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.