Last meeting in January


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.


First meeting in January 2018


Seven of us gathered for our first meeting of the New Year. We will not have Carol’s comments for a while because she is still enjoying the sunshine in Australia!

Meanwhile in dismal England we began our discussions in this new year by revisiting a topic I raised before Christmas. I had proposed that we might find it useful for our approach to the matters of good and evil in The Silmarillion if we looked at other philosophical approaches, such as that of Zoroastranism, or even the works of Nietzsche in order to see if we could find new dimensions to the way Tolkien deals with these matters. With this in mind Laura had kindly brought along a print-out of some material on Zoroastranism. ; ;

I had to confess that owing to time constraints I had not had time to do the reading I had hoped to do, but Mike said he had read the material, and he began our discussion with the question: is the Supreme (the Creator/Divine) actually beyond good and evil? And in all these matters can we judge from within what is in fact the ‘goldfish bowl’ of our existence, from which we are necessarily looking out. In The Silmarillion Iluvatar is presented as ‘Good’, but is that in fact true?

Eileen proposed that good and evil turn on the need to understand others.

Laura thought that such concepts provided sets of rules for survival, and offered the example in modern literature of depictions of post-apocalyptic societies descending into violence.

I suggested that Richard Dawkins’s theory of the selfish gene and the paradox of altruism could account for survival.

Ian proposed that intellect rather than genetic survival led to the development of different cultural forms, and cited Aule’s disobedient creation of the Dwarves. Ian argued that it was the choice Aule made.

Mike remarked that Lucifer also had a choice.

Ian added that Aule’s was the wrong moral choice.

Mike queried ‘it was not predestined?’ And went on to propose that what we are reading in The Silmarillion is only part of a physical manifestation Iluvatar in an account written by Elves.

Laura compared the general non-intervention of Iluvatar to the theory of the absent clock-maker who makes a clock, sets it going and then moves away to create another clock while the first one slowly runs down.

Mike argued that both philosophy and religion are an ongoing search for explanation.

Ian noted that now we don’t have to fight for survive – this is what we pass on.

Laura raised the spectre of tribalism but Angela commented that there was a problem of tarring all with the same brush.

Chris observed that the cut-throat impulse is still necessary in business, and Ian noted that competition hones skills.

I asked if The Silmarillion, and myth generally, is a kind of simplification of the actual complexity of good and evil in human life, citing the pairing of Melkor and Ungoliant, who finally consumes herself?

Mike went on to observe that myth is necessarily a simplification, and that Ungoliant was a literary device.

I thought it was time to ask if a philosophical approach assisted our approach to The Silmarillion.

Chris observed that in The Silmarillion all races are directly created by Iluvatar but in the real world there cannot be any similar certainty of a Creator God. Chris then queried whether Tolkien believed in evolution?

Laura agreed that we are far removed from our own beginning, and questioned whether if the 5th Age of Middle-earth had been recorded a loss of belief would have emerged?

Angela noted that into the 4th age, beings such as Galadriel for example had seen the Valar, and Mike added that she had been with Feanor in Valinor. This led Angela to wonder if Galadriel had seen Melkor!

Chris found parallels between Feanor and Gollum, insofar as both go off alone.

Laura remarked that all our discussion show that Tolkien is by no means simple, and Eileen observed that he can still shock.

Ian commented that he shows us a reflection of ourselves like that in a shop window.

We had spent so long on our philosophical approach good and evil as far as we have read in The Silmarillion that we had barely addressed the chapters in our appointed reading so next time we will discuss chapters 8 and 9.