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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reading Group meeting 12/7/08


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

I am sorry about the lateness of this blog, but my computer has been buried under all sorts of redecorating clutter. It seems ages since we tackled The Voyage of Earendil and the War of Wrath, and looking back at the chapter title something springs to mind that I haven’t thought to mention in the meetings. Each chapter of The Silmarillion proper begins in the same way ‘Of the …’ which reminds me of the customary medieval way of writing of the title of an historical or philosophical work. Being written in Latin, these kinds of works always begin ‘De ….’, which is usually translated ‘Of the…’ or ‘Concerning the ….’. This just suggests to me the care with which Tolkien went about creating the right kind of context for the ‘history’ of Elves and Men as written down by Elves.
On to the meeting: Anne started our discussion with her observation that she found the last paragraph of this final Silmarillion chapter an anti-climax. Laura and Pat found it an enigmatic ending, and Pat added that it was ‘most interesting’. Tim offered the insight that the final paragraph – as we designated it, was in fact an Epilogue that engages the reader through a sense of shared uncertainty, while the previous paragraph is more ‘final’ and describes an ongoing state. Diane remarked that it came across as a verbal ‘drum roll’. Laura regarded the Epilogue as positive precisely because we don’t know any more than the ‘writer’. Angela took and overview of the chapter, seeing in it the sadness of choices and of seeking.
Laura reminded us that any reference to a carcanet, no matter how apparently benign, might also carry the inferrence of punishment as the word derives from a collar used as a punishment. There are records of such collars being used in 15th-16thC London, as well as the (possibly) more famous ‘chang’ used in China.
We spent some time discussing the stress which Earendil endured as he searched for his parents, and as he undertook the mission to Valinor. Carol, by email, picked up the pronounced use of alliteration during the episode when Elwing is left alone, and remarked on the repeated use of ‘s’ sounds, which are especially effective as the s sound echoes ‘the susseration on the lonely shingle’.
We noted that once again, Valinor was apparently unguarded and both Diane and Angela remarked on the number of festivals that seem to take place at crucial times. Mike, however, drew attention to the self-absorption of the Valar, while Laura pertinently observed that Earendil’s arrival in the Blessed Realm wearing the Silmaril marked the return of the Light to its origin, and that regardless of the Valar, Eru knew everything that was happening and there was a need to allow the whole of the Music to play out (another of Tolkien’s nods at Boethian philosophy). Picking up the theme of festivals, Mike commented that immortals need markers of time.
Ian observed that Earendil’s arrival at Tirion is very close in tone and atmosphere to the conventional sci-fi trope of ‘arrival at a new planet’, and that this is further enhanced by descriptions of the Blessed realm as not pristine but dusty and therefore archaic. Chris remarked that the episode reminded him of films such as Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, where there is a weird dimensional shift, and Ian picked this up with a reference to Time Bandits. Both films play with time warping.
Mike went on to note the brevity of the final battle in comparison to the lengthy and detailed accounts of other battles in the mythology, and remarked on the length, in comparison, of the philosophical debate between Maglor and Maedhros. Chris picked up the reiteration of the important theme of pity in the pity of Maglor – but noted that there is still no pity for Morgoth.
Pat was interested in the fact that neither Maedhros nor Maglor can hold the Silmarils when they are retrieved from Morgoth’s crown even though they are Feanor’s sons and this retrieval has been their goal. In this final episode of violence and pain we observed the ultimate effect of the evil oath. Tim noted, however, that at the last, the Silmarils are shared between the elements as Earendil takes one into the air, Maedhros casts himself with his into the fire and Maglor throws his into the sea. Carol noted that Earendil’s actions ensure that ‘one silmaril is doing what Feanor should have allowed all three to do in the first place.’ Laura noted that Maedhros, having lost one hand when he was rescued from Thangorodrim by Fingon, now suffers the anguish of having his remaining hand burned by the Silmaril. Julie, via her blog comments, drew our attention to the parallels between the fates of the Silmarils and the attributions of the Three Rings of Power in the 2nd and 3rd Ages, which are similarly associated with the elements of air, fire and water.
Carol suggested of the aerial battle between Earendil and the eagles and Morgoth’s dragons, that the eagles are only used in the most dire circumstances, and wondered if this reflected Tolkien’s own disquiet about his son joining the R.A.F. Laura and I were both impressed by the arrival, at last, of Ancalgon the Black, the great fire drake. But as Ian pointed out, this is yet another occasion when a long-awaited character/creature comes into the story only to die almost at once. It might be added that those who emerge only to die perhaps get off lightly!
Having finished the Silmarillion proper, and in a remarkably short time, we agreed to read the whole of the Akallabeth for our next meeting.

2:13 AM  

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