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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Silmarillion Discussion: Of Thingol and Melian

NZ Strider
Rivendell

Feb 11 2013, 12:43am

Post #1 of 7 (921 views)
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Silmarillion Discussion: Of Thingol and Melian Can't Post

In this brief chapter – just two pages in my edition of the Silmarillion – a number of matters important both for the later history of Middle-earth as well as for Tolkien’s own literary predilections come up. I will post a few questions today and a few more tomorrow.


Thingol meets Melian

Thingol, walking through the woods, hears the song of nightingales. He follows the sounds and comes upon Melian in a glade. He is immediately entranced and remains with Melian for the rest of his days in Middle-earth.

This is, I think, Tolkien’s first use of this scene – a man sees a beautiful female in a glade and is promptly captivated. The scene will be repeated a little later when Beren meets Thingol’s and Melian’s daughter, Luthien; and much later when Aragorn first meets Arwen (LotR, App. A (v)).

1.) How do people feel about Tolkien’s re-use of the basic scene? Does putative overuse give the later scenes a weary air of “here we go again”? Granted, when Tolkien published the LotR, there was little chance of the Silmarillion ever being published, so App. A (v) was the first published version of the scene.

2.) The scene is based on something from Tolkien’s own life when Mrs. Tolkien (they were married at the time, so it was okay) danced for him beneath some trees in a moonlit glade. (I don’t have the edition of Tolkien’s letters with me, but if memory serves, he refers to this in one of his letters.) The episode clearly made a deep impression on him. Does knowing of the personal episode increase the scene’s ability to charm? Was this why he used and re-used it?

Melian the Maia

The Maiar are beings of the same general order of the Valar, but of a lower rank. Melian’s union with Thingol will eventually produce Luthien. It is the only time when one of the beings created outside of Arda has such a union with a being created within Arda.

3.) How is this supposed to work? None of the other Valar/Maiar ever begets children.

4.) Given that Melian is a higher-order being than Thingol, it is clear what he saw in her. But what did Melian see in Thingol? Why did she enter into this union? Do we know enough about her character to have any idea? If not, is this a blemish on the plot since her act appears inexplicable and unmotivated? (Especially since her act has such great consequences farther down the line – without her union with Thingol there would be no Luthien for whose sake Beren would win a Silmaril, and so on.)


IdrilofGondolin
Rohan

Feb 11 2013, 7:59pm

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Everything that happens in Arda [In reply to] Can't Post

is presaged in the Song that created the world. Nothing in Middle Earth is inexplicable if you remember that Eru has foreseen everything. That Eru would make it possible for a strain of immortality would be forever in the blood of HIs children is a lovely thought. It is why the Elves long for the GIft of Men and men eventually come to understand it. So when Aragorn says he is giving back the gift and tells Arwen that he will see her again (beyond the circles of the world there is more then memory) he feels in his death the stirrings of life everlasting -- the great gift of the One to men that came to them through Melian the Maia.


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Feb 11 2013, 9:35pm

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The "take it or leave it" chapter [In reply to] Can't Post

I think this might be the chapter that the reader has to take on trust:

Trysts with dancing and nightingales: its Tolkien's way of signifying a very significant romantic encounter. It's a lovely enough image to become a leitmotif.

Can an elf and a divine being marry, have children: Apparently.

How come they choose each other: unexplained (though to be fair. That's common enough in human romances!)

The couple promptly come under an unexplained enchantment, which keeps them out of the way during the migration to Valinor - and leaves one elf of major stature in Middle-earth to lead the resistance. This might seem a little too convenient if it were not presented with such conviction....

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....
Feel free to meddle in the affairs of noWizardMe by agreeing or disagreeing (politely...) with my posts! I may not be subtle, but at least I'm usually slow to anger...


telain
Rohan

Feb 12 2013, 4:37pm

Post #4 of 7 (419 views)
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Time is a circle... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and the circle is not round. I came by this quote from the film Before the Rain, in which it is used to explain the historical/generational cycle of violence in one part of the Balkans. The "circle" can be understood as a spiral and events which transpire around the circle also happen throughout time as well, hence the repetition of key events.

I find the reuse of the Thingol and Melian scene to be like this: every age or so there is a coming together of two people from very different backgrounds (Elf and "god"; Elf and Human) who become integral to the history of Middle-earth. I quite like the reuse of the scene (in part because I find the concept of spiral time intriguing) but also because it binds together the histories of Middle-earth. They feel cohesive and it altogether feels like I am reading a saga (more than, say, a novel or a "true" history.)


CuriousG
Valinor


Feb 13 2013, 7:53pm

Post #5 of 7 (400 views)
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Of immortal marriages [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the post, NZ!

Re-using the scene: my feelings vary according to how I count them, oddly enough. If I think of them as thousands of years apart, I think it's an appealing recurrence, even more so as Telain says that it's like time moving in cycles, of which these cross-race lovers are just part of the flow. But if I think of it more in book terms of page count, I have a bit of a groan and think, "Oh, love at first sight in the forest again. Don't these people fall in love anywhere else?" There's also Eol and Aredhel falling in love at first sight in a forest (more love on his part than hers, but still mutual). Where does Hurin rediscover Morwen? In the Forest of Brethil. Turin and Nienor falling in love? A forest. Turin's love Finduilas meeting her end? Same forest. I guess Faramir and Eowyn broke the mold by falling in love in a hospital and its gardens.

Nevertheless, I don't really object to it, and forests are typically "enchanted" in fantasies, so why not? It was a romantic setting to Tolkien, and that comes across in the story. If he'd had the same experience in an art museum, we'd probably get that in his books instead. And yes, knowing that it meant a lot to him deepens the charm for me.

Divine intermarriage:
I wonder how it works too. Did the other Valar have a say in this? Is that why these two were frozen so long, because Melian was waiting for the debate in Valimar to be settled, or maybe she needed Eru's blessing? What went through Melian's mind at the time: where did she think her children would end up? Did she assume they'd live forever by her side? Did she know that if they died (it seems Elves hadn't died yet, for their fate to be known), they could be stuck in Mandos? Did she think she'd have visitation rights to Mandos, or enough clout to get them an early release?

Why would a Maia marry an Elf and not another Maia? Or do the Ainur couples that we know about have conjugal relations, they just don't bear children? Did Melian even know she could have children? If the other Ainur found out only after Luthien was born, how did they react? Were they concerned that Melian was "diluting the bloodline?" Or did they think it wasn't right to mix divine blood with Elven blood and give Elves undue advantages? Or were they just happy for her, and did Varda and the others give her a baby shower? Yet bloodlines and their purity are so important in Tolkien's stories that, though I have nothing against this union, it seems odd that none of his characters did. If this marriage was okay, did Ainur and Eldar in Valinor beget children? Why not?

And yes, it's easy to see why Thingol fell in love with her, but why the reverse? I also don't think he was the best that the Eldar had to offer, so why didn't she find herself a better man among them? Though love is mysterious, and we never can explain people's preferences. I could say that it blemishes the plot since her motivation is so inscrutable, but then again, she's a divine, other-worldly being, so maybe we couldn't figure her out anyway.

Otherwise, it's a fascinating addition to the plot. On first read, I wondered if they'd spawn a new race of Titans with special powers who'd help set things right in Middle-earth. Luthien was that to some degree, but there was only one of her, and she was a stay-at-home gal until she did some serious dating. In retrospect, spawning an army of Titans wouldn't have been a good idea, but the consequences of this marriage fired my imagination at the time.


sador
Half-elven


Feb 17 2013, 2:55pm

Post #6 of 7 (371 views)
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After a long delay. [In reply to] Can't Post

1.) How do people feel about Tolkien’s re-use of the basic scene?
Apparently he attached great importance to it - the whole concept of being captured by elves is often re-worked.
This scene is less subtle but more powerful than those in The Sea-Bell, Smith of Wootton-Major and in The Hobbit. I think the Lothlorien sequence is essentially the same; and perhaps the best of all is The Last Ship - because Firiel is able to reject the call.

Does putative overuse give the later scenes a weary air of “here we go again”?
Perhaps, had I read them all in a row, it would. But how many authors don't have their recurring images?

Granted, when Tolkien published the LotR, there was little chance of the Silmarillion ever being published, so App. A (v) was the first published version of the scene.
Arguably, Aragorn's description of Beren meeting Luthien preceded it, and even built upon it.

2.) The scene is based on something from Tolkien’s own life when Mrs. Tolkien (they were married at the time, so it was okay) danced for him beneath some trees in a moonlit glade. (I don’t have the edition of Tolkien’s letters with me, but if memory serves, he refers to this in one of his letters.)

John Garth indentifies the place as Roos at Holderness, while he was on his long covalescing period.

The episode clearly made a deep impression on him. Does knowing of the personal episode increase the scene’s ability to charm?
Well, it reads like something he felt keenly. The knowledge only affirms this.

Was this why he used and re-used it?
Most probably.

3.) How is this supposed to work? None of the other Valar/Maiar ever begets children.
Well, in The Book of Long Tales (in which the Tinwelint-Gwendolin lovestory generated) they did. And Morgoth lusted after Luthien.
I guess that being as the Children of Iluvatar does that to Ainur.

4.) Given that Melian is a higher-order being than Thingol, it is clear what he saw in her. But what did Melian see in Thingol?

Tolkien's description of him is pretty impressive.

Why did she enter into this union?
We know many of the Ainur loved the Children.

Do we know enough about her character to have any idea?
No; but I'm not sure she knew what this love involved.

If not, is this a blemish on the plot since her act appears inexplicable and unmotivated?
No; it makes it the more mysterious.
Of all the reworkings, Arwen's love for Aragorn is the best explained.


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 24 2013, 2:41am

Post #7 of 7 (478 views)
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It is a bittersweet letter. [In reply to] Can't Post

And one that has touched me deeply: that letter wherein Tolkien talks about his Lúthien. Number 340, written to Christopher on 11 July 1972, discussing the inscription on Edith's gravestone:


Quote
I have at last got busy about Mummy's grave...The inscription I should like is:
.......................EDITH MARY TOLKIEN
..............................1889-1971
.................................Lúthien

: brief and jejune, except for Lúthien, which says for me more than a multitude of words: for she was (and knew she was) my Lúthien.

July 13. Say what you feel without reservation, about this addition. I began this under the stress of great emotion & regret - and in any case I am afflicted from time to time (increasingly) with an overwhelming sense of bereavement. I need advice. Yet I hope none of my children will feel that the use of this name is a sentimental fancy. It is at any rate not comparable to the quoting of pet names in obituaries. I never called Edith Lúthien - but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing - and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.


This makes all the more poignant the pain of separation - in particular, that of Melian and Elrond from their daughters. At least for Tolkien, it was not forever; but at this point in his life, it must have seemed so to him.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"





 
 

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