Last meeting in October


We missed Julie and Mike this afternoon, and those of us who met battled determinedly against the noise of the local Oktoberfest (nothing like the famous Munich event). Carol sent her comments (quietly) and they can be found at the end of this blog, but in fact we began the meeting with Carol’s thoughts and question:

‘Flame Imperishable’ reminds me of Gandalf especially fighting the balrog. Melkor begins the discord. He wants to create his own ‘things’ apart from Eru’s creation. Melkor is initially the chief of the Ainur but he can’t find the Flame Imperishable. Still not sure what this represents but it’s a secret Eru keeps to himself. Gandalf is guardian of the ring of fire. Is he Eru’s direct emissary, even though only a Maia, who remembers the prime directive of non-interference through power only encouragement. Any elucidation on the Flame Imperishable, what it means etc?

Laura began our responses to this when she remarked that it is too obvious to say that the Flame is the Holy Ghost.

Ian took a positive line on this when he observed that it is something to do with the Holy Ones (i.e. the Valar). He expanded this by noting that Melkor imagines, as opposed to the Valar who bring into being and fulfil and don’t imagine.

I observed that Melkor thinks the Flame is external to him and so he seeks for it when in fact it is part of him.

Ian proposed that Tolkien is exploring ‘possession’ and acquiring as a trait which determines future actions.

Eileen noted the importance of the combination of thought and music.

Laura remarked that Aule creates the Dwarves without wanting the Flame and compared this to Melkor desiring to create in order to possess. Ian commented that Melkor doesn’t create but corrupts.

Chris whimsically suggested that the Flame is an ignition system deployed by Iluvatar so that the Valar can create.

Ian observed that Tolkien himself creates in a way very unlike the 70s fantasts who were working at the time when The Silmarillion appeared because he creates at a semantic level.

Ian went on to remark that if we look for the Flame we ignore the fact that we are the Flame and can therefore sub-create, which is fulfilling the Plan.

Laura observed that there are actually 2 Flames in the myth because the balrog is the Flame of Udun. Laura went on to contrast the Flame Imperishable to the eternal fire in Rider Haggard’s She.

Ian objected that Tolkien’s version is not like Haggard’s, which is an attempt to make myth manifest in a ‘real world’.

I wondered about the difference between Aule’s desire to create the Dwarves and Melkor’s desire to create. Laura commented that Melkor corrupts Elves to create orcs and this is considered the worst of his actions.

Chris observed that Melkor squanders his strength and therefore cannot create. Ian added that Melkor burns out his power. In the context of Melkor as Vala and therefore ‘infused’ with the Flame, Eileen saw this as a paradox. Chris characterised Melkor as ‘wasteful’, and suggested that when Saruman ‘dissipates’ at the end of The Lord of the Rings, this indicated his loss of the Flame. We noted other instances is similar ‘dissipation’ by other corrupted characters. Ian likened this to entropy and the final dissipation of all energy in the universe.

Eileen observed that Dwarves seem to be created with fear and wondered if this was because they were not created for the right reasons. Ian remarked that Aule is a maker, not a creator, and is exceeding his authority. Angela remarks that Iluvatar gives the Dwarves life and for this reason they cower in fear.

I asked if the ‘secret fire’ was the same as the Flame Imperishable and Angela thought so but Chris and Laura suggested it was not the Flame itself, but like the Olympic torch

We moved on to consider the presentation of the Maiar, and Angela and Laura noted that Olórin is only once mentioned in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela continued with the observation that he walks unseen, while Ossë, Ulmo’s Maia, is ‘visible’ in the wildness of the effect he has.

Laura reflected that as ‘we’ are largely composed of water, Ulmo is in all of us through his universal presence in water.

I wondered what might be deduced concerning Olorin’s effect on the hobbits because he is capable of influencing the hearts and minds of Elves? If hobbits are considered more rustic and susceptible, the heroic choice of Frodo would surely be tainted by Olorin’s influence rather than being the choice of a free will.

Laura proposed rather that hobbits are Iluvatar’s secret weapon. Chris noted that Tolkien didn’t go back to The Silmarillion to add in the hobbits after he created them. Laura went on to wonder who in the ‘pantheon’ would have created them. I suggested that Yavanna might have.

Ian wondered about the timescale between the loss of the Entwives and the appearance of the hobbits. This could not be resolved at the meeting, but led us to consider the prospect of miscegenation.

Angela returned us to the main thread of discussion when she asked whether Yavanna would consult Ilúvatar? I remarked that she had consulted Manwë about the plight of growing things, and he had consulted Ilúvatar, and this was the authorisation for the Ents.

Ian brought the discussion back to the problem of fitting elements of fantasy into primary world conditions, identifying this as a problem for readers. 

With that we had to call a halt to the meeting. We did not set specific reading for next time as we shall proceed through the chapters at the pace dictated by the amount of detail thrown up by our discussion.

Carol’s Comments:

VALAQUENTA, of the valar

Tolkien recognises male and female, not just the patriarchal God of Christianity. Mostly, life under the sun needs male and female to procreate.

‘Manwe and Melkor were brethren’ – brother against brother, seems to be a recurring theme in mythology, Cain and Abel for example.

‘for Melkor she [Varda] knew from before the making of the music and rejected him.’ I think this may have contributed to Melkor’s contrariness, loving a female he couldn’t have.

Ulmo-Poseidon? This is how Tuor sees Ulmo while trying to find Gondolin.

The sea-longing is created – which comes down to Legolas and Frodo

‘Of the Enemies’

Can we equate Melkor with Lucifer? They are both fallen angels through want of all-encompassing power over everything.

Valaraukar are balrogs ‘the scourges of fire’. I think Gandalf had to fight a balrog in Moria as they were both maiar of fire, the balrog the Flame of Udun, and Gandalf of the Flame Imperishable.

Sauron, like Gandalf is a maia but I think stronger because he served only himself using cruelty. As evil, he could use dirty tricks with impunity, whereas Gandalf had to play fair.


Supplementary to First in October

Apologies for omitting Carol’s Comments from the main blog, here they are:

The Music of the Ainur

Note the high-flown language. ‘themes of music’ – medieval music of the spheres?

‘and the splendour of its end’ – Tolkien never really elucidates further on Arda’s end. We know that the music goes awry in places due to Melkor but at the end ‘then the themes of Iluvatar shall be played aright.’

Melkor creates discord and for some time is allowed to get away with it, him not realising he’ll never be boss – hubris. Then Eru smiles… It is one hell of a piece of writing, The silence rings in one’s ears at ‘the music ceased.’

Whatever evil is done in middle-earth is also part and parcel of Eru’s plan and contributary to the whole. ‘no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me.’ – whatever Melkor may think he’s created of his own volition and pride, Eru is still in charge and in combining all the melodies ‘things more wonderful’ will come of it that Melkor himself ‘hath not imagined’. ‘Iluvatar arose in spendour.’

‘if he will’ – giving choice and free will. I suppose Melkor could be likened to Lucifer, both becoming fallen angels. Melkor wants control ‘to have servants and subjects…and to be master over other wills.’

‘this shall be my own kingdom and I name it unto myself.’ Like the Christian creation story, Melkor want ‘power over’ and not ‘power with’. He wants dominion.

The ‘new world’ created by the Music is described as ‘globed’ but in the first age it is flat and only ‘globed’ at the end of the First Age to make it harder to reach Valinor.

Tolkien is pointing us to the ‘simple’ beauties of nature and not wanting to possess and control them, but to admire them as they are. We’ve lost this, in my opinion, partly due to the Christian creation story where God gives us dominion over. And look where it’s got us, though I admit I do appreciate modcons and comfortable interior sprung mattresses but also appreciate slugs and worms and try not to harm them. I try to let everything have its own being.

Don’t you just know people like Melkor? If they can’t have, they mar. Very childish.

Back again! First meeting in October


As we gathered for our first meeting in October, after a long lapse owing to Oxonmoot and a five-week September, it was good to learn that Ian’s paper at Oxonmoot had been a success. We were also delighted to welcome Mike back to the group this afternoon, as we plunged a little hesitantly into The Silmarillion, once again for most of us, but for the first time for Eileen.

It was no surprise then that Eileen opened the discussion by remarking on the proliferation of names. She went on to ask what the Valar are as characters? I suggested that they are not really ‘characters’ but personifications.

Eileen then questioned whether we are looking at myth or at the work of imagination? I suggested that for the Elves The Silmarillion records very ancient history, but for other later races it would be received as myth, but of course, it is Tolkien’s imagination at work.

Laura picked up my comment that the Valar include spirits of nature when she remarked that many societies had or have beliefs in multiple spirit forms, including nature spirits, but this does not account for Melkor. I suggested that Melkor could also be a ‘nature spirit’ because he controls the kinds of weather that are most inconvenient and destructive. Laura observed that Melkor perverts what other Valar do, and Eileen remarked that he unsettles nature.

Mike commented that Melkor is disruptive before the Creation because he has a bit of everyone else’s gifts. Eileen remarked that he starts with resentment, and Laura noted that discord happens very early.

Mike used the analogy of an orchestra – if one player, though capable of playing all instruments, tries to play all parts, resulting in cacophony. He went on to observe that Ilvúatar is never limited.

Mike also observed that Tolkien does not create a Judeo-Christian parallel in his view of Creation and its participants, and that by contrast ‘Angels’ don’t have free will. Laura wondered if mortals have more free will.

Moving on from this perennial question, Chris directed our attention to the first sentence of the entire work and Tolkien’s statement that ‘There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar.’ Chris wondered – could there, according to this wording, be more than one Universe? We did not find an answer to this.

Ian referred us to a theory that power finally destroys itself. Chris wondered ‘if power corrupts, will Ilúvatar get corrupted?’

I remarked on the need Ian’s reference suggested for limiting the power of evil and good and that there is a need for opposites to control the development of power. Laura remarked that oppositions make Men better. Mike commented that for Men death is the drive to succeed and get better. Laura remarked that it is the drive to make the best of one’s self.

Chris changed the topic with his observation that The Lord of the Rings is not in the end optimistic.

Mike and Angela both remarked that the Elves and Gandalf had served as a ‘backstop’ against trouble, but at the end of The Lord of the Rings they leave the mortals.

Chris continued his theme when he asked ‘why would Ilúvatar create a world with so much sadness, and end in a great battle?’ Mike posed the counter-question about suffering, ‘how then would the virtues, like courage, exist?

Mike then wondered, if the Ainulindale was written down by the Elves, was there divine inspiration, or was it just their view?

I proposed that it was more like the kind of ‘history’ presented in Beowulf – some of the story was indeed recognisable as historical fact as far as its Anglo-Saxon audience was concerned, even though much of it was based in myth and imagination. But this sense of history could not have the same relevance for later readers, and while for the Eldar the Ainulindale had historical relevance, because some of the Elves had lived in Valinor, for mortals it did not have that.

Angela noted, however, that divine blood continues in Aragorn’s bloodline.

Ian commented that Tolkien’s vision was of abstractions personified not subject to primary world limitations, and that Tolkien was feeding back the influences that made him write, particularly ‘northernness’.

Mike commented that many creation myths shared common themes, and he cited Persian myth as an example.

Ian remarked that the impermanence of life leads to the desire to transmit ideas, and also to preserve the earth. Mike observed that it’s about self-preservation, or destruction, and that that this pushed us outwards.

Laura remarked that on the other hand going to the Moon was the result of hatred and rivalry between nations. Ian noted that our power to destroy all life has still not been used, but there is a need to preserve it for the future.

Angela noted that Elves don’t have to sail away, they can stay in Middle Earth and fade, and Laura commented that ‘we’ have diminished them. Ian commented that in the secondary world fate is pre-determined.

Eileen remarked on the importance of transitions in life and the ways of coping with them. Laura observed that Olorin (later Gandalf), learns pity and patience from Nienna.

Ian noted Tolkien’s appropriation of the values of William Morris, including the untarnished elements of the past.

After some intense discussion we had to call our meeting to a halt. With plenty more to say about the 2 chapter we had been considering, we agreed that next time we would address the topics of the Maiar and the Flame Imperishable among other things.