Last In February


On a chilly but bright afternoon we were happy to see Julie and Eileen back with us again, but missed Mike, and Tim. Rather than focussing on a specific choice of chapters, the rest of us were preparing to discuss the Kinslaying and the Helcaraxë.

Ian referred us to a new (to us) theoretical approach – the Stockdale Paradox – in which individuals in dire situations cope best when they do not hide from its effects and consequences through being wildly optimistic, nor approach it with profound negativity, simply realistically. This offered an insight into the way Sam and Frodo cope with Mordor.

Laura questioned whether this could be applied to Celebrian and her ordeal.

Ian remarked that we are never given more than a distant account of that, but we go along with Frodo and Sam in Mordor.

Angela and Laura both observed that Celebrian and Frodo have to go to the Undying Lands because they never recover from their ordeals.

I wondered if the Stockdale Paradox could be applied to the Kinslaying and/or the Helcaraxë?

Eileen remarked that the Kinslaying episode is full of motion.

Laura compared the long journeys in the primary world in which tribes like the Goths and Huns moved west out of Asia against the Elf ‘tribes’ returning east.  Laura also noted Fëanor’s callousness towards other elves in his host.

Eileen remarked that Fëanor is complex and the language expressing his callousness is recognisable.

Laura commented that right from the start Fëanor cannot do anything right, then his Curse condemns him.

Chris noted that part of Fëanor resides in the Simarils as part of Sauron resides in the Ring. I added that Fëanor’s possessive attitude to the silmarils is echoed in the possessiveness shown by Olwë and the Teleri in the matter of their white ships.

Laura noted that the difference lies in the fact that the Teleri create the white ships as a group enterprise. Ian observed that Fëanor is an individual craftsman who produces 1 result and he doesn’t understand the group effort of the Teleri.

Eileen noted the motif of obsession here and in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela commented that that Teleri think the Noldor are doing the wrong thing by leaving.

Angela remarked that of those who tackle the Helcaraxë, some had the determination to go on, not back, with Fingolfin and Finrod and Galadriel.

Laura observed that Elves make weapons, but asked ‘where do they learn to fight?’ Angela thought that Fëanor starts that. Laura wondered about the elves’ development of weapons. Angela proposed that perhaps it starts with Oromë hunting.

Ian commented that Tolkien was not concerned with how the Elves got weapons, but there are beneficial influences that can be the source of the things that are needed to counter the malign influences. Ian also noted the possible influence of Aule as a craftsman, but in peace development took place for its own sake, until Feanor thought he would use those tools to shape the world.

Angela suggested that Melkor introduces the understanding of the need for weapons, and then the Noldor vied for excellence in weapons making.

Ian observed that the motivation for starting gives rise to to the reason for using but the process is not explored.

I wondered if the creation of and function of weapons owed anything to Tolkien’s understanding of the reasons behind the spectacular weapon furnishings (hilts, scabbard decorations etc) found at Sutton Hoo. Laura noted the power and status associated with it.

Angela noted that Fëanor married the daughter of a great smith.

Ian traced the development from craft to artistic crafts and the appearance of aggression.

Eileen compared this to the process of castle building in medieval France and England.

Ian then moved the discussion on to a comparison between the huge classical Greek pantheon, and observed that Tolkien was not repeating this but giving a northern cast to the Greek concept. However, this was not invented by 1 person but by various societies that were trying to make sense of the world around them.

Julie noted that in Genesis the first named smith was Tubal-cain who was the ancestor of workers in iron and copper.

Laura observed that lots of weapons in the primary world have been derived from farming implements, and she went on to remind us of the myth of Wayland Smith.

Julie remarked on the ancient reliance on meteorite iron for sword-making. This led Ian to recall the discovery of gold in rivers. This spurred Julie to make the connection with Goldberry – the River-woman’s daughter recalling ancient access to gold in the river. Laura commented that this was the Rhine-maiden motif too.

Thinking of Fëanor and Melkor, I wondered why it was that the cleverest (most gifted) beings were depicted as causing trouble, and was that how Tolkien saw himself?

Ian proposed that Tolkien felt the need to express himself artistically but was constrained by academic expectations.

Chris remarked that in Tolkien’s work technology goes in reverse – the most complex artefacts come first – e.g. the finest ships, the silmarils.

Ian observed that this leaves us (later ages) in the position of only discovering what already had been. This reminded me of Plato’s ‘forms’.

Julie likened the situation to anomie, while Chris proposed that the difference lay in an opposition between the artistic and the practical.

After another stimulating discussion, as we ran out of time we decided to focus on chapters 10 to 12 for our next meeting.


First meeting in February


On a raw and dismal afternoon some of us had already begun our discussion of aspects of the chapters we have been reading. Although Eileen could not be with us she had spent a good deal of time familiarising herself with Feanor and passed on some thoughts by phone prior to the meeting.

As we began the meeting itself we continued considering Feanor and Ian introduced us to his latest theoretical reading on the concept of ‘post-truth’, – the manipulation of language, which is in fact meaningless, otherwise known as all the spin and ‘flannel’ that is supposed to convince us, and with which we have become familiar. The effect of Melkor’s lies on Feanor leads to the Elf’s destructive actions, and Ian argued that we are more likely to remember such characters in distinction from their background.

Laura remarked that the characters of the Elves in TSilm are not as fleshed out as characters are in The Lord of the Rings, they are more symbolic.

Ian commented that we are not travelling along with them as we are with the characters in the later work, while Chris observed that characters in TSilm are not in ordinary society.

Laura added that if we met one of the ordinary Elves in this story we would be stunned by their difference. Ian added ‘as post-Creation characters in the Bible are extraordinary, so are Elves’.

We went on to compare the treatment of the creation of animals in TSilm and the Bible, seeing it as much less detailed, and Angela noted that Yavanna is simply given responsibility for Olvar (growing things with roots in the earth) and Kelvar (animals, living things that move).

Ian went on to wonder whether in creation things were put in by Iluvatar that cause disruption and therefore he has disruption in his Plan apart from Melkor.

Ian continued by considering whether, as far as Tolkien is concerned, disruption is a device to rekindle the power of fairy-stories, while films are the cheapest way of engaging and audience. Angela objected that it is possible to see the films several times and still find more ‘meaning’.

Ian turned to the perennial topic of free will and remarked that an author can guide the reader in a particular direction. Chris proposed rather that quality films are like good books – there can be a lot in them.

Laura suggested that in both cases the question is one of the level of quality. Ian brought us full circle when he added that it is also about what is said and how it is said.

Laura then asked if Feanor is used as a catalyst for initiating the Plan? And as we went on to consider the power of his language and his oath, I asked what it is that adds particular power to his language and his Oath?

Ian proposed that it lies in the dissemination of information and what is of concern in contemporaneous society.

Laura observed that the Oath and the Prophecy are expressed in strong language and it is dreadful when Mandos (probably) – the King of Death himself, pronounces doom on Feanor.

Ian and Laura then both suggested that constant reiteration defines things, and Ian added that effectiveness depends on how a speaker applies words, not what words they are.

Laura went on to remark that knowing about Tolkien himself has enriched knowledge and understanding of his stories.

Angela commented that his attitudes to his characters are interesting.

Ian went on to wonder if Melkor and others believe the Eldar’s creativity could rival that of the Valar.

Laura noted that Melkor said Orome was a threat when he was leading the Elves out of Middle-earth, so Melkor was overridingly dangerous to Elves.

Ian wondered whether, because Aule is also disruptive, he too sees the Elves as problem creators.

As usual we ran out of time and as we had been taking on various topics rather than discussing chapters, I promised that at our next meeting we would definitely discuss the Kinslaying and the passage of the Helcaraxe, so there is no appointed reading for our next meeting.