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Silmarillion Discussion: Of Thingol and Melian, #2

NZ Strider

Feb 12 2013, 1:22am

Post #1 of 12 (843 views)
Silmarillion Discussion: Of Thingol and Melian, #2 Can't Post

The enchanted King forsakes his people

There are many legends about kings who, effectively, turn their backs on their people after they have fallen in love with a beautiful woman who often enough is rumoured to be using enchantments. One thinks of Odysseus detained by the enchantress Calypso on the island of Ogygia. Here is one such legend, this time from mediæval Spain:

“After the king Alfonso [VIII] was married, as you have already heard, he departed to Toledo with his wife. And while there he saw a very beautiful Jewess, and he became attached to her so that he left the queen his wife and shut himself up with the Jewess for a very long time, in such wise that he could not part from her for any reason, and occupied himself with nothing else. And as the Archbishop Rodrigo tells it, he was shut up with her for seven months, so that he paid no heed to himself, not to his kingdom, nor to anything else. And they say that this great love that he had for the Jewess was caused by spells and magic that she knew how to make.”

Crónica de Castilla, chap. 491, translation D. Nirenberg

There are other parallels for such enchanted kings which you may wish to bring into the discussion; this is the one which happened to occur to me first.

5.) What do people make of Tolkien’s use of this stock theme? Is it merely a convenient device to explain why Thingol remains behind in Middle-earth? If so, is this disappointing? Or is Tolkien using the theme with a distinct purpose in mind?

Elven divisions and languages

Tolkien invented for his Elves various languages; the two which he developed most fully were Quenya (brought to Middle-earth by the Noldor from Valinor) and Sindarin which developed, it seems, amongst the Elves in Thingol’s and Melian’s realm. In Quenya it is “Elwë Singollo,” but in Sindarin it is “Elu Thingol”.

Up until now there have been hints at linguistic variation among the Elves (e.g. a statement in the Valaquenta that an alternate name for Oromë is Aldaron [Quenya] and Tauron [Sindarin]), but I think that here for the first time we get the historical and geographical context in which one of these languages arises.

6.) Is this the sort of thing which most readers pass over as “decoration”? Or is it the sort of thing which gives Tolkien’s legendarium greater depth as well as quasi-historical credibility? (E.g. as in “real” myths there are variations in names – it’s “Odysseus” in Greek, but “Ulysses” in Latin.) Since Tolkien studied precisely this sort of thing in his day job (e.g. the development of dialects in specific regions), is it just his own scholarly interests intruding?

The Sindar (with the exception of Thingol himself) never went to Valinor, so they are among the Moriquendi or “Elves of the Darkness” instead of the Calaquendi or “Elves of the Light”. On the other hand, their King, Thingol, did see Valinor in the time of the Two Trees; and through him and Melian the Elves in their realm attain a higher status than the other Elves who remained in Middle-earth. That places the Sindar – the “Grey Elves” or “Elves of the Twilight” – in an ambiguous position between the Light Elves and the Dark Elves.

Now Tolkien took many hints from Norse mythology, and Snorri’s Prose Edda in chap. 17 of the “Gylfaginning” or “Deceiving of Gylfi” does mention “Light Elves” (Ljos-Alfar) contrasted with “Dark Elves” (Dökk-Alfar). But there are here no Elves in an intermediate position.

7.) What purpose did Tolkien have in inventing these “Grey Elves”? Does the rest of the story bear out the concept of an intermediate position for these “Grey Elves”?


Feb 12 2013, 2:35am

Post #2 of 12 (577 views)
La Belle Dame Sans Chimichurri [In reply to] Can't Post

5. Your 'enchanted king' legend immediately brought this to my mind, and since you asked for other examples we could discuss, I offer it for our general consideration:
For six days in June 2009, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's whereabouts were unknown and there was media coverage of what was described as his disappearance. Subsequently the Governor reappeared and reported that he had been in Argentina with a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. - Wikipedia
The only thing that has not yet emerged is the exact nature of the enchantment that Sra. Maria Belén Chapur used on the hapless Chief Executive of the Palmetto State. It is not enough simply to shrug and point out that Argentina is the home of the tango...

6. Although I've always enjoyed the interplay between Quenya and Sindarin in Tolkien's stories, and I do think the level of development evident in the two languages does set Tolkien off from his numerous knock-offs and competitors, I have never taken them very seriously as actual languages that tie into the type of history he wrote. He wrapped himself into hopeless knots trying to write "human-type" mythology for "non-human" (i.e., immortal) peoples, not least with the problem of why and how the languages would undergo the sound-changes, grammatical evolutions, and other philological nitty-gritty, when they were being spoken by the same individuals the whole time. Languages change over dozens of human generations, during which those humans may encounter dozens of other tribes with other languages. The Elvish languages seemingly originate with, are spoken by, and then change significantly for about two or at most three Elven generations, who never meet any other speaking peoples during the time of these significant linguistic divergences. If I remember (it's fuzzy, and I welcome correction), HoME shows Tolkien rewriting the story of Noldorin/Sindarin significantly in the 1930s as he realized the unlikelihood of his original 1910s-1920s scenarios. But the problem remained. (He had similar issues with how you can have traditional rip-roaring royal family feuds featuring an evil step-mother and hateful half-brothers when divorce is unknown and no one ever dies - doh.)

As for your 7., I tend to follow Verlyn Flieger who pointed out that the Grey Elves, as a mix of Dark and Light, contain within themselves the necessary ingredients for drama, which the Dark Elves (all Dark, end of story) and the Light Elves (all Light, end of story) do not.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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NZ Strider

Feb 12 2013, 7:48am

Post #3 of 12 (682 views)
Perhaps Gov. Sanford demonstrated [In reply to] Can't Post

that there was some truth behind these legends -- made them come true, so to speak. Tolkien would have approved (in principle, not in precise detail I'm sure). (Do not get me started on southern politics; I grew up in Tennessee and Alabama, and we've had some doozies, Ray Blanton, for example.)

Yes, you're right -- Tolkien's overall linguistic situation is more apt for many generations of humans than for one single one of immortals.


Feb 12 2013, 6:00pm

Post #4 of 12 (493 views)
Whose enchantment is it anyway? [In reply to] Can't Post

In the Spanish king story , or in the story of Merlin becoming besotted with his lovely apprentice, it seems to be "bad girl, using your whiles to distract this important man from his duties, for your own gain" (or possibly "for your own protection " in some versions of the Merlin story).

What about here? Is Melian doing that (selfishly ensuring Thingol misses the boat ), or more than that? Is she a witting or unwitting player in a wider plan? Is it her enchantment, or a third party?

I'm not expecting this to be particularly answerable by the way Smile

It's a turnaround of another trope- the Elves enchant a mortal who thinks he's visited elfland briefly , only to find its been a long long time back at home....

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...


Feb 13 2013, 4:31pm

Post #5 of 12 (516 views)
Is it just a "stock theme" though? [In reply to] Can't Post

What do people make of Tolkien’s use of this stock theme?

What I get from it is that there's more going on here than in a straightforward "enchanted king" theme. This isn't just about a king being diverted from his duty by a dalliance - in many ways it reminds me more of the many myths of a human whose relationship with a higher being leads to the birth of a hero (or in this case, heroine).

The Celtic story of Cuchulainn is very similar, if you reverse all the genders - a human princess disappears only to be found a year later living in his hidden palace with the god Lugh, whose child she is carrying. The child, of course, will grow up to be the great hero Cuchullain. Or there's the story of Achilles, the son of a nymph and a human king. Indeed, the story of the conception and birth of Jesus follows a very similar pattern. The thought that the essence of a higher being can enter the human bloodline seems to be deep in the mythic imagination of many people.

I think maybe Tolkien is more interested in this mythic theme than the "enchanted king" theme, although he's blended the two ideas quite cleverly, you might say. From the point of view of the Elves who went to Valinor with his brother, he must have seemed like just an "enchanted king" who fails in his duty. But from the point of view of his descendants who remain in Middle-earth, his fate, perhaps even his higher duty, was to allow the "divine" essence to enter the bloodline of the Elves, and through his daughter, that of Men.

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


Feb 13 2013, 8:13pm

Post #6 of 12 (480 views)
Love and enchantment [In reply to] Can't Post

Maybe its less enchantment and more of a higher use of the concept of Love. We know Tolkien adored his wife and wrote the Tale of Tinuviel using his feelings for her as abackdrop and inspiration (at least I swear I have read that). For Thingol and Melian it is two "people" who meet and fall deeply in love. Because of her power and race her being somehow puts him under enchantment along with her as well and they are simply caught in each other's presence for such a time and on such a level that it makes it impossible for either of them to do anything. Maybe I am grasping at straws here, but I have always read this part that way. Tolkien's language in the SIL is always on such a high level that I try to filter meaning based on that. he talks about love in the three biblical terms often, his most evident is in the Phileo, brotherly love theme. Of course we see the eros, in Gondolin with Maeglin and Idril, it is presented as a lustful entity in Tolkien. But with Thingol and Melian it is more akin to the agapesis, love, and yet also combined with Eros. While I respect Tolkiens work and writing, he just wasn't much for writing a love story, and I think this is just an attempt he makes here, maybe it is an attempt to build up for the Luthien's capacity to love a mortal man. It certainly gives some weight to beauty and love and all of those things. Then again, this could be part of his buioding up just how special Luthien is when she comes along and how blessed Beren is to have her love. Its a great way to tell the world how awesome the woman you love is, when you put her in your books as the child of two incredible races.

On languages, I have nothing but confusion. Language has never been my strong point and Tolkien is so far above my brain I usually just think wow those are pretty names and words.

"clever hobbits to climb so high!"
Check out my writing www.jdstudios.wordpress.com


Feb 14 2013, 1:52am

Post #7 of 12 (491 views)
Feminine wiles [In reply to] Can't Post

What's always hard for me to figure out in this chapter is if Melian was caught in the same spell as Thingol. Was this spontaneous mutual infatuation that blinded them both to the world? Or, because it's said that among Lorien's people there was there was no one "more skilled in songs of enchantment," did she sing Elwe into a love trance using her powers? If so, that almost seems sinister, or at best devious, because she should have known she was separating him from his people. What were her motives, and how did she justify this to herself? (And how can she be both akin to Yavanna and part of Lorien's tribe?)

Odysseus is a good comparison; Squire had me laughing heartily with his. The story of the Spanish king seems close to the Thingol/Melian one because the king is defenseless against feminine wiles that don't sound all that innocent. Though I don't think Melian is evil; she's just hard to figure out, and though she later helps establish Elwe as a king, she's sundered him from his brother and many of his people--that just doesn't seem right.

Re: language
. Yes, I tend to pass over the multiple names given to people as decoration, though I think that gives them a little more depth since it implies a character is seen from different points of view and has resonance in different cultures, as you point out with Odysseus/Ulysses. But I'm probably more like Elevorn and just think they sound nice and move on.

Grey Elves: I almost think your question is asking if it's necessary to come up with a new group of Elves. I think this is Tolkien having fun with his taxonomies, since there were the Nandor-Teleri who left the great march west, and Laiquendi-Nandor-Teleri who came back to the Sindar-Teleri and wound up in Ossiriand. Is all that necessary? If I stood on a street corner in Beleriand, could I point out the differences between these cultures like I could in New York among tourists from different countries? Though I'm not criticizing. I think that naming groups differently gives a sense of their own history, and the sense that groups in isolation will develop their own norms and outlooks. That also contributes to the linguistic divisions between Elves in Valinor and Middle-earth. My guess is that Tolkien was replicating European history (without the warfare) where a homogeneous group can be sundered into heterogeneous ones. That happens on a big scale, such as Rome giving way to different Romance languages, or a smaller one such as Italy or France becoming subdivided into small provinces with their own dialects.

I like the notion of the Grey-Elves who are somehow suspended between the light and the dark since they receive a little bit of light from Melian. And it helps set up the later history of the wars of Beleriand. The Sindar are more organized and sophisticated than the Avari or Nandor or Laiquendi, which means they can put up a little more fight against Morgoth.


Feb 14 2013, 5:37pm

Post #8 of 12 (433 views)
posting previous questions here now [In reply to] Can't Post

I posted questions about Thingol a couple weeks ago and decided to wait on this discussion to repost them However I lost the original questions. Below is the best I can remember of what they were.
While reading through the SIL I am always captured at moments by the character of Thingol. Not necessarily in a good way. So many questions arise about him and to me it starts in the beginning. Some of my questions may come from the fact that I read very fast and may miss things at times. These questions involve his character throughout the SIL.
First of all why is he chosen to be a king? There are most likely thousands of elves at this time, was there an election?
Secondly, we see him establish a kingdom and basically lay claim to all of Beleriand. He doesn’t prove himself in battle, he just falls in love with a Maiar and she chooses a form of an elf maiden and they have a kid together.
How does this establish him as a ruler, what are his qualifications?
Now comes the questions that perhaps will give you a clue to my angst towards Elu Thingol. Later in the SIL we see him doing and controlling more. He gives the Noldor leave to dwell in certain places, to which they have great reply about how they basically saved his kingdom, nevertheless he is stern and quite haughty.
What do you think of his character at that point of history?
Futher along we see the coming of Men into Beleriand, this is the first place we see a bit of racism from Thingol, though Melian prophecies the coming of Beren.
Why is Thingol so against men? Does this add or take away from his character for you?
Finally it all comes home to roost in his own house. Beren makes it into Doriath, Luthien falls in love with a person of a different race(the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree I guess). Thingol shows his normal haughty self, he calls Beren names, though for his part Beren has done nothing wrong, and has actually come through a good deal more than Thingol ever thought about doing. Nonetheless he attempts the king David thing and basically sends him to his death, though Beren ends up making it back alive, though losing a hand.
How does this action effect Thingol’s future behavior, and his legacy as an elf lord?
How does he change his mind so quickly about Beren?
When Beren saves his life, does this cause a real change in Thingol, or has the curse on the Silmaril already taken hold of him because he sought to claim it by sending Beren to get it?
What are you overall feelings towards Thingol as a character?
Do you think he could represent an medieval aristocrat in Tolkien’s mind?

"clever hobbits to climb so high!"
Check out my writing www.jdstudios.wordpress.com


Feb 15 2013, 1:29am

Post #9 of 12 (440 views)
Thingol's resume [In reply to] Can't Post

I can't pretend to have answers for you since I have many of the same questions. I'll stab here and there.

First of all why is he chosen to be a king? There are most likely thousands of elves at this time, was there an election?
I think we're to believe that certain people are born to be royalty. The others -- Ingwe, Finwe, and Olwe -- became kings without elections or any sort of acclaim by chieftains, and without military victories or other usual determinants of kings. And somehow Ingwe became High King over the others. I'm never quite sure why that happened either. But I suppose that since Elwe was a recognized leader of the Teleri, once he turned up again, he was able to continue in that role. Having a divine wife upped his odds too.

Haughtiness: I agree with you 100%. I never warm up to Thingol, and I've tried. It seems at every turning point he proves himself to be petty, vain, and even mean-spirited. His pride is too easily wounded, and it's silly, as the Noldor say themselves, that he "allows" them to live in Beleriand when he had lost control of it. When Men appear, the other Elves embrace them, but he gives them the cold shoulder. When Beren dares to desire his daughter, he comes up with a fiendish, impossible task designed to kill Beren, which reminds me of the nasty kings in fairy tales. When the Silmaril ultimately leads to Thingol's death, one is tempted to tell him "Serves you right." Compare him to Cirdan, who had not even been to Valinor, and Thingol doesn't look so wise or benevolent. Though he's supposed to be influenced by Melian's wisdom, it's hard to see how. He comes across as the dim one in the marriage, a la Celeborn and Galadriel.

OK, I admit I'm bashing him, and to be fair, I'd welcome the perspective of one of his fans so I won't be so negative.


Feb 17 2013, 3:25pm

Post #10 of 12 (432 views)
Late answers [In reply to] Can't Post

5.) What do people make of Tolkien’s use of this stock theme?
It is another stock theme of meidaeval literature, which I doubt people in the modern world would know of if not for Tolkien.

Is it merely a convenient device to explain why Thingol remains behind in Middle-earth?
Why would Tolkien want that?

I mean, there are enough explanations for dark-elves in Beleriand already - why bother with giving them so exalted a leader?

Or is Tolkien using the theme with a distinct purpose in mind?
I suspect it is more of a device to explain Luthien - the real reworking of the Edith-dancing-for-John memory.

6.) Is this the sort of thing which most readers pass over as “decoration”?
Readers are already acquainted with LotR, so they tend to expect this sort of thing. Think of The Houses of Healing, and Aragorn's "ennobling" of the name Strider - as if any long, pompous-sounding word in an antique language would not sound grand.

Or is it the sort of thing which gives Tolkien’s legendarium greater depth as well as quasi-historical credibility?
Greater depth - yes.
Historical credibility - um... see squire's response.

Since Tolkien studied precisely this sort of thing in his day job (e.g. the development of dialects in specific regions), is it just his own scholarly interests intruding?
That's surely a part of it; but he worked it in pretty well.

7.) What purpose did Tolkien have in inventing these “Grey Elves”?
As far as I remember, Tom Shippey wrote a long an interesting essay about this.
I think they would impersonate his own private myth of the Elves' fading - he needed being which were near the light-elves, but still well-grounded in Middle-earth, so that there will be those who fade.

Does the rest of the story bear out the concept of an intermediate position for these “Grey Elves”?
I think it does.


Feb 20 2013, 11:51pm

Post #11 of 12 (385 views)
a few thoughts on several great comments [In reply to] Can't Post

I like FarFromHome’s comments about the “coming together” of two people of differing backgrounds in order to produce a hero/heroine for a later time. This theme provides a viable reason for some people being born into “royalty” or at least “notoriety” or “fame” (from elevorn and CuriousG’s conversation). We seem to know or at least expect great things will come from these uncommon/extraordinary unions.

Why Thingol? A good question. He was lucky enough to follow the nightingales’ song? (Not a terribly good answer...) I suppose one might get haughty if one succeeded in seducing a higher power. I agree with elevorn that it feels like a more pure “love and enchantment” (agapesis/eros but whether Melian is just as enchanted is also a good question. Before this discussion thread existed I would have said she was. Now, I tend to feel like she isn’t -- and perhaps this next part is a bit uncharitable -- but it almost feels like she is using Thingol as a way to influence change in Middle-earth. I know this is stretching, but this chapter is, well, a bit thin...

And Melian was his Queen, wiser than any child of Middle-earth; ... Great power Melian lent to Thingol, who was himself great among the Eldar; ...

As for the languages, I love the languages. To me it definitely lends a weight to these stories -- a complexity that feels more “real.” One of my first loves was trying to figure out how each word was pronounced, how to make new words, and the differences between Quenya and SIndar -- I could entertain myself for hours! (and often still do...)

Of course, I also completely agree with squire’s comments above. Tolkien doesn’t quite figure in all the permutations of language and culture that immortal beings would have, therefore many of us find some things attributed to Elvish language and/or culture as odd, or strange, or simply illogical. I like to think it gives some scope to entertain exactly how immortal or “changeless” the Elves could be imagined to be. I know it flies in the face of canon, but I sometimes think of the Elves’ immortality in terms of the long lives of Biblical figures (and, to be fair, figures from many cultural myths and legends). I realize that brings up other problems elsewhere, but it makes some things (like marriage, children, language, etc.) just a bit more believable the way Tolkien wrote them.

Additionally, I feel like the Elven divisions are a way to sort of complicate matters. Not only did I spend hours with the languages, but just trying to understand all the divisions (and why they were divided) seemed like a fine way to spend some, erm, "spare" time.

And thank you, NZ Strider for a fantastic set of discussions!


Feb 21 2013, 10:21pm

Post #12 of 12 (466 views)
Hyperlink to next chapter [In reply to] Can't Post

The discussion of the next chapter is underway here: http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=575503#575503

...which doesn't mean this chapter discussion has to halt, of course.

CuriousG has also started a "sign up to lead later chapters"thread, in which you are invited to... Well, obvious, really. You can do that here: http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=575597#575597.

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...


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