March 9, 2017
We started the meeting by briefly summarizing The Children of Húrin Chapter 14, “The Journey of Morwen and Niënor,” up to the point where the party from Doriath reaches Nargothrond. Linda reminded everyone that Mablung, an important character in this chapter, was Túrin’s friend from his time as a march-warden in Doriath, when he was Thingol’s ward.
We talked about the importance of women in this chapter, and how Morwen is more deeply characterized here than in previous chapters, while Melian is not much developed, though she has more wisdom. Ivan launched us into a discussion about whether the naming of the powers of a character like Melian also inherently defines her and limits her. Then we talked about how Melian’s Maia / Elvish insight underscores the stubborn and prideful qualities of the two human women.
We pondered how Glaurung created “a vast hissing and huge vapours” by entering the stream at Nargothrond and then “an ill wind blew the great vapours upon them bringing a stench that no horses would endure.” We decided this surely arose from Tolkien’s experience with mustard gas in World War I – a realization that added a frightful tone to a scene of terror. As a writer Tolkien is a master of horror.
Roger talked about the poetic description of the Twilit Meres and said that unlike The Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien constructed elaborate descriptions over several paragraphs, here in this last major writing project of his final years he has crafted passages that are more succinct yet just as powerful. We asked if these short passages still evoked the feel of a “real world” and all agreed that they do. We talked a lot about Tolkien’s writing in these two chapters, how his phrase describing Niënor’s awakening “in the light as one called to life” so excellently renders her esoteric experience in a few brief words. Tolkien has asserted brevity over epic poetics.
We also brought up Mablung’s elven-sight and compared it with Glaurung, whose “glance of his fell eyes was keener than that of the eagles, and outreached the far sight of the Elves…” We wondered about the comparison of Glaurung to Smaug. Did Smaug have far sight or was he more reliant on his sense of smell? Charles wondered if there was any similarity between Glaurung and the Balrogs; Dyrddrdh said they were both Maiar. Then we considered Glaurung and Morgoth. When Melian tells Mablung that there were none in Middle-earth who could have dealt with that power, was she talking about Morgoth or Glaurung – or both? We touched on Mablung’s grief when he finds Niënor enchanted by the dragon.
Tonight in the Hobbit Hole we met to share the friendly warmth of this journey through The Children of Húrin, joining Túrin’s men as they carried Niënor up the Rainy Stair to the Shuddering Water. And returning from Middle-earth to our table at Barbed Wire books, as the photo below reveals, we looked around and realized two Men had joined us, leaning against the wall, saying little, content to observe our doings.
February 23, 2017
Tonight the Tolkien Reading Circle invited Tiffany Beechy to discuss her research on Anglo-Saxon England. For a full report, see our blog post at The Wandering Company.
February 9, 2017
Tonight we began our meeting with a discussion about the pronunciation of Dor-lómin. Linda found a website with a recorded pronunciation of the name, and we practiced rolling our r’s – the r’s in Tolkien’s constructed languages are typically trilled. Andrea gave us a little practice phrase to learn to roll our r’s.
We followed Túrin back to his boyhood home and considered the culture of the Easterlings. Tolkien does not go into detail, but he does refer to them as “Wolf-folk” and applies the phrase “before heads wore wolf-hair.” We weren’t sure if that meant that the Easterlings wore wolf fur hats or that their hair was reminiscent of wolf fur.
The Easterlings enter the tale as conquering invaders, and their language symbolizes their dominion. Roger mentioned Tolkien’s essay, “English and Welsh,” which outlined the language dynamics of invading groups and indigenous folk, and here he applies those ideas to a realm of Middle-earth. And so after the coming of the Easterlings only serfs and vagabonds spoke the old language. We wondered which language the Edain spoke. We were pretty sure it wasn’t Sindarin, although we know some of them spoke it. Who were these Easterlings? What was their realm in the east? Was Easterling just an “opposite” of the West where the Valar and many good things lay? Katy suggested that if the Easterlings came from a resource-poor country, that might explain their aggressive nature. And it would explain their attraction to Morgoth’s promise that all this land would be theirs if they fought for him.
We compared Sador with Brandir. Linda mentioned a blog post by Demosthenes which suggested that the young Túrin was kind to Sador while the older Túrin was initially respectful of Brandir, but in future chapters we will see Túrin turn on him cruelly. More on that next time!
We considered Túrin’s treatment of Aerin. Some thought Túrin insulted her by calling her “faint heart” but others wondered if he just meant that she was too kind for those days. Tolkien seems to want us to see Túrin as too harsh in his judgment of her, and that she was following a wise course of action. As Asgon says to Túrin, “We shall be hunted men now; and the Wolf-folk will be crueler because of your coming.”
As Túrin enters Brethil and hears the Orcs battling with Haleth’s folk, we had a good laugh about his pretense that he had an army of men following him. We thought this lighter moment was reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings where Tolkien alternates suspenseful situations with more relaxed moments, such as going from Moria to Lothlorien. We talked about Brandir, a truly admirable character. He recognizes Túrin and knows what doom that signifies, but still knows he must take him in and tend him. And even though Túrin takes on the name Turambar (Master of Doom), he can’t escape his poor judgments. Brandir fears that they will suffer the same fate as Nargothrond, “The Mormegil is no more . . . yet have a care lest the valour of Turambar bring a like vengeance on Brethil!”
Roger pointed out that Tolkien has often wrestled with the moral problem of war and the justification for violence. Tolkien takes the view that war must often be conducted for moral purposes, but he has a good number of moral characters who become non-violent, such as Gandalf the White and Frodo Baggins. Even though Tolkien portrays Túrin as admired, as a leader, and as an effective warrior, Tolkien instead wants us to admire the moral qualities and wisdom of Brandir, who advises a course to preserve and protect, rather than to attack and confront.
Charles took us to the end of the evening with a short reading from Chapter XI, “The Fall of Nargothrond.” There we encounter Finduilas, and we see Glaurung tricking Túrin into taking the wrong road. And in our reading tonight, we see his despair when he realizes he has failed to save Finduilas from her Orc captors.
Despite the somber story, we enjoyed a wonderful warm evening, gathering in the Hobbit Hole to ponder the ancient history of Middle-earth.
January 26, 2017
Tonight the Tolkien Reading Circle opened the pages of The Children of Húrin and journeyed along with Gwindor as he returned home to Nargothrond, bringing Túrin with him to “be healed and renewed.”
We considered Gwindor’s status as a war captive and amputee. We wondered what Tolkien intended with the statement that he “fell into dishonour” among the Elves at Nargothrond. We compared him to Frodo Baggins, who also went home wounded, and also received less honor than he deserved. We also talked about Finduilas and her feelings for Túrin, and how Gwindor proved very honorable and wise with insight, gallantly suggesting she follow her heart. She knew Túrin did not return that love.
We also looked at the opposing views of Gwindor and Túrin on war strategy, how Túrin ascended in favor with Orodreth, and his insistence that “victory is victory, however small, nor is its worth only from what follows from it.” Here we brought up the Anglo-Saxon idea of ofermod, heroic sacrifice versus “overmastering pride.” Was it better to go forth and fight and die, or to stay hidden and survive? Elisha suggested that the Elves had always taken the long view by staying hidden, and Túrin’s counsel led to the fall of Nargothrond.
We had a brief discussion of the various tales in which heroes lose their hands, Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Andrea wondered if the characters all grew in some way by overcoming this loss and that made them heroic.
Charles brought up how Túrin fell “under the spell” of Glaurung – we all admitted hearing Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice! Tolkien’s dragons are intelligent creatures of ancient myth, chatty and dangerous to converse with.
Túrin has the aura of success, but he nevertheless makes bad choices throughout the book – his pride is his downfall. We pondered whether this was the outcome of Morgoth’s curse, or whether the curse just maneuvered things a bit, casting a narrative spotlight on Túrin‘s poor judgment.
We noted that Tolkien was working on the book in the last years of his life, and he had Glaurung describe Túrin as “…captain foolhardy, and deserter of your kin.” This is a curious statement since Tolkien translated his own name as “foolhardy” and late in life wondered whether he had somewhat abandoned his family to write his books.
Our meeting was lively and fun, but in the end, doomed to come to a close at last!
January 12, 2017
Tonight the Tolkien Reading Circle had a fascinating visit with Amia Downey, an old friend who recently got her degree in linguistics from the University of Colorado. Amia shared with us her experiences in creating a constructed language as an honors project for college. We learned about her project and about linquistics in general — the study of language as it is used, rather than how it should be used. This is a lifelong interest for Amia. She started inventing her own languages as a child and was inspired along the way by Tolkien’s language-making in Middle-earth.
Dan had questions about the nature of vowels and consonants and Amia discussed the nature of these qualities of language. Michele wondered if Amia planned to use her constructed language in storytelling. Amia has indeed embarked on a world-building project and this language she hoped would be the language of magic created by the gods in her invented world.
Linda asked about using technology to produce a language, and Amia said that a lot of the connectedness of words is lost when words are generated programmatically. Roger asked what she learned about constructed languages like Klingon, Dothraki and Elvish. She said she gained a great respect for the detail of making a natural sounding language.
Amia shared some glimpses of the evolution of English, shaped from interaction with Norse and French influences. The making of a constructed language is a matter of careful crafting and of pondering how language works in the world. We all enjoyed a fascinating evening in the Hobbit Hole of the Tolkien Reading Circle.
Testimonial from Ivan: “I had a lot of fun, Amia. Discussing whether to agglutinate or not agglutinate. Verbing our nouns. Building words of related meaning from root words. And thinking about how all of that organically becomes this mysterious living thing we call language. Really interesting. Or wait… it was nouning our verbs.”
November 10, 2016
After a brief discussion about the upcoming book on Beren and Lúthien, we began our consideration of The Children of Húrin, Chapter IX, “The Death of Beleg.” Beleg is such a hero, a true and selfless friend to Túrin, and this is a very tragic chapter, but filled with very beautiful poetic moments. Linda mentioned Beleg’s meeting with Gwindor and Beleg’s sadness to see that Gwindor “was but a bent and timid shadow” of his former self.
Linda noticed that the artwork by Ted Nasmith, “Beleg is Slain,” shows Gwindor with both hands. This is interesting because in this chapter he is described as having only one hand, losing the other in the course of escaping from Angband. Checking the version of Gwindor in The Silmarillion, Gwindor’s hands are not mentioned – Tolkien introduced this detail for The Children of Húrin.
We talked more about Beleg’s refusal to abandon Túrin. Andrea suggested that it was a mistake for Beleg not to wake Túrin before cutting his bonds. Katy said Beleg should have known better than to surprise him. At any rate, all agreed it was a tragedy. Roger wondered if Túrin should be held responsible for his actions, or was this Morgoth’s curse at work, or should we hold Túrin blameless? We agreed that the curse was at work here. Linda suggested that since Gwindor did not hold Túrin accountable for this act, we should not blame him either.
We discussed the marvelous description of the magic Fëanorian lamps used by the captive miners, and that led us to Fëanor himself – his craftsmanship and his refusal to share his secrets, and the fact that even the Noldor had no idea how the lamps actually worked. Katy suggested that since Fëanor would be immortal, other than through accidental death, why should he share his secrets?
We also discussed the beautiful passage about the crystal fountains and Ivrin’s Lake, where Túrin is “healed of his madness.” The waters are protected by Ulmo and Roger suggested that it would have been nice if Tolkien had included more of the Valar in The Hobbit and LOTR – Dan pointed out some very subtle likely references to the Valar in LOTR. Katy suggested that having the gods present would make Men’s actions seem less heroic. Here our talk wandered a bit – as it always does in our meetings, like Bilbo stepping outside his door. Our path veered into the Third Age and we talked about Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, and Andrea’s theory about Goldberry being Yavanna.
Dyrddrdh handed out her handmade woven bookmarks to everyone; Katy won our special gift certificate. All in all, for such a sad chapter, it was a lively discussion – our final meeting on The Children of Húrin for this year. December will be filled with special events, and we will take up the story of Túrin in Nargothrond again in January. See you then!
October 13, 2016
At this meeting we visited with Mîm the Dwarf at Amon Rûdh and discussed The Children of Húrin, chapter 7: “Of Mîm the Dwarf” and chapter 8, “The Land of Bow and Helm.” These chapters tell the story of Túrin’s days in the hidden mansion of the last of the Petty-dwarves.
But we started off by looking at a series of Alien comic books that Ivan brought in to share with the group. We talked about what comics meant to us in our younger years and as adults.
We launched into The Children of Húrin by talking about the history of the Petty-dwarves. Tolkien describes them as hateful exiles who slowly died out, banished by their own kind – the builders of Nargothrond, only to be usurped by invading Elves.
Tolkien wants us to see Túrin as scrupulous and fair; Andróg as a hasty and harsh judge; and Mîm as victimized and harassed and unlikeable. Mîm is the last of his kind, and we feel sympathy for him – but he proves jealous and traitorous.
We compared Mîm’s home on Amon Rûdh with some of Tolkien’s other dwarf cities and underground homes. Ivan suggested that there was a similarity between Amon Rûdh and Nargothrond as Dwarf mansions occupied by other races. Then with the arrival of Beleg, Mîm must have sensed this deeper history, becoming sullen and bitter toward the Elf. Katy pointed out that Mîm would have appreciated company after many years of living in exile with just his sons and the dwindling community of Petty-dwarves.
We discussed the edible root that Mîm shared with the Men, comparing it to potatoes and breadfruit. Ivan shared his experiences with breadfruit while living in Hawaii, quite delicious when cooked and flavored. Roger suggested the possibility that Tolkien may have envisioned the fantasy evolution of “earth-bread” in the First Age to “taters” in the Fourth Age. We also tried to sort out Tolkien’s terms for Elves in this passage, wondering if the “Wild Elves” might be the same as Dark Elves. Dyrddrdh suggested they might have been more like Rangers living in the wild.
We pondered the evolution of various characters. Andróg starts out as an unlikeable character, but in the end redeems himself; while Mîm starts out as a somewhat sympathetic character but turns evil. Both were jealous of Túrin’s deferential warmth toward Beleg.
It was a great autumn evening in the Hobbit Hole at Barbed Wire Books!
September 22, 2016
Tonight we celebrated our Hundredweight Harvest Holiday in honor of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthdays. Roger started off by sharing research that appears in his book, Tolkien in Pawneeland, revealing the hidden connection between the terms Hobbit, Hundredweight, Halfling and Were-worms. Then we each shared some of our favorite quotes and passages. Along the way we talked about the poetry in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and Dyhrddrdh said that was the one thing she wished had been included in Peter Jackson’s movies. Linda told how she added music to Goldberry’s song greeting the Hobbits at the house of Bombadil. When she sang it, everyone chimed in on the last line, “Old Tom Bombadil and the River-daughter.” We all enjoyed a fun visit to the Shire to celebrate another Baggins birthday! For photos of the evening, see our blog post.
September 8, 2016
Tonight we discussed chapters 5 and 6 of The Children of Húrin. We talked about Túrin’s pride and arrogance, and how Melian reminded him, “Not so high is your destiny” when he suggested that he wanted to attack Morgoth rather than stay in Doriath and fight with the defenses. He stayed and fought Orcs with Beleg for three years before returning to Doriath, where he immediately angered Saeros unintentionally. Andrea thought Túrin was a somewhat heedless youth in his impulse to punish Saeros. We talked about vengeance and the harassment of Saeros as he was chased through the forest to his death. We compared Tolkien’s negative moral view on vengeance versus the moral complexity of George R. R. Martin’s vindictive characters – we compared Túrin to Arya with her hit list.
Ivan pondered the status of the Elves versus Men in Beleriand. Was there a cultural hierarchy? Were Elves comparable to a colonial government, with Men as a second-class folk in the system? This led to a long discussion about Orcs. Were they the indigenous folk of Beleriand conquered by the Elves or, as Ivan wondered, were they mindless monsters? Roger talked about how Orcs / Goblins changed in Tolkien’s various writings – a subject he has covered in detail in his new edition of Tolkien in Pawneeland. Charles brought up the mention in The Lord of the Rings of the distortion of Elves to create Orcs. Charles also wondered whether Tolkien might have arranged relations between Orcs and Elves as mirroring infidels and Christians.
We talked about the nature of exiles, and compared Éomer, Túrin, and Wormtongue. And we wondered why Túrin joined the community of outlaws rather than the woodmen when he left Doriath and ended up in the woods of Teiglin.
Roger brought up Beleg’s mention of Nellas, and we thought it odd that Túrin couldn’t quite remember Nellas, his first friend and companion as a child in Doriath, especially considering it was her testimony that caused Thingol to rethink and forgive Túrin. Elisha noted how this was a touching portrayal, a friendship in which Nellas opened Túrin’s world to beautiful things, and it is sad that the friendship would evaporate from Túrin’s thoughts.
We wondered also why Túrin would reject Beleg’s offer of returning to Doriath. Was Morgoth’s doom responsible for this decision, and if so, is Túrin really accountable for his actions – or was it just his pride?
Though the topic of discussion was dark, Elanor’s laughter kept the meeting light!
August 25, 2016
We began tonight’s meeting with a bit of a diversion on the merits of books vs. movies. Dan and Ivan agreed that books were generally better than the movies made from them, with some exceptions – Dan mentioned as an example Legends of the Fall. We discussed To Kill A Mockingbird, wonderful both as a book and a movie, with each able to stand on its own. Gradually we worked our way back to The Children of Húrin. We did a bit of a recap of our last discussion of Chapter 4 and the women who laid down and died after the deaths of their husbands. Dan reminded us that Fëanor’s mother Miriel was an example, who gave her all in the birth of Fëanor and was not able to recover her strength. We spent a little time talking about dwarves as well. Ivan pointed out that the Dwarf city Nogrod sounds like it uses the Russian element grod or gorod meaning city. Roger pointed out that Tolkien made use of a Russian bear’s son story to reconstitute the lost folk tale behind the Beowulf story – this topic is discussed in the new edition of Roger’s book, Tolkien in Pawneeland. Katy felt that in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears the dwarves did not do enough to make the death of their King a worthwhile loss, but instead just left the battlefield with his body. We spent some time discussing the Helm of Hador and imagining how it might look, with the “gilded image of Glaurung.” Roger brought up the fact that for all Tolkien’s elaborate descriptions, we come away with plenty of room for guessing and imagining what something might really look like. We discussed Túrin’s friendship with Nellas and wondered what Túrin’s life might have been like had Morgoth’s doom not existed. And we talked about the swords, Anglachel and Anguirel, made by Eöl the Dark Elf, of “iron that fell from heaven as a blazing star.” Dyrddrdh pointed out that the name of the sword indicated what it was made of: iron star. Katy told of the Celtic tradition that a part of the maker remains in each object, whether it be bread or a sword. And Melian confirms this when she says, “There is malice in this sword. The heart of the smith still dwells in it, and that heart was dark.” It was a fun and lively evening in our Hobbit Hole tonight!
August 11, 2016
Tonight in The Children of Húrin we listened in on the conversation between Morgoth and Húrin. Roger pointed out that we sit down on a mountaintop with Morgoth to have a face-to-face chat about things, as opposed to the remote mystery of Sauron, who sits aloof in his Dark Tower in The Lord of Rings. Andrea felt that Sauron is more frightful as a mysterious figure of evil incarnate. We all had images of Sauron pre-Peter Jackson, but now Morgoth comes forward to tell us lies. Dan brought up the “true hero” who knows he is going to die, and who will never give in, which is why we thought Húrin had the courage to stand up to Morgoth. Húrin infuriates Morgoth by refusing to submit. Roger wondered if anyone felt any sympathy for the devil, and Katy felt that Morgoth brought his troubles on himself, so she would not feel sorry for him.
We turned next to the story of Morwen and Túrin in Chapter 4. We talked about how Morwen’s pride was her undoing, how she waited too long to leave, feeling certain that Húrin was still alive. We talked about Melian’s attempt to talk Morwen into coming to Doriath, and how she knew that Morwen’s reply meant that her doom would be hard to escape. We talked about the symbolic ritual gesture Thingol used in placing Túrin on his knee to indicate that he was adopting him as a foster son. We also considered the opening paragraphs, where two women, learning of their husband’s deaths, laid down and died. Was this Tolkien’s use of the romanticized ideal woman or were these women weak compared to Morwen, or was it a merciful succumbing to overwhelming grief? We’ll talk more about this chapter next time, pondering Thingol and the Hidden Kingdom.
July 28, 2016
At tonight’s meeting Roger shared the new second edition of his book, Tolkien in Pawneeland — a detailed study of the making of Middle-earth. Then we launched into the battle grounds of the First Age, considering the events of the second chapter of The Children of Húrin. Christopher Tolkien has assembled several versions of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears from his father’s papers, and we gave thought to these versions and to his father’s intentions. Linda felt that the Elves were undisciplined in battle and Morgoth’s ability to draw them in was their undoing; but Andrea, Katy and Dyrddrdh countered that it was only human to respond in an impassioned way. Dan felt that this was his least favorite part about The Silmarillion — battle after battle brought on by Feanor’s stubborn arrogance handed down to his descendants. Were these the same Elves we saw in the Third Age? Gildor and Galadriel were so regal and reserved, suffused with mysterious powers. Elisha pointed out that we observed those Elves through the viewpoints of Hobbits, and here in The Children of Húrin we see their inner selves more clearly. JRR Tolkien rendered a mythological history that gave meaning to destiny as the outcome of fateful foretelling, and as the production of the impassioned ambitions and hopes and defeats of Elves and Men in Middle-earth.
July 14, 2016
We spent our second group meeting talking about “The Childhood of Túrin,” the first chapter of The Children of Húrin. Ivan started us off, talking about how a story is like a dream and readers need to be drawn in. We all felt that the first chapter was more of a chronicle than a story, and we wondered how Tolkien would have transformed it had he lived to finish it. We each at one point or another gave our input about how we would have rewritten things had we been Tolkien. We talked about which of Tolkien’s books would be best for the first-time Tolkien reader. We all agreed that The Lord of the Rings would be the best choice. We spent time talking about the language of The Children of Húrin and Katy made the point that readers coming from a Medieval /mythology background might well be drawn to a book like The Children of Húrin. Roger brought up the eagles in this first chapter and we had a long discussion about the history of Tolkien’s eagles. The eagles first appear with minor roles in Tolkien’s early legends, and in The Hobbit we see them enter the story with more characterization and this is continued in The Lord of the Rings. The eagles who carry Húrin and Húor in and out of Gondolin appeared in Tolkien’s legendarium during the 1950s. Roger thought that if Tolkien had developed this story more, he might have had an eagle-wizard carrying Húrin and Húor, since their eyesight was “veiled” in the journey to the secret city of Gondolin. We talked about the difference between Thingol (Sindarin – already in Beleriand) and Turgon (Noldor – came to Beleriand later in pursuit of Morgoth), and studied the maps of the First Age and the cataclysm that ended it. We studied the detail Tolkien produced about the families and Katy thought this sounded like the kind of information that would be discussed in family gatherings. It was a lively evening in our Hobbit Hole – Katy won the special prize for this meeting!
June 23, 2016
The premiere meeting of the Tolkien Reading Circle was held on June 23, 2016. We talked about how The Children of Húrin encircles Tolkien’s entire legendarium. This was his last major creative project, and it is rooted in his first creative project, “The Story of Kullervo.” Since this was our first meeting, we also had much discussion about the kinds of things we could do as a group. Roger wants to share insights about his Tolkien research and things mythological; the Colby’s want to look at Tolkien’s “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”; we’re hoping Dyhrddrdh will give a short talk about Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy cycle; and we are all hoping for many future friendly evenings talking about the things we love.