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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reading Group meeting 14/6/08


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

I have to note immediately that I’m writing this blog report on or about Mid Year’s Day – the Druids and the astronomers seem to be unclear as to whether today (20th) or tomorrow (21st) actually counts as Mid Year’s Day, and since there is heavy overcast it’s impossible to judge, but also very traditional for English Midsummer! Anyway here begins the blog:

Julie had done a good deal of research into the connection between the Turin saga and The Kalevala. This is a real tome – she brought it in to show us – so the extracts she directed our attention to were most welcome.
Laura picked up the continuing presence of the curse of Mandos simply in the name of the battle ‘Unnumbered Tears’, Mandos had used this phrase in his curse. Mike took a more political view of the situation surrounding the battle, drawing our attention to the factionalism, the remembered slights, and he also suggested that the tactics repeated those employed at the Battle of Hastings as did the factionalism and inept conduct of the battle. However, Laura and Pat picked up instances of loyalty and kinship. Carol, by email, noted that Morgoth has the advantage anyway because all his forces are in one place while all the elvish participants come in dribs and drabs from all over the place, at various times, and with varying numbers. Like Julie, Carol also picked up Morgoth’s use of camouflage clothing – the ‘dull raiment’, and considered it one of his ‘dirty tricks’. This drew comments regarding the timing of the English change from Red coats to duller uniforms. Some of us thought this was during the Boer War, but Laura proposed that it may have been the Crimean.
Pat went on to observe that Feanor’s oath causes the breakdown of elvish alliances, and Laura picked up the significance of the Naugrim fighting with the alliance. Julie observed that this only lasted until Azaghal was killed by Glaurung at which point all the dwarves left the field to carry away their dead leader. The description recalls the classic staging of the funeral of Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and is also used in some films – it is noble and lordly, but not really appropriate while the battle is still raging!
While we were in the section of the book, I picked up a particularly Beowulfian comment in the narrative when the description of the fight between Gothmog and Fingon is about to starts. The text says ‘That was a grim meeting’. It is very much the same kind of brief, pithy comment that the Beowulf-poet often uses.
Carol had remarked by email on the fact that Tolkien doesn’t usually go in for gratuitous violence but pulls no punches over Gelmor’s fate, and both Mike and Laura picked up the levels of cruelty and instances of wanton cruelty, this particularly in the treatment of Fingon’s body.
Carol had ponderd whether the ‘great storm out of the west’ came as a sign of anger at what had happened, and if so, why didn’t the West intervene sooner. In a moment of grim humour Julie commented on the great wind, naming it ‘Manwe’s raspberry’! and observing that it came too late anyway. Mike added sardonically that this was just like the Americans – we do have long memories don’t we!?
Oddly, this dismal theme of this chapter had prompted a little bleak humour, and the even more dismal themes of the following chapter provoked further subversive comments. Mike referred to ‘Turin aka Mr. Cockup’, while Ian renamed him ‘Billy NoMates’. I don’t know if we were seeking refuge in black humour – as is often the case when people are faced with hard or miserable situations, or whether we were being purely subversive, or if it was just our usual sidelong way of looking at even serious things, but there was a good deal of agreement that Turin’s constant renaming of himself got tedious.
Personally, I didn’t share this view because I thought his constant adoption of new names spoke volumes for his damaged psychological state. We didn’t get round to discussing this, but naming seems important to Tolkien in TS because he gives us the reverse example in which Eol will not name his son, so I think naming – who names, and why, deserves closer consideration. On the other hand, perhaps it’s a bit obvious.
There seemed to be a certain reluctance to engage with these chapters, but we did note the repeated motifs of hair, and deer, and running naked, in the Turin chapter. We noted too the many versions – 4 of them in various forms. Carol had written that she liked the alliterative version best.
We considered briefly Turin as tragic hero and Mike and Laura picked up Turin’s arrogance while Julie thought he came across as a typical teenager, and it is true that he begins his ‘adventures’ in the wild at a very young age. I’m still not sure if he counts as a genuine tragic hero because, as Julie remarked there doesn’t seem to be any sense of catharsis at the end of his story, at least we didn’t feel any. SEE BELOW.
Laura and I differed in our opinion of Turin’s conduct during the Mim episode. Laura thought that Turin showed nobility in his offer of weregild for Turin’s murdered son. I thought Turin and his men behaved like the worst kind of imperial colonisers. Julie picked up the connection with Wagner’s Siegfried whose foster-father is a dwarf called Mim. The name also prompted Ian to recall the character Madam Mim the shape-shifting witch in the Disney version of The Sword in the Stone!
Following this pleasant digression, Mike referred us to a ‘Gollum moment’ in this episode. It’s actually more than a moment as Pat pointed out. As Gollum guides and betrays Frodo and Sam, so Mim guides and betrays Turin and his men. There is also a similar sense that the guide/betrayer may not be completely culpable, although the reasons are mor complicated in Gollum’s case.
Julie picked up a troublesome reference at this point when she noted the description of elves hunting dwarves, and asked just how much conversion/perversion was needed in Angband to turn some Elves into orcs!
After this worrying consideration Laura, Pat and Julie noted that lembas are described as the gift of a queen and once again they are wrapped in leaves, but it was noted that here the wrapping is described in more detail. We also observed that Galadriel’s repetition of this act by Melian again strongly suggests that she was Melian’s ‘pupil’.
I had been trying to work out the practicalities of the Dwarf-mask of Dor-lomin. I didn’t understand how any kind of mask could protect Turin from Glaurung, neither from his eyes, nor from his fire. Claire, however, suggested that the mask might have been shiny, to reflect back the dragon’s eyes, like the shield of Perseus when he confronted the Gorgons. Comments all round the table about dwarves and mithril.
Julie observed that Glaurung comes across as satanic.
At the last minute Ian introduced a point that we had all ignored or forgotten. He mentioned that there is no kind of ‘eucatastrophe’ about the tale of Turin, unusually for Tolkien, who generally sets up dire situations in order to reveal the eucatastrophe which follows. Ian also reminded us that this is because what is happening to Turin is being watched by Hurin ‘through Morgoth’s own eyes’ – this is his appointed torment, so in fact we are seeing what Morgoth is revealing to Hurin about the fate of his children. Perhaps it is for this reason that the expected catharsis doesn’t happen (for some of us). Turin’s wilfulness and bleakness seem to lack the essential balancing nobility. However, the fate of his father is perhaps where the real catharsis lies. We shall see when we finish his story. The plight of Hurin is a wonderfully multi-layered concept that doesn’t actually change how we experience the story, but the incremental process of misery that haunts his family is set up specifically to torment him, and his son’s folly is part of that!
On the complicated note we ended the afternoon, agreeing to tackle the next two chapters 22 and 23.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

NB Glaurung - "satanic" because of the role he has as "Counsel for the Prosecution" towards the end of the story, when he's confronting Turin with the catalogue of his crimes. Satan means "The Accuser" in the law-court sense. In the Bible he plays this role most notably in the Old Testament Book of Job where, interestingly enough, he is still counted amongst "the sons of God". When he sets out to make the case against Job he appears to be acting under licence from God rather than in outright opposition to him!

10:59 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

PS I thought Ian's comment was a brilliant insight. I had never ever thought of it like that - and probably never should have! Thanks Ian.

10:52 AM  

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