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Tolkien Reading Day: Tolkien Against the Sea
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squire
Valinor


Mar 25 2010, 9:37am

Post #1 of 27 (1404 views)
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Tolkien Reading Day: Tolkien Against the Sea Can't Post

I have posted a short essay on the Home Page, with my reflections on the irony of focusing on Tolkien's "Seafarers" for this year's Tolkien Reading Day. I would welcome any comments and especially discussion from readers, both regulars and visitors, on this board.

Enjoy Tolkien Reading Day!



squire online:
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FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 25 2010, 11:38am

Post #2 of 27 (479 views)
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A few thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

I very much enjoyed reading your essay. Here are a few random thoughts that occurred to me when I was reading it.

Tolkien did have a few "nautical" experiences in his life - he spent holidays in Ireland, and it's a sea-crossing of several hours - and back then, would have been a breezy, on-deck experience (it still is now if you want to smoke!) And of course he had the long journey from South Africa when he was a very small child. If he remembered the sea from that at all, perhaps he remembered it as it appears in his fiction - as a mysterious boundary between one world and another.

I'm not surprised that Tolkien wasn't inspired by the "Britannia Rules the Waves" tastes of his contemporary countrymen, since he didn't particularly like modern Britain anyway (and that goes for anything after the Renaissance, I'd say, so even Francis Drake wouldn't cut much ice with Tolkien!).

But the Norsemen were seafarers, and the Anglo-Saxons had been so. Beowulf is about a seafarer, after all. Still, I wonder if the sea in that poem isn't, like Tolkien's Sea, more of a border - a place of "liminality" or "crossing over" than an element in its own right with its own stories? (There's Beowulf's swimming contest and slaying of sea-monsters - but it comes across as so dream-like that maybe it even adds to the idea of the Sea as a mysterious, boundary place.)

In Tolkien's own work, perhaps Eärendil's sea-journeys are the most fully described. It's too bad we don't have the complete Lay of Eärendil in which "is many a thing sung of his adventures in the deep and in lands untrodden, and in many seas and in many isles". But even so, I think we get a good glimpse of his life as a sailor. And this: "On a time of night Eärendil at the helm of his ship saw her come towards him, as a white cloud exceeding swift beneath the moon, as a star over the sea moving in strange course, a pale flame on wings of storm. And it is sung that she fell from the air upon the timbers of Vingilot..." is a very memorable moment at Sea.

Since Tolkien is imagining a time before the great Armadas and tea-clippers and steamers and so on, when slim dragon-boats hugged the shore rather than braving the open ocean, perhaps it's not surprising that we don't get much in the way of descriptions of life on the high seas. The great Sea that goes off into the unimaginable distance is, in his fiction, a mysterious path to another world, not a commerical and military opportunity as it was for his countrymen in his own lifetime and before. And anyway, for most Englishmen, the sea never was so much an opportunity for travel as it was a boundary enclosing their land - safely keeping others out, and keeping the English in. At some points in their history the English ruled the waves, it's true. But the English sense of "insularity" is older and deeper, I think.

(By the way, I was surprised to read that Valinor was equated with England in Tolkien's early thinking. I'd always associated the North-West of Middle-earth with England, and put Valinor into the mythical category - the Isle of the Blessed in the story of St Brendan, or Avalon, or maybe even Atlantis.)

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Altaira
Superuser / Moderator


Mar 25 2010, 1:28pm

Post #3 of 27 (445 views)
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Bravo! [In reply to] Can't Post

Nicely done, squire. My thoughts are that I wish I had more time to share my thoughts, lol.

For now, I'm mostly thinking of the quote at the end, and how it made me wish Tolkien *had* tackled more sea stories. Even the tale of Eldarion, one of the greatest Numenorean mariners, takes place completely on land. Go figure. I guess we'll have to be satisfied with the short bit about Earendil's voyage to Valinor and Elwing finding him in the storm.


Koru: Maori symbol representing a fern frond as it opens. The koru reaches towards the light, striving for perfection, encouraging new, positive beginnings.



"Life can't be all work and no TORn" -- jflower

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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 25 2010, 4:55pm

Post #4 of 27 (420 views)
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Here's a link to the essay. [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien against the Sea



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Modtheow
Lorien


Mar 25 2010, 5:11pm

Post #5 of 27 (438 views)
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“Every foreground needs its background” [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that thought-provoking essay, squire, which certainly raises interesting questions for me about seafaring in Tolkien’s works. It hadn’t occurred to me that Tolkien could have written long adventures on the sea!

Even though there aren’t descriptions of long sea voyages, I do think that the whiff of sea air pervades Middle-earth as its background. From the early reference in LotR, “They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us” to Frodo’s final sailing, we are made aware of the Sea. Frodo even hears and smells it in his dream in Crickhollow:

"Then he heard a noise in the distance. At first he thought it was a great wind coming over the leaves of the forest. Then he knew that it was not leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dream. Suddenly he found he was out in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and there was a strange salt smell in the air. Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge. A great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea. He started to struggle up the ridge towards the tower: but suddenly a light came in the sky, and there was a noise of thunder."

It’s in other characters’ dreams as the great wave. It’s part of dreams, visions, and legends, and occasionally becomes a reality. Rather than “seafaring” I think the theme for Tolkien’s Reading Day should be “sea-longing” (though the tidal wave dreams have a strange relationship to this). It makes sense to me to think of the sea as the background to life in Middle-earth, where feet are pretty firmly planted on the ground. The background shapes and shadows and contours the foreground, doesn’t it? If the sea lost its symbolic function as the boundary between mortal lands and the Undying Lands – if it became the landscape of adventures where it would most likely acquire a different meaning – what would mortal life in the lands of Middle-earth look like?

I think I’m basically agreeing with you. The Sea is always there. It’s the background that lets us see the foreground more clearly.



geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 25 2010, 6:43pm

Post #6 of 27 (446 views)
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I love the subject of Tolkien and the sea [In reply to] Can't Post

- and there are two examples which I usually give whenever the topic comes up. The first is Tolkien's poem 'Imram', about the voyage of St Brendan:

'Upreared from sea to cloud then sheer
a shoreless mountain stood;
its sides were black from the sullen tide
up to its smoking hood,
but its spire was lit with a living fire
that ever rose and fell:
tall as a column in High Heaven's hall,
its roots were deep as Hell..."

This poem was originally published in the magazine Time and Tide on 3 December 1955. It's reprinted in HoMe IXb (Sauron Defeated) pp.296-299.

The other example which I like to draw folks' attention to is 'The Last Ark'. A poem written in both English and Quenya!

'Who shall see a white ship
leave the last shore,
the pale phantoms in her cold bosom
like gulls wailing? ...

...'Who shall heed a broken ship
on the green rocks
under red skies,
a bleared sun blinking
on bones gleaming
in the last morning?

Who shall see the last evening?"

This is published in 'The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, ed. Christopher Tolkien, 1983, pp214-5

There's also and Earendel poem on the following pages, which actually does give a (somewhat romanticised) glimpse of life at sea. If you're in a star-ship, that is.

Smile


Lord of Magic
Bree

Mar 25 2010, 7:22pm

Post #7 of 27 (419 views)
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That was provoking... [In reply to] Can't Post

In the Silmarillion, I've always loved the Vala best. Gods to the people of Middle-Earth, yet not gods in the truest sense. Ulmo is sort of the enigma of all of the Vala. He is never tied down, but always wandering. The way that Tolkien describes the elves' link to the sea makes me think that he didn't really view the sea as anywhere for adventures to occur. It was a means of traveling. "The sea calls us home" but the sea is not the home. And Tolkien also doesn't introduce any creatures who live in the water(the sole exception I can think of being the Watcher in The Fellowship). All of his creations are creatures that necessarily depend on the land for survival.

On a side not, Brian Jacques' The Flying Dutchman series has some very well written seafaring passages.

Former Duke of Stardock, Overseer of the Paraphysical Army of Tokidoki, High Mage in Service to King Lyam conDoin I of Rillanon, The Absolute Lord, Ruler, and Sovereign of all Tokidoki.

The White Dragon and Arnölé, The Lord of All Magic


Eledhwen
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 25 2010, 9:13pm

Post #8 of 27 (418 views)
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I think you may have a point ... [In reply to] Can't Post

about the time of which Tolkien was thinking. All his scholarly work, and, to an extent, LOTR and the Sil, are set before that time when Britain (note to squire from this half-English half-Welsh person - the island's Britain rather than England! Wink) became a great seafaring nation. That didn't really happen until Elizabethan times; despite the Viking influence we didn't pick up the habit of discovering America centuries before Columbus like they did. Yet Tolkien, through the Númenoreans, shows how mastery of the sea can bring power to a nation, and how it can also lead to a nation's downfall - for without their sea-skills, the Númenoreans would never have thought to try and conquer Valinor.

Penguin walking


sador
Half-elven


Mar 26 2010, 4:43am

Post #9 of 27 (463 views)
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"From helm to sea they saw him leap... [In reply to] Can't Post

...But from the West there came no word
And on the Hither Shore
No tidings TORnsibs ever heard
Of squire evermore "

Welcome to the Lonely Island! I hope you had a good time seafaring!

The river-leaves and rush-sheaves are over there, and you can easily make you a gladdon-sword and reed-mace; and while we sometimes disappear, it is not because we are coy - I will definitely be back after the Festival is over (and might still peep in before it)!

"It will support thee and defend thee from weariness" - Cirdan.




squire
Valinor


Mar 26 2010, 10:16am

Post #10 of 27 (579 views)
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TORn teary-eyed among the Trees (2010) [In reply to] Can't Post

We are the inmost province of the fading isle
Where lingers yet the Lonely Reading Room.
Still, undespairing, do we sometimes slowly file
Discursive threads regardless of our doom:
We caring ladies and soft didactic lads
That dance among the tomes disdaining fads
For wistful thoughts of Ages past, that could be yet.
We post and comment in a sudden boom,
A gust of Tolkien gas — and then forget
Three thousand posts like wind-shaken falls
Of golden trees, lost in winter’s squalls.



squire online:
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squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea


Mar 26 2010, 2:20pm

Post #11 of 27 (397 views)
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*mods up* [In reply to] Can't Post

Alas, I have been guilty of neglecting the RR of late. Thanks for keeping the fires burning!

Where's Frodo?


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Mar 26 2010, 3:02pm

Post #12 of 27 (449 views)
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Wow! [In reply to] Can't Post

Amazing poetry. I'm still lurking here, if that's any help. Sorry to be so reticent.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



squire
Valinor


Mar 26 2010, 10:42pm

Post #13 of 27 (393 views)
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Valinor is not Elvenhome [In reply to] Can't Post

I think this is one of the most confusing parts of Tolkien's mythology for all but his most fanatical readers. Valinor - the Land of the Valar - is a kind of westernmost continent on the edge of the world. Elves live on it, to be sure, especially in Tirion, the city in the cleft of the barrier mountains along the coast, but it is not "Elvenhome". That is the island of Tol Eressea, which is "offshore" of Valinor, at an uncertain distance east of the holy mainland. This island is the original "home of the Elves" which Tolkien had intended to be a mythological construct of the isle of Britain (not England - thanks, Eledhwen!).

In short, Valinor was never England. But Tol Eressea, Elvenhome island, was - in a long-ago time of Tolkien's own career. By the time of the Third Age (after the sinking of Beleriand with its characteristic English geologic features) the Shire became Tolkien's third attempt to encapsulate England in a faerie of his own devising.



squire online:
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squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 27 2010, 1:02am

Post #14 of 27 (364 views)
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Oh I see. [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that. I didn't know that "Elvenhome" meant Tol Eressea, although of course I know that Tol Eressea is an island off Valinor. I suppose that explains the "green country" aspect of Tol Eressea - if it, like the Shire, is an idealization of Tolkien's own vision of England's green and pleasant land. (Although from what you say, it seems that Tol Eressea is actually meant to be the whole of Great Britain, i.e. the largest of the British Isles, the landmass containing not only England but Scotland and Wales as well. That would involve some very different geography and geology - not to mention a different (Celtic) mythology. And what happens to the island of Ireland in that scenario, I wonder?)

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 27 2010, 4:17am

Post #15 of 27 (364 views)
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A nit: Valinor isn't a continent. [In reply to] Can't Post

It is the land of the Valar on the continent of Aman.



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SirDennisC
Half-elven


Mar 27 2010, 4:30am

Post #16 of 27 (380 views)
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The question that [In reply to] Can't Post

plagues me, is why were certain inhabitants considered exiled to the Tol Eressea? For that matter, am I wrong in thinking "Tol" means "Island," and that "Eres" means "middle of the?"

The whole thing makes me think of Australia or New Zealand (now that would be a strange coincidence) more so than England. I'm sure to Northern invaders, the idea that England was in the middle of the sea was akin to wishful thinking.


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 27 2010, 9:19am

Post #17 of 27 (387 views)
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Elvenhome [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien uses the name Elvenhome in a poem published well before any of his Middle-earth works - it's called 'Firiel', which was published in _The Chronicle_ on 25th March 1934. The poem was revised and reprinted in _The Adventures of Tom Bombadil_ in 1962, under the title 'The Last Ship.
The verses which include reference to Elvenhome are quite different to those in ATB -

'...We go back to Elvenhome
beyond the last mountains,
Whose feet are in the outer foam
of the world's deep fountains.

In Elvenhome a clear bell
is in white tower shaking!
To wood and water say farewell,
the long road taking!
here grass fades and leaves fall
and sun and moon wither:
And to few comes the far call
that bids them journey hither'.

The Blessed Isles are also mentioned in an earlier poem -

"Ye follow Earendel into the West,
The shining mariner, to islands blest,"

(from 'Tha Eadigan Saelidan: The Happy Mariners' in _A Northern Venture_, At The Swan Press, 1923)

This poem was actually written much earlier; in July 1915. See HoMe II, pp.273-7


(This post was edited by geordie on Mar 27 2010, 9:20am)


squire
Valinor


Mar 28 2010, 5:48pm

Post #18 of 27 (353 views)
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Thus far shall ye sail, and no farther [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for your comments, especially about the historically more complex relationship between Britons and the Sea, when considered over a thousand years rather than just the last 500.


I understand that Earendil is meant to be one of the great Seafarers in Tolkien’s extended Middle-earth mythology. I too would have liked to have read a full Lay of his voyages, as Tolkien did at one point consider writing.


We do have a miniature version in the song or verse that Bilbo composes in the Hall of Fire at Elrond’s house. Here is an excerpt:

Beneath the Moon and under star
he wandered far from northern strands,
bewildered on enchanted ways
beyond the days of mortal lands.
From gnashing of the Narrow Ice
where shadow lies on frozen hills,
from nether heats and burning waste
he turned in haste, and roving still
on starless waters far astray
at last he came to Night of Naught,
and passed, and never sight he saw
of shining shore nor light he sought.

The winds of wrath came driving him,
and blindly in the foam he fled
from west to east and errandless,
unheralded he homeward sped. (The Lord of the Rings, II.2)

As far as details of this voyage go, he sails first North (“Narrow Ice” and “frozen hills”) and then South (“nether heats and burning waste”) and finally heads West. But to no avail; he is driven back (“from west to east”) and returns to his starting point.
Since the poem is amazingly abbreviated and fast-paced, largely due to the metrical device Tolkien was experimenting with, there is no time for maritime adventures or extended descriptions of the voyagers’ experiences. Still, at least we see Earendil spending some time at Sea, and in circumstances of hardship and duress.
Now, re-reading this poem reminded me of the following passages from “Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife” in Unfinished Tales:

But after four years more Aldarion at last returned, and his ships were battered and broken by the seas. He had sailed first to the haven of Vinyalondë, and thence he had made a great coastwise journey southwards, far beyond any place yet reached by the ships of the Númenóreans; but returning northwards he had met contrary winds and great storms, and scarce escaping shipwreck in the Harad found Vinyalondë overthrown by great seas and plundered by hostile men. Three times he was driven back from the crossing of the Great Sea by high winds out of the West, and his own ship was struck by lightning and dismasted; and only with labour and hardship in the deep waters did he come at last to haven in Númenor. (Unfinished Tales, p. 181)

But indeed he was longer gone than he had purposed; for he had found the haven of Vinyalondë now wholly ruined, and great seas had brought to nothing all his labours to restore it. Men near the coasts were growing afraid of the Númenóreans, or were become openly hostile; and Aldarion heard rumours of some lord in Middle-earth who hated the men of the ships. Then when he would turn for home a great wind came out of the south, and he was borne far to the northward. He tarried a while at Mithlond, but when his ships stood out to sea once more they were again swept away north, and driven into wastes perilous with ice, and they suffered cold. At last the sea and wind relented, but even as Aldarion looked out in longing from the prow of the Palarran and saw far off the Meneltarma, his glance fell upon the green bough, and he saw that it was withered. Then Aldarion was dismayed, for such a thing had never befallen the bough of oiolairë, so long as it was washed with the spray. "It is frosted, Captain," said a mariner who stood beside him. "It has been too cold. Glad am I to see the Pillar." (Unfinished Tales, p. 188)

As with the Earendil poem, I think this kind of writing is about as close as Tolkien ever comes to describing the details of sea-voyages. Yet the episodes are very sketchy and annalistic. They don’t satisfy as tales. They seem to serve two story-purposes, both outside the bounds of the sea-adventure genre: one, why was Aldarion away from Erendis for so long; and two, what were the limitations on the range of Numenor’s mariners. The former point seems to be entirely plot-driven: the sea competes with her for his affections. As for the latter, what came to me most strongly is how these two passages between them echo the voyage of Earendil in Bilbo’s poem: Aldarion sails as far South as one can go, but he must eventually return with no profit. Then he sails as far North as he can go, but is stopped by the Ice and a sign that he went too far (the frost-death of the sacred bough). In both his voyages, the attempt to sail West – homeward to Numenor – is fraught with difficulty and opposed by contrary winds and waves.

This is formulaic writing, to match the formulaic geography of Middle-earth. The mortal Land is in the East, the Sea is in the West, the holy Land is in the far West, across the Sea. If you go sailing on the sea, you can only sail North, South, or West. But North and South are profitless and meaningless as destinations. West is the only direction worth sailing, but it is hard to do.

Although the tales of Numenor and Earendil are pretty much disconnected, they both contain the message that in Middle-earth there is only one reason for sea-faring, and that is to get as far West as the gods deem possible!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
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squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Elizabeth
Valinor


Mar 28 2010, 10:04pm

Post #19 of 27 (351 views)
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Vinyalondë [In reply to] Can't Post

The first paragraph of that passage from "Aldarion and Erendis" sounds to me a lot like Leif Erickson's explorations. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, which has been tentatively identified with the L'Anse aux Meadows Norse site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland in Canada. The settlement was eventually abandoned, apparently due to conflicts within the Norse community, as well as between the Norse and the Skrælings (native people), who were very likely "hostile men".






Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


squire
Valinor


Mar 28 2010, 11:18pm

Post #20 of 27 (338 views)
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Vinland or Vinyalonde? [In reply to] Can't Post

How interesting! The names certainly sound alike, and seem to link to voyages of legendary seafarers. I can't begin to guess whether Tolkien was intending a pun here. Certainly the two locations don't match in their respective circumstances in real-world history and Middle-earth history.

Vinland, as you say, was in the New World. The correspondence, if we sought one, would be as if the Numenoreans had discovered Tol Eressea or Valinor in Aman, across the Great Sea to the West, without all the baggage of the Gods and Immortal Elves living there.


Vinyalondë means "New Haven". It is located at the mouth of the Gwathlo, or Greyflood, River in the lands of Middle-earth that are south of what would later become Arnor, and north of the future Gondor. It is presumably east of Numenor by the most direct sailing route, and so represented the best place for the Numenoreans to establish a harbor and shipyard to service their ships once they began commercial relations with the mainland. It would be as if the inhabitants of Atlantis had established a settlement and shipping city at Rochelle or Lisbon! Aldarion, in the passage we are discussing, makes landfall at Vinyalondë in order to refit and resupply before embarking on his actual voyages of discovery along the extensive coasts of Middle-earth - south, as it were, to the Cape of Good Hope, or northward past Scandinavia.

Then there is the deceptive etymological similarity. Tolkien famously raved against those who insisted that his languages were mere glosses on English. -Lond
as a Sindarin root word meaning "haven" or "harbor" is seen in several other place in Tolkien's geography, such as the Harlond ("South Haven" - see har- as in Harad, southland) next to Minas Tirith on the Anduin, and Mithlond ("Grey Havens" - see mith- as in Mithrandir, grey pilgrim) in the Gulf of Lhun where Cirdan built his Elvish ships. So the similarity with English "land" in Vinland certainly seems coincidental here.

On the other hand, Tolkien developed an associa
ted mythology around Vinyalondë, later known as Lond Daer ("Great Haven"), wherein the local Men of Middle-earth in the surrounding regions were dominated and colonized by overbearing imperial Numenor. Perhaps there is some overlap with the interaction of the Vikings and the Skraelings - although frankly the Norse could hardly be said to have "imperialized" Vinland, even though later Europeans of course did. Rather, Lief Erickson's gang were run out of the place by the natives.




squire online:
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squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Elizabeth
Valinor


Mar 29 2010, 12:15am

Post #21 of 27 (351 views)
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Reverse the direction of sail [In reply to] Can't Post

...and you have as close a correspondence as many of Tolkien's tales to dribs and drabs of Nordic legend and lore. Not that big a stretch. Obviously not as close a correspondence as some, e.g. Turin's tale to bits of the Kalevala, but I think we do see some linkage there. Particularly if you think of Numenor as like Iceland or the Greenland settlement.






Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 29 2010, 3:44am

Post #22 of 27 (397 views)
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Very nice. [In reply to] Can't Post

Very interesting to see how, for Tolkien's mariners, there was really only one way to go. North takes you to the ice, South to the heat. East is landlocked as far as anyone can know. And West, as you say, is dangerous and opposed by the winds.

Tolkien is really describing the view from the British Isles in the Middle Ages, it seems. You really couldn't go too far north or south because of the extreme conditions, and the prevailing westerly winds must have made sailing westward into the great unknown very dangerous.

But Tolkien ignores all the coastal sailing that could be done - around Scandinavia, and down as far as Spain. As well as the Mediterranean - although perhaps the port of Harlond below Minas Tirith is a nod to the Mediterranean ports, and the commerce that went on in that region.

I suppose the fact that he makes the known landmass of Middle-earth a single continent, rather than a series of broken-up islands and peninsulas, necessarily removes all those Norse sailing routes from the story. Maybe that's why he has to give his fictional Anglo-Saxons horses instead of ships.

Even so, I'm struggling to think of any mythical stories where actual accounts of life on the high seas are included. In my (rather hazy) recollections of the Odyssey, Ulysses mostly spends his sailing time being driven to one dangerous landfall or another, thanks to whatever storm the gods have decided to inflict on him, and the real storytelling takes place on land. In Beowulf, we see the hero leave in his splendid ship, and see it arrive at its destination, but I don't recall much of consequence happening on board. Being a seafarer, in classical and medieval mythology, seems to be more about visiting different lands than about experiencing the sea for its own sake. I'm not familiar with the Norse myths though - maybe they focus more on life at sea?

I take your point about the few accounts of sea-voyages in the Legendarium being "annalistic" or "formulaic". I'm just not coming up with any other medieval examples of sea-voyages that aren't much the same. I don't suppose scribes and oral story-tellers had usually been to sea themselves, so maybe that's why they don't give us much detail of seaborne adventures. As you say, Tolkien wasn't much of a sailor either, so he may have either followed his own personal "write-what-you-know" strategy, or he may have been influenced by the exact same approach in the stories that inspired him.

Either way, I think the result is a sense of the Sea as a boundary, something that defines and limits the Earth, rather than as a "place" in its own right. To be a seafarer, in Tolkien (as well as in many classical and medieval stories), is to cross boundaries, to go to "forbidden" or mythical places where adventures happen, for good or ill. The sea's role is to be a mysterious and dangerous barrier to set those places apart from the everyday world, and to make it just another place of adventure in its own right might detract from that role, I think.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Pryderi
Rivendell

Mar 29 2010, 11:05pm

Post #23 of 27 (353 views)
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There is "The Seafarer" [In reply to] Can't Post

"Even so, I'm struggling to think of any mythical stories where actual accounts of life on the high seas are included."

I accept that this is not a mythical account but it is certainly one that Tolkien would have been very familiar with and may or may not have influenced his own writing. It is often bracketed with "The Wanderer" from which the marvellous "Where now the horse and the rider......." speech is derived.

The Seafarer is certainly not annalistic. It is lyrical or elegiac or something different from either, but it does not seem to me to be a narrative.

It is just a marvellous poem. I like Ezra Pound's translation of the first section, but other translations are easily found along with the Old English if desired. When I just googled it I found this:

bitre breostceare [how I] have suffered

I have seen this half line translated "bitter breastcare". I know which I prefer.

Pryderi.



FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 30 2010, 12:40am

Post #24 of 27 (317 views)
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Thanks for the pointer. [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm off to google a translation of The Seafarer right now...

Smile

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



White Gull
Lorien


Apr 2 2010, 4:11pm

Post #25 of 27 (310 views)
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:) [In reply to] Can't Post

Nice. You draw one in with sweet words, move one to unexpected laughter, raise one's eyebrow and leave one wondering. And cocoon it all in flowing rhyme.
Thanks for writing poetry.

WG

A poet is a nightingale that sits in the darkness and sings to cheers its own solitude with sweet sounds.
-Percy B Shelley



(This post was edited by White Gull on Apr 2 2010, 4:12pm)

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