Last meeting of 2018, how fast this year has gone! Actually, I was convinced there was one more meeting before Christmas, having failed to notice that we don’t meet on 22nd. So this will be the only blog in December. There seems something significant about the fact that as the year draws to a close we have just begun our reading of the various versions of The Fall of Gondolin.
However, Eileen initiated our discussions by referring us back to the story of Turin in TSil. As expressed an interest in what she described as his ‘psychotic’ episodes which lead him to engage in the romance and bravado of life as an outlaw.
Angela described his story as a process of decline while Tim argued that Turin is changing and reacting to circumstances.
Ian and Tim observed that among the outlaws he develops an identity.
Angela noted that Turin’s mother sends him away to Doriath as a child but she is too proud to go too, and so they are separated.
Ian remarked that many heroes of Men of the age had already been lost, so there was loss of status and this led to the need for fostering out, but here it is in an alien culture, where Turin eventually feels his honour to be slighted; and he’s not prepared to face the justice of Thingol. All the time he is trying to find his way in the world.
Eileen asked why Turin couldn’t ask for forgiveness and Tim responded that for him pride = honour and he doesn’t see what he has done wrong.
Eileen remarked that Turin constantly just misses out on things and people.
Ian noted that the stories of Tuor and Turin almost meet, but Tuor is fated to be addressed by a ‘god’ – Ulmo, while Turin is fated to be addressed by a demon – Glaurung speaking with the voice of Melkor.
Laura thought that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Morgoth and his torment of Hurin by means of Turin’s suffering. So Turin can’t avoid this.
Angela noted that of the 2 cousins, one, Turin, is under the curse of Morgoth, while the other, Tuor, is favoured by the ‘god’. Ian saw them as both the same – under the control of Powers.
Moving on into our specified reading, both Laura and Angela described Turgon as an arrogant idiot.
Chris noted that Voronwe was lifted up on a wave, that saved him.
Tim remarked that Tuor wants to be part of Gondolin and relates to others, in contrast to Turin who, as Ian pointed out, cannot and will not accept that there is anything greater than himself.
Ian went on to remark that there is a need for a reflection in order to develop a sense of self, but Turin lives by his own rules. Ian went on to compare Gondolin itself to Turin.
Laura pointed out that Gondolin collapses through the treachery of Maeglin, but also observed that the whole episode is like a fairy-story.
Angela noted that in the new Fall of Gondolin book Idril is more feisty than in other versions, and is described as wearing mail and fighting ‘like a tigress’.
Laura remarked that Tolkien had worked on the Gondolin story from 1917 to the 1950s.
Angela observed that there is really very little of the story in TSil., and Chris added that it has still not been all put together as a coherent story, even in the new book.
I asked what everyone thought would be the point of our studying all the versions?
Eileen thought it would show up positive and negative characterisations in the family groups, and reveal the ‘ripple effect’ of how not to do things.
Chris referred us to Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov in which the 3 brothers are all different.
Tim remarked that Gondolin is about the ending of things. He noted that other hidden cities had already fallen, and wondered if this motif of the end of the old order stemmed from Tolkien’s experience of seeing exactly this in World War One.
Chris observed that there are other hidden kingdoms in The Lord of the Rings and that this seems to be a theme in Tolkien’s works.
Ian commented that in TSil. the hidden kingdoms are not founded by conquest but returning Elves found these secret enclaves, and these include Rivendell and Lothlorien. These, however, are not civilisations – they know they will leave one day. Gondolin doesn’t see the prospect of leaving. Ian went on to propose that in ‘founding’ Gondolin, Tolkien perhaps didn’t originally foresee this either, but post WW1 set out to make the Gondolin story more ‘realistic’ or coherent. It was proposed that we could check the Letters for evidence of this change, but it was also acknowledged that they are only a partial (in both senses) indication of what Tolkien was thinking and feeling at any point in his life.
Laura went on to note the contrast between the fate of Gondolin and the prediction of the coming of a remarkable baby.
I thought Tuor’s message from Ulmo to Turgon acknowledged but dismissed the terrible fate that awaited Gondolin if it did as Ulmo demanded. Genocide seem implicitly to be anticipated, but must be endured ‘for the greater good’, according to Ulmo. I wondered how this might have reflected Tolkien’s view of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Turkey in WW1, which was largely ignored in the West.
Ian proposed that in the era of ethnic cleansing and colonial exploitation so perhaps Gondolin represents a message that you can’t go on in the same way forever. Ulmo’s message is that you have to go and face down evil for yourself.
Tim observed that Morgoth is a Vala, so the Valar should sort it out, but Ulmo’s message is ‘your world, sort it.’
Laura observed that Turgon must have known Tuor when he saw him because Ulmo had told Turgon to leave armour in his former realm for him.
Tim noted that in the context of WW1, all the monarchs of Europe were related and could have talked to one another. Ian added that this approach was disrupted by the rise of other ‘Powers’.
Laura then remarked that this is the first time Tuor – a Man – has seem a Vala but lots of Elves have, and Turgon rejects his counsel.
Ian commented that the images of the mechanical beasts as destroyers represent the ‘modern’ world invading. But Laura remarked that Maeglin betrayed the realm so they could get in, and Ian qualified this by describing Maeglin as the ‘bit in the middle’ facilitating things.
Laura observed that Tolkien creates a nasty combination of balrogs, which are organic, and mechanical devices and she compared this to Tolkien’s experience in war where there was a combination of tanks and human evil.
Ian thought the combination represented the calamity overtaking humanity in the 20th century.
I wondered what the effect was of Tolkien’s presentation of the story variously in alliterative verse form and prose? Ian responded that they addressed different ‘audiences’.
Chris observed that The Fall of Gondolin stays essentially the same through the decades and forms, it’s just details that are developed. Chris compared this to The Lord of the Rings where major changes happened during its initial writing.
Ian noted that The Lord of the Rings developed out of The Hobbit and some bits didn’t work in initial creation and so needed revising. With Gondolin the basic essentials didn’t need changing because it was always internally consistent. Tolkien knew the story from start to finish and just developed elements. On the other hand, in the creation of The Lord of the Rings some bits, like Faramir, just ‘arrived’.
We had found a great deal to explore among the versions of the Gondolin story, and we will go on reading it for our next meeting in January.