On the first really chilly afternoon of autumn seven of us gathered to finish reading Chapter 24 of The Silmarillion. But in fact we didn’t spend much time on this reading. Nevertheless, we managed to complete it and move on to the ‘Akallabeth’. Carol’s comments on this are included here.
Before we began we needed to consider the unfortunate matter of the cost of our meetings next year. Thanks to Laura for taking on this tedious job.
With that matter concluded, Ian began the meeting proper by drawing our attention to his latest theoretical reading: Sapiens – a Brief History of Humanity. Ian explained the book’s emphasis on the necessity for contradictory beliefs and cognitive dissonance, drawing parallels with Tolkien presentation of the Music, defining this as a consideration of contradictions and their functions.
Laura wondered if this led towards the theory that good and evil must exist together.
Ian noted that dissonance is clustered all in one place in the Creation sequence of The Silmarillion.
Eileen expressed her doubt as to whether it is evil that actually triumphs in Tolkien’s work because it seems that evil is never completely overthrown.
Tim proposed that the presence of evil emerges through all the choices that are given to characters, but are the choices made good or bad, and are they part of Iluvatar’s design?
Ian then wondered if in the choices of those created we witness Iluvatar’s own kinds of choice? And Chris wondered if Iluvatar is actually making mistakes and testing things out? But Tim asked: ‘Are they mistakes?’
Chris went on to note that after a while each Middle-earth society in The Silmarillion becomes corrupted.
Ian observed that these are all cultures which actively seek to halt the progress of time, and that it is unnatural to try to stop this.
Eileen then asked if Sauron is evil. Angela replied that he is not at first, and Ian added that Morgoth is. Eileen then wondered about the connection between change and the causes of evil.
Chris noted the link between change and corruption in all peoples.
Tim observed that evolution is about change.
Chris then moved the discussion from these theoretical matters to more concrete topics when he remarked that the Numenoreans began taking slaves back from the east of Middle-earth, and wondered if Tolkien was acknowledging the same tendency in the Primary World.
Ian remarked that when you ascribe a commercial value not just to things but among groups of people.
Eileen commented that amid all this she found the sending of Gandalf uplifting.
Chris noted that in Numenor there is evidence of religious ceremonies and Angela remarked that the place was hallowed to Iluvatar. Eileen observed that the White Tree continues, and Angela noted that Amandil blessed the last fruit of Nimloth.
Laura remarked that the Numenoreans worshipped themselves and Sauron.
Carol commented that Sauron, like the serpent in Eden, is father of lies.
I thought Sauron’s response to Armenelos was enlightening because even he, a Maia, is impressed by this work of Men, but it spurs his envy and hatred.
Ian wondered if Armenelos represents technological advance. Without the aid of a mythical agent like Sauron a mortal culture has achieved technological advance without mythical intervention, this then sows fear in the heart of Sauron.
Eileen wondered why Men were the ‘easiest to corrupt’. Laura suggested it was because they were not so strong. I proposed it was because they had become sundered from the Elves.
Chris observed that most corruption of Men is because they want power, and because they don’t know what will happen to them after death.
Tim noted that the earliest Numenorean bloodline remains uncorrupted and leads eventually to Aragorn and this is why he still has the ability to resist temptation.
Angela reminded us that some Nazgul were Numenorean.
Carol commented that the ban of the Valar is like God telling Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Of course people are going to sail or eat. Human beings are like that.
Chris likened the fate of Ar-Pharazon and his men, pinned under the fallen hill, to the story of King Arthur.
This reminded me of a biblical passage, and have found in Revelation 6:16
Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the commanders, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?” It also appears in Luke 23:30
Tim saw this as an image of the stasis that seems to afflict unsuccessful societies in Middle-earth. Or maybe this should be interpreted as a form of limbo.
Carol commented on the drowning of Numenor: ‘it has been said before that this is like the tale of the deluge of Atlantis, and that Tolkien dreamed of this many times but the nightmares were purged when he wrote about it. Faramir has the same nightmare in The Lord of the Rings.
Angela remarked that Julie wrote her MA thesis on such flood images.
Our reading for our next meeting will be ‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’.
Once we have finished The Silmarillion we shall turn our attention to all versions of The Fall of Gondolin.