We were sorry to miss Chris and Julie at our meeting this afternoon but 7 of us gathered on a gloomy and damp afternoon to continue our reading of chapters 8 and 9. We spent the meeting discussing their philosophical and ethical content.
Ian began the discussion by referring to his reading of Patrick Curry’s Defending Middle-earth and its rather undeveloped arguments. By contrast Ian noted the elvish use of creativity for aesthetic ends and pure science. Dwarves were more practical in their use of nature and the material world when they were created by Aule. Thus Tolkien introduces 2 ways of using materials of Middle-earth. Furthermore, Aule’s selfish interest displays a motivation more characteristic of Melkor.
Laura remarked on how human the Valar and the Elves are – we perceive the Valar making mistakes, as well as elvish arrogance.
Angela proposed that later in the legendarium some Elves display better qualities. In The Lord of the Rings Galadriel and Elrond are depicted as good so that it is a shock in The Silmarillion to find that Galadriel once wanted to exercise power.
I noted that although Galadriel originally wants it in The Lord of the Rings she rejects the possibility in what seems like an act of contrition for her original desire.
Angela observed that Tolkien considered rewriting her character later on, after writing The Lord of the Rings.
Eileen remarked that she found Galadriel too good on first reading The Lord of the Rings.
Angela thought she might be compared with Eowyn because both only have brothers. Laura added that like Eowyn, Galadriel is also trapped in her feminine life. Eileen remarked that in TSil Galadriel has power.
Laura went on to note that in the chapters dealing with Feanor’s rebellion and flight lots of Elves are treated as canon-fodder.
Mike then turned our attention to Melkor and his bargain with Ungoliant which he reinforces with an oath – to give ‘with both hands’, Mike thought this formulation was very Tolkienesque.
Laura thought the phrase sounded biblical and Mike agreed that it is in the King James ‘register’, implying the ‘gods speak like that’.
Laura observed that Ungoliant finally implodes like a black hole and Ian proposed that her final act addresses a cultural reality that it must finally consume itself. Eileen thought her final act was unreal but oddly believable. Ian remarked that it was therefore rational.
Mike then asked what we thought of Feanor’s great speech. I thought he had good points, while Eileen thought his reluctance to give up the Silmarils showed he was flawed, but he valued his family and in this could be compared to Boromir.
Mike thought Feanor depicts different difficult moral situation. It is very human to persist even with a wrong decision. Feanor persists, becoming more extreme.
Laura thought there was a process of self-justification.
Mike commented that Tolkien makes us think about ourselves at times.
Eileen questioned whether Feanor was selfish. Laura thought he was obsessed, and Laura remarked that Finwe was devoted to Feanor.
Ian observed that Feanor was a very good manipulator of the fabric of the world, of existence as he traps the power of the Valar’s creation. Melkor searches for the Silmarils in his search for ‘something’ but can’t find it because he is part of it, so he seeks these things that are outside himself.
Laura noted that Feanor repeats exactly Melkor’s lies about Men taking Middle-earth and Elves being captive.
When we discussed the interpretation of the good and evil in TSil Mike observed that this interpretation depends on your own axioms.
Angela commented that the Elves are not prisoners in Valinor, they were invited to go there, had choice, and some exercised the choice not to go.
Mike suggested that creation here implies ownership, while Eileen thought the Valar are limited in their outlook.
Laura remarked that they didn’t write the Song, but were part of it.
Eileen noted that there was a theme of Elves and tribes splitting off and further fragmenting into groups.
Laura considered this as the creation of a ‘diaspora’. Mike noted that this is a term used in reference to a central homeland. Eileen remarked, however, that fragmentation leads to survival.
We will continue our analysis of chapters 8 and 9 while reading 10 and 11.