First Meeting in March


March already, and Tolkien Reading Day on the horizon! Happily the snows of last weekend have melted and we were able to meet. We were also delighted to welcome Tim back, although we missed Mike and Julie, as we began our discussion of chapters 10 – 12. But we began by considering the possibility of a group outing to see the forthcoming Oxford exhibition ‘Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth’.

It will run between 1st June and 28th October. Ian mentioned the Oxonmoot committee’s intention to include a visit to the exhibition, but we agreed it would be nice to convert one of our summer reading group meetings into a group visit of our own. The date that seemed most suitable is August 11th but we need to consult absent members.

Once our discussions began Laura observed that although Yavanna is in charge of growing things, Melian sets niphedril growing, and that this marks Luthien as special.

Tim thought Melian was Vana’s Maia. A quick check of the Index showed she was also Este’s Maia, so she was linked to Yavanna, and to the Vala of rest.

Laura noted that in our nominated chapters there are many ‘prophetic’ sentences because the elvish scribes recall the sequence of history.

Ian remarked that there are different ways of presenting a chronicle. The Elves interpret their own history but because they were there it is as close to the truth as possible. This contrasts with the fiction in which they are being created. In The Lord of the Rings Elrond relates the chronicle history, Tolkien therefore has a different way of presenting the truth.

Tim commented that Elves are living history, perhaps keeping records as they go along. We might compare our own position as we have to reconstruct history.

I wondered if Tolkien longed for an indisputable view of history.

Ian proposed that Elves are not unchanging but surely change over time – as things in the world change they change in reflection or reaction to this. I suggested the example of Galadriel, and Chris cited the example of Elrond.

Ian then conjectured that all the Elves should be in the Undying Lands but the Flight although the refusal to go in the first place disturb this. On the other hand, in The Lord of the Rings the last exiles leave, but are not urged to; they cannot stay, but some remain reticient.

Tim remarked that it all depends on Iluvatar’s vision. He put all his eggs in 1 basket, but at the Sundering some Elves yearned eventually to go back, but those who stayed perhaps remained unchanged. Chris reiterated the point that as ‘people’ Elves would be open to change.

Laura observed that Tolkien’s thesis is that Elves do remain in the Primary World but are diminished, and ‘Men usurped’ them.

Angela reprised our observations concerning Galadriel’s change of heart about taking the proffered Ring when she remarked that Galadriel knew Frodo’s mission was to destroy it.

Chris commented that since The Silmarillion was written by Elves it was necessarily biased. Laura compared this to Caesar’s Commentaries – we need to understand who the text has been written for, and Tim added the need to take into account the partiality of a commentator. Ian noted the use of the non-specific ‘some say’.

Angela remarked that Elrond had once been in arms but Rivendell was now a refuge and he was a healer and counsellor, but perhaps he was still preparing a siege.

Ian observed that mutation is ascribed to Morgoth, but in the Primary World it is necessary for evolution to proceed.

We moved on to Chapter 11 and Eileen remarked that it is more interesting to have a shadowed sun.

Angela noted that Arien is a fire spirit but not allied to Melkor. If she had been she could have been a balrog.

Laura suggested that the light of the first sunrise must have been a shock after the moonlight; and that the uncertain moon was reminiscent of Apollo letting his son drive the chariot of the sun.

Angela observed that it is the start of Morgoth and his servants being unable to endure sunlight.

Laura noted that in the new day the dead Trees are left in place, as Nimloth will be later in Minas Tirith.

When I wondered why the evidence of the attack by Morgoth and Ungoliant should be left in place, Ian compared this to a commemoration in the Primary World, corrupted but continued, and suggested that in this the author crosses over between Primary and Secondary Worlds.

Tim observed that the more Morgoth puts out his power into his servants the more this weakens him, and so it will be with Sauron later.

I likened this to the concept of the singularity before the Big Bang and thought that the result fitted with Verlyn Flieger’s theory of the ‘splintered light’ in which creativity is increasingly fragmented. Ian observed the increasingly complexity of the fragmentation as the power dissipates.

Ian continued exploring this idea with his comments that Melkor has competing influences within himself and as his discord gives rise to complexity he becomes the source of all discord in Elves and Men.

Chris remarked that medicine shows that knowledge also develops but Tolkien describes little scientific development.

I proposed that what we are being shown is an epistemological development from myth towards science.

Tim observed that technologically Middle-earth is medieval.

Chris observed that these chapters (10-12) begin the motif of the isolation of various races which is becomes a constant theme in Tolkien’s work, and Eileen remarked that she appreciates the scope of Tolkien’s imagination.

On that note we had to end our discussions and we agreed to read chapters 13-16 for our next meeting.