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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Reading Group meeting 10/3/12


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

10.3. 12.

Sadly Laura could not be with us today, but has sent her comments on our reading which are added at the end of the report. We had changed tack (yes, it’s a nautical pun!) from the Notion Club Papers to the story of Aldarion and Erendis in ‘Unfinished Tales’, and almost everyone felt some sense of relief.

However, I should admit that I didn’t enjoy “Aldarion and Erendis” nearly as much as NCPs, and was relieved to find Laura commenting that she did not find either of the main characters sympathetic. My own lack of positive feeling prompted our first topic for discussion when I asked if anyone in the group had any negative feelings about reading this story.

Julie remarked that Tolkien still seemed to be writing about ‘separate spheres’, and division in marriage. Mike wondered to what extent the story could be autobiographical, reflecting Tolkien’s own feeling of being trapped in his desire for a more developed life of the emotions which was constrained by his environment. Ian proposed that such a feeling goes back to Tolkien’s love for Edith while they were still teenagers in Birmingham when a restriction was imposed upon his emotional life with Edith. Ian went on to suggest that Tolkien picked up the emotion for himself through ‘romance’, but this was not necessarily the form that Edith preferred.

Mike extended this by noting that Tolkien’s experiences in WW1 comprised ‘blokish’ relationships but these were not enough to satisfy Tolkien’s emotional needs. Later, though, his writing suggests that men and women don’t relate together.

Angela picked up an instance in LotR as Sam puts Frodo before Rosie. Mike observed that by the time the quest is completed Sam has changed a good deal and is no longer a perfect match.

Anne took us back to our text with her remark that Aldarion’s daughter takes on her father’s attitudes, denying her mother Erendis’s insistent indoctrination.

Angela said she felt sympathy for Meneldur, Aldarion’s father when confronted with Gil-galad’s letter praising the apparently truant Aldarion and requesting more structured aid. Meneldur’s inability to cope with the anxiety is poignant, especially because the reader to likely to already know that one day the Last Alliance will form and fail.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

I then asked if there were any positives to the story. Anne responded that it is an elaboration of the standard ‘boy meets girl’ format, while Angela thought that all the negative aspects make the story interesting –conflict creates drama and interest. Anne thought the story gave a sympathetic treatment to the depiction of the ‘archetypal’ male need to roam.

We got into a long discussion on gender politics at this point, until Mike observed that the new objectification of women was tending to create little princesses. Chris saw it as capitalism creating and exploiting an opportunity to make money.

Moving back to the story Ian noted that “Aldarion and Erendis” presents us with top-down stereotyping in the form of Numenor’s elitist society. Chris made the interesting point that if Erendis had been like Eowyn she would have been at Aldarion’s side on his voyages, but actually Aldarion is more like Eowyn – he can’t bear being ‘caged’ and kept at home, whether it is by his father or his wife, or even his royal duties.

Mike then remarked on the similarity between Boromir and Aldarion – both men get things wrong, but as Aldarion links up with Gil-galad, so Boromir’s actions open the way for Faramir’s reconciliation with Denethor. We recognised a familiar pattern as bad events make good things happen.

Angela noted at this point that Denethor’s father had been responsible for making him jealous of Aragorn when he had favoured the disguised young ranger. At this, Julie referred us to Philip Larkin’s most famous lines which needed no actual expression.

Chris observed that this all brought us back to the trope of one-parent families so thematic in LotR, and although Ancalime (daughter of Aldarion and Erendis) has 2 living parent, one is always away.

Anne commented on Tolkien’s continuing exploration in this story of father/son relationships – here between Meneldur and Aldarion, and Ian remarked that he doesn’t seek to explore close emotional relationships.

We went on to note that there are more signs of ‘religion’ in this story than in Tolkien’s other works. Eru is worshipped in festivals, and Angela noted that the Valar are often invoked in various ways. Angela also drew comparisons between Erendis and Yavanna – both loved trees and deplored their destruction while Aldarion, like Aule (husband of Yavanna) cut them down in order to make things – in this case his ships.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Julie observed that in the matter of ‘religious’ celebrations, Gondolin has a ‘religious’ festival, but such events are rare in Tolkien’s work. Julie also thought that the Aldarion and Erendis story reads like fan fiction, as though Tolkien was filling in a story.

Mike thought it was worth considering what was the point of the story to the author if not the reader, and Ian suggested Tolkien was intending to embellish this part of his mythology, or not wanting to. Angela thought “Aldarion and Erendis” put meat on the bare bones of the story of Numenor, giving references and background to its later history.

Mike considered it to be anti-Atlantis and the perfection associated with it. Anne said it was a relief after the NCPs.

Chris remarked that the map of Numenor supplied with the story looks like a compacted view of England and Wales, and Ian related this to the strange look of medieval maps.

Finally we turned our thoughts to our next reading, as no one wanted to finish the NCP2 – with 3 or 4 different kinds of language to tackle! So it was agreed that we would begin work on the background myths to Tolkien work, and for our next meeting would read up on the Myth of the Hero. Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” was recommended, but other works on the hero would add dimension to our discussion.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Here follow Laura’s comments:

Or the Shepherdess’ husband or All or Nothing!

This is a wonderful story and speaks to everyone who has ever loved a person with another passion or life, such as a police officer or sportsperson. Or a philologist! One can’t help thinking that there could be some sympathy in this story by Tolkien for Edith although Erendis’ mother says that a woman must share her husband’s love with his work etc. The old chestnut of women attempting to change men’s characters also comes up – Meneldur and the queen discuss Aldarion being cured of his passion for the sea by marriage. The situation is actually worse than that as Erendis believes she will die out of the sight of Numenor and Aldarion cannot live without going to sea so they cannot be together nor are there any compromises.

One theme I found to be intriguing is that individuals only perhaps hear one note of the Song and that it is rare to receive more. Individuals are limited. This was evident in the letter from Gil-galad to Meneldur. Even Meneldur as an astronomer restricts himself to Numenor and he only finds out that Aldarion has been involved in building up defences against Sauron from Gil-galad – this after Elendur’s irritation with his son. Also, Erendis criticises Aldarion for aiming to rule Numenor but knowing nothing about most of it ie inland.

There are echoes in this story of the battle between Yavanna and Aulë ie saving trees but needing the wood to create things. A love story but little evidence of compromise in love. And of course there are no Ents on Numenor to protect the trees!

I did not find that Aldarion or Erendis are sympathetic or have many likeable features even if one admires driven people. I also did not find the love or lust between them very believable although of course they are driven by their other passions for trees and the sea. Every character in this story has a flaw so does that make them heroic? I find it puzzling that Erendis, when she was first with the queen for six years, did not make any attempts to get herself more noticed by Aldarion. I appreciate we are on Numenorean time here but the passage of time in the story makes one very frustrated with the characters!

There is one description of believable feelings in Erendis when it is described that her days were empty although Aldarion was on the island but did not see her. Therefore it is sadder for her than when he was at sea.

Similarly the description of Aldarion being taken by the “sea-longing” after being on Numenor for several years is very vivid. The description of a great hand being laid on his throat, his heart hammering and being unable to breathe does sound like someone in love.

Early on in the story, it states that Aldarion loved the sea from the first, his passion is for ships so there is an element of controlling the sea – we don’t learn that he swims or goes coasteering! He is also rebuked by his father for using the expression dealing with the sea. It is also interesting that Aldarion and his fellow Venturers call upon Uinen for her protection – although she is the Maia of salt water and streams, she is the one who calms Ossë, her husband, the Maia of the sea. Ironically Uinen is seen by Erendis as her enemy.

There is a touch of fairy stories in the introduction of the two Elvish love birds!

I think there is a WW1 and WW11 moment when Meneldur says his ancestors were rewarded for fighting against evil and should his generation stand back from fighting against the return of evil. This is followed by the perennial debate over preparing for war or being passive, both paths possibly ending in evil. Meneldur showed great maturity in abdicating, understanding that he was not the right person to make those decisions.

12:59 PM  

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