Sadly, we were without Tim, Chris and Angela, as well as Julie at this meeting, so only 4 of us gathered on the Saturday closest to Tolkien Reading Day. It was for this reason that we decided to leave our discussion of The House of the Wolfing until our next meeting in April and take the Reading Day topic of ‘the mysterious in Tolkien’ instead. In the event we spread our net more widely than Tolkien.
We began by pondering the attractions of numerous instances of backstories as Laura questioned the validity of J.K. Rowling’s extensions to the original Harry Potter series, and whether these had been part of the project all along.
The unofficial extension of Tolkien’s work into ‘slash fan-fiction’ was considered.
I suggested that the development of existing stories satisfied a desire to demystify books and films.
Ian remarked that it relates to the universal belief in something more.
Laura observed that the impulse to open up stories to develop backstories echoes Gandalf’s challenge to Saruman concerning the folly of breaking things to find out how they work.
Eileen likened the impulse to small boys taking things apart.
Laura drew a parallel with Richard Dawkins’ trying to remove the mystique from human life.
Ian remarked that the appliance of science was used in Lower Egypt to move massive building blocks which in turn signified the status of Pharoah as god.
I brought the topic back to Tolkien when I asked if his appeal lay in his creation of mystery in a demystifying age?
Eileen thought he focused on the strange relationship between Sam, Frodo and Gandalf, and the mysterious Ring.
Laura remarked that Tolkien creates mysteries like those in our own world.
Eileen observed that in the case of Elf ladies, real love triumphs over their mysterious immortality.
Laura noted that Tolkien is referenced everywhere now.
Ian commented that there are orcs in the Warcraft computer game.
Laura commented that the concept of ‘orcneas’, naming an enemy of mortals, is found in Beowulf.
Ian proposed that the word is used to describe the mystery of the Other. He went on to argue that in Tolkien’s work, the mystery of alien technology is summed up in the way the Ring is responsible for Gollum’s long life. In The House of the Wolfings the protective hauberk is not a mystery but another example of the use of scienc, although it is a mystery if you don’t understand the technology.
Laura remarked that in Beowulf, the mysterious child Scyld Scefing becomes leader, and she compared this to the Norwegian leader of the Danish Vikings at the Battle of Maldon: the different world view provides the ‘edge’ that makes them special.
Ian commented that in Wolfings the Hall Sun, and the Wood Sun her Mother are mystical in their culture, as opposed to the more technological Roman society.
Eileen noted the inclusion in this work of stories from earlier events, and Laura noted the emphasis on building technology. Ian observed the presence of Morris’s interest in higher belief and higher truth.
Eileen responded that the dissemination of information via stories also demystifies.
Ian considered that Morris’s presentation is theatrical, i.e. sequential, and that in the case of visualization of events from the past, writing them down means they can be retained, as opposed to oral tradition.
I questioned the stages of demystifying that may take place via story and film.
Ian replied that Tolkien was writing in an age of human endeavour but now the current value system values investigation, but some present values don’t match earlier ones.
Eileen added that art and artefacts are inevitably of their time.
I questioned the apparent need for mystery in literature and other media. Laura responded that it satisfies the need for hope and for good to triumph.
Ian proposed that where people and society exist in a closed state there is no need to move on, it is not adaptive but in arrested development. Where society is hesitant about moving on there is perhaps the need for a god or for enforced movement, but in and open society, change is natural.
Next time we will pick up our concentration on The House of the Wolfings