24. 5. 14
We were continuing with our reading of Narn i Hȋn Húrin, and Carol’s comments are included as an appendix; but we began with excitement and celebration because we had almost all obtained our copies of the new Beowulf translation and Sellíc Spell. No one had had time to read very much, but I was gratified to see the translation had been done in proper scholarly fashion, i.e. in prose. Tim recalled Tolkien’s comments on translation that he had included in the Introduction to Wrenn’s edition of Beowulf and Ian conjectured that readers who are unfamiliar with the academic convention of translating poetry into prose may well be surprised that the great expert in Old English did not attempt to translate into the OE long line poetic form.
Please Note: With Beowulf in our hands, we decided to break off in the middle of our reading of Unfinished Tales and move straight into reading the new book, that is our reading for the next 3 weeks at least (this month has 5 Saturdays so we will not meet again for 3 weeks).
As we put aside our lovely new books with the embossed dragon on the front to turn to other matters, Ian remarked that he has noticed an unusual cluster of visits to his blog site for the Leeds Blue Plaque. http://blueplaque-tolkien-in-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/. All the visits seem to be from the USA and we conjectured that a class had been set an end of year project, or maybe conference-goers attending the Leeds IMC had been looking up places of interest. Whatever the facts, it shows the value of Ian’s blog.
We at last moved on to the story of Túrin, and Tim noted that Christopher Tolkien interrupts the story after Túrin and his outlaws move into the dwarf caves with Mȋm. Suddenly readers are directed to the continuation of the story in The Silmarillion, and to an Appendix to the story before them, given at the end. As Tim observed, the editorial technique makes the reading of the story generally rather ‘bitty’.
The unfinished state of the material on the Unfinished Tales was a matter for comment throughout the afternoon.
I asked if anyone else had found the story hard to get through? Mike replied that it read like Tess of the D’Urberfields in the woods! Laura observed that it is a tragic tale, but not much is said about the fate of Niniel’s baby which is killed in her suicide.
Mike thought that the problem lies in the basic need for good to win, which the Narn does not satisfy, but Laura and Tim suggested that because Glaurung has been killed and thus Morgoth’s control is at least interrupted, then good of a kind does prevail.
This gave rise to a debate between Laura and Mike over the unknown extent of Illuvatar’s overall plan.
There was general agreement on the richness of the writing. Mike considered the description of the river ‘grinding its teeth’ cleverly compact.
Tim remarked that Turin is a Frodo-like sacrificial hero, although he is doer not a thinker like Frodo.
Julie thought Turin was a Coriolanus-type warrior. I remarked that Turin never seems to me as ‘sympathetic’ as Coriolanus.
Ian commented that from ‘The Coming of Glaurung’ there seem to be many unexplained misfortunes, but also considered that events and situations were being ‘spun’ by Melkor expressly to torment Hurin. Mike noted that there is no reminder of this. Ian picked up his previous point remarking that the reader sees what is given by the author as Hurin sees what Morgoth permits.
Laura then wondered if Morgoth intentionally sacrifices Glaurung. Mike thought that the author avoids limiting interpretive and structural possibilities by saying too much.
Mike also revealed that he had found a laugh! Turin and Hunthor are clambered along of the Teiglin Gorge with Glaurung above them, Turin praises Hunthor for his help. Simultaneously Hunthor is hit on the head by a falling rock and killed. Grim humour indeed.
Mike then wondered why Niniel/ Nienor does not cover up the apparently dead Turin. Laura remarked that she has now had her ‘Romeo’ moment.
Tim observed that the story is very much a work in progress as shown by the fact that there are so many versions of the Turin story. Laura remarked that in comparison to the Narn, the version in The Silmarillion feels very ‘thin’.
I asked if there are many versions, and we are participating in interpreting the meaning, does that make the story of Turin a genuine myth. Mike did not think so, because there is no development on from Tolkien’s original. Julie, on the other hand, thought there were signs of independent development in the form of fan-fiction. Ian objected that Tolkien’s myth cannot be played out in the real world in the way that Greek and other myths can be seen to.
Tim observed that the story needs to be free of copyright, like Shakespeare – Mike added.
Changing tack completely, Ian noted that Tolkien’s ‘word-bombs’ – unexpected or anachronistic words – are used to wake us up by referencing other works and real world relationships.
I then asked if anyone had come across more information about the mode of Elvish verse called Minlamed thent / estent in which the Narn is said to have been originally written. It was thought that it was a fictionalising of the different kinds of poetry for special occasions, and the different forms of writing used for different kinds of sagas.
I also introduced a very grim thought when I asked if it was possible that the reference to the outlaws killing orcs and hanging their bodies on trees could have been influenced by the infamous World War 1 photo of a body draped in a tree following an explosion. Julie thought it read like the actions of gamekeepers who hang dead rooks and crows in places where they will deter others of the same kind. But, Julie thought, it could also be regarded as a war crime. Laura thought the dishonourable treatment of dead orcs was because they were ‘just’ orcs, so it was not dishonourable to treat them in that way.
Please note- we move on to Beowulf now, reading up to page 36, or further if time permits.
THE COMING OF GLAURUNG
I’m glad Hunthor chides Dorlas because Dorlas proves craven in the end and Hunthor sets out Brandir’s plight perfectly.
pp.131-2 this section between Brandir and Niniel, like the rest of it, is bitter. Niniel is going headlong to meet death and poor Brandir is unmanned. In hard time, gentleness and healing are thought little of, more’s the pity, and especially in a man.
THE DEATH OF GLAURUNG
p.133 Dorlas pays in more than shame. ‘watched a white star far above…’ – there’s always the star above danger, reminding that some things can’t be touched by evil. See also Sam going across Mordor.
p.134 even though Hunthor dies he lives long enough to save Turin from falling and therefore finishing the job. If for nothing else, fate seems to have brought Turin to this point to kill Glaurung and at least rid the world of a great and wicked danger. But at such a human cost…
p.138 Nienor’s tragic realisation. Her end is worthy of an opera. The whole story is worthy of an opera.
The death of Turin
p. 142 although it’s too late, I’m glad Turin repents of his words and actions against Brandir. All the main player pay dearly.