Last meeting in May

Sadly, there is no blog for this meeting as it was cancelled at short notice owing to illness (mine). Nothing interesting, just a virus that has created a most disruptive cough. Good reason to sit in the garden and read.

Looking forward to the first meeting in June!

First meeting in May


We began the afternoon with further discussion of our projected visit to the forthcoming Tolkien Exhibition at the Bodleian Library. Details of arrangement began taking shape subject to getting the booking we want, and included Carol’s idea of lunch afterwards. As soon as I have complete numbers I’ll get on with booking the Library visit.

We were without Ian, who was ill, and Mike, but Julie managed to join us again, as did Tim, so seven of us moved on to the topic for the afternoon, which was the ‘Beren and Luthien’ chapter. A few of Carol’s comments appear at the end but many are part of the report itself.

Eileen remarked that she found it a relief to get on to the story of Beren and Luthien after all the battles described previously.

Laura noted that Melian and Thingol don’t see eye to eye, and Chris commented that both Melian and Galadriel are more prescient. Eileen described then as women who stand up to power. Carol commented that Thingol should have taken heed of Melian who, after all, is a Maia and not a mere elf.

Chris made us all cringe when he compared Luthien dancing for Morgoth to the issues raised in the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Angela then compared Luthien’s challenge to Sauron when his shape-shifting did not release him from Huan’s grip – ‘Ere his spirit left its dark house, Luthien came to him, and said that he should be stripped of his raiment of flesh and his ghost sent quaking back to Morgotth; and she said: ‘There everlastingly thy naked self shall endure the torment of his scorn, pierced by his eyes…’ Angela compared this to the Lord of the Nazgul’s attempt at daunting Eowyn.

I thought that in view of Morgoth’s lust Luthien was actually more vulnerable than Eowyn. Chris noted that there was a further comparison: Wormtongue’s lust for Eowyn.

Laura remarked that ‘Beren and Luthien’ is a wonderfully old-fashioned fairy-tale. Thingol sets the impossible task. Beren completes it but not as expected. However, there is no happy ending.

Eileen noted that Beren has been on his own for a long time. Laura added that he turns up war-worn. Tim compared the ‘grizzled man and Elf’ motif to events in the Third Age. Laura noted that the meeting of Beren and Luthien repeats the meeting of Melian and Thingol. Tim added that both include the ‘frozen time’ motif that occurs in e.g. ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Tim went on to note that Beren and Luthien play their part in the story but the rest of their lives isn’t told and more than the story of Shelob after her wounding by Sam is told. Lots of bits not told.

Laura added the passing presence of the fox looking at the sleeping hobbits as they leave for Buckland. Chris remarked that in this version of the story Daeron the minstrel is not expanded on, and Eileen commented that you can’t glean everyone’s story in life.

I asked whether The Silmarillion sets chronicle-history against the emotion and dialogue of stories of Men. Tim responded that Beren and Luthien is a story not a dry chronicle, perhaps because mortals need to make the most of their brief lives as opposed to Elves who live forever.

Laura went on to note that ‘Beren and Luthien’ is a ‘talking animal’ fairy-tale. Huan is also very powerful and sees that Celegorm is not good, so he’s clearly more than a dog. Chris added that he’s also a herb-master!

Laura proposed that there is an element of ‘magic’ in his story, which includes Luthien singing. Even if ‘magic’ is excused as the science of the Elves, he’s special.

Tim changed tack when he remarked on Sauron’s escape as a vampire, and wondered if this showed the influence of the 1930s’ humanoid Dracula. Laura wondered if there was a connection between the European vampire tradition and the central American chupacabra? I have looked this up on Wiki and this vampire-monster doesn’t seem to have a long history

Tim thought that in order to get free of Huan, Sauron should have thrown a stick!

Carol commented that Beren becomes a vegetarian and it was noted that he doesn’t kill good animals. Laura compared C.S. Lewis on this point and Angela noted that Gan-buri-Gan’s people are also vegetarian. Laura added that Beren’s choice may be compared to the Elves who go hunting.

Eileen remarked on the tragic tale of Gorlim, which was psychologically horrible because he is tortured so much, and Laura observed that he appears as a spirit to Beren.

Carol commented that the Elves of Nargorthrond turn against Finrod too easily. He is by far one of the wiser and most likeable Elves  in Middle-earth at this time. Angela noted that it is Celegorm and Curufin who stir his people up against him. Laura observed that they are Feanor’s sons and thus carry the Curse. Angela added that Celebrimbor repudiates them. Laura then reminded us of Morgoth’s plan to divide Men from Elves. We all seemed to feel that external influences created the problem in Nargothrond.

Angela remarked that Huan’s fight with Carcharoth harks back to the Valar through the hound’s origin as a gift to Celegorm from Orome.

Chris observed that when Beren ‘gets his hand back’, and in Melian’s advice to Thingol, as in the death of Carcharoth, fate is treated as an active agent or participant, unlike it’s less certain role in The Lord of the Rings. Chris also proposed that the involvement of the Silmaril in Beren’s hand at the end adds drama.

Tim wondered if it was Tolkien being playful. Julie remarked that there is an interesting link here to myths and legends where the hero loses a hand. Carol commented that Carcharoth biting off Beren’s hand is like Tyr and the Fenris wolf in Norse mythology.

Having run out of time, but not matters to discuss, we agreed to continue discussing ‘Beren and Luthien’ at our next meeting


Carol’s Comments:

From Chapter 18:

The ring of Barahir is introduced that survives to be passed eventually to Aragorn.

Different meaning of the word ‘hardly’, then it meant a hard fight but now means something very little ‘hardly at all’.

Chapter 19 Of Beren and Luthien

Here’s the nub of it all ‘Ronald/Beren, Edith/Luthien probably the earliest part of the Middle-earth saga written probably a hundred year ago amid the depredations of world war one and the depredations of Morgoth. ‘amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endured.’

‘keen, heart-piercing was her song as the song of the lark that rises from the gates of night and pours its voice among the dying stars, seeing the sun behind the walls of the world; and the song of Luthien released the bonds of winter, and the frozen water spoke, and flowers sprang from the cold earth where her feet has passed.’ Isn’t that lovely, especially the description of lark-song.

‘a brooding silence fell upon the woods, and the shadows lengthened in the kingdom of Thingol.’ This is portentous stuff and very well written.

Is Luthien’s cloak, made of her hair, any relation to the elven cloaks given to the Fellowship by Galadriel?

‘farewell sweet earth’ is just about my all-time favourite Tolkien poem. Simplicity itself in emotion and shape but so profound in its sentiment of deep love for Luthien. In the last line one could replace Luthien’s name with the name of any beloved. Who wouldn’t like to have such a poem written about them? Gorgeous!!

Different meanings of ‘fell’ – ‘winged fell of Thuringwethil’ presumably outward guise; ‘fell voices’ meaning scary and menacing. Other meaning – fell as in moorland and fell as in tumbled.

The eagles coming to the rescue is a repeated theme right through to Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom.

What a film this would make. It has a bad baddie, fell creatures, magic, treason, a great love story, adventure. I still have to read the latest ‘Beren and Luthien’ book.


Last meeting in April


We were only a small group this afternoon, and for that reason we left the discussion of Chapter 19: Beren and Luthien until next time because it is so significant to the entire legendarium, but we found quite enough to keep us busy as we picked up Chapter 18. Carol’s comments are included in the main report as far as possible and her comments on Chapter 17 can be found at the end.

Before starting we considered again the matter of our group visit to the forthcoming Tolkien exhibition in Oxford, and Laura’s suggestion that we should end our outing with dinner in Southampton when we get back. We also need to firm up numbers for the visit in order to book it then we can sort out dinner.

To begin our discussions we ranged around a bit. Angela remarked that Beren comes across as more arrogant when compared to Tuor, and Aragorn. Laura proposed that Tuor is more ‘grounded’ and that his story has the ‘fairy-tale’ element with the prediction of someone coming for whom armour must be left, and a particular kind of armour.’

Angela commented that she likes the Gondolin episode, and Turgon doesn’t have a problem with Men, and is fond of Hurin. He doesn’t object to Idril going with a Man. Laura added that Maeglin is an ominous presence and engages in a bit of nastiness. Hurin and others keep their oaths.

Chris observed that neither Hurin or Huor are turned away from Gondolin. Angela thought Hurin was precocious.

Laura went on to remind us that Sauron was a late incarnation of Morgoth’s lieutenant who was originally the cat-like Tevildo who makes Beren catch mice in his kitchens, before Huan the hound kills Tevildo. For the ailurophiles among us he had always posed something of a problem, but as Laura pointed out, the change alerts us to the many versions of the story.

We moved on to Chapter 18 and Laura remarked that there is general warfare and the most spectacular part is the description of Glaurung in his full power accompanied by Balrogs.

Carol commented: ‘The Battle of Sudden Flame, destroying everything that’s beautiful, along with men and elves, reminds me of ISIS in the middle east, hating everything that’s decent and good. Thugs the lot of them. They want to destroy joy’.

Angela and Laura remarked on the confrontation between Fingolfin and Morgoth. Laura noted the emphatic syntactic structuring of this as Tolkien ends a long descriptive sentence concerning Morgoth with the short telling independent clause: ‘alone of the Valar he knew fear’.

Laura noted the seven wounds inflicted on Morgoth and proposed an inverted echo of the seven redemptive wounds of Christ. These are more complex in their definition than the five wounds on the Cross. Morgoth then suffers another wound from the eagle.

I remarked than this was one of Manwe’s eagles and Laura observed that Melkor and Manwe were brothers.

Moving on Angela commented that Beren’s mother was another of Tolkien’s strong women, signified by her cognomen ‘Manhearted’. Carol also commented that ‘Haleth holds her people together. No women in Tolkien?!’

Angela and Laura both remarked that the ring of Barahir comes ultimately from Finrod and is thus related to Feanor. As Carol commented ‘The ring of Barahir survives to be passed eventually to Aragorn’.

Laura wondered how information about Hurin and Huor gets back to Morgoth. Angela proposed that it gathered from captured elves.

Laura wondered where the horsed archers who chase down the orcs got their horses because the combination implies disciplined training.

We all then discussed Tolkien’s use of significant related phonemes when he constructs names, and particularly, as Laura observed, his representation of medieval naming patterns which shared initial letters. I suggested that this actually helps the reader because if all related characters had unconnected names it would be even harder to follow.

Carol also commented on Tolkien’s use of language, noting the ‘different meaning of the word ‘hardly’, then it meant a hard fight but now means something very little, e.g. ‘hardly at all’.

Laura then noted the arrival of ‘swarthy men’ called ‘Easterlings’, and that everything tends to head West, like the Huns and Mongols in the primary world.

I remarked that I was surprised to see elves with axes. Laura proposed that they were being used as weapons in need, while Angela thought they may originally have been used for ground-clearing and agriculture.

Laura wanted to clarify that the naming of Minas Tirith referred to a completely different fortification. Angela confirmed that in both Ages the name means Tower of Guard but in the Third Age the tower had originally been Minas Anor.

With that, we ran out of time and as we still have Beren and Luthien to discuss next time, we agreed to read on through Chapter 20 The Fifth Battle.


Carol’s Comments pick up Chapter 17 Of the Coming of Men into the West

Finrod comes among men, sealing his fate to be closely associated with them to the end. ‘love for them stirred in his heart.’

‘unfriend’ and ‘unlovely’, unfriend is a bit different from enemy in degree, not as harsh. The green elves don’t want to cause antagonism with the men but are not entirely happy with them. Unlovely is a softer word than ugly. Merely putting ‘un’ in front of adjectives Tolkien conveys different emphases of meaning.

Thingol ‘into Doriath shall no man come while my realm last.’!! Melian foretells Beren’s coming.