Six of us gathered on one of those chilly damp November afternoons when it’s good to be indoors, and happily the seminar room where we meet was warm this week. It was with some determination that we set about finishing our reading of The Silmarillion. Carol had sent comments, which are included in the main blog.
We began by looking forward to our next reading, which will be any version of The Fall of Gondolin, or any combination of versions, including the new book. Angela and I both commented on the problems and difficulties facing editors, and noted the effect of their decisions on the editions we read, whatever they may be.
When we eventually turned our attention to the last chapter of The Silmarillion, Carol had noted that when the TSilm account of the founding of the North Kingdom references ‘many barrows’ these are the same barrows the hobbits will walk by on the Barrow Downs, and she describes this as “history in topography”.
I remarked that this collapsing of history is signaled by the unusual change of tense. The narration changes from past tense to present tense: ‘towers they raised … and there remain many barrows …’
Laura commented that in the New Forest the group of musicians known as ‘Nine Barrows’ is reminiscent of TSilm topography, but this is more apparent in the topography of Wiltshire, with its many barrows, and the standing stones of Stonehenge.
Angela returned us to the text when she observed that the description of the storm which brought the Numenorean ships to land looks dreadful, and suggests the travelers must have been seasick! We all agreed that the description of the huge waves is reminiscent of a tsunami, and that this was highly likely as Numenor was swallowed up.
I thought Isildur was mean, when he took ship and left his brother to defend Osgiliath alone. Angela countered this view with the proposal that he is foresighted and may have been escaping to save his youngest son, and the seedling of the Tree, both of which were eventually essential for saving the line of the kings.
Eileen compared this to Túrin leaving his mother and sister.
Laura wondered if both instances make up part of the ‘grand plan’ to preserve the family line as a matter of survival taking precedence over love.
Eileen and Laura noted the Isildur’s flight marks the division between the North and South Kingdoms.
Angela observed that in the flight from Numenor, 1 ship goes north and 2 go south.
Eileen wondered, as Tolkien had 3 sons, how would he have felt at the separation from his sons.
Angela and Chris noted that in Tolkien’s Letters it becomes apparent that he is closer to his son Christopher because they have more in common, and thus favours him, rather than John and Michael. [Considering our first topic this afternoon, we might have discussed the choices of the editor, Humphrey Carpenter, who obviously chose letters with the greatest bearing on Tolkien’s creativity, which was shared closely with Christopher. Topics shared particularly between John and Michael and their father are less obvious among Carpenter’s selection. Maybe a better guide can be found in The Father Christmas Letters?]
I remarked that the moment when Earnur the king meets the Lord of the Nazgul in single combat outside Minas Ithil/Morgul is one among many such confrontations.
Angela noted that the Lord of the Nazgul is called out at other times, and it is during one of these that Glorfindel speaks the prophecy ‘not by the hand of Man …’. This implicitly disregards the other races of Middle-earth who are not Men, so Elves, Eowyn and Merry are not perhaps considered.
Laura remarked that the Nazgul thinks he’s immortal because of this prophecy.
Laura noted that at the Gate of Minas Tirith the Lord of the Nazgul is not Gandalf’s equal, and Angela added that he was a mortal man. Laura responded that the Nazgul has Sauron backing him up and directing his actions, so the Nazgul is just following ordere, but Gandalf’s most powerful back up is far away in the West so he has to work out his own plans.
Eileen asked if this was good, or bad? Laura responded that Gandalf has the freedom and is trusted to do right.
Chris went on to compare Beregond in Minas Tirith acting on his own initiative to the internal conflicts between groups of orcs.
Laura also thought the ‘good guys’ show compassion, and Angela remarked that the Captains of the West follow Aragorn out of love, as Eowyn says. I compared this to the orcs in Mordor who have to be whipped along.
Laura then went on to observe that Denethor is affected by the palantir as Boromir is affected by the Ring. I suggested that in the comparison set up between Faramir and Boromir, Tolkien might have been suggesting that culture is a defense against the desire for Power. I cited the examples of Aragorn and his singing and Frodo and Bilbo with their knowledge of Elvish and historical and literary interests.
Laura extended this idea by suggesting that it was lineage in combination with culture that was important, and noted Tolkien’s insistence on his descent from the Suffields, who were his mother’s family.
Angela commented that in Aragorn’s case his resistance to the Ring’s temptation is due to guilt and that he is engaged in trying to repair Isildur’s fault.
Carol questioned the potential consequences if Isildur had indeed cast the Ring into the fire when he had it.
Chris noted that although Sauron comes out of Mordor and is vanquished, Elrond does not necessarily urge Isildur to act on that day. It may not have happened until everyone else had gone away, although anyone in the proximity of Isildur may not have survived. Chris went on to remark that after the Alliance the participants are divided again.
Eileen questioned why the Dwarves did not participate and Angela concluded that they regarded it as ‘not our problem’. Laura noted that the animals also choose sides.
Angela wondered when the anomalous assertion that Frodo threw the Ring into Mount Doom was actually written. Chris wondered if it was while Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings , before later revision. I observed that TSilm is throughout an Elvish version of history.
Ian supported this by remarking that it is history by Elves for Elves, and to them Gollum perhaps wasn’t important because the story of how the Ring was destroyed didn’t get transmitted to them. Only Legolas was present at the Field of Cormallen, so the Gollum element didn’t reach Elvish historians.
Chris noted that after the rescue of Frodo and Sam, Gollum is never mentioned again. Laura remarked on it as an impersonal account of hobbit-folk.
Eileen found the comment that ‘help came from the hands of the weak when the Wise faltered’ profound, and Chris observed that the last battle was not won by strength. Eileen added that Tolkien seems to be suggesting ways of achieving things, other than war.
And so we ran out of time. It has taken us a long time to work through TSilm, but next time we meet we shall begin The Fall of Gondolin, in any of its redactions.