After missing out the first meeting in April because of the recent Tolkien Society AGM, we spent some time at the start of this afternoon considering matters arising from the AGM – more on this, hopefully, in due course and following wider consultation.
Our topic for this afternoon was the first section of the Unfinished Tales ‘Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin’. Carol sent her comments and any not integrated will be added at the end of the main report.
Tim, however, with a nod towards the newest Tolkien book remarked that John Garth had reminded him that The Lost Road (one of the volumes of The Histories of Middle-earth), has a small extract from Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, and the much-debated ‘Hwæt’ is there translated as ‘Lo!’ The translation of the Old English word has often been a topic for debate among us, and we were still not entirely satisfied, even with Tolkien’s choice (!) and thought it was probably best left untranslated.
We then turned our attention to Tuor and Laura observed that while reading it she was aware of the differences between this version and those in The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales. I asked if the fact that there are a number of versions was confusing, but Laura replied that it is shame that so much is lost in TSilm and BLT when compared to the Tuor story in UT.
Tim remarked that the earlier versions seem so much richer in detail compared to Tolkien’s later, ‘drier’ version in TSilm. Angela noted that the Introduction to UT gives an account of the earliest versions and Tolkien’s preferences.
Laura observed that the appearance of Ulmo that is so impressive is lost from the later version of the story in TSilm.
Tim commented on the absorbing nature of Tuor’s passage through the 7 gates of Gondolin that ends so abruptly – unfinished.
Chris remarked that the gates that Tuor has to pass reminded him of the 7 gates of Minas Tirith in LotR. Angela noted that there was an original Minas Tirith on Tol Sirion before the drowning of Beleriand. Tim saw Tolkien’s ‘reworking’ of Minas Tirith in LotR as an homage to the Beleriand Minas Tirith.
Tim directed our attention to one of Tolkien’s letters written after LotR in which he refers to his work on Gondolin. Laura observed that the original work on The Fall of Gondolin was carried out in 1916/17. Tim, Angela and Chris noted that it is mentioned in the Introduction to UT, that work on Tuor and his Coming was as late as 1951. Tim remarked that this explained why the quality of the writing was on a par with LotR: Tolkien was at the peak of his powers as a writer. Angela commented on the contrast described between this and what the Introduction describes as the ‘extreme archaic style’ of the 1916/17 Fall of Gondolin.
Carol too commented: ‘lovely writing. Once Tolkien gets into the flow through Voronwë his powers of description are hypnotising.’
Laura went on to observe that Tuor and his Coming reads like a fairy tale, full of symbolism.
I had been impressed by the pictorial qualities of the narrative, and Tim remarked that as Tolkien was an artist he had an artist’s ‘feeling’ for things.
Laura drew our attention to Tuor’s distant view of his tragic cousin Túrin passing by. As Carol remarked: ‘just a little time-line check about the fall of Nargothrond. They sort of cross paths with Túrin, each to such different ends, though close kin, yet strangers.
Together with observations by Voronwë Tuor’s new Elf companion and guide of the evidence that Glaurung has been there, as the two stories momentarily intersect, Tolkien draws attention to Túrin through this ‘intertextuality.’
Angela then noted that Voronwë and Tuor were nice, and quite different to e.g. Túrin, who is frequently arrogant, as are other leading male characters.
Tim thought there is a touch of Aragorn about Tuor in his solitary travelling. Angela added that both have prophecies attached to them, but Tuor in finished versions passes into the West, perhaps because of his service as the messenger of Ulmo.
Tim noted that Tuor is also Elrond’s great-grandfather ‘And Aragorn’s ancestor!’ Angela added, going on to note that Voronwë’s mother is kin of Cirdan.
While discussing the appearance of Ulmo, Laura noted that he is described as flickering with ‘sea-fire’, so he shines with phosphorescence.
Carol commented: Ulmo sounds like one of the prophet of doom in the Hebrew Bible.
Tim observed that Tuor sets out on his journey to find Gondolin in winter just as the Fellowship sets out in winter in LotR. Both he and Laura discussed the nature of the ‘lappett’ that Ulmo pulled from his own cloak to cover and conceal Tuor during his journey. Tim thought it should have been made of fur if it was to keep Tuor warm. But its quality of shadowy concealing was more like the cloaks given by Galadriel.
I wondered if Voronwë’s account of being saved from drowning when he was born up ‘on the shoulder’ of a great wave meant that this is to be interpreted as Ulmo’s intervention too. Laura saw echoes of the story of St Christopher in this image, just as I had seen echoes of the story of St. Martin in Ulmo’s gift of a part of his cloak to Tuor. Chris and Angela noted a reference to Ossë driving the storm that besets Voronwë.
Laura noted a reference to an phenomenon like the Severn Bore, before observing that Ulmo’s plan fails because the great Elven kings Turgon and Thingol are devoted to things rather than having a larger view. Turgon is devoted to his city and Thingol to treasure. Tim thought this made the Elves just as fallible as everyone else.
Laura remarked one Ulmo’s reference to ‘fate’ and the rift in it. Ulmo is going against the decisions of the Valar by actively intervening in Middle-earth, and his image of the rift, and the ‘breach’ in the walls of Doom show that fate is not a relentless plodding, and that what seems like the End to mortals is only their view of the ‘full-making.’
Angela commented that Tuor is thus constructed as ‘hope’ – prefiguring Aragorn.
Running out of time – as usual – we agreed that our next reading would be Narn I Hin Hurin as far as the section ‘The Coming of Glaurung’.
Unfinished Tales, Unwin 89 (80)
I’m one of those moved by ‘the curious effect that a story has’ and who ‘clamour for sheer information’.
Just a brief note on Christopher Tolkien’s writing style – it is not for ninnies, complex sentence structure, obscure references etc.
He is at great pains to explain things in his introduction, meticulous. For me he could have invented the whole lot, close as he was to his dad. But for this very reason, he’s faithful to his dad’s writings, also perhaps bearing in mind some fans might be nit-pickers if any inaccuracies are found, and also bearing in mind many fans are academics too. And showing to detractors the seriousness with which we regard the works of JRRT.
Part One The First Age Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin
p.17: Rian leaving Tuor and going to die on Huor’s grave: theres something very selfish in some Middle-earth parents – leaving their children – e.g. Elwing and Earendil. Children leaving parents is fine; that’s the way it should be, but vice versa – unnatural I call it.
pp.24-5: It’s hard for us to imagine what it must be like to see the sea for the first time, especially living in Scarborough and Southampton, but Tuor must have been totally amazed, water that flows and ebbs, rises and falls, and passes widely to a horizon. What a sight!
For all Gondolin must have been a wondrous place to see, it’s very hard, metallic and stoney. I know it was a hidden kingdom on a war footing but I like Meduseld better, softer, kinder.
I’m not really interested in commentary. I like reading the Unfinished Tales because they give more information, padding out The Silmarillion account. And I always want to know more.
I’ve enjoyed reading ‘Tuor’ again, apart from expanding TSilm story. It’s very well written and holds one’s interest in a mode of tale that’s not easy to keep interesting. For a large part about a solitary wanderer, and then with only two wanderers, spiked by the appearance of Ulmo and at the end other elves to converse with. Tuor and Voronwe are made of tough fibre, their main battle being against the elements.