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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Reading Group meeting 9/2/08


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

We began the afternoon with another review of some of the maps so as to locate our new Silmarillion readers more definitely in and around Middle-earth. This really becomes a bit of a problem when we are dealing with mythic time and place, even within the confines of the story. We needed to think about the relationship between the Misty Mountains before and after the drowning of Beleriand, and we also discussed the wonderful story of Ulmo sending Osse to move Tol Eressea towards Valinor.
Anne then remarked that she was becoming bewildered with all the names, and most of us nodded sagely and agreed that we had had a similar experience at our own first reading. Some of us also muttered softly, wait till we get to all the ‘F’s.
Pat remarked on the sequence in which Yavanna puts all the new life to sleep during the darkness, to await the Spring. This was particularly appropriate because it was such an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, but as Pat rightly said, we were in for a cold snap that would halt the Spring flowers in their tracks.
Tim picked up the pattern of multiple migrations in the chapters we had been looking at 3,4, and 5. And Mike commented on the way the migrations clearly affect the development of different language communities among the Elves. This is of course entirely what might be expected from a writer like Tolkien whose primary interest was language rather that the stories, which only provide the ‘scenery’ for the languages he developed.
Anne remarked on a similarity she saw between Ulmo and Calypso, the Sirens, and the Lorelei, linking them all through an association with the sea and the love of music. Some of us pointed out that Ulmo, and Osse, are never a threat to the Elves who travel on the seas in the way that the Sirens and the Lorelei were perceived to be, but rather assisted their travels.
Ian observed at this point that Osse had not wanted the Teleri to leave Middle-earth and travel West because he enjoyed their company. This was a topic that came up again in a slightly different form later.
It was remarked that the awakening of the Elves into the twilight is a particularly beautiful moment, but Tim drew out attention to the effect of the ‘Dark Rider’ on the newly awakened Elves. The riding of Orome scared them because Morgoth has got there first and been spreading a rumour of a dreadful dark rider, but it also seems that Morgoth himself may have been that rider. I suggested that Morgoth’s lies associate him firmly at this point with the medieval tradition of referring to the Devil as ‘father of lies’.
At this point we got into a most enlightening discussion (well, it was for me), when I mentioned that Carol, our most recent virtual member, had noted that the Misty Mountains had been reared by Melkor to hinder the riding of Orome. Carol added that it was no wonder in LotR they were still a particular menace. She also observed that Caradhras seemed to have a will of its own, in spite of Galdalf’s assertion that Sauron’s arm had grown long. Gimli is in no doubt that the mountain had been evil long before Sauron came to power.
Ian commented that the Ring is lost under the Misty Mountains, and Angela noted that the Watcher in the Water is one of those ‘older and fouler things than orcs’ and so may have lain under the mountains since the First Age until disturbed first by the dwarves and then by the orcs. The ancient association with Melkor would explain the presence of the Balrog as well. Having never made these connections myself, I found all this added a great deal to my impression of Caradhras and Moria.
Once we had made these connections with dark and horrible aspects of both the First and the Third Ages in Middle-earth, Chris and Mike pointed us back over the Sundering Sea to Valinor as they both remarked that they thought the Valar seemed both self-satisfied and a bit think! Once the rest of us had recovered from this apparent heresy, it could see what they meant. The Valar sit in their lovely Western enclave, a veritable ‘green zone’, and wait. There is some evidence that they merely wait for time to unwind but it is more difficult to justify their demand that the Elves should go West, even when they don’t want to, just because the Valar enjoy their company. Of course, we are again in a mythic situation and watching an anthropological exercise as the Elves create a series of reasons why some of High Elves and some are not. But it is really only appropriate to go with the myth.
I commented on the fact that when Melkor is chained, that chain is given a name. Ian remarked that in the Book of Lost Tales even the metal is named as a particular kind of alloy of two other metals. This is a great deal of detail. I also wondered if the disappearance of Sauron at the breaking of Utumno and Angbad was the first instance of him shape-shifting, but everyone reminded me that as he is a Maia he can choose his form anyway.
Bringing us back to matters of power, which had been opened up both last week by Pat and by implication during our discussion of the conduct of the Valar, Laura commented on the reference to the Melkor’s perversion of the Elves being ‘hateful to Iluvatar’. She saw in it a power struggle as Melkor demonstrated his power to ruin even some of the Firstborn
Julie then raised a difficult point when she asked if Manwe showed melkor too much mercy. Of course, everyone jumped in with recollections of the importance of mercy in LotR – not merely differentiating good characters from bad ones, but as a thematic and essential part of the story. However, Julie held her ground, remarking that in the case of Melkor it seemed to be mercy to no good end. It never comes close to redeeming him, nor does it lead to anything obviously beneficial. However, Ian suggested that only Manwe, being closest to Iluvatar, understood why it was important for Melkor to be part of the world – part of Arda.
Although we again to into tricky areas as we considered the place of evil in Arda – whether Tolkien was taking a Manichean or an Augustinian position – we also managed to get some distance from our previously heavy theological discussions, and the coming chapters will certainly take us further away, but the problem of evil is likely to haunt our discussions nevertheless. It is comforting to remember that Tolkien stated definitively that in Middle-earth nothing was created evil, everything was created good and becomes evil.
Our next reading is chapters 6, 7, 8 as they are only short. Happy reading.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Admin said...

The alloy used in Melkors chain and mancles was named 'Tilkal' ( six metals, copper, silver, tin, lead, iron, and
gold) Tolkien wrote,
'...this had all the properties of the six and many of
its own. Its colour was bright green or red in varying lights and it could not
be broken...' The name of the chain was named Angaino, 'the
oppressor', and the manacles Vorotemnar that bind for ever.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

This is an entirely trivial and unworthy comment but re. Dark Lords etc I can't help thinking of "Unchained Melkordy".

2:45 PM  

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