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Tolkien Discussion Group Meeting - June 11, 1983
June 11, 1983
We started off the meeting by choosing a name for the group, and after some discussion we settled on "Rómenna" (Númenor's greatest seaport, located in the east of the land, which also served as a haven for the Elendili during the reign of Ar-Pharazôn), which was felt to be reasonably appropriate for a group in the New York City area.
We then turn to the discussion of Túrin. Eileen exclaimed that the chapter was so depressing, with Túrin constantly being afflicted by the unavoidable curse placed on his family. Alexei suggested that Túrin was cursed with himself, his own personality. He is given several chances to turn around and better his life, but he blows everyone of them. A discussion of the shaping of Túrin's personality ensued. Alexei pointed out that the loss of his beloved younger sister, Lalaith, at an early age, coupled with his father's capture and the other hardships imposed by the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, left him with an ineradicable impression of the instability of family, and an obsession about losing loved ones. His mother sent him off to be fostered by Thingol when he was eight years old, refusing to accompany him herself~ which ruptured the last of his family ties. In later life, Túrin was left without the psychic energy to affirm life. It was concluded that Túrin's tragic flaw was lack of hope. He is a very human hero.
Other observations about Túrin were that only a saint could have "gotten out from under" the curse of Morgoth, and "this Man is not Beren" (as Gwindor remarks). Each choice he is given is more difficult than the last, or rather, it is easier for him to choose wrongly. It was also noted that Túrin is insecure, and overcompensates for this by being particularly aggressive, a quality shown most clearly during his stay in Nargothrond (e.g., the matter of the bridge). He is a good captain but would make a lousy general, and despite his undeniable bravery in battle, he is constantly running away from the consequences of his actions. Each episode of such running away is marked by his taking on a new name, usually a self-pitying one (Neithan the Wronged, Bloodstained son of Ill-fate, etc.). Being unable to love himself, he is naturally unable to love anyone else, until he finds Nienor. In itself, his finding and healing Nienor was good for him, a compensation for all the people he felt he had destroyed, but of course even that turns out disastrously in the end. The concern was expressed that Túrin dies in a state of mortal sin, having despaired and then killed himself (it was also noted that falling on one's sword is very traditional). Someone wondered if Tolkien believed in redemption. The examples of Finrod, Galadriel, and Boromir, among others, were advanced to prove that he did.
Nienor, Túrin's sister and wife, also came in for some discussion. It was argued whether she, like Túrin, had died in a state of mortal sin. Eileen thought not; in her case, the sudden revelation of the unwitting incest that she and Túrin had committed was so horrifying that it may have made her non-rational and sent her over the cliff on sheer impulse. She had made a wrong choice too, way back, when she determined to follow her mother out of Doriath, but that was a minor sin (disobedience). Anyway, making wrong choices ran in the family. Morwen didn't do so well herself--she too was constantly dwelling on death and loss, having been scarred by the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.
It was pointed out that the incest theme was a time-honored one, especially in the Victorian period. The usual Victorian pattern is the fatal incestuous marriage which is discovered and avoided just in time. The theme is not dead even today--cf. Return of the Jedi. Túrin and Nienor, naturally, do not manage to avoid the marriage, which for them is literally fatal.
Then there was Beleg Cúthalion, who didn't help matters by choosing the cursed sword Anglachel despite Melian's warning. The relationship between Beleg and Túrin was discussed. Margaret mentioned Teanna Lee Byert's description of it: Beleg and Túrin first meet when Túrin is about eight years old, at which time Túrin probably looks up to Beleg and wants to grow up to be like him, and then later they end up as equals and companions-in-arms. It was pointed out that Beleg always felt protective of Túrin. This feeling was typical of the Elves' relationship with Men; they were attracted to them strongly and wanted to help them. The Valar seem to have felt similarly about the Elves. Alexei compared the feeling to that of human beings for pet animals--the affection for some creature who is expected to die quite a while before you do. However, the aspect of protectiveness usually goes wrong. In the long run the Valar's protectiveness of the Elves turned out badly, and its parallels often did, too. Tolkien may be saying that this feeling is a form of the "possessiveness" that is the besetting sin of -many in Middle-earth. Fëanor, of course, is the prime example of this sin in a slightly different form. There was a slight digression at this point about whether the pursuit of knowledge was a sin. No, it was argued, the Noldor's proper function (somewhat like that of the sorns in Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet) was discovery and (sub-) creation. The problem arises when the creator gets too wrapped up in his creation. However, it was agreed that technology can be a temptation.
There was talk of dragons, as typified by Glaurung in the tale of Túrin. Alexei imagined that the first appearance of the dragons in Middle-earth must have had the same terrifying effect as the introduction of tanks did in World War I--which was, of course, the war that Tolkien fought in. what was the nature of the dragons of Middle-earth? They could speak, they wielded enchantment, they were described as having an "evil spirit within". Were they fallen Maiar given physical form, such creatures as we had deduced Sauron's werewolves to be? It was suggested that the physical bodies of the dragons had been bred biologically, and then "possessed" by the demonic spirits. A dragon without such possession would be something like a dinosaur. We guessed that the fiery breath might be an attribute of the demonic nature--Balrogs, too, were fiery. There was also some talk of orcs, wherein it was noted that unlike Donaldson's ur-viles, they seem incapable of any kind of redemption. Margaret wondered what would happen if you were able to get a baby orc and raise it in a good home--in other words, are orcs nasty by nature or nurture? Nobody wanted to volunteer to try the experiment.
And of course there were the inevitable parallels drawn with other works. The "unavoidable curse" theme is very Norse and Wagnerian. There are similarities between Túrin and Elric of Melniboné (e.g., the cursed black sword), although the philosophies behind them are very different). A primary source of the Turin story seems to be the tale of Kullcrvo in the Finnish Kalevala, with which it shares the ideas of the cursed hero, the incest theme, and the sword which talks back to the hero, saying it would be delighted to kill him. Finally, however, the discussion got sidetracked permanently into the telling of ghost stories, and further talk of Túrin was left until next time.