Last meeting in August


Six of us returned this afternoon to our discussion of The Silmarillion after taking the first session in August off to visit the Oxford Tolkien exhibition. We also had to move our preliminary get-together to our alternative coffee venue because of a major event in Guildhall Square, and thanks to the thoughtfulness of the duty librarian, we were able to move to an alternative meeting room to avoid the thunderous music and general celebrations outside.

Carol’s comments are mostly included.

Leaving behind an afternoon full of music and lightheartedness, we picked up our reading topics by revisiting Turin Turambar. Laura felt that the characterization of Turin was really quite realistic because there are people whose obstinacy leads them to make unfortunate decisions.

Eileen wondered if Turin’s situation was just because he was cursed. Tim allowed that this could be the case, but he also seems self-destructive. Eileen added that Turin appealed to her because of his bravery.

Angela reminded us that it’s actually the relationship between Hurin and Morgoth that drives Turin’s misfortune. Laura noted that Turin is also trapped in Glaurung’s gaze.

Angela noted that echoing Niniel’s watery suicide, Hurin throws himself into the sea.

We moved on to ‘The Ruin of Doriath’ as Laura remarked that the meeting between Hurin and Morwen is terribly sad. We considered whether it might have been more detailed and elaborate, but I felt that the brevity of a simple touch of hands immediately before Morwen’s death was very touching. Angela noted that she takes Hurin’s hand. Laura observed that they have been very strong people but are now worn out, while Tim remarked that Morwen is never ‘conquered’ but Hurin has been conquered by Morgoth.

Carol commented on the start of the chapter: ‘At this point I always want to tell Hurin that he’s welcome in my house. Knowing my own character, I always go for the oppressed and despised. At the very least I would have given him a donation as if he were a homeless person on the street.


I remarked on the perpetual presence of Morwen’s marker stone on Tol Morwen in the sea even after the shape of the world is changed. Laura interpreted this as a sign that Iluvatar leaves to show that Men had been as significant as Elves.

Laura also noted that Morgoth allows Hurin to leave but he is escorted first by orcs, and then a shadow follows him.

Angela remarked that Thingol goes a bit mad as 2 curses meet in this chapter – Morgoth’s and Feanor’s. Laura wondered if Hurin picks out the Nauglamir in Nargothrond because Morgoth knows how it will affect Thingol? Tim observed it was a case of ‘what goes around comes around’.

Laura noted that Hurin looks in Melian’s eyes, and she wondered if this is when he realizes how his perspective has been affected by Morgoth, and is now freed. Laura went on to ponder whether Ulmo takes care of him at the end.

We all remarked on the effect of the Silmaril on Thingol – that it is ‘precious’, like the One Ring. Tim commented that it’s the same for the Dwarves with the Nauglamir.

Chris commented ‘then Thingol adds the Silmaril to the Nauglamir!’ Carol commented: ‘it’s wanting to possess the work of hands that is the wrong thing to do. The dwarves are now caught up in the Curse of Mandos. The possessions possess you.


Laura observed that the Silmaril is full of the light of the Two Trees and might be expected to exert a calming influence, but it doesn’t. Tim suggested that the power in possession overrides this possibility.

Laura commented that Thingol dies a very mean death for one who has seen the Trees. Tim likened the murder to Thingol by the Dwarves to the assassination of Julius Caeser.

Eileen remarked that in The Lord of the Rings she thought the Dwarves were looked down on, but she could see why after this. She also observed that Thingol doesn’t gaze on Melian in death.

Laura thought it was ironic that he dies gazing on the light of the Trees that he had actually seen. Angela thought Thingol had always been overbearing. Laura observed that as in the balance of power between Celeborn and Galadriel, top male Elves like Thingol are not as wise as their wives.

Angela noted that Celeborn in The Lord of the Rings cannot accept Gimli’s arrival because Celeborn was in Doriath when Thingol was killed.

Carol commented ‘I’ve never liked the way in which Melian deserts Middle-earth after Thingol’s killed, thus removing her protective girdle. Has she no feeling for the elves of Menegroth and what happens to them without her protection? Maia or not, she should have stayed.


Chris wondered if the withdrawal of Melian’s girdle came from outside Doriath. Angela noted that its withdrawal is described in the passive voice, thus the ‘voice’ is external. Laura wondered if the purpose for her has gone? Chris and Laura both noted that the Valar don’t bother, but Angela remarked that it’s all part of Iluvatar’s plan.

Chris thought this related to Tolkien’s own religious view.

Angela noted that the Valar have to wait. Chris remarked that the Valar mirror the situation in war in reality.

Carol commented: Tolkien has created, for me at least, one of the saddest of sagas in TSilm and The Lord of the Rings. The continuation of men and elves is done by the skin of their teeth. War after war is fought, thousands, including the heroes, perish. But the races still continue and it is my thought that all this bloodshed allows the farmers and ordinary people to survive, to plough and make, eat and toil, so that the races will be perpetuated. I think it was in The Magnificent Seven that Chriss says only the farmers win after bloodshed. And so we continue and strive through whatever adversity, personal and universal.


Laura disagreed, remarking that ordinary folk suffer too, and I was reminded of the Norman Harrowing of the North in which thousands were slaughtered. Angela countered this with a story from the Civil War when some rural folk did not know that the Royalists and the Parliamentarians were fighting. Chris commented that there were too many orcs infesting Middle-earth for anyone to be unaffected by the wars.


Pondering the balance between the war exploits of which the stories tell – those of lords and warriors – as against the effect of the wars on those who provide their necessities, Angela noted that Aragorn muddy but well made boots, so someone must have made them.

I proposed that the situation with the Valar and the Children of Iluvatar is the difference between the end and the process, and that there is no compassion. Laura wondered if mortal races are just nasty? And there is no sense of later New Testament-style forgiveness. Chris and Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings  compassion comes in the form of Gandalf’s mantra of ‘pity’. Tim added that the Istari were sent in the Third Age to help the free people of Middle-earth. Eileen wondered if The Silmarillion was equivalent to the Old Testament while The Lord of the Rings was equivalent to the New? Tim proposed that it was redressing the early Silmarillion.

Tim added that TSilm is much more mythological than The Lord of the Rings  and ordinary folk are not important to the narrative, while The Lord of the Rings  is more socially aware.

Chris remarked that there are more monsters in TSilm than in The Lord of the Rings .

We agreed to read on as far as the beginning of The Akalabeth, and it was agreed that there would be no meeting on September 22nd because almost everyone will be at Oxonmoot.

Carol’s further comments:

Of the Ruin of Doriath.



Mim: ‘before the proud ones came from over the sea…I have but returned to take what is mine.’  Mim gets my sympathy here because elves have indeed been proud and even hunted Mim’s people but this will be the fulfilment of the prophecy that one of the house of Hador would get revenge on Mim for his betrayal on Amon Rudh.


First Meeting in August – in Oxford!


The Southfarthing trip to Oxford.

This was the Southfarthing’s group outing to visit the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Sadly, even before we started we learned that Carol and Rosemary would be unable to join the party because Rosemary had developed flu-like symptoms overnight. This was such a shame as we haven’t seen them for a very long time.

They would have travelled to Oxford by car, and we were still expecting Eileen to travel there by car while most of us travelled from Southampton together by train – no strikes, and seats all the way! Julie joined the train at Reading and we all met up on the platform at a sunny and warm Oxford.

It’s a manageable walk from the station to the Bodleian, but the narrow pavements were packed with tourists of all kinds and it was a matter of keeping our eyes peeled so we didn’t continually but inadvertently photo-bomb their mementos. The walk also gave us time to go on chatting.

Broad Street was similarly packed but it’s always exciting to look right into Turl Street and see Exeter College, although the Radcliffe Camera really dominates the view, and Julie reminded us of its influence on Tolkien as his idea of Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Numenor.

We assembled on the steps of the new Bodleian building across the road from the Camera to wait for Eileen to arrive. But as our entry time of 11.30 arrived without her, we made contingency plans and went into the exhibition.

It was the script and the image of the Ring on the left hand wall of the vestibule that grabbed my attention until Angela’s attention to the floor alerted me to something even more dramatic – the floor was illuminated by sections of the Map of Middle-earth which moved, so it seemed as though it was possible to walk on it. As if this was not dramatic enough, raising ones’ eyes, revealed the Doors of Durin on the end wall – only a projection of course but entirely taking up the wall and brilliantly showing the mithril lines. It was such a shame that photography was not permitted – it was a perfect photo-opportunity.

Everyone of us, including Eileen who eventually managed to join us after being held up in heavy traffic, seemed to find something of special interest in the exhibition itself. It was well laid out, although some of the manuscripts were a little high up for convenient reading. Some of their content was reproduced on lower panels and some of them would have needed to be flat on a table to be read with a magnifying glass, so faded was the writing after all these years. But seeing one of C.S. Lewis’s letters from 1949, reading Terry Pratchett’s enthusiasm for Farmer Giles of Ham [please see Julie’s comment below on this letter] and Iris Murdoch’s enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings were significant moments for me. Julie later wondered what it was about Smith of Wootton Major that resonated with a young ‘Terence’ Pratchett, as he signed himself. Eileen found the material on the genesis of The Silmarillion enlightening, and Ian found connections between the books on Tolkien’s desk and the early Tolkien family holidays in Wales.

It was astonishing to see the desk at which Tolkien used to write in all its shabby ordinariness and to realize that upon that homely piece of brown furniture the scope and scale, diversity, and imagination of Middle-earth and its off-shoots developed and were laboured over. It gave me a more profound sense of the man who was the author than anything else, although the mock exam paper he once created for an Inklings meeting added a fleeting subversive scurrility that has hitherto been missing.

Adding a further, and highly artistic dimension were all the newspaper fragments upon which Tolkien had created multi-coloured doodles as exquisitely detailed patterns. These, all drawn over the columns of type, really revealed Tolkien’s love of colour and shape as distinct from his better-known designs that illustrate elements of his stories. We were all surprised and impressed by these doodles in different ways. Laura identified one as looking distinctly Anglo-Saxon in its intricacy and colours, but Tim thought it looked more Celtic. I liked the ‘paisley’ designs, and the fact that the crosswords which seemed to have led to the creation of the ‘doodles’ were filled-in in alternating coloured pencils. Chris pointed out that all the crosswords (cryptic of course) were completed. Ian noted that one paper mentioned Bournemouth, another, the New Forest. Julie and I stopped for a while to look at the illuminated 3-D map table which showed the routes taken by various members of the Fellowship after Parth Galen. It was unexpectedly instructive to see the routes traced out by moving lights and to see in 3-D the relative distances. Laura found it touching to see Boromir’s last journey down Anduin.

If we hadn’t had a table booked for a late lunch it’s possible we might have lingered over the exhibits until closing time. Pondering over the burn hole in one of the maps, from a lit pipe; considering the selection of pipes; the small sketch book of water colours, the box of water colours, and the conte pencils, and the lineage of the characteristic script, first seem in Mabel’s letter home to English relatives thanking them for the ‘aprons’ for the boys. Tolkien’s acknowledgement of his mother’s influence on his calligraphy also got a mention, but seeing her tiny delicate calligraphic handwriting made that influence quite unmistakable.

Finally we tore ourselves away. Some of us briefly headed for the gift shop, without being greatly impressed by the range, or some of the prices. A Windsor chair of the kind Tolkien used at his desk was to be had for £800. No decent sized tote bags, which are always useful, or pens, but pretty cuff-links (who wears them these days?). Minor discontents, though, and hardly to be compared to the wonderful time spent immersed in Tolkien’s larger world.

So we headed off through the hordes to Brown’s for a much-needed lunch. I highly recommend their mango, pineapple and passion-fruit smoothie – very refreshing. The fish and chips chosen by most of our group came with fish the size of half a whale, and the service was friendly and attentive. Gave us plenty of time to relax and discuss what we had seen, and there was so much that we were still there when they started serving afternoon teas!

Tearing ourselves away once more as Eileen’s daughters arrived to collect her, the rest of us headed back to the station as the drizzle began to fall. Next time we meet I think we are still going to have plenty to talk about!