Last meeting in July


A cooler and very windy afternoon made getting to our meeting rather less demanding than it has been recently. Six of us got together and confirmed our arrangements for the Oxford visit, coming up fast now. Then we turned our attention to the chapter on Túrin Turambar.

Laura immediately picked up the danger of waking Túrin, likening it to the terrible stories of the SAS members who have unintentionally killed family members under similar circumstances.

Angela observed that the recent book The Children of Húrin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, from his father’s other versions of the story, is much more detailed than the account of Túrin’s life in The Silmarillion. Chris noted that this is actually mentioned in the shorter work, but CT collected all versions into 1 book.

Laura remarked that this is yet another miserable chapter, but then changed her designation to ‘grim’.

Eileen thought it is bleak, but noted that Túrin has his own strategy.

Laura allowed that he is undeniably brave, but ‘stuffed with ofermod’. He could make different choices but these would not fit his mind-set, so he is treading out his doom.

Eileen commented that he sticks to his own opinion but is not stubborn.

Laura noted that he changes his name every time something goes wrong.

Eileen suggested that he outgrew situations.

Laura considered Túrin to be learning his ‘craft’. Angela noted how this related to his return to Doriath.

Laura remarked on the way he is constantly missing people, including those who are absent from his life and with whom he never catches up.

Angela referred this to the effect of the curse of Morgoth, and I suggested that what happens to Túrin and his family is intended for the prolonged punishment of Hurin, who has to watch all these misfortunes unravel.

Laura noted, however, that Túrin, in his pride, even persuades Orodreth to ignore the message sent from Ulmo.

Eileen remarked that Túrin doesn’t seem to learn caution. Laura wondered if possession of the Dragon-helm and the sword Anglachel make him feel invincible?

Chris observed that the Dragon-Helm frightens people. Laura commented that it doesn’t protect him, and compared reports of the feeling of wearing a recreation of the Sutton Hoo helm [I can testify to the feeling of protection, having tried on a replica of the Benty Grange boar helm]. Laura also noted the latest research carried out on the Staffordshire Hoard and the conclusion that Anglo-Saxons saw an advantage in going into battle looking as splendid as possible.

I thought Túrin is characterized in terms of someone who is ‘born unlucky’.

Ian wondered if Tolkien is trying to describe such evils as Túrin faces in terms of Morgoth’s malice, but if Túrin makes wrong choices as part of Morgoth’s torment of Hurin then no comparison can be made with circumstances in the Primary World because that presupposes the controlling intervention of an evil power.

Angela commented that Morgoth does send the plague that kills Túrin’s sister Lalaith, and in the context of grief she wondered if Morwen is too unemotional. It was conjectured that this may have affected Túrin.

Chris remarked that Morgoth’s power doesn’t see through the Girdle of Melian.

Laura also noted that some captive elves tunnel out of Angband. She also commented on the special horror of elves, with their love of starlight being confined in mines.

Angela and Laura remarked that when Túrin encounters Glaurung, the dragon speaks ‘by the evil spirit that was in him’.

Angela likened the deceitful power of the dragon’s speech to the power of Saruman’s voice in The Lord of the Rings.

Chris noted that after tormenting Túrin the dragon ‘turned to his own pleasure’, and shows his independence in his gathering of treasure to rest on. So his power is his own not just Morgoth’s.

We considered other torments as Laura noted the ‘St Edmund’ moments when orcs throw knives at Beleg who is bound to a tree, and then Finduilas is killed by being pinned to a tree with a spear.

Laura also remarked on the dreadful racism in the treatment of the Petty-Dwarves, and wondered at Tolkien’s choice of the word of French origin.

Ian commented on the way Túrin carries out justice according to his own world view, which is different to that of the Elves, and thus kills Saeros and judges himself, fearing captivity. He acts on this assumption, though Thingol pardons him. In fact, Túrin  constantly judges himself, and is bound or incarcerated by various actions.

Laura noted that Melian warns Beleg not to take the sword Anglachel.

Eileen remarked that it seems as if some weapons have a life of their own and are affected by circumstances, or have some control.

I thought Anglachel behaved like a sword in essence by willingly taking Túrin’s life, because that’s what swords are made to do. Angela and Ian thought that was not really the case because the sword speaks its ‘motivation’. As Ian noted, it is not ‘guilty’ of Beleg’s death. Laura added that Melian characterized the sword as evil but Beleg ignored her.

Angela noted that Gwindor thought it was strange, and both Angela and Laura remarked that Beleg was actually named after his bow, Cúthalion – Strongbow.

Our meeting ended with the prospect of lots of reading time ahead as our next meeting day will be taken up with our visit to the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford. Nevertheless, we agreed to read specifically up to and including ‘The Fall of Gondolin’.


This is June’s report

Thanks to Tim for the following report, and apologies that it’s posted out of sequence.

Present: Laura, Eileen, Chris, Angela, Ian, Tim
Apologies: Lynn, Julie

On a very hot June afternoon, six Southfarthingas gathered at the Artisan Café in Southampton’s Guildhall Square for a pre-meeting coffee and a chat, including anticipation of the group outing to the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford in August, and also some Oxonmoot discussions.
We were missing Lynn, who had had a prior arrangement, and Julie.
This week, the group moved onto consideration of Chapter 20: Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad.
Angela opened the proceedings, making reference to her notes. I have noted some of her points – please see AN’s notes for more detail. The first paragraph prompts a conflict of feelings: joyful, sad, scary, sinister. The second life of Beren has a purpose to it, it is a different sort of existence. Lúthien is now mortal but she still has the power to heal.
Laura wondered if all her energies went into creating Dior. The Valar (= puppet masters) with regard to bloodline matters have foreseen this development. Are Beren and Lúthien zombies? Are they soulless? Do they go to Mandos?
Angela noted that Arwen and Aragorn’s relationship is more straightforward by comparison.
Laura observed that Arwen and Aragorn are more public figures.
There was a discussion of the nature of limbo/hell/purgatory relating to the Oathbreakers.
Chris commented that Beren died and came back to life, whereas Aragorn didn’t.
Tim observed how the first paragraph of the chapter seemed like a closing paragraph – as if it belonged to end of the previous chapter.
Laura noted that it was like a recap. Lúthien and Arwen both chose to give up immortality. She mentioned the Scottish legends of the seal people – selkies – who give up being seals by shedding their skins to take on human form and fall in love with mortals.
Tim made reference to The Little Mermaid. Eileen said there is an element of interspecies relations.
There followed a general discussion about interspecies mating and umbrellas, with some reference to the Isle of Wight and eagles, and preserved railways. No express trains or dragons were harmed in the making of this discussion.
Laura highlighted the treachery of Men. The Elves get it wrong. Those Men who betrayed others didn’t get what they wanted. Some significance that the battle took place on Midsummer’s Day. The Oath of Fëanor is in play. Maedhros is trying to bring the Elves together but the Oath is working way out of that. Laura felt it was a savage chapter describing the cruelty shown by Morgoth’s captains.
Eileen noted that there is an air of foreboding.
Gelmir reminded Laura of St. Edmund (as in the town of Bury St Edmunds), the East Anglian king captured by Vikings and cruelly treated. Tolkien was perhaps thinking of Vikings.
Tim said that Morgoth galvanised the Elves into action.
Laura noted that the Naugrim – Dwarves – wore hideous masks, like the Samurai did. It was scary when the dwarves’ leader was killed by the dragon Glaurung – the Dwarves upped sticks and went. Azaghâl’s body was taken from the battlefield.
Since Glaurung is the Father of Dragons, Laura wondered, were there female dragons? Reference was variously made to Shrek, Terry Pratchett, Harry Potter, and St. George and the Dragon.
Angela raised the matter of Turgon’s discussion of the fate of Gondolin Húrin and Huor. Huor prophesied the rising of a “new star” – it’s usually Elves who prophesy.
Laura talked about Fingon’s death at the hands of Gothmog, white flame issuing from his helm.
Tim: Huor’s poisoned arrow in the eye was a “Hastings” moment.
Laura thought the name of the battle was moving – Unnumbered Tears. A reference to the Somme? The great storm of wind out of the West was too little too late. Eileen said the name conjures up sorrow.
Angela commented that Círdan was making a refuge, and continues to do so in later Ages. Elrond does as well, with Rivendell.
Laura: Círdan was untouchable but many were killed. Seven swift ships were built.
Angela pondered the chronology of the First Age; Tim mentioned that Robert Foster thought it was circa 600 years long.
Laura looked at the fate of Húrin. Tim said that his inability to not look or not hear reminded him of a scene from A Clockwork Orange. Angela noted that Elves could sleep with their eyes open, for example Legolas lying down with his eyes open.
The group agreed that, for next session, they would finish off Fifth Battle and make a start on Chapter 21: Of Túrin Turambar.

First in July


After a long break on account of illness (mine), a five-week month, and my absence on family matters, it was lovely to be back. I’m picking up the blog from the date above so Tim’s report for the last meeting in June, with its attention to Beren and Luthien (Chapter 19) will be out of sequence as I haven’t posted it yet but will do asap! Our topic for this afternoon’s meeting turned out to be somewhat fluid, but took Chapter 20 ‘Of the Fifth Battle…’ as its focus.

We briefly touched on the change of venue for lunch when the Southfarthing visits the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford next month, then Ian reported on his trip to the Tolkien Society seminar in Leeds earlier this month. The topic was ‘Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens.’ Ian commented on one paper on death and Laura noted the difference between the treatment of Death by Tolkien and Terry Pratchett’s sometimes humorous treatment, which creates something of a paradox. Laura observed that there is nothing humorous about Mandos.

Ian remarked that in Pratchett’s Discworld death affects all races while Mandos controls the fate only of Elves, while the ultimate fate of other races is specifically not known.

Eileen remarked that the treatment of death in the work of the American 19th century poet Emily Dickinson is also paradoxical, and that the Elves do not perhaps regard their immortality as ‘good’, implying another paradox.

Angela agreed that Elves don’t think it is necessarily good, because men with their shorter lives escape the confining world of Arda.

Laura noted that we don’t know about the fate of dwarves after death, only that they are long-lived.

Ian then moved on to comment on another paper which had dealt with the theme of reincarnation, as distinct from resurrection. This had led Ian to his own train of thought involving confrontations with balrogs. Ian argued that Maiar were created by Iluvatar from the Flame Imperishable. Arien, the Maia chosen to guide the Sun, was a spirit of fire in her own right ‘whom Melkor had not deceived or drawn into his service’ (‘Of the Sun and Moon…’). So, Ian went on, Gandalf invokes the Secret Fire against the Dark Fire.

Laura observed that Feanor’s body was consumed by his own inner fire (spirit) in death. I noted that at the death of Fingon under the axe blow of Gothmog Lord of Balrogs (who also killed Feanor) a white flame sprang up.

Tim remarked on the fire of immortality in H. Ryder Haggard’s She. Laura noted that this character lives in a city named ‘Kor.’

Having drawn inspiration for our discussion so far from Ian’s recollection of the seminar, I suggested we should move into the text, but in fact we did not move far away from Death as a topic. I remarked that the aftermath of the Fifth Battle seemed particularly poignant as Tolkien describes the scattering of the survivors of the alliance against Morgoth: ‘but to Hithlum came never back one of Fingon’s host, nor any of the Men of Hador’s house, nor any tidings of the battle and the fate of their lords.’ I thought this described a dreadful uncertainty for those who were left.

Tim observed that Fingon was not just killed but obliterated by his enemies, adding that this act of ‘erasing’ defies the possibility of reincarnation.

Laura commented that this adds insult to injury and is done so the Elves cannot honour the body. She went on to noted that in the Fifth Battle, as in the trenches of WW1, chivalry meets a force that knows no such concept.

Eileen recollected Kipling’s account of his family’s own tragic loss of his own underage son in his poem My Boy Jack.

Laura thought bereavement by death was no more unbearable than the prospect of loss through enslavement, which is just as much a violent act against the individual whose fate is similarly not known to those left behind.

Tim noted that Tolkien’s reference is to the ‘lords’ who were taken in unknown circumstances.

This led me to propose, rather controversially, that heroic literature in all ages is propaganda, but that Tolkien offers a different view.

Ian objected that it isn’t propaganda unless deployed with the intention of persuading.

Eileen remarked that the powers-that-be take advantage of adolescents when recruiting.

Ian picked up the concept that ‘all property is theft’ and commented that war is always about property.

Tim noted that it’s always the ‘poor bloody infantry’ who have to fight for the ‘property’.

Ian proposed that The Lord of the Rings functions as a kind of metaphor for modern insidious forms of warfare like terrorism and cyber-war.

Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings the Shire sent hobbit archers to the last battle in the north, and they never returned.

Eileen remarked that in earlier eras of the primary world, including WW1 the prospect of 3 meals a day had been an attraction for some recruits. Laura added that many young men had been found to be malnourished when they enlisted! And Eileen and Laura both noted that sometimes military service was/is the only job a young man could get. Eileen also observed that the attraction of joining the services is governed by the culture of the nation.

Angela observed the additional aspect of the charisma of the leader, remarking on Aragorn’s.

I briefly looked back to Chapter 19 ‘Of Beren and Luthien’ to pick up a point on which Carol had commented. She noted the optimistic contrast “amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endured.” I suggested that no such joy and light can be found in Chapter 20!

Ian remarked that the story of Beren and Luthien is also about property, because Morgoth possesses the silmaril, so the chapters share the same theme of possession and actions in the service of a ‘higher purpose’.

As we touched momentarily on Chapter 21 ‘Of Turin Turambar’ Angela noted that 2 curses afflict Turin.

Our reading for the next meeting will by Chapter 21. Angela has already reread The Children of Hurin. I hope to add the story of Kullervo from The Kalevala to my preparatory reading.