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Tolkien Discussion Group Meeting - January 8, 1983
January 8, 1983
We began our discussion of the chapter "Of Maeglin" with the comment from Lissanne that this was "where Gygax stole the Drow." Alexei lamented the fact that Tolkien had not had time to turn this particular chapter into a novel in its own right, pointing out that the unusual relationships between the characters would have made it a very good one. Lissanne commented that Tolkien had a strange idea of marriage, if that of Eöl and Aredhel is to be taken as an example. It was suggested that the Elves were "instinctive Catholics" as far as marriage was concerned, falling in love quickly, with only one person, and remaining together for life. They also did not suffer from sexual desire when the 'one true love" was absent (convenient!). This arrangement can also be characterized as a romantic ideal of love and marriage. Tolkien's own marriage was mentioned. Edith was his Lúthien, but later in life the marriage had its differences, which may have provided material for "Aldarion and Erendis," and the rather odd relationship of Aredhel and Eöl (which, as someone has pointed out, is never described as love). There was some discussion of Vanyar/Noldor marriages. Alexei had the impression that the Vanyarin spouses of Noldor stayed behind when the Noldor went to Middle-earth, but Margaret pointed out that this impression was false. There are only two Vanyarin spouses of Noldor that we are told about, and of these two, Indis was married to Finwë, who was killed by Morgoth before the exodus began, and Elenwë, the wife of Turgon, perished at the crossing of the Helcaraxë. Finrod's beloved, Amarië, stayed behind, but they were not married yet.
Though much of the action of The Silmarillion is based on moral choices, the case of Aredhel is much less clear-cut in this respect. Her desire to leave Gondolin, though unwise, does not seem to be a wrong choice morally. There was some discussion about whether or not Aredhel lies to Turgon about where she intended to go after leaving Gondolin. Study of the text revealed that she did not. Turgon told her to go to Fingon in Dor-lómin, and she replied that she would go wherever she felt like going: "I am your sister and not your servant." Elves do not often lie (exception: Maedhros and Morgoth both agreeing to bring fewer troops to their parley than they actually intended to bring). Alexei pointed out that the Elves were telepathic to an extent, so that lying might have been difficult. Margaret agreed that they (or some of them) could "speak without words," and that later on Finrod found that he could read such of the thoughts of Men as they wished to reveal in speech, but that this did not constitute mind-reading in the classic sense. Fred noted that telepathy is supposed to be more common in primitive societies (those closer to nature), and gave the example of the Australian aborigine who knows that his wife has borne a boy, though he is miles away at the time. Primitive people are also more likely to have an inner sense of place and time, to know where they are in relation to home and what time of day it is even when they can't see the sun.
Aredhel is called the "White Lady," which prompted a discussion of Tolkien's well-known dichotomy between white/fair and black/dark, as well as some comments on the significance of "white ladies" in folklore. It develops that they are an equivalent of the banshee and predictors of death. Alexei pointed out that "bean sidhe" (banshee) means no more than "fairy woman."
The discussion then turned to the character of Eöl. Eöl displays an extreme form of the Telerin predilection for living, in the "eternal now." This desire is so strong in him that he shuns both the Sun and the Moon, the indicators of time and history, and tries to create for himself the illusion of timelessness. He knows it is an illusion, however, and therefore resents other people who live in the Sun and may come into his life and remind him of the fact--hence his isolation. His is a darker version of the enchantment Galadriel will later use to slow the wearing of time in Lothlórien. It is not only the Teleri who are prey to the desire to halt time, it may be noted. Alexei also pointed out that black magic is traditionally performed at the dark of the Moon, the Sun and Moon being considered the eyes of God. (White magic is performed at the full moon.) Eöl is an enchanter, and thus ensnares Aredhel when she wanders into Nan Elmoth. The concept of being ensnared in the (timeless) Elvish country is common to the human point of view, Dennis mentioned. Since The Silmarillion is told mostly from the Elvish point of view, this theme is not often used, but here is an instance of it. Boromir in The Lord of the Rings also expresses this point of view. An example of another author who uses it to great effect is Poul Anderson.
It was stated that Tolkien has a prejudice against "science and technology." Alexei clarified this by saying that Tolkien saw the evils of valuing the mind over the soul, an attitude which leads to a view of the world as an object to which things can be done. Randolph questioned whether Tolkien really knew much about science, scientists, or engineers. Fred said that he probably had an inkling (groan!). It was pointed out that Tolkien was very familiar, from personal experience, with the effects of technology that destroy natural beauty (e.g., Birmingham). Eöl is, among other things, a technologist in the sense that he is an inventor, one of his inventions being the black metal galvorn. Margaret noted, for later reference, that Eöl was also the maker of the black sword Anglachel, which will turn up in the story of Túrin.
Maeglin's relationship with his father was seen as an example of generational conflict. When Eöl tells Maeglin to stop thinking and talking of Gondolin, this only has the effect of increasing Maeglin's desire to go there. In classic adolescent rebellion, he and his mother run away from home. However, the similarity between Maeglin and his father is seen when Eöl pursues the two; though he knows (a knowledge externalized by the prophecy of Curufin) that he has lost them and thus that to follow them will only bring misfortune, he does it anyway. When he is denied by Maeglin, he attempts to destroy him and in the process seals his own doom. Before his death he foretells that Maeglin will meet the same fate as he. The truth of his vision is foreshadowed by Maeglin's actions; he promptly falls in love with ldril, the only girl he can't have (Randolph wondered where the Elves got the notion that marriage of first cousins was a bad idea), and compensates for both his rejection by her and his secret envy of the wonders of Gondolin (which he did not create) by sublimating his energies and becoming the best damned miner and metalsmith in Gondolin, as well as Turgon' s second-in-command. (The image was invoked of scores of elven mothers trying to interest this influential elf in their daughters, to no avail.) Later, of course, Maeglin will end up following in Eöl's footsteps and attempting to destroy what he desires and cannot have.
One of our (apparently) originless but interesting digressions: Alexei commented that there is practically no "supernatural" in Tolkien, except for the single incident of the Paths of the Dead, in The Lord of the Rings. What seems to be "magic" is not supernatural in the sense of something coming from outside the natural world, but is more like the "magic" of Clarke's Law--a form of technology so advanced that it would seem to us like magic. This view was seen as an outgrowth of Victorian rationalism. Classic ceremonial magic attempts to affect this world by calling on forces from another, but the skill the Elves had in such a great degree was the ability to shape and manipulate the forces and substances of the natural world. In the essay "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien points out that the Elves, far from being supernatural, are "far more natural than we." It is Men who are fated, or privileged--to leave the "circles of the world" at death, and the Elves who are bound to Eä until its ending. If anyone is "supernatural," then, it is Men and not Elves. The Dead of Dunharrow are the spirits of Men, prevented by a Man (Isildur) from leaving the world. They are thus un- or super-natural. The barrow-wights were mentioned; however, if they are evil spirits of Sauron, then they are not supernatural in this sense either.
The next chapter under discussion was "Of the Coming of Men into the West." This chapter contains one of Margaret's favorite passages, in which Finrod first encounters Men. She characterized his reaction as "Here is a kind of speaking creature different from myself--how wonderful!" His reaction is similar to that of the unfallen Valar to the Children of Ilúvatar. He communicates with them first through the medium of music ("the origin of Celtic music" said Alexei), and the relationship of the Eldar and the Edain is off to a beautiful start. Imagine what it might have been like had it been Caranthir who first discovered Men!
The people of Bëor were characterized as "Celtic," while the people of Marach (the later House of Hador) were "Nordic." What does that make the Haladin? Several possibilities were suggested, including Picts and Basques (since their language was markedly different from that of the other two groups). The question was also raised as to who their eventual descendants were. Alexei suggested the Dunlendings, an idea hotly contested by Margaret. Several other groups were mentioned, among them the Lake-men and the Men of Rhovanion, but no conclusion was reached. More research into the matter may help. The history of the Haladin was recounted, with a note that Haleth even managed to impress Caranthir, and was finally allowed by Thingol to settle in Brethil on the borders of Doriath. Since no other Men were allowed into Doriath at all, this action effectively isolated the Haladin from contact with other Men, and from most contact with the Elves as well. They thus were much less influenced by the Elvish culture than the other Edain were, and preserved more of their own culture and language.
The other two groups of Men were not totally assimilated into the Elvish society, however, but were given lands of their own, under their own leaders (although the two cultures did interact considerably). This benevolent "apartheid" system was necessary because of the fundamental differences between Elves and Men, which the Elves quickly recognized when the death of Bëor demonstrated the phenomenon of human mortality.
(Another digression that intruded itself into the above discussion resulted when someone mentioned the difficulty of imagining a Maia--Melian--conceiving children. Margaret said that it was not a problem since Melian was incarnate at the time, presumably in a body not too unlike that of a female Elf. But to have the control over the physical body necessary to have it perform that particular biological function seemed remarkable. How did the Maiar self-incarnate, anyway? Margaret was of the opinion that a physical body, such as Melian's or the several used by Sauron, was built by the Maia, probably molecule by molecule. Tolkien mentions in the Letters that the process took considerable time. We wondered how much control or foreknowledge Melian had of the genetic makeup of her child, Lúthien. She might have determined her own contribution, but possibly not Thingol's. However, we do not have much knowledge of elven sexuality, either, if it comes to that.)
We now turned to the final chapter- assigned for the session, "Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin." This chapter begins with the Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame, which Alexei called "a scene of frost and fire." Margaret noted that the Balrogs do appear here (their sparing use had been noted at the last meeting). Glaurung, called "father of dragons," also makes an appearance. The question was raised, "If Glaurung is the father of dragons, who's the mother?" Unfortunately this matter seems likely to remain one of the Great Unanswered Questions of Tolkien scholarship.
Lissanne noted that Hador is still Goldenhaired at sixty-six. The Edain were said to have lived longer after their contact with the Elves, but it was suggested that this was due more to cultural enhancement (e.g., better medicine) than anything else. Bëor lived to be ninety-three, and was called "the Old." Ninety-three is a pretty respectable age even in our day, but nothing miraculous, and certainly nothing like the Númenórean lifespan of two or three hundred years. However, the Edain may well have already had the Númenórean characteristic of remaining vigorous until very shortly before their death, when they knew that it was time for them to die and did so willingly, "surrendering with trust" to their passing. The later Númenóreans lost this gift when they began to envy Elvish immortality and cling to life.
Another great scene in this chapter is the duel between Morgoth and Fingolfin. It was noted that while Fingolfin uses a sword, Morgoth chooses a mace (Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld). Those among us with knowledge of medieval weaponry characterized the mace as a weapon used by knights, not peasants, but which did not have the honor of a sword. It is a crushing weapon, and, at least when used on foot, does not require the skill needed to wield a sword. Morgoth uses brute force rather than finesse, and still never does actually hit Fingolfin with the mace. Though the Elven king is finally overcome by the sheer size and strength of his foe, he does wound his enemy badly enough that Morgoth limps ever afterward.
Mention of Barahir's wife, Emeldir the Manhearted, led to a brief discussion of women warriors in Tolkien. He has several, the example that springs to mind being Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings, but in this case (the First Age), women seem to become warriors more from necessity than inclination. With Morgoth's forces harrying them at every turn, the Edain cannot afford the luxury of letting their women stay at home doing fine embroidery.
Sauron comes to the fore at this point in the story, with his time-honored ploy of taking over one of the Good Guys' fortresses (Tol Sirion) and turning it into a place of evil (Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Isle of Werewolves). The "werewolves" of Sauron were probably evil spirits in wolf-shape, and his "vampires" similar. Also at this time the Easterlings arrive--the Huns, the Turks, the Swarthy Men. Some of these do turn out to be allies in the end, but many are on Morgoth's side. Margaret noted that it was the Easterlings who joined up with Maedhros who were faithful, and that the ones who betrayed the Eldar were the supposed allies of guess who-- Caranthir. Could this have something to do with the way they were treated?
Húrin and Huor's sojourn in Gondolin occurs at this time, and the chapter ends with an account of Turgon's sending messengers into the West to seek the aid of the Valar. The messengers all fail, but one, Voronwë, will eventually guide Huor's son Tuor to the Hidden City.
The directing force of the assigned chapters having been exhausted, the discussion ended in the usual welter of digressions.