First in November

Dodging some heavy showers, five of us gathered this afternoon. Julie, Ian and Mike were unable to join us for various reasons, and we have heard from Carol that for a while she will not be sending her Comments as she will soon be off on her travels. She will keep in touch via the blog, as will Julie while she is away from the group.
We had not set any specific amount of reading for this week’s meeting but Angela began the afternoon’s discussion by referring back to Ian’s remarks on the Entwives last time. Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings (3.4) in Treebeard’s account to Merry and Pippin it was in the First Age that the Entwives left the Ents and crossed the Anduin. The region later known as the Brown Lands became their gardens but earned their desolate name when they were destroyed during the war of the Last Alliance.
Laura observed that the Ents themselves were keepers of the ancient Rhyme of Lore, and she went on to remark that when Yavanna goes to see Manwe about protection for growing things, she reminds him that some trees had voices to sing during the Creation period.
Eileen remarked that in The Lord of the Rings there seems to be evidence of distant communication between trees.
Laura commented that this seems to echo in the primary world, where the function of microrhyza in the soil benefits plants of all kinds, and in the Navaho tradition planting of 3 specific crops together nourishes all 3.
I questioned the significance of laughter in Chapter 1 of the Quenta Silmarillion. Laura remarked that Tulkas is like a mix of Loki and Thor – the mocking trickster but with physical power. Angela wondered whether the laughter of Tulkas is malicious or a sign of the evaporation of anger.
Laura observed that the planning of the Valar is not good because they don’t forsee the effect of Tulkas on Melkor, thus the Valar are shown to be flawed, like all gods. Laura also wondered if Melkor is suffering from self-loathing as well as self-love?
Angela pondered where the Valar would be without Tulkas.
Laura remarked that there is a lot of detail in the Lost Tales about the Chain used to restrain Melkor, and its magic name. Chris noted that in spite of his punishment Melkor does not change or reform.
Thinking of repentance, I asked if we can compare Melkor and Gollum? Eileen replied that both are subtle in their malice. Laura wondered if both are tools in the great Plan. Eileen suggested that a negative side was needed to show choice and development. I wondered why Iluvatar didn’t obliterate Melkor. Laura noted that Melkor is in effect Iluvatar’s ‘child’, or maybe Melkor cannot be obliterated because he is in Iluvatar’s mind.
Angela observed that at the wedding of Tulkas and Nessa, she danced while Tulkas slept.
Changing the focus, on the matter of presumed omnipotence, Chris noted that Iluvatar clearly doesn’t know about the origin of the Dwarves because he has to accept them.
Laura observed that they were part of the Music but also part of the concept of free will – not known but part of the Final Plan.
Chris remarked that Aulë created the Dwarves to be able to cope with Melkor. Laura wondered if he made them in his own image – skilful and strong. Chris questioned ‘was Iluvatar going to create Dwarves himself but being pre-empted by Aulë had to create hobbits later?’ and pondered whether, if hobbits had not emerged, they would have been the destroyers of the Ring? Laura supported this when she remarked that Dwarves don’t seem to be drawn to the Ring, they don’t amass gold, but they know the value of their own work. Chris noted that the strength of the Dwarves also appears as a characteristic of hobbits.
I wondered why Elves were not capable of destroying the Ring, because they are the favoured race? Laura remarked that all Elves are open to flaws.
Eileen observed that hobbits are unobtrusive and that Legolas and Gimli come from different perspectives to understanding.
Laura referred us to the statement that ‘beasts became monsters of horn and ivory’, and observed that these describe forms we love, but they were perverted form. Laura also remarked that Melkor also spoils the original shape of the world and that he has such a grip on his own melody that he can warp things.
Eileen commented that Melkor is unpredictable but powerful, and Laura remarked that his power is negative. Eileen added that he has a narcissistic trait. Laura compared him to crime novel psychopaths who want to be recognised by the police for their brilliance.
Chris noted that there is no communication between Melkor and Iluvatar, although Aulë and Manwë both communicate directly with the Supreme Power.
Laura noted that while Melkor is being caught, restrained and punished, Olórin (Gandalf) is learning pity from Nienna, but does not communicate this to the other Valar.
Laura remarked that the Old Testament God is also distant. She went on to observe that when Melkor’s underground fortresses are destroyed ‘Sauron they did not find’. Laura thought this inverted syntax particularly impressive. She went on to remark that the Ring of Doom (Judgment) reminded her of the Icelandic Althing where legal disputes were presented for judgment, and that this had the connotation of bleakness and cold. She also observed that the description of the ‘knees of the Valar’ reminded her of the monumental statues of Egyptian pharaohs whose family were often depicted as small figures only knee-high beside the ruler.
Angela argued that the Valar were not exerting control, but teaching. Laura proposed that Melkor was only interested in exerting control.
Angela went on to note the comment that few Men knew of the Vanya Elves as they went into the West and stayed there permanently. In TSil Chapter 3 it explains that the Vanya ‘are the Fair Elves, the beloved of Manwë and Varda, and few among Men have spoken with them.’
Eileen noted that Melkor tries to scare the newly awoken Elves and Laura commented that the ‘dark rider’ prefigures the Black Riders.
Eileen remarked that Melkor began by relying on chaos, but now he has plans.
Laura brought us back to lighter thoughts when she drew attention to the list of stars and remarked that there is an echo of this in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian.
We did not set any particular reading but agreed to read as far as we have time and resume our discussions at Chapter 4 ‘Thingol and Melian’.


Last meeting in October


We missed Julie and Mike this afternoon, and those of us who met battled determinedly against the noise of the local Oktoberfest (nothing like the famous Munich event). Carol sent her comments (quietly) and they can be found at the end of this blog, but in fact we began the meeting with Carol’s thoughts and question:

‘Flame Imperishable’ reminds me of Gandalf especially fighting the balrog. Melkor begins the discord. He wants to create his own ‘things’ apart from Eru’s creation. Melkor is initially the chief of the Ainur but he can’t find the Flame Imperishable. Still not sure what this represents but it’s a secret Eru keeps to himself. Gandalf is guardian of the ring of fire. Is he Eru’s direct emissary, even though only a Maia, who remembers the prime directive of non-interference through power only encouragement. Any elucidation on the Flame Imperishable, what it means etc?

Laura began our responses to this when she remarked that it is too obvious to say that the Flame is the Holy Ghost.

Ian took a positive line on this when he observed that it is something to do with the Holy Ones (i.e. the Valar). He expanded this by noting that Melkor imagines, as opposed to the Valar who bring into being and fulfil and don’t imagine.

I observed that Melkor thinks the Flame is external to him and so he seeks for it when in fact it is part of him.

Ian proposed that Tolkien is exploring ‘possession’ and acquiring as a trait which determines future actions.

Eileen noted the importance of the combination of thought and music.

Laura remarked that Aule creates the Dwarves without wanting the Flame and compared this to Melkor desiring to create in order to possess. Ian commented that Melkor doesn’t create but corrupts.

Chris whimsically suggested that the Flame is an ignition system deployed by Iluvatar so that the Valar can create.

Ian observed that Tolkien himself creates in a way very unlike the 70s fantasts who were working at the time when The Silmarillion appeared because he creates at a semantic level.

Ian went on to remark that if we look for the Flame we ignore the fact that we are the Flame and can therefore sub-create, which is fulfilling the Plan.

Laura observed that there are actually 2 Flames in the myth because the balrog is the Flame of Udun. Laura went on to contrast the Flame Imperishable to the eternal fire in Rider Haggard’s She.

Ian objected that Tolkien’s version is not like Haggard’s, which is an attempt to make myth manifest in a ‘real world’.

I wondered about the difference between Aule’s desire to create the Dwarves and Melkor’s desire to create. Laura commented that Melkor corrupts Elves to create orcs and this is considered the worst of his actions.

Chris observed that Melkor squanders his strength and therefore cannot create. Ian added that Melkor burns out his power. In the context of Melkor as Vala and therefore ‘infused’ with the Flame, Eileen saw this as a paradox. Chris characterised Melkor as ‘wasteful’, and suggested that when Saruman ‘dissipates’ at the end of The Lord of the Rings, this indicated his loss of the Flame. We noted other instances is similar ‘dissipation’ by other corrupted characters. Ian likened this to entropy and the final dissipation of all energy in the universe.

Eileen observed that Dwarves seem to be created with fear and wondered if this was because they were not created for the right reasons. Ian remarked that Aule is a maker, not a creator, and is exceeding his authority. Angela remarks that Iluvatar gives the Dwarves life and for this reason they cower in fear.

I asked if the ‘secret fire’ was the same as the Flame Imperishable and Angela thought so but Chris and Laura suggested it was not the Flame itself, but like the Olympic torch

We moved on to consider the presentation of the Maiar, and Angela and Laura noted that Olórin is only once mentioned in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela continued with the observation that he walks unseen, while Ossë, Ulmo’s Maia, is ‘visible’ in the wildness of the effect he has.

Laura reflected that as ‘we’ are largely composed of water, Ulmo is in all of us through his universal presence in water.

I wondered what might be deduced concerning Olorin’s effect on the hobbits because he is capable of influencing the hearts and minds of Elves? If hobbits are considered more rustic and susceptible, the heroic choice of Frodo would surely be tainted by Olorin’s influence rather than being the choice of a free will.

Laura proposed rather that hobbits are Iluvatar’s secret weapon. Chris noted that Tolkien didn’t go back to The Silmarillion to add in the hobbits after he created them. Laura went on to wonder who in the ‘pantheon’ would have created them. I suggested that Yavanna might have.

Ian wondered about the timescale between the loss of the Entwives and the appearance of the hobbits. This could not be resolved at the meeting, but led us to consider the prospect of miscegenation.

Angela returned us to the main thread of discussion when she asked whether Yavanna would consult Ilúvatar? I remarked that she had consulted Manwë about the plight of growing things, and he had consulted Ilúvatar, and this was the authorisation for the Ents.

Ian brought the discussion back to the problem of fitting elements of fantasy into primary world conditions, identifying this as a problem for readers. 

With that we had to call a halt to the meeting. We did not set specific reading for next time as we shall proceed through the chapters at the pace dictated by the amount of detail thrown up by our discussion.

Carol’s Comments:

VALAQUENTA, of the valar

Tolkien recognises male and female, not just the patriarchal God of Christianity. Mostly, life under the sun needs male and female to procreate.

‘Manwe and Melkor were brethren’ – brother against brother, seems to be a recurring theme in mythology, Cain and Abel for example.

‘for Melkor she [Varda] knew from before the making of the music and rejected him.’ I think this may have contributed to Melkor’s contrariness, loving a female he couldn’t have.

Ulmo-Poseidon? This is how Tuor sees Ulmo while trying to find Gondolin.

The sea-longing is created – which comes down to Legolas and Frodo

‘Of the Enemies’

Can we equate Melkor with Lucifer? They are both fallen angels through want of all-encompassing power over everything.

Valaraukar are balrogs ‘the scourges of fire’. I think Gandalf had to fight a balrog in Moria as they were both maiar of fire, the balrog the Flame of Udun, and Gandalf of the Flame Imperishable.

Sauron, like Gandalf is a maia but I think stronger because he served only himself using cruelty. As evil, he could use dirty tricks with impunity, whereas Gandalf had to play fair.


Supplementary to First in October

Apologies for omitting Carol’s Comments from the main blog, here they are:

The Music of the Ainur

Note the high-flown language. ‘themes of music’ – medieval music of the spheres?

‘and the splendour of its end’ – Tolkien never really elucidates further on Arda’s end. We know that the music goes awry in places due to Melkor but at the end ‘then the themes of Iluvatar shall be played aright.’

Melkor creates discord and for some time is allowed to get away with it, him not realising he’ll never be boss – hubris. Then Eru smiles… It is one hell of a piece of writing, The silence rings in one’s ears at ‘the music ceased.’

Whatever evil is done in middle-earth is also part and parcel of Eru’s plan and contributary to the whole. ‘no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me.’ – whatever Melkor may think he’s created of his own volition and pride, Eru is still in charge and in combining all the melodies ‘things more wonderful’ will come of it that Melkor himself ‘hath not imagined’. ‘Iluvatar arose in spendour.’

‘if he will’ – giving choice and free will. I suppose Melkor could be likened to Lucifer, both becoming fallen angels. Melkor wants control ‘to have servants and subjects…and to be master over other wills.’

‘this shall be my own kingdom and I name it unto myself.’ Like the Christian creation story, Melkor want ‘power over’ and not ‘power with’. He wants dominion.

The ‘new world’ created by the Music is described as ‘globed’ but in the first age it is flat and only ‘globed’ at the end of the First Age to make it harder to reach Valinor.

Tolkien is pointing us to the ‘simple’ beauties of nature and not wanting to possess and control them, but to admire them as they are. We’ve lost this, in my opinion, partly due to the Christian creation story where God gives us dominion over. And look where it’s got us, though I admit I do appreciate modcons and comfortable interior sprung mattresses but also appreciate slugs and worms and try not to harm them. I try to let everything have its own being.

Don’t you just know people like Melkor? If they can’t have, they mar. Very childish.

Back again! First meeting in October


As we gathered for our first meeting in October, after a long lapse owing to Oxonmoot and a five-week September, it was good to learn that Ian’s paper at Oxonmoot had been a success. We were also delighted to welcome Mike back to the group this afternoon, as we plunged a little hesitantly into The Silmarillion, once again for most of us, but for the first time for Eileen.

It was no surprise then that Eileen opened the discussion by remarking on the proliferation of names. She went on to ask what the Valar are as characters? I suggested that they are not really ‘characters’ but personifications.

Eileen then questioned whether we are looking at myth or at the work of imagination? I suggested that for the Elves The Silmarillion records very ancient history, but for other later races it would be received as myth, but of course, it is Tolkien’s imagination at work.

Laura picked up my comment that the Valar include spirits of nature when she remarked that many societies had or have beliefs in multiple spirit forms, including nature spirits, but this does not account for Melkor. I suggested that Melkor could also be a ‘nature spirit’ because he controls the kinds of weather that are most inconvenient and destructive. Laura observed that Melkor perverts what other Valar do, and Eileen remarked that he unsettles nature.

Mike commented that Melkor is disruptive before the Creation because he has a bit of everyone else’s gifts. Eileen remarked that he starts with resentment, and Laura noted that discord happens very early.

Mike used the analogy of an orchestra – if one player, though capable of playing all instruments, tries to play all parts, resulting in cacophony. He went on to observe that Ilvúatar is never limited.

Mike also observed that Tolkien does not create a Judeo-Christian parallel in his view of Creation and its participants, and that by contrast ‘Angels’ don’t have free will. Laura wondered if mortals have more free will.

Moving on from this perennial question, Chris directed our attention to the first sentence of the entire work and Tolkien’s statement that ‘There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar.’ Chris wondered – could there, according to this wording, be more than one Universe? We did not find an answer to this.

Ian referred us to a theory that power finally destroys itself. Chris wondered ‘if power corrupts, will Ilúvatar get corrupted?’

I remarked on the need Ian’s reference suggested for limiting the power of evil and good and that there is a need for opposites to control the development of power. Laura remarked that oppositions make Men better. Mike commented that for Men death is the drive to succeed and get better. Laura remarked that it is the drive to make the best of one’s self.

Chris changed the topic with his observation that The Lord of the Rings is not in the end optimistic.

Mike and Angela both remarked that the Elves and Gandalf had served as a ‘backstop’ against trouble, but at the end of The Lord of the Rings they leave the mortals.

Chris continued his theme when he asked ‘why would Ilúvatar create a world with so much sadness, and end in a great battle?’ Mike posed the counter-question about suffering, ‘how then would the virtues, like courage, exist?

Mike then wondered, if the Ainulindale was written down by the Elves, was there divine inspiration, or was it just their view?

I proposed that it was more like the kind of ‘history’ presented in Beowulf – some of the story was indeed recognisable as historical fact as far as its Anglo-Saxon audience was concerned, even though much of it was based in myth and imagination. But this sense of history could not have the same relevance for later readers, and while for the Eldar the Ainulindale had historical relevance, because some of the Elves had lived in Valinor, for mortals it did not have that.

Angela noted, however, that divine blood continues in Aragorn’s bloodline.

Ian commented that Tolkien’s vision was of abstractions personified not subject to primary world limitations, and that Tolkien was feeding back the influences that made him write, particularly ‘northernness’.

Mike commented that many creation myths shared common themes, and he cited Persian myth as an example.

Ian remarked that the impermanence of life leads to the desire to transmit ideas, and also to preserve the earth. Mike observed that it’s about self-preservation, or destruction, and that that this pushed us outwards.

Laura remarked that on the other hand going to the Moon was the result of hatred and rivalry between nations. Ian noted that our power to destroy all life has still not been used, but there is a need to preserve it for the future.

Angela noted that Elves don’t have to sail away, they can stay in Middle Earth and fade, and Laura commented that ‘we’ have diminished them. Ian commented that in the secondary world fate is pre-determined.

Eileen remarked on the importance of transitions in life and the ways of coping with them. Laura observed that Olorin (later Gandalf), learns pity and patience from Nienna.

Ian noted Tolkien’s appropriation of the values of William Morris, including the untarnished elements of the past.

After some intense discussion we had to call our meeting to a halt. With plenty more to say about the 2 chapter we had been considering, we agreed that next time we would address the topics of the Maiar and the Flame Imperishable among other things.


First (and only) meeting in September


We were a small group this afternoon, with Chris and Angela otherwise engaged, and Ian attending an event at Sarehole, Tolkien’s childhood location before the move to Birmingham itself for his and Hilary’s education. It has resulted in a shorter than usual blog report, but it was no less intense.

We confirmed that there would be NO meeting on 23rd September because the majority of Reading Group members would be attending Oxonmoot. Then four of us finished the group’s latest reading of The Lord of the Rings, and Eileen’s first. Carol’s comments are added after the main report because her focus remained primarily on Aragorn and Arwen, while ours was directed towards the Shire and the hobbits.

Eileen expressed concern about various members of the Fellowship splitting up but we reassured her that Frodo met Bilbo with Elrond and his companions as they passed through the Shire, and that when they reached the Grey Havens Frodo saw a figure in white beside a great grey horse on the quayside, and that they all sailed away together.

Julie remarked, from personal experience, on the process of sailing down any ‘firth’ and the growing sense of severance it produces.

Laura wondered how long, and in which cultures, the crossing of waters has been a metaphor for or mythical connotation of death. Julie suggested it depended on the geographical location of a culture, but reminded us of the Celtic belief in sailing into the west.

Eileen commented that sailing also had connotations of adventure, but she still experienced a sense of anticlimax as well as shock at the fact that Gandalf was leaving and Frodo was becoming ill.

Julie observed that Frodo’s act of handing over Bag End was part of the process by which he was saying goodbye. Eileen then proposed that Frodo needs and has needed Sam, but gives Sam back what they actually fought for.

Laura and Julie pointed out that Frodo’s illnesses are also the anniversaries of evil, but Eileen objected that until they began she had perceived him as constantly getting over things. Julie observed that what is described is akin to our modern perception of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Laura added that these experiences were worse for Frodo because he had no beloved to return to, and being of an academic tendency he had no real outlet. Julie added that after the Quest he had no task to get on with.

Eileen commented that it was, then, mind over matter while he was on the Quest, but after losing the Ring and not actually completing his undertaking to perfection, Frodo changes.

Julie went on to read Sam’s ‘Well, I’m back’, in the sense of being ‘back in the room’, after a long trip into ‘Faerie land’.

We returned to the matter of where exactly the ship sailed to when it left the Grey Havens, and Laura remarked that the travellers were not going somewhere unfamiliar because they were returning to the Creator.

Julie explained to Eileen the concept of the ‘Straight Road’, which can be hard to grasp, so I offered the analogy of the funeral of Scyld Scefing from Beowulf. Laura was able to quote part of this in the original, while I explained to Eileen that the ship that carries Scyld on his last journey is simply pushed out from the hythe and moves off onto the ocean, and the poet tells us that ‘no one knew who unloaded that ship’. In both cases the ship moves from the temporal world into the mythical.

Laura and Eileen both remarked on the poetic prose of the story, while Carol had commented in the context of the Appendix A story of Aragorn and Arwen that ‘the writing is elegiac.’

Julie and Laura compared Bilbo’s forgetfulness about what Frodo has done with the Ring to the memory loss that is sometimes characteristic of old age.

I then asked about the timeline set out in Appendix B which shows that in Shire Reckoning 1419, the year the Ring goes into the fire, it is August 28 when the hobbits overtake Saruman and he then turns towards the Shire. Noticing that the Battle of Bywater takes place on November 3rd, I wondered how so much destruction could have taken place and the new brick building erected, as well as the Mill, in such a short space of time. Laura remarked that Sam must have seen the truth when he looked in Galadriel’s Mirror. It was not a prediction but a view of what was actually happening at the time! Julie also proposed that the destruction of the Shire must have started quite soon after Frodo and Sam left, when Aragorn was occupied with tracking the hobbits on the Road and meeting them in Bree, leaving the Shire vulnerable to incursions from the South.

Laura suggested that the Shire was protected in order to shelter Frodo.

Eileen noted that some invasions had come from the north in previous ages, and Julie recalled Aragorn’s comment that Barliman lived close to creatures that would ‘freeze his blood’.

I reverted to the Calendar to question how fast the mallorn tree in the Party Field comes into flower. Eileen, Julie and Laura all in various ways remarked that it was an instance of the need for the willing suspension of disbelief, but Julie also noted that Galadriel makes things grow, and that Yavana grew Telperion.

That brought our deliberations on the Appendices to a close, and The Lord of the Rings as a whole.

We took the decision that the group would begin reading (rereading) The Silmarillion. We did not suggest any chapters, but as we will not meet until October perhaps we might simply read as much of the Ainulindale as we have time for.

Carol’s comments:

Glorfindel makes the prophecy: ‘far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall’ – by a woman and a hobbit.

Eorl’s horns coming to the rescue unlooked for to the Gladden Fields is mirrored by the arrival of Theoden and co. to the battle of the Pelennor Fields, in the nick of time.

With Ecthelion II we’re getting close to the time of The Lord of the Rings and in particular Thorongil ‘a great leader of men’. Ecthelion was everything his son was not, though he did show undue favouritism to Thorongil, just as his son would show undue favouritism to his elder son.

Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth is often referred to as kinsman to Denethor but nothing more specific. Here it’s made clear. He is in fact brother-in-law to Denethor and brother to Finduilas, deceased wife of Denethor.

Where did the Dunedain live before the ring quest? The descriptions of Aragorn’s first sight of Arwen at dusk, head bound with stars – Undomiel, even-star of her people. gulp! gulp!

Arwen foresees her doom as the same as Luthien’s. Elrond speaks of his tragedy in losing Arwen to mortality and Tolkien remembers his years apart from Edith.

All the errantry, meeting different people and serving other lords, will make Aragorn the king he becomes – merciful, tolerant, just, wise. When Galadirel clothes him in silver and white, it’s this vision of Aragorn that Frodo sees on Cerin Amroth.

The doom of men does come hard to Arwen in the end but now she understands the motives of the Numenoreans. It’s just too sad for words, not only Arwen and Aragorn gone, but Lorien and Rivendell and legend becomes plain history.


Last Meeting in August

  1. 8.17

Our meeting this afternoon was in real danger of being totally disrupted because of the noise from an event taking place in the square adjacent to our usual meeting room. It had so much (sadly necessary) security associated with it that simply getting through the square was almost impossible – in fact I didn’t bother, but Eileen did, and had her bag searched multiple times. But when we all arrived in the Library and asked for the key to our usual room the Librarian warned us that the noise from the event’s sound system was so close outside and so bad that we wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves. Another Librarian was already trying to find us another room, and remarkably, that turned out to be the Alan Whitehead Room – our old meeting room deep in the heart of the building.

We were all most grateful to the Librarians for their efforts to help us carry on with our meeting as usual.

Comfortably settled back in our old room, we missed Ian and Julie, but began our discussions of Appendix A. Focussing on Numenor, Eileen described the rebellion in terms of the need to challenge prohibitions, while Laura remarked on the fears of the Numenoreans. Carol commented by email: “the ban of the Valar was bound to be flouted some day, like telling a child he can’t do/have a thing, so he does it just for the hell of it, like Adam and Eve told not to eat of the tree of life, which of course they do, bringing sin into the world”.

Carol continued: “throughout the ages of Middle-earth, there are many examples of the rise and fall of great cities and civilisations, just like on our own earth; examples of overreaching pride like Ar-Pharazon and the myth of Atlantis that Tolkien – and Faramir – dreamed about. Surely we should take lessons from history not to get too big for about boots, Hitler being a recent example. The gods don’t like hubris in humans.

I wondered what the punishment of Numenor implied about the idea of a benevolent Creator, but Angela pointed out the influence of Morgoth, and Laura observed that Ar-Pharazon in effect has both a Devil and an Angel (reminiscent for me of the same binary opposition in medieval morality plays).

Eileen picked up my earlier point and wondered if it was Tolkien’s war experience that underpinned the absence of a benevolent Creator.

Chris remarked that, contrary to religious scepticism in the primary world, there is no doubt in Middle-earth about the existence of the Valar and Eru.

Laura proposed that in opposition to the macrocosmic scale there was a need to rely on little things.

Carol (whimsically) referred to the realms in exile, as the northern line (tube)! She also noted that of  the Heirs of Isildur it is the southern line who are the heirs of Anarion and although Gondor declines over the years, it’s never totally ruined like Numenor or the cities of the First Age, largely due to the Stewards’ caretaking ‘till the king shall come again’. Angela noted that there was a decline in the actions of Numenor, and Laura compared this to the rise of the Mafia in Sicily, which had originally been a resistance force fighting the invading French.

Chris noted that all the powers in Middle-earth decline, and that in Tolkien’s world all great inventions pre-date The Lord of the Rings.

Laura remarked that Saruman and Sauron both present progress in a negative light, to the extent that it is ancient blades that are the most prized.

Eileen remarked on the complexity of the extensive list of rulers’ names and Laura noted the similarity to Anglo-Saxon and Biblical genealogies, especially the Anglo-Saxon desire to take royal genealogies back to Odin and Adam.

Carol commented in her email: ‘Earendil wedded Elwing…’ just struck me for the first time that Earendil and Elwing using the Silmaril to pass ‘the shadows’ and come to the ‘uttermost west’ is similar to Sam using Galadriel’s phial to get into Cirith Ungol, the phial having ka bit of Earendil’s light in it.

I was unsure of this comparison but Angela and Laura pointed out that both uses of the same light are against places that pose a potential or real danger to those attempting to pass.

Carol also remarked on what she felt to be the absence of hope in the story of Aragorn and Arwen, “I find no hope in this, though Aragorn tells Arwen there is hope beyond the confines of the world, which Tolkien himself would have believed. Estel was just a peak of honour and glory, to decline with subsequent generations, as do all great empires in the end. In this Tolkien spoke truth, as he’d demonstrated with the First and Second Ages. All we can hope is that this peak will come again to light the way to future liberty, equality and fraternity, like Arthur and Camelot. Tolkien was right when he said that The Lord of the Rings was about death.”

But Angela and Chris observed that Aragorn and Arwen were to meet again in ‘after life’, while Laura remarked that although the world was changed it was full of hope – that Aragorn was a renewer – and this positivity was different to ‘happiness’. Angela observed that we would not happiness if there was nothing against which to contrast it. Laura commented that fulfilment was still possible.

At our next meeting we will continue with Appendix A and move into Appendix B.

Carol’s Additional comments

Numenorean kings: ‘there were three unions…’ this will clarify a bit why Strider sang the song of Beren and Luthien on Weathertop and why Aragorn is aiming so high in love.

Here clarified too why Strider said to Bilbo that he had a cheek to compose verses about Earendil in the house of Elrond – love that bit.

There’s clarification of the War of the Ring going back in history and beyond the bounds of the sea – Elendil/Sauron, Elessar/Sauron.

Eriador, Arnor, and the heirs of Isildur: this section is obviously written by a hobbit.

The north kingdom and the Dunedain: this is the history that the hobbits walk on their way to Rivendell.

Gondor and the heirs of Anarion: again the history the hobbits walk when merry is taken back momentarily to the battle of Carn Dum.


First meeting in August

Many thanks to Chris for taking and writing up the notes for this blog report in my absence, I was so sorry to miss our special metting:


After meeting up with Carol and Rosemary at The Artisan and exchanging news the group moved to the library to begin a special Summer-moot. Unfortunately our leader Lynn was unable to join us because of a back problem and we were also without Julie and Eileen.

Laura confirmed that the room in the library had been booked for the whole of 2018 and we would receive the bill in December.

Although it was intended to start examining the Appendices the meeting soon returned to the last two chapters of LotR and, in fact, remained with these for the whole meeting. The comments below jumped between these two chapters.

Carol began by saying she really enjoys the moment when the pony Bill kicks Bill Ferny. Laura said that Tolkien thought The Scouring of the Shire was the most important chapter in the whole work. Carol and Angela described how there was a rise in the Cottons’ importance caused by their connections to Sam, the future mayor, via his marriage to Rose. Rose also had unusual foresight as she was expecting Sam back at that point and again when he returns from the Grey Havens.

Laura said Sam was a much more hands-on mayor than those before and Chris extended this into a theory that Tolkien uses Sam’s rise in importance as an example of social mobility – working-class to a respected leader.

Discussion then moved on to how the Shire folk in general were little interested in the adventures of the four hobbits and what was taking place outside their borders. An example was the Gaffer’s comments “And while you’ve been trapessing in foreign parts, chasing Black Men up mountains from what my Sam says, though for what you don’t make clear, they’ve been and dug up Bagshot Row and ruined my taters!” Rosemary gave another example in Bree when Butterbur says “Why we had a real set-to, and there were some folk killed, killed dead!” Chris said that this probably mirrored what happened to people returning from the war as many people did not appreciate what they had been through nor have any concept of their traumas.

Carol moved on to the power still left in Saruman’s voice and how he denigrates Gandalf when he speaks to the hobbits. “Not he! When his tools have done their task he drops them.”

Rosemary said the last line of the chapter Homeward Bound is really significant. “’Not to me,’ said Frodo. ‘To me it feels more like falling asleep again.’” This caused some discussion.

Laura said that on her first reading she thought the Mount Doom chapter would be the end of the book but then it carries on and appears very depressing. Carol says the book is really about Death and Angela added Immortality as well. Rosemary felt that the return to the Shire is like a replication of the big story but this time the reader has the feeling that things would be successful. The general view was that the ending of the book was anti-climatic which moves people on to reading the Appendices as a sort of wind down. Clearly the group had not felt this yet as they still returned to the last two chapters!

There was then an interesting discussion started by Laura about the title The Scouring of the Shire. Scouring was seen as as an abrasive domestic word plus a geological term (scouring done by rivers etc.). Ian then looked up the meaning in his various dictionaries.

Carol then started a discussion about Gandalf’s comment that “not all tears are evil”.  It was said that in general tears should not be kept back, but tears to get your own way and crocodile tears could be seen as evil.

Beards were then discussed and it was surprising that Círdan had one  – was it because he had been there so long? There were then a few jokes about Peter Jackson and the films.

Carol thought the eventual forgiveness of Lobelia was a nice touch and  Angela said that Fatty Bolger turned out to be really brave.

The place called Scary was discussed and a few jokes followed.

Rosemary said the comments about “the beer of 1429” showed that Tolkien was really involved in pub culture. We decided that Aragorn would have ensured that there were plenty of pubs in Minas Tirith!

In the Grey Havens chapter Laura said that when Merry and Pippin were described as “lordly” this was a compliment  – normally “lordly” is often seen as arrogant.

Discussion then moved onto the burial places, or final resting places, of the nine members of the Fellowship. Interestingly only Aragorn was buried in his native city – all the others were not. Merry and Pippin were buried in Gondor, Frodo and Sam presumably died in the Undying Lands, Boromir was washed out to sea in the boat, Legolas and Gimli went to the Undying Lands where Gimli presumably died. The significance of this could be an interesting topic for discussion. Anyway talk moved on to who else might have gone overseas, for instance the sons of Elrond – it’s not actually clear whether they sailed or not. There is some information in the Epilogue to LotR (HoM‑e V9) which hints that Shadowfax sailed west with Gandalf. Laura thought it would have been nice if Berúthiel and her cats ended up in the Undying Lands.

Laura said that Frodo’s speech to Sam on the way to the Grey Havens especially the words “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them” are similar to the words spoken at the Cenotaph. However Carol said that most people who went to fight wanted to come back alive.

Chris said, is the “sweet fragrance” smelt by Frodo whilst on the boat to the Undying Lands the scent of athelas. No agreement was found on this.

Discussion turned to the Three Rings taken by Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf to the Undying Lands. It was agreed that, following the destruction of the One Ring, there were no longer any powers left in them and they were now merely artefacts. Thus the “magical powers” were leaving Middle-earth, changing the nature of what remained with the arrival of the time of Men.

Rosemary raised the issue of the White Tree and it was agreed that this particular tree or one of its descendants (obtained by preserving its fruit) would have remained alive while the Monarchy survived. Chris jokingly said that it can still be seen in Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Finally there was discussion about the eventual fate of Radagast e.g. did he go to the Undying Lands or stay in Middle Earth?

Time had now run out and we all vacated the library at 15:55 and headed to the Sea City cafe for a cup of tea. After this we parted ways. Rosemary and Carol headed off to get ahead of the football traffic while the remaining group sought further refreshment of a stronger kind before spending a lovely evening in a Chinese restaurant, well picked by Laura since the only other customers were Chinese, clearly indicating that she had chosen a truly authentic eating house.

We decided that for our next meeting we would read as much as possible of Appendix A.