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Tolkien Discussion Group Meeting - December 11, 1982
December 11, 1982
After the usual pleasantries we commenced with a short business meeting, at which it was decided to choose a moderator, assistant moderator, and secretary. Margaret Purdy was named moderator and secretary and Alexei Kondratiev was chosen as assistant moderator. With that out of the way, we proceeded to the discussion of the assigned chapters.
Alexei began by pointing out the striking image of the cries of the Noldor as they landed at Lammoth blending with the cry of Morgoth. Morgoth's was a cry of despair, and the Noldor unconsciously echoed him. The sin of despair was considered the worst sin of all in medieval times, and Alexei contended that Fëanor committed this sin at his death, binding his sons to their oath although he foresaw that the Noldor would never overthrow Morgoth. Fred protested that that was the Northern ideal, to keep on fighting even though you knew the struggle was hopeless. In Norse mythology, the giants were destined to win in the end, but one sided with the gods anyway. Alexei cited E. R. Eddison, whose characters espouse this Northern ideal, and suggested that Feanor might be a caricature of Eddison's characters (Tolkien admired Eddison as a writer, but disagreed violently with the philosophy expressed in his books). Margaret pointed out that it is important to remember what Fëanor's "ideal" was. It is one thing to struggle in the face of certain defeat if one's ideal is a good and lofty one, but quite another if one's goal is simply to gain possession of something, in this case the Silmarils. Fëanor's attitude toward the Jewels was one of wrongful possessiveness. Now, if he had been trying to get them back in order to revive the Trees, say. . . . But, Fred argued, weren't they rightfully his in the first place, since he created them? No, said Alexei, because their light came originally from the Trees. No creation belongs to a person in that way, since all comes originally from Ilúvatar. Fëanor's love of the Silmarils was a jealous one, and was comparable to Melkor's sin in Ainulindalë of considering that his (discordant) theme was his alone and did not ultimately proceed from Ilúvatar.
Alexei wanted to know what happened to the Balrogs. They are present in this first battle with the Noldor and mortally wound Fëanor, and much later they are there again when Gondolin is destroyed, but in between they are hardly heard of. Why didn't Morgoth make more use of such obviously powerful beings? It was suggested that perhaps they faded and their fire died, but there did not seem to be any textual support for this suggestion. It was also proposed that Morgoth found them too intractable, that such creatures as orcs and dragons were easier for him to control. Though even the dragons had their intractable side, such as when the young Glaurung snuck out one night to try conclusions with the Noldor and was driven back by arrows. (Morgoth was not pleased.) By the Third Age, of course, the Balrogs had all been destroyed (or possibly pushed out into the Void with Morgoth) except for the one hiding underneath the Misty Mountains.
Maedhros' capture, torment and rescue were discussed, and this led to a consideration of the Eagles of Manwë. Were they "real" eagles or were they something else? Alexei contended that they were supernatural creatures. Margaret pointed out that they nested in the mountains around Gondolin, this being the sort of behavior one would expect of flesh-and-blood birds. Their exceptional intelligence was cited (e.g., they could talk), but then again, so could the fox in LotR. Other unusually intelligent or gifted animals were noted, such as Carcharoth the wolf, Huan the Hound of Valinor, Oromë's steed Nahar, the mearas of Rohan, and so forth. It was suggested that they were "Platonic archetypes" of eagles, à la The Place of the Lion. The point was finally settled by going back to Chapter Four, "Of Aulë and Yavanna," and reading the passage which speaks of the creation of the Eagles and the Ents as protectors of the kelvar and olvar respectively. Both are evidently "spirits from afar" (Maiar? Ainur? Something else?) appropriately incarnated. The Eagles we~e associated with Manwë. It was also suggested that other animals might be associated with other Valar-- horses with Oromë, for example. A discourse on the importance of hounds in ancient literature was promised for a later meeting when Huan turns up as a character.
After Maedhros' rescue he abjures all claim to the kingship of the Noldor and gives it to Fingolfin. In the story this is in deference to Fingolfin's seniority and wisdom, and also in partial atonement for Fëanor's desertion of Fingolfin's people in Araman, but Lissanne also cited the Celtic tradition that a king must be perfect in body. Since Maedhros is now missing a hand, by this tradition he is unfit to rule. It was suggested that Tolkien may have had this in mind, at least subconsciously.
Somewhere in here it was suggested that the reason for the interfertility of Men and Elves was one of those things that Man Was Not Meant To Know.
Maedhros shows good sense when he leads his brothers to the eastern part of Beleriand, away from the rest of the Elven realms. (This also illustrates his willingness to bear the brunt of Morgoth's assaults, since this area is the most vulnerable to attack.) Many of the sons of Fëanor still do not get on well with the rest of the Noldor, despite the festival of reunion at Ivrin. Caranthir, especially, was tagged as "the first racist." He has scornful words for the Sindar and doesn't think much of the Dwarves, either, although he trades with them.
The inspiration of Finrod and Turgon by Ulmo was discussed. Both of them were inspired to build strongholds, and Finrod was further inspired by a visit to Menegroth. Ulmo was seen as an analog to Mercury as Lord of Language. All through the Silmarillion water is a symbol of communication (running water, the sound of the sea, contain the most elements of the original Music). Eileen said that this affinity for water, the sense of water as special, the source of life, and so on, is common in Celtic thought.
So often I write down the high points of discussion and don't remember what led to them. Someone described the Elves as "primitive." There was disagreement-- on the contrary, they are highly civilized. Primal, perhaps, but not primitive. Fred pointed out that they wouldn't stand a chance against modern weaponry. Margaret asked what THAT had to do with it. A modern bomb might be able to destroy an Elven city, but that would not change the fact that that city would have been more beautiful than anything modern man knows how to create. Just what is civilization anyway? A rather confused altercation ensued in which passionate voices were raised. Best argument we had all evening.
After this came a brief discussion of the chapter "Of the Noldor in Beleriand," which Lissanne aptly characterized as "Everyone screaming at everybody else." Mostly it is Thingol speaking angrily to the sons of Finarfin and Angrod answering him angrily back. Thingol finally learns of the Kinslaying and, although he will not bar his own kinsmen completely from Doriath, he forbids anyone to speak Quenya within his realm.
The discussion ended with a reading of the final passage in the chapter, in which Galadriel questions Finrod on his wifelessness, and he answers that he must be free to fulfil an oath of his own, and also that nothing of his kingdom will endure for a son to inherit. This was said to be the first time such thoughts entered his heart, however, for he had loved Amarië of the Vanyar, who stayed behind in Valinor. "Silly girl," said Margaret. Alexei protested that a Vanya in Middle-earth would be terrible, like a fish out of water. Nevertheless. . . .
At this point the discussion wound up so that Fred could get out to catch the car sent for him. The next meeting was set for January 8th, provisionally at Fred's house, and the next three chapters were assigned.
-- reported by Margaret R. Purdy