Fortunately all the snow that had caused problems at the start of the week had melted by the time our last meeting in March came round, and Mike and Angela were able to travel in to join us. Although we missed Tim, we look forward to seeing him again soon, and we had Carol’s comments again to add to our discussion of chapters 13-15.
Eileen began the discussion with her remark that she found chapter 13 very difficult and had to read it twice. We all sympathised!
Laura suggested that in it Tolkien is attempting to clarify earlier matters, but fails, although the attempt turns the chapter into a ‘great layer cake’.
Eileen thought these chapters generally lacked emotion, like Eol, while she thought Feanor was at least not bland, but changeable.
Angela noted his ‘disintegration’ to ash as his spirit was released in death, and I thought his spirit was too great, even for death.
Julie, Chris and Angela all compared this to Saruman’s end and took this release of the spirit as a suggestive of the nature of a demi-god.
Ian found quotes in the text that showed that of all the Children of Iluvatar Feanor was closest to one of the Powers.
Laura observed that Morgoth, Sauron and Feanor were all spirits of fire.
Eileen compared them to Ungoliant in the way they are self-consuming.
Carol commented that Feanor embodies all that’s wrong about fire – greed, wrath, vengefulness. He fights Gothmog, lord of the balrogs, bearers of the destructive flame of Udun. Two mislead fire spirits. Unlike Gandalf who fostered the flame that nourishes and warms, Feanor is selfish in death, foreseeing that the Noldor would never defeat Morgoth but swearing his sons ‘to avenge their father’. Still in The Lord of the Rings Gandalf still looks back on Feanor as a great, if mislead, elf with longing.
Mike picked up the comment on Feanor as ‘great’ and qualified this definition, remarking that Feanor is not necessarily ‘good’, just exceptional.
Angela picked up Gandalf’s recollection of Feanor and found the appropriate references in the last chapter of Book 3 of The Two Towers.
I wondered if there was a problem if attributes of the Powers manifested in a lower being?
Angela noted that when Elves “died” – in battle or through grief – their spirits went to the Halls of Mandos, and in some cases their bodies were subsequently reincarnated especially if they had done good deeds while “alive”. (This happened to Finrod and Glorfindel among others). However in Fëanor’s case we are told that “… his likeness has never again appeared in Arda, neither has his spirit left the halls of Mandos” (Silmarillion Chapter 13). So his spirit did actually go to Mandos but there was no reincarnation for him. Angela added: I’m not sure whether this was because of the evil he caused or because his body was beyond reincarnating through being turned into ash and smoke!
I thought Morgoth, Sauron and Feanor seemed like a perverse ‘trinity’.
Ian remarked that the place of Melkor, Feanor, and Sauron in such a ‘trinity’ depends on where they have their influence. They are held in balance by their tie to the world, and by their three kinds of rebellion against Iluvatar.
Carol commented that ‘Baddies like Morgoth can use unethical weapons with impugnity and without conscience, like Glaurung and balrogs while the goodies have to fight fair.’ This caused a good deal of dissent and generated some additional ideas in an attempt to deal with the issues in more precise ways.
Laura, in support, noted that Morgoth uses terror and torture.
Ian observed that even in The Lord of the Rings there is no chivalric code, only a common creed conveyed through the Common Speech.
Mike thought that in The Silmarillion there is no sense of ‘fighting fair’. Oaths bind, but when a truce is agreed both sides turn up with more supporters than had been agreed.
Ian remarked that modern sci-fi writers lay down rules, but in TSil there are no rules.
Mike added that this brings us back to Nietzsche and the responsibility to decide for yourself what the rules are.
Angela noted that in the Shire things run according to the old ‘King’s rules’.
Ian observed that the hobbits return to discover rules written down.
Laura remarked that Melkor broke the rules in his discord.
Julie and Ian commented that it was Feanor who provided the means of writing down rules.
Mike observed that with Tolkien’s work, each reader has to apply their own rules, and apply some order. Without rules, it is also impossible to write anything.
Chris noted that there is a difference between rules to be obeyed and morality. TSil is at the beginning of the process, and there is no sense of ‘law’.
Ian remarked that it includes many bordered realms – each one where someone is imposing rules, but you don’t know that until you try to enter. Ian cited Gondolin and the increasing strictures that govern it. These are not a moral code but barriers to pass.
Mike compared Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale where the reader applies their own understanding of what is implied.
Eileen commented that sometimes rules are so oppressive they have to be broken at times, therefore when rules are imposed, sooner or later they are rebelled against and new rules imposed. Thus rebellion is not always bad.
I asked if the description of Gondolin as a former lake was an indication of evolution taking place, thinking of Chris’s previous remarks on the lack of evolution in TSil. Chris objected that it was not the same thing, and that he had always accepted the development of geographical features.
Ian returned us to the topic of the palantiri, noting that Feanor had the power to create, which neither Sauron or Gandalf (both Maia) had. [We might have noted but didn’t that Sauron created the Rings!]
Chris then wondered if balrogs were always as they appear. Angela reminded us that they were originally Maia. Mike noted that as such they had the ability to take their shape. Chris remarked that this is intentionally the most terrifying.
Laura observed that the balrogs were created to get rid of Ungoliant, but she questioned the origins of the dragons who seem to have no origin in perversion.
Julie then changed our topic when she observed the way Caranthir refers to ‘that Dark Elf’.
Laura questioned whether this amounted to racism, but Mike proposed that it represented tribalism. Laura thought it expressed the feeling against those who never went West, and that similar feeling appears against the Dwarves. Is Tolkien reflecting his own society? Laura wondered.
Mike thought that it reflects the situation after the withdrawal of the Romans and the tribalising that took place in the Holy Roman Empire.
Laura cited Thingol as an example of racial ‘nimby-ism’ – not in my back yard, while Mike compared Beleriand to Europe being carved up. Laura also added the example of General Patton sidelining the British forces during World War 2.
Julie then wondered why the building of Gondolin is expressed as ‘two and fifty years’. Laura proposed that the system of counting was non-decimal.
We moved on, or back, to the topic of fire when Ian drew attention to the Fire Imperishable and the change Melkor forces in some Maia, noting that Gandalf retains this fire and differentiates himself from the balrog, who is condemned to the form imposed by Melkor. Ian considered whether the Maia sacrifice themselves to Melkor, to become fire demons and mechanical dragon, and even dragons themselves. Since the Fire Imperishable is neither good nor evil the Maia make choices.
Laura wondered if it is the Fire Imperishable that makes everything ‘tick’.
Ian observed that there is no balance in the dichotomy between the Flame of Udun and the Flame of Anor, and that TSil is throughout an exploration of the boundaries between good and evil.
As we ran out of time we hastily agreed to read chapter 16-19 for our meeting in April.
Chapter 13 Of the Return of the Noldor
The Blondell/Richard trope is used by Fingon to find Maedhros.
Seems that Caranthir is his father’s son in being beligerent. O folly!
How Galadriel met Celeborn – in Menegroth.
Chapter 14 Of Beleriand and its Realms
Evil places to Tolkien were comprised of slag heaps and blackness, detritus of mechanical things, and issued black smoke, like his hated industrial towns.
All this written geography is a bit confusing but I think it is the sort of land Tolkien would have loved to live in.
Rivers are male.