil’s dad. Oropher dies at the last alliance.” Angela noted that in the story Thranduil is shown to be clearly traumatised by his participation in the Battle of the Last Alliance.

Tim observed that Appendix E gave a detailed analysis of the names ‘Galadriel’ and ‘Celeborn’ in various forms. Angela then raised the unfortunate matter of Celeborn’s Telerin name, which is given as ‘Teleporno’. Obviously Tolkien could not have known how the final syllable of this name would come to resonate with unpleasant modern significance. This reminded us that we had noted other instances where some elements of Tolkien’s terminology, used at a time when they were entirely proper and innocent, have since changed their connotations, most notably his use of ‘queer’ – peculiar, and ‘gay’ – merry and lively.

Carol commented:  “Interesting this section, names are very important. Is it right that if you know someone’s/something’s true name you have power over them? Treebeard says that names are like a story, they grow and change as we do, hence different names for different stages of life, e.g. Túrin.

Ian then asked why we thought Christopher was so bothered about his father’s non-statement about what happened to the 7 Rings in spite of giving details about Sauron’s raid and theft of the 9 after torturing Celebrimbor. Tim reminded us of the earlier observation that Tolkien needed to record all his ideas, while Julie remarked that in real life we find many variants of histories and myths, and a lack of coherence.

Carol had commented on the story of The Elessar: “The use of ‘the one’ flummoxed me for a second equating it with Eru but it obviously means the one ring. This section doesn’t really grab me but I will say in the mode of ‘real’ legends the story of the Elessar is capable of different spins, like for e.g. different versions of Arthur.”

Julie then went on to observe that reference to the Numenorean fleet approaching Eriador serves as a pre-echo of the Black Ships, when the identity as friend or foe is not known.

Having run out of time, we quickly agreed that for our next meeting we would read the chapters ‘The Gladden Fields’ and ‘Cirion and Eorl’.

Carol’s comments follow here:


Nowt much to say really about the monarchs of Numenor except to remark on the descent of the use of regal powers – mercy, justice etc, but we know all about that.


‘the role and importance of Galadriel only emerged slowly’ – the creation of the backstory to Lorien etc.

I like this little tale of Galadriel’s refusing a strand of her hair to Feänor to put into the silmarils but 3 Ages later she gives 3 strands to Gimli from a race supposedly very antipathetic towards Elves.  I also like the use of ‘unfriend’ with regard to Galadriel’s and Feänor’s relationship, like ‘unlight’ referring to Ungoliant.

‘Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn’

Mention of them having a son Amroth (eventually of Dol) but this is nowhere mentioned in LotR where they only have one child, Celebrian, Arwen’s mam.

Lots of other 2nd Age history – the fall of celebrimbor and co; the setting up of Rivendell; Sauron’s rise and fall and festering hatred. Interesting but no great comment like the stories of individuals.

Galadriel’s coming to Rivendell with Celeborn seeking Celebrian whom she find there. 2 thing: this is probably when Elrond meets Celebrian and Celeborn returns to Rivendell after Galadriel has departed at the end of LotR and from where supposedly he rides from for the havens at an unspecified time. Can never understand why he hasn’t gone with Galadriel.

‘Amroth and Nimrodel’

Another ill-fated love story, very airy-fairy romantic. In today’s ethos of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, it all seems a bit elasticated, even for me who’s views now seem old fashioned.  They debate, get separated, lose each other. If Nimrodel loved Amroth why the hell didn’t she just marry him?

About Elves being beardless – Cirdan is described as having a beard!

Of all the names and interpretations of names for Lothlorien my favourite will always be Laurelindorinan, ‘land of the valley of singing gold’ (Treebeard) (Llanfer…gogogo eat your heart out) it just makes you want to find it and live there. Gorgeous.

‘Appendix C The Boundaries of Lorien’

I like the way Tolkien use s the prefix ‘un’ in unusual ways, here in ‘undeep’ meaning shallow. see above.

‘Appendix D The Port of Lond Daer’

Just a general comment about deforestation – men just don’t seem to be able to help themselves. Trees are easy pickings because they can’t fight back. Not even Ents could have stopped the massive destruction.

Comment about the ‘courage and hardihood required’ for Boromir’s journey to Rivendell not being fully mentioned in LotR. Could be because Boromir vaunts it so much, enough to make even Bilbo sarcastic.