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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Reading Group meeting 8/12/07

2 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

8.12.07
First, apologies for the late appearance of this blog, and this time it will be rather short because of the way our meeting was arranged. We began our exploration of The Silmarillion (hereafter TS) at this meeting, and accepted Ian’s suggestion that we should look at the wider context of this astonishing mythology. He had recommended that we should read the Introduction to the 1999 edition, which contains a letter Tolkien wrote about the intention, and development of the story. As it happened, only Ian, Mike and Claire had the edition, the one with the smart black cover. The rest of us had, mostly the first edition with the blue cover, or a slightly later one, so we asked Ian and Mike to take us through what they thought were the most important points. I should say that I have tracked down the letter in Humphrey Carpenter’s 1981 edition of the Letters and it is 131 To Milton Waldman.
Personally I found it a pleasure to revisit the material Ian and Mike picked up, like Tolkien’s assertion that language was his first interest and the mythology was ‘simply’ a framework for the languages. It was also instructive to be reminded that he expressed a hope that others might join in his mythologising. This appears to give carte blanche to the dreaded fanfic. Of course, it wasn’t what Tolkien dreaded, but as Angela pointed out, it depends on what kind of fanfic it is. Presumably, and this is just me guessing, JRRT was not thinking of the kind of salacious ‘slasher’ fanfic that contaminates rather than entertaining and inhabits the darkest recesses of the Nigglings magazine. Although he may have regarded this as entirely consistent with his own mythology, being evidence of the continuing presence of Melkor and his delight in perverted creativity.
We were interested in the assertion that TS was much concerned with the Fall, mortality and the Machine (or Magic). JRRT tells his correspondent that Magic is more closely related to the Machine than most people think. It is an interesting assertion especially, as we noted, because of the way Galadriel seems gently to chide Sam for asking about Elf-magic. Her ‘magic’ is actually evidence of her highly developed inner power, while term ‘magic’ seems to imply the use of tricks and devices used for corrupt purposes.
We went on to consider elvish immortality as a curse, and naturally we recalled Elrond being Gilgalad’s herald (or squire? I can’t find the reference). The terrible sense of endless struggle only relieved by violent death or wasting away is a part of TS that gives it its special ‘atmosphere, but the fates of the elves led us into discussing matters such as the location and function of the Halls of Mandos, whether elves ‘came back’ – well we know Luthien does, but there was some debate as to whether there are 2 Glorfindels, the one who dies fighting the balrog and the one who meets the hobbits and Aragorn on the road to the ford, or just one who is killed and reincarnated. Angela thought there was just 1 but I have always thought there were 2 and that the second simply bore the name of the first, just as there are 2 Denethors etc. I may be wrong in assuming that the Numenorean habit of reusing names of ancestors, or elvish names also applied to naming among the Elves too.
Mike remarked that all the Ages of Arda end in rebellion and evil. We did not discuss how this situation affected the institution of a New Age in all ages, but went on to consider specifically the rebellion of Numenor and the bending of the earth. The concept of a Blessed Realm beyond the confines of the world which is still accessible to the Elves (and selected mortals) has troubled some members of the group when it has cropped up in earlier discussions. This time we hopefully did a better job of explaining it. Ian said the bending of the earth equates to or signals a shift into mythic form as a punishment for rebellion. The drowning of Numenor was rather easier to cope with and Anne asked if Tolkien ever mentioned or likened it to Atlantis, which he does. In the same letter (131) he writes of Numenor-Atlantis.
Having gone through some of the more important point of the Letter, we moved on to look at the Ainulindale and the topic of creations. We discussed the use and relevance of music and harmony as a creative force. Julie noted that in the Book of Job there is a beautiful passage on the singing of the ‘sons of morning’. I haven’t been able to find this exactly, but Job 38:7 has ‘when the morning stars sang together…’. Laura remarked that the power of song is important in Navaho culture, where anyone who disturbs the peace of the tribe will be sung back into harmony with everyone else by the shaman.
We finally got on to Melkor and his discord, which I had always taken as wholly disruptive and an indication of his decline into evil. It proved much more complex than that! Ian maintained that it was not discord, but another kind of music. It was generally accepted, following on from this, and the text, that it was actually all planned by Iluvatar, and contributes to diversity. I commented on the wonderful description of Iluvatar rising from his seat smiling, but then growing stern. Mike picked up an illuminating point when he observed that Melkor’s descent into evil, rather than his assertion of individualistic pride, is marked by successive instances of humiliation. This seemed to suggest more than just a theological concept of the relationship between good and evil, or even a philosophical position. We wondered to what extent this link between evil and humiliation drew on Tolkien’s consideration of political and historical contexts, since the first and second World Wars arose to some degree out of a sense of national humiliation.
Our deliberations during the afternoon had taken in theology, philosophy, psychology, mythology, and even a bit of methodology. We did not run so much out of time as on some previous afternoons but ended by agreeing to read to the end of the Valaquenta for next time. Our next meeting will be 12th January 2008.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Sorry! misremembered! I was thinking of the Epiphany hymn "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning".

10:59 AM  

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