Last in January

26.1.19

Back to our usual format today, but with pleasant memories of our ’moot. After the stimulating presentations of that meeting, and with news of subsequent developments in the work of some of our writers, we turned again to The Fall of Gondolin. Carol had sent comments on some matters and those topics she covered and we addressed are included here. We were sorry not to see Julie and Tim, but hope to see them in February.

Eileen began the afternoon by questioning why Tuor’s father, and thus Tuor, does not lie under the same curse as their kinsmen, Hurin and Túrin. I suggested it was Morgoth’s particular attempt to punish Hurin, and Angela added that Hurin had defied and mocked Melkor, so his family torment is his punishment. Huor does not irritate Melkor in the same way.

Ian observed that the tormenting of Hurin resembles the coercive colonial technique where a family member was separated from the group or tribe by the colonial power and treated differently so that when they are returned they are the subject of suspicion.

Chris noted that although Gollum doesn’t exactly mock Sauron he does lie to him.

Laura remarked that in the new Gondolin book lots of animals are described as Morgoth’s spies, including great weasels, owls, falcons, and the sons of orcs. Laura commented that this is the only time we hear about ‘sons of orcs’, and she noted that there are great weasels on Madagascar that hunt lemurs, and we discussed the characteristics of the animals named, and pondered the possibility that the concept of great weasels had its source in The Wind in the Willows.

Carol also commented on a reference to ” ‘Gothmog lord of balrogs, son of Melko…’ in all my readings of Tolkien this is the only time I’ve found off spring attributed to a Vala.”

Carol had commented that “we can’t understand what it must have been like for Tuor seeing the sea for the first time. I would think that most of us were brought up with seeing the sea, if only on holiday, from before we can remember. I know when I became conscious of the sea on holiday, it came as no surprise: water ebbing and flowing, unlike streams and rivers running forward all the time.

I can’t begin to understand Tuor’s solitariness. I live alone but with people and buildings around me, but to wander alone in wild country would scare me. I like my own company but have recourse to phone and personal contact too. But then Tuor’s a hero in heroic mode but even he began to want to company of other humans.”

Eileen agreed that Tuor’s experiences were impossible to imagine, and Ian remarked on the effect of air pollution in towns. [This surely must have added point to Tolkien’s descriptions, because he had experienced the dirt of early twentieth-century Birmingham, and even pollution from the mill at Sarehole.

Carol added that “Tolkien has a great imagination for landscape and narration. To write about a journey of one person so far is no easy task.”

Angela noted that Aragorn often travels alone and this must entail practical difficulties such as coping with illness and finding food.

Laura remarked, however, that North American fur trappers also travelled alone in hazardous circumstances. Ian commented that they focussed on making a living by trading.

Angela wondered whether we are to accept that Tuor was indeed the first Man to see the Sea, as the narration says. I wondered if this statement was part of the sense of a foundational or taxonomic myth, like his naming of butterflies and plants.

Carol commented that in the new book, “this is a different tale of the coming of Voronwe from that in TS. So far, I think I prefer TS version but then that’s the one I’m most familiar with.

There’s also a different account in Unfinished Tales of the journey of Tuor and Voronwe, going overland in snow, dodging orcs and almost meeting Turin. Also in UT, when Voronwe and Tuor find the hidden door to Gondolin, they are taken via several strong doors upward to reach the city; and Tuor’s parentage is different.”

Eileen also remarked on the difference between the versions of Tuor’s journey and the in which Voronwe finds it hard to cope in the snow and Tuor has to encourage him.

Angela noted that in one version it is Gwindor who needs encouraging.

Laura observed that in one version of the story, Voronwe is an escaped thrall, and so is ready to flee, but it was noted that the status of thrall is given to Gwindor in another version.

Laura also noted that Voronwe is named Bronweg in the Cottage of Lost Play.

Eileen noted that in yet another version, Voronwe is the last surviving mariner of those sent out by Turgon.

Chris remarked that it is Ulmo who saves him from shipwreck, and this fits better with the theme of helping Tuor.

Laura suggested that there is a Great Plan, but it goes wrong. Chris proposed that Ulmo didn’t know Turgon would refuse his command, but Laura wondered if Ulmo was really aware?

Carol commented that ‘Turgon is still too proud to hearken to Tuor’s words but reasons are given: the sending out of elves to find aid from the Valar, never returning, and the Valar seemingly ignoring the pleas from Middle-earth. Chris pondered whether Ulmo would, in this context, be considered a “troublemaker”?

Eileen noted the significance of the number 7 in the story, and changing tack, went on to consider the relevance of characters being given the chance to change through the option of pity. Although this is most obvious with Gollum, Eileen mentioned Turin ignoring the chance.

Ian then drew our attention to the motif of blackening and burning when characters handle the One Ring, and also the Silmarils. Ian elaborated when he noted that the Rings are made by Celebrimbor and Sauron creates the Ruling Ring using the same technology. After the Fall of Numenor he is rendered non-corporeal and this could not wear the Ring so he when returns to Middle-earth he has to fashion himself a new form so he can have a corporeal presence. [The topic of ‘self-fashioning’ was not addressed at the time, but would be worth discussing.]

Ian continued: Fire is one of the elements that goes into the making of the major artefacts – both the Ring and the Silmarils and into the self, both Sauron and Feanor, but all Sauron represents is the artefact.

Angela noted that during Sauron’s time of influence on Numenor the Temple of Fire was a place of burnt sacrifice.

Laura then questioned when Sauron went to Dol Guldur. Angela replied that it was after the Ring was cut from his hand.

Ian suggested that Sauron must have left the Ring in Middle-earth when he went as hostage to Numenor.

Laura asked if he wouldn’t always have it with him?

Ian went on to consider the original burning associated with the silmarils and therefore all they represent. They could have rekindled the light of the 2 Trees but Feanor refused. When the silmarils were stolen they burn even Morgoth, However, Beren was not burned, although Carcharoth was destroyed. When Sauron created the One Rone he puts some of himself into it, but he is part of the Flame Imperishable being a Maia. Therefore the heat of Sauron is still in the Ring as heat is still in Sauron, but this connection to the Flame Imperishable diminishes – as Chris and Angela observed of the Ring’s time in the Anduin – until Gollum can handle it.

 

We ran short of time but agreed to continue with our reading of The Fall of Gondolin at our next meeting, in hopes that we will actually get round to the siege and its consequences

 

 

 

 

 

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First meeting in January 2019

What a long time since we last met, but here we are back for another year of Tolkien!

12.1.19                        Wessexmoot

 It seems like an auspicious way to begin a new year with a celebratory Wessexmoot. Everyone who could attend was present for the afternoon, which was stimulating because we had 5 widely different presentations, and might have had more but for a lack of time.

The presentations were given by Chris, Eileen, Julie, Laura and Ian.

Because Chris is in the process of working up his presentation as a serious piece of research intended for submission for publication, I will only give a brief outline here. The topic is spying and infiltration in Tolkien’s works. It marks a departure for Chris’s recent interests in comparative research in which he has considered relationship between Tolkien’s work and Russian literature; Frankenstein; and other literature. In his presentation Chris isolated topics such as motivation, and the nature of characters who undertake spying and infiltration. We found much about this fascinating and hugely diverse topic to focus our comments and queries.

We moved on to Eileen’s presentation on the cousins Túrin and Tuor. She had been deeply interested in the difference between them and the degree to which their upbringing could be seen as defining their actions. Considering the effect of nature v. nurture, Eileen argued that this raises the matter of motherhood, as their mothers behave differently towards their sons. In her comments later, Laura noted the challenge presented by the bereaved mother.

In the case of Túrin, the main subject of her study, Eileen pointed out that while he rejects Thingol, in spite of being pardoned by him, he shows some empathy with Mim the dwarf. He is too short-sighted in his actions in spite of his privileges, and he fails people. Commenting afterwards, Tim described Túrin as a Jonah.

Eileen also defined an irony in Hurin and Morwen being together in death although separated in life.

Eileen’s paper certainly offered some tantalizing options for approaching the differences between the two cousins, going beyond the obvious external, patriarchal, and moral influences.

Julie’s presentation was a poem she had shared at New Year via Facebook, but as some of our group do not subscribe to such social media it was welcome by those who had not seen it, and it was in any case delightful to hear it read aloud. The poem in question was by Malcolm Guite, from his book ‘The Singing Bowl’. Julie introduced the Guite as in the tradition of priest-poets, and the poem was full of references to the trees and leaves so characteristic of Tolkien’s work, but also genuinely infused with his sense of the spiritual. Commenting on the poem later, Tim defined the structure and images as an interconnected poetic technique.

Laura changed the artistic medium with her presentation on The Gates of Gondolin. Using two examples of paintings from the many illustrations to be found on the Internet, one of which was Tolkien’s own depiction of the Gates, Laura showed the progression of Gates from Wood to Steel. While all the Gates in both illustrations showed appropriate details, Laura noted that the steel gate is described in such a way as to suggest stainless steel, and it was made by Maeglin. It differed from Turgon’s earlier gates in its design concept, and was finally no defense because Gondolin fell from treachery not direct assault. Laura pointed out that Turgon’s gates show a progression: wood, stone, bronze, iron, silver=white marble, gold=yellow marble, and have been partly associated with the Ages of pre-history. Commenting afterwards, Chris observed that Turgon’s gates show increasing sophistication and wealth. Laura’s presentation certainly revealed the contrast between the appearance of strength, wealth and glamour, and the folly of pride and complacency.

Ian gave us the final presentation which was on his reading, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Ian suggested that the author’s theory of decoupled self-identity from the external illuminates Frodo’s statement in the Sammath Naur, ‘I have come…’ Ian argued that in fact the true self here is not Frodo’s but Sauron’s, which is decoupled at this point from the perception that has been running the War, having been infused into the Ring during its forging. We didn’t have time to discuss this thought-provoking concept, but no doubt will be able to revisit it at a later time.

As Julie and Eileen were not able to join us for our post-meeting refreshments or our dinner at the Piccolo Mondo restaurant later, we have agreed to try to arrange another dinner, perhaps around the time or Reading Day.

Our next meeting at the end of January will continue our reading and discussion of The Fall of Gondolin in all its manifestations.