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.




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.




Last Meeting in November


Six of us gathered on one of those chilly damp November afternoons when it’s good to be indoors, and happily the seminar room where we meet was warm this week. It was with some determination that we set about finishing our reading of The Silmarillion. Carol had sent comments, which are included in the main blog.

We began by looking forward to our next reading, which will be any version of The Fall of Gondolin, or any combination of versions, including the new book. Angela and I both commented on the problems and difficulties facing editors, and noted the effect of their decisions on the editions we read, whatever they may be.

When we eventually turned our attention to the last chapter of The Silmarillion, Carol had noted that when the TSilm account of the founding of the North Kingdom references ‘many barrows’ these are the same barrows the hobbits will walk by on the Barrow Downs, and she describes this as “history in topography”.

I remarked that this collapsing of history is signaled by the unusual change of tense. The narration changes from past tense to present tense: ‘towers they raised … and there remain many barrows …’

Laura commented that in the New Forest the group of musicians known as ‘Nine Barrows’ is reminiscent of TSilm topography, but this is more apparent in the topography of Wiltshire, with its many barrows, and the standing stones of Stonehenge.

Angela returned us to the text when she observed that the description of the storm which brought the Numenorean ships to land looks dreadful, and suggests the travelers must have been seasick! We all agreed that the description of the huge waves is reminiscent of a tsunami, and that this was highly likely as Numenor was swallowed up.

I thought Isildur was mean, when he took ship and left his brother to defend Osgiliath alone. Angela countered this view with the proposal that he is foresighted and may have been escaping to save his youngest son, and the seedling of the Tree, both of which were eventually essential for saving the line of the kings.

Eileen compared this to Túrin leaving his mother and sister.

Laura wondered if both instances make up part of the ‘grand plan’ to preserve the family line as a matter of survival taking precedence over love.

Eileen and Laura noted the Isildur’s flight marks the division between the North and South Kingdoms.

Angela observed that in the flight from Numenor, 1 ship goes north and 2 go south.

Eileen wondered, as Tolkien had 3 sons, how would he have felt at the separation from his sons.

Angela and Chris noted that in Tolkien’s Letters it becomes apparent that he is closer to his son Christopher because they have more in common, and thus favours him, rather than John and Michael. [Considering our first topic this afternoon, we might have discussed the choices of the editor, Humphrey Carpenter, who obviously chose letters with the greatest bearing on Tolkien’s creativity, which was shared closely with Christopher. Topics shared particularly between John and Michael and their father are less obvious among Carpenter’s selection. Maybe a better guide can be found in The Father Christmas Letters?]

I remarked that the moment when Earnur the king meets the Lord of the Nazgul in single combat outside Minas Ithil/Morgul is one among many such confrontations.

Angela noted that the Lord of the Nazgul is called out at other times, and it is during one of these that Glorfindel speaks the prophecy ‘not by the hand of Man …’. This implicitly disregards the other races of Middle-earth who are not Men, so Elves, Eowyn and Merry are not perhaps considered.

Laura remarked that the Nazgul thinks he’s immortal because of this prophecy.

Laura noted that at the Gate of Minas Tirith the Lord of the Nazgul is not Gandalf’s equal, and Angela added that he was a mortal man. Laura responded that the Nazgul has Sauron backing him up and directing his actions, so the Nazgul is just following ordere, but Gandalf’s most powerful back up is far away in the West so he has to work out his own plans.

Eileen asked if this was good, or bad? Laura responded that Gandalf has the freedom and is trusted to do right.

Chris went on to compare Beregond in Minas Tirith acting on his own initiative to the internal conflicts between groups of orcs.

Laura also thought the ‘good guys’ show compassion, and Angela remarked that the Captains of the West follow Aragorn out of love, as Eowyn says. I compared this to the orcs in Mordor who have to be whipped along.

Laura then went on to observe that Denethor is affected by the palantir as Boromir is affected by the Ring. I suggested that in the comparison set up between Faramir and Boromir, Tolkien might have been suggesting that culture is a defense against the desire for Power. I cited the examples of Aragorn and his singing and Frodo and Bilbo with their knowledge of Elvish and historical and literary interests.

Laura extended this idea by suggesting that it was lineage in combination with culture that was important, and noted Tolkien’s insistence on his descent from the Suffields, who were his mother’s family.

Angela commented that in Aragorn’s case his resistance to the Ring’s temptation is due to guilt and that he is engaged in trying to repair Isildur’s fault.

Carol questioned the potential consequences if Isildur had indeed cast the Ring into the fire when he had it.

Chris noted that although Sauron comes out of Mordor and is vanquished, Elrond does not necessarily urge Isildur to act on that day. It may not have happened until everyone else had gone away, although anyone in the proximity of Isildur may not have survived. Chris went on to remark that after the Alliance the participants are divided again.

Eileen questioned why the Dwarves did not participate and Angela concluded that they regarded it as ‘not our problem’. Laura noted that the animals also choose sides.

Angela wondered when the anomalous assertion that Frodo threw the Ring into Mount Doom was actually written. Chris wondered if it was while Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings , before later revision. I observed that TSilm is throughout an Elvish version of history.

Ian supported this by remarking that it is history by Elves for Elves, and to them Gollum perhaps wasn’t important because the story of how the Ring was destroyed didn’t get transmitted to them. Only Legolas was present at the Field of Cormallen, so the Gollum element didn’t reach Elvish historians.

Chris noted that after the rescue of Frodo and Sam, Gollum is never mentioned again. Laura remarked on it as an impersonal account of hobbit-folk.

Eileen found the comment that ‘help came from the hands of the weak when the Wise faltered’ profound, and Chris observed that the last battle was not won by strength. Eileen added that Tolkien seems to be suggesting ways of achieving things, other than war.

And so we ran out of time. It has taken us a long time to work through TSilm, but next time we meet we shall begin The Fall of Gondolin, in any of its redactions.

First in November


Seven of us gathered this afternoon and we all tried to dodge the heavy showers today to get to our meeting. We only got drizzled on while moving from our coffee venue to the Library. Carol had sent her comments, some of which are included here, but others are held over again because we didn’t get through our reading. This had been ‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’.

I started the meeting by asking if everyone thought we would finish The Silmarillion at the meeting. Laura responded instantly with an emphatic ‘No!’, not because she doubted our resolution but because she didn’t want to relinquish what she described as the ‘wonderful book.’

Eileen supported this view remarking on the complexity in which there are what she called ‘so many “tribes”’ and so many changes.

Laura picked up the quest for immortality and Tim remarked that he had been rereading the Akallabeth and Mens’ quest for the Undying Lands, which he compared to the attitude of the Egyptians, as an undercurrent to Tolkien’s story.

Laura noted that Numenorean ‘Ar-Pharazon’ echoes ‘Pharaoh’.

I recalled that Tolkien acknowledged that the High Crown of Gondor used by kings of Numenoeran descent had been influenced by the shape of the crown of upper Egypt.

Tim noted that Ar-Pharazon’s pride incurs the wrath of the ‘gods’.

Laura observed that the Numenoreans’ desire for eternal life does not take the form of mummification. And that they have the ability to choose when to die.

Angela remarked that this allowed them to hand on the ruleship.

Ian, who is still finding his reading of Sapiens supporting and enlightening Tolkien’s work, referred to what is called the Gilgamesh Project in Sapiens. This is the search for eternal life in the Gilgamesh legend but can be equated to the search for things we don’t know.

Eileen observed that this is the basis of religion which requires faith to cope with what you don’t know.

Ian remarked that for the Elves there is nothing they don’t know about their eventual end. He went on to comment that most polytheistic belief systems, such as exists in Tolkien’s Middle-earth,  recognize a supreme power devoid of interest in the specific, and that in pushing Melkor beyond the walls of the world it was the Valar who separated ‘good’ from ‘evil’ and not Iluvatar.

Laura observed that often in polytheistic religions the minor ‘gods’ battle against one another, and we have noted that the Valar often do the same.

Ian noted that a single author (Tolkien) has constructed the same, and good and bad are not differentiated by the Supreme Power.

Eileen picked out the examples of Túrin and Nienor and Hurin and Morwen and wondered how a loving God could let their suffering happen? And was it the result of their free will?

Angela noted that there have been lots of discussions about free will.

Ian proposed that what we have been looking at were examples of a Supreme Power adding the unexpected.

Eileen thought there was always evil, even when Melkor is gone or absent.

Laura observed that we know little about the religious beliefs of the Dwarves and the hobbits.

Chris proposed that the Dwarves may have reverenced Aule as he was their creator.

Ian went on to note that there is little technology in the Shire, and apparently no market for it. The gunpowder suggested in the ‘blasting fire’ at Helm’s Deep, and Gandalf’s fireworks at the party, are associated with wizardry.

Tim asked ‘but are they gunpowder?’

I then drew attention to Sauron’s non-repentance at the start of the Chapter, motivated by his anxiety over humiliation, and wondered at the possibility of historicizing this idea of humiliation.

Laura cited the treatment of Germany by France at the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler’s subsequent devastation as retribution of the location at Versailles where the railway carriage and triumphal statue stood.

Angela noted that Morgoth is also humiliated. But Tim observed that humiliation depends on how the individual reacts.

Eileen remarked that the ‘nearly-repenting’ of Gollum is particularly interesting.

Chris commented that the Ring would not have been destroyed if Gollum had repented. Ian qualified this by observing that it would have been Smeagol who repented.

Chris also noted that Sauron must have had a conscience if he was ashamed. Eileen remarked that he didn’t want to show this in front of his peers.

Angela remarked on the bonds Melkor puts on Sauron and wondered what the hold actually was.

Tim proposed that Melkor’s power over Sauron is equivalent to the Ring’s power over Gollum.

Angela remarked that she has often thought of the seductive hold of Melkor over Sauron in terms of drug addiction.

Chris observed that the Ring has part of Sauron in it and that is what corrupts Gollum.

In the context of the effect of the rings on those to whom they are given, I remarked that unlike other life forms, dwarves cannot be turned into ‘shadows’. Ian observed that they cannot be corrupted in this way because they are not the creation of Iluvatar.

Laura noted the poetic description of the Ringwraiths: that they ‘cried with the voices of death’.

Ian then proposed that the Ringwraiths were and extension of Sauron’s desire for control and destruction.

Angela moved on to consider the statement that Elrond gathers the wise in Rivendell, and wondered who, apart from the Heirs of Isildur, because the arrival of Gandalf post-dated the founding of Rivendell by many centuries?

Tim and Angela noted that Rivendell was founded in the Second Age, and Tim remarked that they need not have gathered all at once, but that could have been an evolution of incomers.

Laura questioned whether these are other than Elves and Men? We had already ruled out Dwarves.

Carol commented that the 3 rings ‘could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world’, so Galadriel uses Nenya to maintain Lothlorien, which isn’t natural.

Angela remarked that Lorien is timeless and protected not just by Galadriel’s magic but by the warrior Elves who patrol its borders.

Carol went on: ‘though the ring of sapphire is with Elrond at Rivendell, it doesn’t confer timelessness like Nenya, and Rivendell, though hidden, is accessible at times by mortals’.

Tim noted that Rivendell is on the other side of the mountains, and Angela remarked that it is hidden by the landscape while Lorien is on the flat.

It was generally agreed that we still haven’t finished with this chapter, so we will pick it up again next time. Meanwhile, we still have the Fall of Gondolin to prepare for the time when we can call The Silmarillion finished (!)

Last meeting in October


On the first really chilly afternoon of autumn seven of us gathered to finish reading Chapter 24 of The Silmarillion. But in fact we didn’t spend much time on this reading. Nevertheless, we managed to complete it and move on to the ‘Akallabeth’. Carol’s comments on this are included here.

Before we began we needed to consider the unfortunate matter of the cost of our meetings next year. Thanks to Laura for taking on this tedious job.

With that matter concluded, Ian began the meeting proper by drawing our attention to his latest theoretical reading: Sapiens – a Brief History of Humanity. Ian explained the book’s emphasis on the necessity for contradictory beliefs and cognitive dissonance, drawing parallels with Tolkien presentation of the Music, defining this as a consideration of contradictions and their functions.

Laura wondered if this led towards the theory that good and evil must exist together.

Ian noted that dissonance is clustered all in one place in the Creation sequence of The Silmarillion.

Eileen expressed her doubt as to whether it is evil that actually triumphs in Tolkien’s work because it seems that evil is never completely overthrown.

Tim proposed that the presence of evil emerges through all the choices that are given to characters, but are the choices made good or bad, and are they part of Iluvatar’s design?

Ian then wondered if in the choices of those created we witness Iluvatar’s own kinds of choice? And Chris wondered if Iluvatar is actually making mistakes and testing things out? But Tim asked: ‘Are they mistakes?’

Chris went on to note that after a while each Middle-earth society in The Silmarillion becomes corrupted.

Ian observed that these are all cultures which actively seek to halt the progress of time, and that it is unnatural to try to stop this.

Eileen then asked if Sauron is evil. Angela replied that he is not at first, and Ian added that Morgoth is. Eileen then wondered about the connection between change and the causes of evil.

Chris noted the link between change and corruption in all peoples.

Tim observed that evolution is about change.

Chris then moved the discussion from these theoretical matters to more concrete topics when he remarked that the Numenoreans began taking slaves back from the east of Middle-earth, and wondered if Tolkien was acknowledging the same tendency in the Primary World.

Ian remarked that when you ascribe a commercial value not just to things but among groups of people.

Eileen commented that amid all this she found the sending of Gandalf uplifting.

Chris noted that in Numenor there is evidence of religious ceremonies and Angela remarked that the place was hallowed to Iluvatar. Eileen observed that the White Tree continues, and Angela noted that Amandil blessed the last fruit of Nimloth.

Laura remarked that the Numenoreans worshipped themselves and Sauron.

Carol commented that Sauron, like the serpent in Eden, is father of lies.

I thought Sauron’s response to Armenelos was enlightening because even he, a Maia, is impressed by this work of Men, but it spurs his envy and hatred.

Ian wondered if Armenelos represents technological advance. Without the aid of a mythical agent like Sauron a mortal culture has achieved technological advance without mythical intervention, this then sows fear in the heart of Sauron.

Eileen wondered why Men were the ‘easiest to corrupt’. Laura suggested it was because they were not so strong. I proposed it was because they had become sundered from the Elves.

Chris observed that most corruption of Men is because they want power, and because they don’t know what will happen to them after death.

Tim noted that the earliest Numenorean bloodline remains uncorrupted and leads eventually to Aragorn and this is why he still has the ability to resist temptation.

Angela reminded us that some Nazgul were Numenorean.

Carol commented that the ban of the Valar is like God telling Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Of course people are going to sail or eat. Human beings are like that.

Chris likened the fate of Ar-Pharazon and his men, pinned under the fallen hill, to the story of King Arthur.

This reminded me of a biblical passage, and have found in Revelation 6:16

Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the commanders, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?” It also appears in Luke 23:30

Tim saw this as an image of the stasis that seems to afflict unsuccessful societies in Middle-earth. Or maybe this should be interpreted as a form of limbo.

Carol commented on the drowning of Numenor: ‘it has been said before that this is like the tale of the deluge of Atlantis, and that Tolkien dreamed of this many times but the nightmares were purged when he wrote about it. Faramir has the same nightmare in The Lord of the Rings.

Angela remarked that Julie wrote her MA thesis on such flood images.

Our reading for our next meeting will be ‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’.

Once we have finished The Silmarillion we shall turn our attention to all versions of The Fall of Gondolin.


First in October


October already, and some members of the group are once again following the footsteps of Sam and Frodo and Pippin and Merry day by day and mile by mile. The rest of us are avoiding the Black Riders by still treading the legendary and mythic paths of Middle-earth before the seas were bent.

Seven of us met on an unusually warm day and our first consideration, after a general catch-up on Oxonmoot and its delights, was to address Laura’s concern that we had so far made no provision for Wessexmoot this autumn. With Yule approaching fast, it was decided that our best plan would be to aim for the New Year.

With that out of the way we settled down to our discussion of Chapter 24 ‘of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath.’ Carol’s comments are included.

Tim immediately reminded us that the story of Eärendil was the first thing Tolkien wrote so it was the beginning of Middle-earth.

Laura remarked that this creative engagement with the ‘brightest angel’ reflected and combined Tolkien’s love of Anglo-Saxon with his innate spirituality. It also speaks to our need for hope in darkness as Eärendil is both the morning and the evening star.

Eileen was somewhat disturbed that Elwing was left behind in sorrow when Eärendil sailed the seas, but I proposed that Tolkien actually subverts the stereotypical concept of the passive female because without Elwing the silmaril would never reach Earendil and he would not carry it as a ‘passport’ to the Valar. Thus Elwing, like other apparently passive or constrained female characters is essential to the story in an unexpectedly active role.

Laura remarked on the importance of Círdan in making Eärendil’s ship, and Chris commented on the number of trees that would have had to be felled.

Laura noted that although Elwing sits in sorrow she is not depicted in any necessarily domestic situation. Laura went on to compare her to Penelope who sits weaving while Ulysses is away. To this image Eileen added the example of The Lady of Shallott, and Laura noted that it takes weeks to set up a loom for weaving, but that the image of weaving is constantly associated with high-status women, such as the ‘peace-weavers’ in Anglo-Saxon poetry, and of course with Arwen.

At this point we got deeply involved in a discussion on the nature of the black standard Arwen weaves for Aragorn. Although it seems simple enough, Ian questioned many aspects of this important artifact. How, he asked, did other allies recognize its significance when it broke unexpectedly on the masthead of Aragorn’s galley? How did Arwen know what symbols to weave? After so long working in secret how was the symbolism known to other races? We attempted some answers.

Laura remarked on the importance of battle standards, citing the demoralizing consequences to the enemy after the Anglo-Saxons captured the black raven standard of a Viking army.

Angela observed that when Aragorn’s standard is unfurled at the Stone of Erech is appears entirely black, yet the Dead rally to it.

Ian then objected that if it can’t be seen [except by the Dead?] who else rallies?

Angela, Laura and Tim all commented that it has mithril symbols on it and they shine in the sun as the ships arrive. Angela at this point found the exact description of the standard.

Ian proposed that the power of the signs would be different for different people, but they are not known to everyone.

I suggested that recognition turns on the fact that, even if someone doesn’t recognize the significance of the 7 stars, or the white tree, anyone would recognize that it doesn’t carry a red eye, a white hand, or any of the heraldry of Harad and the easterlings.

Tim identified it as the royal standard of the kings of Gondor.

Laura remarked that as it was Arwen’s work it provided a boost to Aragorn’s morale. Angela added that Arwen is ‘with’ Aragorn, and not just thinking about him.

At this point I felt we should return to our appointed chapter and both Angela and I noted the fact that it is Elwing and the people with her who defend the silmaril from the sons of Fëanor.

Laura remarked on the motifs of refusal to fight and rebellion in this battle.

Angela noted that Elrond and Elros are taken captive at this time, and I commented on the narrative structuring that leaves the reader in doubt as to their fate at this time.

Angela observed that the Tolkien scholar and astronomer Kristine Larson had identified Elwing as the planet Mercury while Eärendil is Venus.

Eileen observed that Elwing and Niennor both choose watery deaths in desperation, although Elwing undergoes an apotheosis as Ulmo transforms her.

Angela noted that in fact Elrond and Elros have been fostered by Maglor, but that Maglor eventually throws a silmaril into the sea, and then throws himself into a fiery chasm.

Eileen then questioned why the chapter is called the War of Wrath? Tim explained that it is because the Valar finally confront Morgoth.

Carol commented that ‘right up to the last it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the hosts of the West will win.

I observed that Tolkien constantly appears to give the final word on everything only to qualify it immediately. He does this with the destruction of Balrogs, orcs and dragons in this battle.

Laura noted that ominously many Men from the east march with Morgoths forces.

Eileen remarked that the sons of Fëanor are finally released from their Oath.

Chris compared the fate of Morgoth – thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void, with the unknown fate of Men who are said only to leave the confines of the World. Chris interpreted this to mean that there were indeed walls around the world, but this leaves the fate of Men unresolved.

Ian proposed that Men in death are no longer held by the story of that particular world, and that it would be a powerful concept for a storytelling folk.

Angela picked up Aragorn’s last words to Arwen in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: ‘Behold! We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.’ Angela saw this as implying an afterlife.

Tim picked up the last words of The Silmarillion, which refers to the ‘dark fruit of evil which will be perpetuated, so that evil is not just one individual/entity but in the hearts of people.

Chris reminded us that at the creation Eru knew all the time that corruption would happen.

Carol commented: I don’t seem to have much to say about this chapter. As Tolkien writes, life has “passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin”. Living with power among the ‘high and the beautiful’ seems to ruin both Elves and Men who seem to be born with stubbornness and pride that tends to darkness and ruin, both individually and generally. Dissatisfied with the blessings they have and wanting to possess more and more, this brings about ruin. As we shall see, no lessons learned.

With discussions raging in all directions around the table we nevertheless agreed that our reading for next time would be ‘The Akallabeth’ and ‘The Third Age’. This will finish the book.

Therefore we also took thought for our next reading and it will be an across-the-board study of The Fall of Gondolin, comparing its treatment in The Silmarillion, the History of Middle-earth and the recently published book focusing on this episode. This means that we can accommodate everyone without the cost of additional books just before Christmas (!) it also makes appropriate use of the books we already have.


First meeting in September


Please note: this will be our only meeting this month as most members will be away at Oxonmoot on our next meeting day.

Our group was somewhat depleted this afternoon but 4 of us eventually met to take on Chapter 23, Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin. At least the room was quiet this time as we began our deliberations. Carol’s comments are included at the end of the main report where they are additional to the topics we took on.

These began with Eileen and Ian discussing the use and significance of oaths and curses. Eileen observed that in the case of Turin’s family, the curse’s effect is often upon other people.

Ian declared that there was no such thing as a curse, only other people’s perception, rather than some general malevolent directional power over another, or others. Thus Hurin is indeed powerless, but what he sees is tinged with his understanding of being powerless. What happens is really in the control of those who take the actions he witnesses.

Laura related this to people not taking charge of their lives but blaming fate. When the sons of Feanor take their Oath it becomes their fallback position rather than thinking for themselves.

Moving away from these ideas Ian noted that the otter was sacred to Zoroaster, and when Tolkien was pursuing his interest in ‘animalic’ ‘Otter’ was the ‘avatar’ he adopted.

Returning to the chapter in hand, I drew attention to differences between chapters 23 and 24. It seemed to me that Tolkien splits primary aspects of the story of Kullervo (from The Kalevala) between the cousins Turin and Tuor. To Turin he gives the incest motif while to Tuor he gives the enslavement.

Carol observed that Turin and Tuor are within sight of one another and Eileen noted that they are going in different directions.

Ian remarked that Turin keeps creating new identities for himself by means of new names, each time he encounters a reverse or new situation. But Tuor stays himself, his sense of self remains even when he suffers similarly to his cousin.

Laura noted that both their stories share the theme of betrayal.

Carol commented that all elven lords become proud, and ‘pride goes before a fall’. I wondered if the downfalls of Thingol and Turgon, which both turn on their great pride, are a sign of the detrimental effect of the freedom both have found in Middle-earth, as they rule their own kingdoms free from the control or dominance (however benign) of the Valar. Laura noted that The Lost Tales includes a passage in which the Valar are condemned.

Eileen remarked that Tolkien was opening up various views to thought and discussion.

Thinking back to Chris’s previous comment that there seems no sense of evolution in TSilm, I wondered if there was a particular significance to the fact that Ulmo is adviser to both Turin and Tuor which turns on the fact that he is the Vala associated with water, and water is the element of change. His approaches to the cousins are clearly intended to effect change.

Ian agreed that Ulmo is dynamic. Laura observed that Yavanna is linked to change but this is cyclical.

Ian noted that Ulmo represents an element, while the other Valar are representative of aspects of the world. He symbolizes the direction taken by characters who are not going around cyclically repeating their actions, but engage in progressive change. Ian went on to argue that in the primary world evolution affects everything, but not in Middle-earth. There, change and evolution happens to races through characters changing from one state to another. Those who think they have achieved the right or ideal situation never change.

Ian remarked that Ulmo is present all the time in the waters, so this is in effect his steady-state even though it doesn’t appear to be ‘steady’. His ‘steady-state’ is actually change, and water represents change in both primary and secondary worlds.

I then picked up the matter of compassion that we addressed last time, when I suggested that there is a thematic lack of compassion in TSilm and Tim pointed out the importance of pity in LotR. Ian commented that ethical values evolve through the different stories.

Laura wondered if the arrival of Gandalf in Middle-earth brings pity to it because he spends time in the West in the company of Nienna, Lady of Pity.

I questioned whether there was pity in the fosterings of Turin and Tuor, or whether this was just pragmatic on the part of their foster families.

Ian remarked that problems in the lives of individuals may engender new sets of values. Life conditions and problems create new ways of doing things. Emerging sets of values may be dictated by changing conditions and in a/the story are signaled by e.g. the end of an Age, or a controlling power.

And so our meeting also came to an end. Next time we will move on to Chapter 24 ‘Of the Voyage of Earendil and the War of Wrath’. Please note: that next meeting will be the 13th October.


Carol’s comments:

Chapter 23 ‘Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin’

Tuor finds the arms left ‘for him’ in Vinyamar.

So Maeglin dies as his father said he would and in the same fashion.