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. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religions/Zoroastrian/ataglance/glance ; www.zoroastrain.org.uk.vohuman/Article/Zoroastrian ; http://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/Zoroastrianism
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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene#Altruism
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.