It was good to have Julie back with us again this week, and Carol had sent her comments again as our reading this week picked up Unfinished Tales at ‘The Line of Elros’ and ‘The History of Galadriel and Celeborn’. But after our usual foray into AOB (any other business), which included Ian recommending the book he had just read Carl Phelpstead’s Tolkien and Wales for its attention to Arthurian material and the little-known ‘Aotrou and Itroun’. We then noted that ‘Aragorn’s Sword’ from the LotR films is coming up for auction – thanks to Laura’s mother for the newspaper cuttings – we took on the question of ‘whether Elves can commit suicide’. This was a question from a non-Southfarthing member which prompted opposing answers from Laura and me at the time, and elicited a range of responses at the meeting.
My immediate response had been that Elves can commit suicide, but Laura had asserted that this was not possible because they were tied to the existence of Arda. Angela reminded us that Feänor’s mother gave up her life, and it was variously noted that Elves can be re-incarnated, or may be left in the Halls of Mandos, from which Ian extrapolated the suggestion that they could commit relinquish their lives but would be judged by Mandos according to whether they were culpable or whether they deserved to be re-incarnated because their relinquishment amounted to a selfless act.
Angela gave the example of Glorfindel1 who sacrificed his life battling a balrog during the Fall of Gondolin and was later reincarnated in the Second Age. I thought Amroth probably counted as culpable for throwing away his life in a tempestuous sea even though he was in love.
Chris then pointed out the fascinating fact that all the Elves who sail into the West may be said to be giving up on life, and Tim thought this was true of Frodo, although/because he has suffered so much he cannot sustain living any longer.
We considered situation of Arwen, who gives her immortality to Frodo, as well as the situation of Elros and Elrond, one of whom relinquishes immortality in favour of eventual death. Angela then drew our attention to the practice of Númenórean kings who originally laid down their lives and chose when to die.
This rather neatly brought us to ‘The Line of Elros’. Laura said she found it ‘rivetting’ and observed that it reads rather like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, including specific forms of words for dying. It also shows evidence of political thinking. Tim observed that its form equates to tasters of information that prompt the reader’s interest, and that the list of kings emphasises Aragorn’s nobility and lineage.
Tim then noted that the 13th king refused to ‘lay down his life’ and this was part of his general rebelliousness.
Angela observed that the 5th king, Tar-Meneldur, resigned his kingship in favour of his son Aldarion because he realised he was not up to the job.
Laura then noted that Aldarion’s daughter rejected her father’s connections with Gil-galad, but Angela remarked that this showed the extent to which she was influenced by her mother Erendis. I thought it showed that she had no grasp of ‘foreign policy’ and Angela observed that it showed that she was lacking the influence of her father.
Angela went on to notice that Aldarion’s daughter Ancalimë gives rise to a number of female rulers, and a number of daughters who refused to rule.
Laura remarked that the sceptre of Numenor was the sign of the right to rule as it was in Egypt and is in England. Angela observed that this is the sceptre brought by Elrond to the coronation of Aragorn.
Laura then noted that there is a mention of Sauron’s presence later in Numenor, but it is not developed. She also remarked that by noticing the length of each ruler’s reign it is possible to see the life spans of rulers diminishing.
Ian considered that the great life spans are an effective way of constructing a sense of great spans of time passing.
Laura then remarked that the story of the queen Tar-Miriel is worthy of a book on its own. While Angela joined her in observing that Tar-Atanamir the Great (the 13th king) was dragon-like in his greed. Angela added that the 12th, Tar-Ciryatan, bullied his father out of the crown.
I was interested in the cultural situation during the reign of Tar-Ancalimon when Elvish fell out of favour in the Royal house except for the royal titles which were still in Quenya ‘out of ancient custom rather than love, for fear lest the breaking of the old usage should bring ill-fortune’. I took this to indicate that the dilution or loss of meaning of an historical tradition leads to superstition.
I then questioned why Tolkien created so many versions of some of the most important elements of his stories – even ones already published, or otherwise regarded as completed. Ian suggested that the various versions represented what Tolkien regarded as improvements, but that he was always writing in small chunks. In the case of ‘Galadriel and Celeborn’ the various version might be understood as ‘frames’ which could then be put together.
Laura observed that Tolkien clearly lived with his head full of ideas which needed to be expressed. Ian added that Tolkien recognised that his languages needed stories in which they could ‘live’.
Moving on to ‘Galadriel and Celeborn’, I noted that Galadriel, as one of the Noldor, is described as having been a pupil of Aulë and we had previously observed that Aulë’s pupils all tended towards rebellion of various kinds, following (apparently) their master’s original act of disobedience in making the Dwarves. Carol commented: “Sauron like others who grab power – Saruman, Feänor e.g. – in that he is associated with Aulë who also overreaches himself in creating the Dwarves but unlike the others, comes back into Eru’s fold.”
Tim declared Galadriel to be a rebel, while Laura suggested that at least she was honest with herself when she rejected the pardon of the Valar. Angela added that when she is described as ‘fighting alongside Celeborn at the Kinslaying’ she sounds like a warrior but the concept of fighting probably indicates something other than armed activity.
This led us on to considerations of female warrior elves (!), which then led to the conduct of Thranduil in the second Hobbit film. Carol had commented that in Appendix B ‘The Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves’: “I like it when you get little snippets not found elsewhere or rarely, like Oropher as Thranduil’s dad. Oropher dies at the last alliance.” Angela noted that in the story Thranduil is shown to be clearly traumatised by his participation in the Battle of the Last Alliance.
Tim observed that Appendix E gave a detailed analysis of the names ‘Galadriel’ and ‘Celeborn’ in various forms. Angela then raised the unfortunate matter of Celeborn’s Telerin name, which is given as ‘Teleporno’. Obviously Tolkien could not have known how the final syllable of this name would come to resonate with unpleasant modern significance. This reminded us that we had noted other instances where some elements of Tolkien’s terminology, used at a time when they were entirely proper and innocent, have since changed their connotations, most notably his use of ‘queer’ – peculiar, and ‘gay’ – merry and lively.
Carol commented: “Interesting this section, names are very important. Is it right that if you know someone’s/something’s true name you have power over them? Treebeard says that names are like a story, they grow and change as we do, hence different names for different stages of life, e.g. Túrin.
Ian then asked why we thought Christopher was so bothered about his father’s non-statement about what happened to the 7 Rings in spite of giving details about Sauron’s raid and theft of the 9 after torturing Celebrimbor. Tim reminded us of the earlier observation that Tolkien needed to record all his ideas, while Julie remarked that in real life we find many variants of histories and myths, and a lack of coherence.
Carol had commented on the story of The Elessar: “The use of ‘the one’ flummoxed me for a second equating it with Eru but it obviously means the one ring. This section doesn’t really grab me but I will say in the mode of ‘real’ legends the story of the Elessar is capable of different spins, like for e.g. different versions of Arthur.”
Julie then went on to observe that reference to the Numenorean fleet approaching Eriador serves as a pre-echo of the Black Ships, when the identity as friend or foe is not known.
Having run out of time, we quickly agreed that for our next meeting we would read the chapters ‘The Gladden Fields’ and ‘Cirion and Eorl’.
Carol’s comments follow here:
THE LINE OF ELROS
Nowt much to say really about the monarchs of Numenor except to remark on the descent of the use of regal powers – mercy, justice etc, but we know all about that.
THE HISTORY OF GALADRIEL AND CELEBORN
‘the role and importance of Galadriel only emerged slowly’ – the creation of the backstory to Lorien etc.
I like this little tale of Galadriel’s refusing a strand of her hair to Feänor to put into the silmarils but 3 Ages later she gives 3 strands to Gimli from a race supposedly very antipathetic towards Elves. I also like the use of ‘unfriend’ with regard to Galadriel’s and Feänor’s relationship, like ‘unlight’ referring to Ungoliant.
‘Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn’
Mention of them having a son Amroth (eventually of Dol) but this is nowhere mentioned in LotR where they only have one child, Celebrian, Arwen’s mam.
Lots of other 2nd Age history – the fall of celebrimbor and co; the setting up of Rivendell; Sauron’s rise and fall and festering hatred. Interesting but no great comment like the stories of individuals.
Galadriel’s coming to Rivendell with Celeborn seeking Celebrian whom she find there. 2 thing: this is probably when Elrond meets Celebrian and Celeborn returns to Rivendell after Galadriel has departed at the end of LotR and from where supposedly he rides from for the havens at an unspecified time. Can never understand why he hasn’t gone with Galadriel.
‘Amroth and Nimrodel’
Another ill-fated love story, very airy-fairy romantic. In today’s ethos of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, it all seems a bit elasticated, even for me who’s views now seem old fashioned. They debate, get separated, lose each other. If Nimrodel loved Amroth why the hell didn’t she just marry him?
About Elves being beardless – Cirdan is described as having a beard!
Of all the names and interpretations of names for Lothlorien my favourite will always be Laurelindorinan, ‘land of the valley of singing gold’ (Treebeard) (Llanfer…gogogo eat your heart out) it just makes you want to find it and live there. Gorgeous.
‘Appendix C The Boundaries of Lorien’
I like the way Tolkien use s the prefix ‘un’ in unusual ways, here in ‘undeep’ meaning shallow. see above.
‘Appendix D The Port of Lond Daer’
Just a general comment about deforestation – men just don’t seem to be able to help themselves. Trees are easy pickings because they can’t fight back. Not even Ents could have stopped the massive destruction.
Comment about the ‘courage and hardihood required’ for Boromir’s journey to Rivendell not being fully mentioned in LotR. Could be because Boromir vaunts it so much, enough to make even Bilbo sarcastic.