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Rómenna Meeting - July 9, 1983
July 9, 1983
Our second discussion of the tale of Túrin Turambar, this time based on the Narn I Hîn Húrin fragments in the Unfinished Tales, began with a remark by Lissanne that it was a pity that it wasn't published as a separate work. She supposed that Christopher Tolkien, as a scholar, had a predilection for compendia. David suggested that the story would make a good movie. Chris voted for an operatic cycle. Lissanne proposed a TV mini-series, to which Chris replied, "Gag me with a Bohemian ear-spoon!"
The opera idea was discussed. Chris said that Túrin is a self-pitying nitwit like most opera characters, and suggested that the part be sung by a baritone. Margaret asked who would be the obnoxious tenor, without which no opera is complete. There was no character selected for this role. It was decided that the tale was too long for a single opera, so the story had to be broken up into an operatic trilogy. The suggested titles for the three divisions ended up as "Túrin Son of Húrin" (ending with the death of Beleg Cúthalion), "The Black Sword of Nargothrond" (ending with the fall of Nargothrond) and "Glaurung's Bane" (ending with the death of Túrin).
David asked whether Morwen's chief fault was disobedience to her husband or the ignoring of omens. Margaret said that it was more her pride than anything else, her refusal to accept charity from Thingol: she wanted to remain lady of the manor even when there wasn't much left of the manor. She did, however, ignore the voice of Húrin (which, it was pointed out, might have really been him speaking to her at the time, from the high place where Morgoth had set him; it would be just like Morgoth to allow hill to speak to Morwen, knowing that she would not pay heed to him) .
The conversations of Sador and Túrin as a child were noted and praised for their revelations of character, but this discussion soon got sidetracked into a digression on Finnish pronunciation. The stress rules of Finnish and Quenya were found to be, not surprisingly, identical.
Alexei noted that Túrin was betrayed both by "the cold of his heart and the heat of his heart"--that both his considered decisions and his impulses tended to be wrongheaded. He also pointed out the mention of Maedhros' rescue of the dwarf-king Azaghâl, an incident that does not appear in The Silmarillion, but which provides insight into Maedhros' character. Margaret commented that Maedhros was the one of the sons of Fëanor most likely to do such a thing, since he had the most sense of the lot.
David asked where the motif of the outlaw band came from. Many examples were proposed: Robin Hood (inevitably), the outlaws that really did exist in Scandinavia (Iceland was colonized by outlaws from Norway); Romulus and Remus also led an outlaw band. It was pointed out that at the time, there really were wilderness areas and outlaws who roamed them. It is a very widespread tradition.
The name of the outlaw band, "Gaurwaith," was discussed. This is translated in the text as "wolf-folk," but it was pointed out that "gaur" actually means "werewolf (evil spirit-wolf)" as in Sauron's fortress, "Tol-in-Gaurhoth," "isle of werewolves." There doesn't seem to be a word for a normal wolf, unless "draug" in "Draugluin" is it. However, Draugluin was also a werewolf, so possibly not. Per and Alexei pointed out that in Swedish you don't say "wolf," just as in Russian you don't say "bear" and in some European languages you don't say "weasel"; circumlocutory names are used for these feared creatures (N.B.: very like the names used for fairies in folklore--the "Fair Folk," the "Good People" or "Good Neighbors," etc.).
The description of members of the outlaw band led to the question of whether Tolkien was a racist, describing all the bad guys as squat, sallow, and slanty-eyed. How much was his own prejudices and how much came from his sources? There is also the constant use of the word "black" as pejorative. It was pointed out that the use of the word "black" for those of African descent is a fairly recent development, and that everyone is afraid of the dark. Alexei said that Africans see themselves (or did) as brown, red, or yellow (depending on relative darkness of skin), not black, and that, curiously, the Polynesian ideal of beauty is one with golden skin and red hair.
There were a few comments on the racial characteristics of the various races of Middle-earth, and some discussion on the genesis of dwarves. Some people proposed that there weren't really any dwarven women, and that dwarves grew from stone. It was objected that that was an Elvish superstition and not true. Aulë made seven male and six female dwarves ("one alone, and six more with six mates"). What confuses other races is the fact that the sexes look so much alike that non-dwarves can't tell them apart (i.e., they all have beards). In fact, dwarves are the only race with beards except for Men. Túrin knows that the creature his men have captured is not an Orc because it has a beard, and guesses it to be a dwarf (which it is).
We tried to decipher the name of Beleg's bow, "Belthronding," but without much success. The element "bel" was conjectured to mean something like "power" or "might," and "rond" might be something like "arch," but the rest of the name eluded us.
We moved on to the final episodes of the tale, in Brethil. Alexei pointed out that Nienor's death in the Unfinished Tales version carries much more threat of damnation. The Silmarillion version seems more impulsive and unreasoned, whereas here there seems to be more of a conscious decision. Chris objected that Tolkien never speaks of damnation or salvation of Men. No, Alexei agreed, their fate after death is never treated explicitly, but it can be implied.
Chris rounded out the session with a joke he'd picked up:
"And burn (electrocute) himself doing it," someone suggested. This led to a discussion of the relative conductivity of Elves and Men as one of our largest meetings to date digressed to a close.