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