First in November

10.11.18

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 (!)

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Last meeting in October

27.10.18

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

13.10.18

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

7.9.18

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.

 

Last meeting in August

25.8.18

Six of us returned this afternoon to our discussion of The Silmarillion after taking the first session in August off to visit the Oxford Tolkien exhibition. We also had to move our preliminary get-together to our alternative coffee venue because of a major event in Guildhall Square, and thanks to the thoughtfulness of the duty librarian, we were able to move to an alternative meeting room to avoid the thunderous music and general celebrations outside.

Carol’s comments are mostly included.

Leaving behind an afternoon full of music and lightheartedness, we picked up our reading topics by revisiting Turin Turambar. Laura felt that the characterization of Turin was really quite realistic because there are people whose obstinacy leads them to make unfortunate decisions.

Eileen wondered if Turin’s situation was just because he was cursed. Tim allowed that this could be the case, but he also seems self-destructive. Eileen added that Turin appealed to her because of his bravery.

Angela reminded us that it’s actually the relationship between Hurin and Morgoth that drives Turin’s misfortune. Laura noted that Turin is also trapped in Glaurung’s gaze.

Angela noted that echoing Niniel’s watery suicide, Hurin throws himself into the sea.

We moved on to ‘The Ruin of Doriath’ as Laura remarked that the meeting between Hurin and Morwen is terribly sad. We considered whether it might have been more detailed and elaborate, but I felt that the brevity of a simple touch of hands immediately before Morwen’s death was very touching. Angela noted that she takes Hurin’s hand. Laura observed that they have been very strong people but are now worn out, while Tim remarked that Morwen is never ‘conquered’ but Hurin has been conquered by Morgoth.

Carol commented on the start of the chapter: ‘At this point I always want to tell Hurin that he’s welcome in my house. Knowing my own character, I always go for the oppressed and despised. At the very least I would have given him a donation as if he were a homeless person on the street.

 

I remarked on the perpetual presence of Morwen’s marker stone on Tol Morwen in the sea even after the shape of the world is changed. Laura interpreted this as a sign that Iluvatar leaves to show that Men had been as significant as Elves.

Laura also noted that Morgoth allows Hurin to leave but he is escorted first by orcs, and then a shadow follows him.

Angela remarked that Thingol goes a bit mad as 2 curses meet in this chapter – Morgoth’s and Feanor’s. Laura wondered if Hurin picks out the Nauglamir in Nargothrond because Morgoth knows how it will affect Thingol? Tim observed it was a case of ‘what goes around comes around’.

Laura noted that Hurin looks in Melian’s eyes, and she wondered if this is when he realizes how his perspective has been affected by Morgoth, and is now freed. Laura went on to ponder whether Ulmo takes care of him at the end.

We all remarked on the effect of the Silmaril on Thingol – that it is ‘precious’, like the One Ring. Tim commented that it’s the same for the Dwarves with the Nauglamir.

Chris commented ‘then Thingol adds the Silmaril to the Nauglamir!’ Carol commented: ‘it’s wanting to possess the work of hands that is the wrong thing to do. The dwarves are now caught up in the Curse of Mandos. The possessions possess you.

 

Laura observed that the Silmaril is full of the light of the Two Trees and might be expected to exert a calming influence, but it doesn’t. Tim suggested that the power in possession overrides this possibility.

Laura commented that Thingol dies a very mean death for one who has seen the Trees. Tim likened the murder to Thingol by the Dwarves to the assassination of Julius Caeser.

Eileen remarked that in The Lord of the Rings she thought the Dwarves were looked down on, but she could see why after this. She also observed that Thingol doesn’t gaze on Melian in death.

Laura thought it was ironic that he dies gazing on the light of the Trees that he had actually seen. Angela thought Thingol had always been overbearing. Laura observed that as in the balance of power between Celeborn and Galadriel, top male Elves like Thingol are not as wise as their wives.

Angela noted that Celeborn in The Lord of the Rings cannot accept Gimli’s arrival because Celeborn was in Doriath when Thingol was killed.

Carol commented ‘I’ve never liked the way in which Melian deserts Middle-earth after Thingol’s killed, thus removing her protective girdle. Has she no feeling for the elves of Menegroth and what happens to them without her protection? Maia or not, she should have stayed.

 

Chris wondered if the withdrawal of Melian’s girdle came from outside Doriath. Angela noted that its withdrawal is described in the passive voice, thus the ‘voice’ is external. Laura wondered if the purpose for her has gone? Chris and Laura both noted that the Valar don’t bother, but Angela remarked that it’s all part of Iluvatar’s plan.

Chris thought this related to Tolkien’s own religious view.

Angela noted that the Valar have to wait. Chris remarked that the Valar mirror the situation in war in reality.

Carol commented: Tolkien has created, for me at least, one of the saddest of sagas in TSilm and The Lord of the Rings. The continuation of men and elves is done by the skin of their teeth. War after war is fought, thousands, including the heroes, perish. But the races still continue and it is my thought that all this bloodshed allows the farmers and ordinary people to survive, to plough and make, eat and toil, so that the races will be perpetuated. I think it was in The Magnificent Seven that Chriss says only the farmers win after bloodshed. And so we continue and strive through whatever adversity, personal and universal.

 

Laura disagreed, remarking that ordinary folk suffer too, and I was reminded of the Norman Harrowing of the North in which thousands were slaughtered. Angela countered this with a story from the Civil War when some rural folk did not know that the Royalists and the Parliamentarians were fighting. Chris commented that there were too many orcs infesting Middle-earth for anyone to be unaffected by the wars.

 

Pondering the balance between the war exploits of which the stories tell – those of lords and warriors – as against the effect of the wars on those who provide their necessities, Angela noted that Aragorn muddy but well made boots, so someone must have made them.

I proposed that the situation with the Valar and the Children of Iluvatar is the difference between the end and the process, and that there is no compassion. Laura wondered if mortal races are just nasty? And there is no sense of later New Testament-style forgiveness. Chris and Angela noted that in The Lord of the Rings  compassion comes in the form of Gandalf’s mantra of ‘pity’. Tim added that the Istari were sent in the Third Age to help the free people of Middle-earth. Eileen wondered if The Silmarillion was equivalent to the Old Testament while The Lord of the Rings was equivalent to the New? Tim proposed that it was redressing the early Silmarillion.

Tim added that TSilm is much more mythological than The Lord of the Rings  and ordinary folk are not important to the narrative, while The Lord of the Rings  is more socially aware.

Chris remarked that there are more monsters in TSilm than in The Lord of the Rings .

We agreed to read on as far as the beginning of The Akalabeth, and it was agreed that there would be no meeting on September 22nd because almost everyone will be at Oxonmoot.

Carol’s further comments:

Of the Ruin of Doriath.

 

 

Mim: ‘before the proud ones came from over the sea…I have but returned to take what is mine.’  Mim gets my sympathy here because elves have indeed been proud and even hunted Mim’s people but this will be the fulfilment of the prophecy that one of the house of Hador would get revenge on Mim for his betrayal on Amon Rudh.

 

First Meeting in August – in Oxford!

11.8.18

The Southfarthing trip to Oxford.

This was the Southfarthing’s group outing to visit the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Sadly, even before we started we learned that Carol and Rosemary would be unable to join the party because Rosemary had developed flu-like symptoms overnight. This was such a shame as we haven’t seen them for a very long time.

They would have travelled to Oxford by car, and we were still expecting Eileen to travel there by car while most of us travelled from Southampton together by train – no strikes, and seats all the way! Julie joined the train at Reading and we all met up on the platform at a sunny and warm Oxford.

It’s a manageable walk from the station to the Bodleian, but the narrow pavements were packed with tourists of all kinds and it was a matter of keeping our eyes peeled so we didn’t continually but inadvertently photo-bomb their mementos. The walk also gave us time to go on chatting.

Broad Street was similarly packed but it’s always exciting to look right into Turl Street and see Exeter College, although the Radcliffe Camera really dominates the view, and Julie reminded us of its influence on Tolkien as his idea of Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Numenor.

We assembled on the steps of the new Bodleian building across the road from the Camera to wait for Eileen to arrive. But as our entry time of 11.30 arrived without her, we made contingency plans and went into the exhibition.

It was the script and the image of the Ring on the left hand wall of the vestibule that grabbed my attention until Angela’s attention to the floor alerted me to something even more dramatic – the floor was illuminated by sections of the Map of Middle-earth which moved, so it seemed as though it was possible to walk on it. As if this was not dramatic enough, raising ones’ eyes, revealed the Doors of Durin on the end wall – only a projection of course but entirely taking up the wall and brilliantly showing the mithril lines. It was such a shame that photography was not permitted – it was a perfect photo-opportunity.

Everyone of us, including Eileen who eventually managed to join us after being held up in heavy traffic, seemed to find something of special interest in the exhibition itself. It was well laid out, although some of the manuscripts were a little high up for convenient reading. Some of their content was reproduced on lower panels and some of them would have needed to be flat on a table to be read with a magnifying glass, so faded was the writing after all these years. But seeing one of C.S. Lewis’s letters from 1949, reading Terry Pratchett’s enthusiasm for Farmer Giles of Ham [please see Julie’s comment below on this letter] and Iris Murdoch’s enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings were significant moments for me. Julie later wondered what it was about Smith of Wootton Major that resonated with a young ‘Terence’ Pratchett, as he signed himself. Eileen found the material on the genesis of The Silmarillion enlightening, and Ian found connections between the books on Tolkien’s desk and the early Tolkien family holidays in Wales.

It was astonishing to see the desk at which Tolkien used to write in all its shabby ordinariness and to realize that upon that homely piece of brown furniture the scope and scale, diversity, and imagination of Middle-earth and its off-shoots developed and were laboured over. It gave me a more profound sense of the man who was the author than anything else, although the mock exam paper he once created for an Inklings meeting added a fleeting subversive scurrility that has hitherto been missing.

Adding a further, and highly artistic dimension were all the newspaper fragments upon which Tolkien had created multi-coloured doodles as exquisitely detailed patterns. These, all drawn over the columns of type, really revealed Tolkien’s love of colour and shape as distinct from his better-known designs that illustrate elements of his stories. We were all surprised and impressed by these doodles in different ways. Laura identified one as looking distinctly Anglo-Saxon in its intricacy and colours, but Tim thought it looked more Celtic. I liked the ‘paisley’ designs, and the fact that the crosswords which seemed to have led to the creation of the ‘doodles’ were filled-in in alternating coloured pencils. Chris pointed out that all the crosswords (cryptic of course) were completed. Ian noted that one paper mentioned Bournemouth, another, the New Forest. Julie and I stopped for a while to look at the illuminated 3-D map table which showed the routes taken by various members of the Fellowship after Parth Galen. It was unexpectedly instructive to see the routes traced out by moving lights and to see in 3-D the relative distances. Laura found it touching to see Boromir’s last journey down Anduin.

If we hadn’t had a table booked for a late lunch it’s possible we might have lingered over the exhibits until closing time. Pondering over the burn hole in one of the maps, from a lit pipe; considering the selection of pipes; the small sketch book of water colours, the box of water colours, and the conte pencils, and the lineage of the characteristic script, first seem in Mabel’s letter home to English relatives thanking them for the ‘aprons’ for the boys. Tolkien’s acknowledgement of his mother’s influence on his calligraphy also got a mention, but seeing her tiny delicate calligraphic handwriting made that influence quite unmistakable.

Finally we tore ourselves away. Some of us briefly headed for the gift shop, without being greatly impressed by the range, or some of the prices. A Windsor chair of the kind Tolkien used at his desk was to be had for £800. No decent sized tote bags, which are always useful, or pens, but pretty cuff-links (who wears them these days?). Minor discontents, though, and hardly to be compared to the wonderful time spent immersed in Tolkien’s larger world.

So we headed off through the hordes to Brown’s for a much-needed lunch. I highly recommend their mango, pineapple and passion-fruit smoothie – very refreshing. The fish and chips chosen by most of our group came with fish the size of half a whale, and the service was friendly and attentive. Gave us plenty of time to relax and discuss what we had seen, and there was so much that we were still there when they started serving afternoon teas!

Tearing ourselves away once more as Eileen’s daughters arrived to collect her, the rest of us headed back to the station as the drizzle began to fall. Next time we meet I think we are still going to have plenty to talk about!

Last meeting in July

28.7.18

A cooler and very windy afternoon made getting to our meeting rather less demanding than it has been recently. Six of us got together and confirmed our arrangements for the Oxford visit, coming up fast now. Then we turned our attention to the chapter on Túrin Turambar.

Laura immediately picked up the danger of waking Túrin, likening it to the terrible stories of the SAS members who have unintentionally killed family members under similar circumstances.

Angela observed that the recent book The Children of Húrin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, from his father’s other versions of the story, is much more detailed than the account of Túrin’s life in The Silmarillion. Chris noted that this is actually mentioned in the shorter work, but CT collected all versions into 1 book.

Laura remarked that this is yet another miserable chapter, but then changed her designation to ‘grim’.

Eileen thought it is bleak, but noted that Túrin has his own strategy.

Laura allowed that he is undeniably brave, but ‘stuffed with ofermod’. He could make different choices but these would not fit his mind-set, so he is treading out his doom.

Eileen commented that he sticks to his own opinion but is not stubborn.

Laura noted that he changes his name every time something goes wrong.

Eileen suggested that he outgrew situations.

Laura considered Túrin to be learning his ‘craft’. Angela noted how this related to his return to Doriath.

Laura remarked on the way he is constantly missing people, including those who are absent from his life and with whom he never catches up.

Angela referred this to the effect of the curse of Morgoth, and I suggested that what happens to Túrin and his family is intended for the prolonged punishment of Hurin, who has to watch all these misfortunes unravel.

Laura noted, however, that Túrin, in his pride, even persuades Orodreth to ignore the message sent from Ulmo.

Eileen remarked that Túrin doesn’t seem to learn caution. Laura wondered if possession of the Dragon-helm and the sword Anglachel make him feel invincible?

Chris observed that the Dragon-Helm frightens people. Laura commented that it doesn’t protect him, and compared reports of the feeling of wearing a recreation of the Sutton Hoo helm [I can testify to the feeling of protection, having tried on a replica of the Benty Grange boar helm]. Laura also noted the latest research carried out on the Staffordshire Hoard and the conclusion that Anglo-Saxons saw an advantage in going into battle looking as splendid as possible.

I thought Túrin is characterized in terms of someone who is ‘born unlucky’.

Ian wondered if Tolkien is trying to describe such evils as Túrin faces in terms of Morgoth’s malice, but if Túrin makes wrong choices as part of Morgoth’s torment of Hurin then no comparison can be made with circumstances in the Primary World because that presupposes the controlling intervention of an evil power.

Angela commented that Morgoth does send the plague that kills Túrin’s sister Lalaith, and in the context of grief she wondered if Morwen is too unemotional. It was conjectured that this may have affected Túrin.

Chris remarked that Morgoth’s power doesn’t see through the Girdle of Melian.

Laura also noted that some captive elves tunnel out of Angband. She also commented on the special horror of elves, with their love of starlight being confined in mines.

Angela and Laura remarked that when Túrin encounters Glaurung, the dragon speaks ‘by the evil spirit that was in him’.

Angela likened the deceitful power of the dragon’s speech to the power of Saruman’s voice in The Lord of the Rings.

Chris noted that after tormenting Túrin the dragon ‘turned to his own pleasure’, and shows his independence in his gathering of treasure to rest on. So his power is his own not just Morgoth’s.

We considered other torments as Laura noted the ‘St Edmund’ moments when orcs throw knives at Beleg who is bound to a tree, and then Finduilas is killed by being pinned to a tree with a spear. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Edmund-original-Patron-Saint-of-England/

Laura also remarked on the dreadful racism in the treatment of the Petty-Dwarves, and wondered at Tolkien’s choice of the word of French origin.

Ian commented on the way Túrin carries out justice according to his own world view, which is different to that of the Elves, and thus kills Saeros and judges himself, fearing captivity. He acts on this assumption, though Thingol pardons him. In fact, Túrin  constantly judges himself, and is bound or incarcerated by various actions.

Laura noted that Melian warns Beleg not to take the sword Anglachel.

Eileen remarked that it seems as if some weapons have a life of their own and are affected by circumstances, or have some control.

I thought Anglachel behaved like a sword in essence by willingly taking Túrin’s life, because that’s what swords are made to do. Angela and Ian thought that was not really the case because the sword speaks its ‘motivation’. As Ian noted, it is not ‘guilty’ of Beleg’s death. Laura added that Melian characterized the sword as evil but Beleg ignored her.

Angela noted that Gwindor thought it was strange, and both Angela and Laura remarked that Beleg was actually named after his bow, Cúthalion – Strongbow.

Our meeting ended with the prospect of lots of reading time ahead as our next meeting day will be taken up with our visit to the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford. Nevertheless, we agreed to read specifically up to and including ‘The Fall of Gondolin’.