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Comments For Character of the Month Biographies
Good work. I really enjoyed the emphasis on Glaurung's emotional manipulation. Sure, there's the fact that he's a physically large and terrifying creature, but he's also really freaking smart and without compunction. And those qualities are the more frightening ones.
(As an aside, the latest Hobbit film, IMHO, has to have taken its inspiration from Glaurung's personality in its portrayal of Smaug. I was so reminded of Glaurung and Nienor/Túrin at one point during Bilbo's talk with Smaug!)
Thanks for reading and commenting! I am very happy you liked it.
There is one point in the text where one gets the impression that Morgoth also adds to his cunning--I was running out of time and wits and did not include it--I wrote the entire thing at the height of the mother of all heads cold and running a fever (thank god, I did the research earlier!). But, yes, I read Smaug as very smart and wicked! And a clever manipulator.
I wondered about that with The Hobbit also!! There is so much less of Smaug in the book than there is in the movie. I wanted to go back and look again, after I saw the movie, but I haven't done it yet.
Overall, I really enjoyed this article. It gave a good overview of the character, and the included excerpts by Flieger and Murphy were insightful -- I don't always see eye-to-eye Tolkien scholars, but I found myself nodding in agreement here. The Children of Húrin is my favorite Tolkien story, and I'm always excited to see new analyses of the tale.
However, I have a few issues with this piece, which I feel quite strongly about:
"One somehow expects more and better from the princess of Nargothrond, but then there is the fact that she has fallen under the shadow of Túrin’s doom"
This really sounds like a value judgment. Assigning this to "Túrin's doom" doesn't make it any better -- it essentially means Finduilas' inner conflict isn't genuine, and invalidates her experience. I also feel it undermines the heavy psychological, emotional trauma Gwindor underwent in Angband. Additionally, it also ignores the fact that Túrin and Finduilas had developed a friendship -- the matter should not be reduced to one person being more physically attractive than another. Furthermore, her characterization shows regard for Gwindor and her regret, which makes the "more and better" assertation difficult to swallow.
I do think there might be a difference in interpretation here. I see the "curse" as Morgoth's concerted efforts to devastate Húrin's family in any way possible, something which in itself has real psychological power. Ambiguity abounds in that circumstance and personal choice -- not just that of the family -- frequently play into Morgoth's hands. I have many thoughts in regards to the curse, but I do not believe it was a metaphysical cloud of doom that hovered over Túrin's head and brings destruction to anything in its vicinity.
Another qualm I have is the misapplication of this quote: "for he was no longer forward in arms, and his strength was small; and the pain of his maimed left arm was often upon him". I feel this is taken completely out of context. This does not refer to Finduilas, but refers to how Gwindor was generally looked upon in Nargothrond, especially in the realm of war -- he was disgraced, and evidently was no longer considered worthy by those who had the power to make martial decisions.
The piece is ultimately about Glaurung and in that regard, it succeeds! So while these criticisms may seem coincidental to the point, I feel they detract from the overall piece, and reinforce a view that is simplistic and all-too-common.
First, thank you for commenting and I am very pleased that you like the part about the dragon.
The part about Finduilas definitely contains a personal response on my part. Most of my essays have a touch of that. They are signed articles not printed as an official statement of the SWG or any other body of readers, nor arrived by consensus. (That I am allowed to express reactions and opinions is part of my personal return for putting so much effort into these essays.)
I readily understand your points on an intellectual level. That section could have been written that way. On a purely personal level that part of the story twisted my guts. A tortured man survives unspeakable horrors with courage. He escapes and returns to find his beloved is no longer able to look upon him with the love they once had shared--yes, kindness and friendly affection as well as pity. Love replaced by pity is a bitter pill to swallow. And then she falls in love with Turin--yes, beautiful Turin--Tolkien makes a big point of that.
My remark about the curse was tongue-in-cheek and yet, actually, a defense of her not a criticism. You make a lot of interesting points, others quite the opposite might be made as well. Magic or not magic is a decision one makes countless times reading these texts. Defending Finduilas' loss of regard--I do think "loss" is a better word than "lack." There is a dramatic diminshment. "Sorry I don't love you anymore, but I still respect you and care about your welfare."--not what any lover wants to hear!
I agree that hers is an understandable response--not the highest or most heroic (contrast that to Luthien). My reaction is an emotional one--not political, no axe to grind here. This is fiction and not history. One responds to fictional texts with the heart. The quote you object to if anything sets a context (which you describe accurately). Not only Finduilas, but others agree he is no longer the man he once was. I feel terrible for Gwindor! Most of the stories in The Silmarillion are tragic. There will be no winners in the whose story is most tragic discussion.
This is a constructed story. Readers will respond differently. Generations will respond differently again in the future. There are no independent sources to exploit as in actual history no comparisons can be made with other contemporary documents, the other side of the story so to speak, or original records or archeological data. And even when such sources exist there are usually opposing opinions on real world history. And I do not pretend to be an expert on The Children of Hurin in particular.
I would personally be interested in an essay on the curse reflecting your opinions and referring to the sources. I know there were a number of opinions expressed at the time of the publication of The Children of Hurin about the various sources and whether they were appropriately reflected in the published book. I think most readers agree the published Silmarillion is a not entirely adequate summary of that material.
Well done, Oshun!
Thank you so much for reading and commenting!
Kudos on yet another well-researched biography, Oshun, on a pivotal character in The Silmarillion. I especially appreciated your emphasis on Glaurung's personality, e.g., his intelligence and insight into human character and how he uses his intellect (not just his physical power and weaponry) to manipulate others. In many ways, that makes him more deadly. Interweaving the passages from The Silmarillion with The Monsters and the Critics and the references to Beowulf highlight
Also, the citation of the Dwarves of Belegost's masks was very neat. I had forgotten about that part of the battle, and it makes me wonder just what sort of "magic" (technology) the Dwarves used in the crafting of those masks. Maybe a scientifictitious plot bunny there for those who favor things Dwarvish. :^D
On the universiality of dragons in human cultures of our primary world - nothing like discovering the bones of dinosaurs and of Pliocene megafauna to spark the imagination! Tolkien himself apparently made the connection, cf. this passahe from Scull and Hammond's The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader's Guide, 2006, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, p. 877:
During his early holidays at Lyme Regis with Father Francis Morgan he hunted for fossils along the cliffs. Later he used his knowledge of paleontology when he gave a lecture on dragons to children on 1 January 1938 in the University Museum, Oxford, and compared ideas about dragons with what was known about dinosaurs.
Unfortunately, this lecture was never published. Anyway, just a little tidbit there. Glaurung's origins might not only have come from the great dragon of Beowulf and other heroic tales of the North, but also from Tyrannosaurus rex. ;^)
Thanks for much for reading and commenting.
I had a ball with this one. I was also kicking myself from here to next week that I did not have Tolkien's Monster & Critics available to me when I studied Beowulf--it's terrific really. That is ancient history and not something I am likely to revisit in any detail outside of these character biographies. But then there is the occasional one, like this one, that causes me to have occasion to use some of the more arcane information that I acquired UC Berkeley.
Glaurung's origins might not only have come from the great dragon of Beowulf and other heroic tales of the North, but also from Tyrannosaurus rex. ;^)
OMG! I love that! I can just imagine him as an adolescent/pre-adolescent going crazy over the idea of dinosaur bones and relating them to dragons. I went nuts over digging up arrowheads in our backyard (much less exciting!). Reminds me of that exhibit at the Met a few years ago of magical beasts and monsters. Again I was an idiot for not buying the catalogue, if there was one. I need to see if there is a way to track that down!
On the Dwarves at the end of N.A.--that is so incredibly moving. It is not included in The Children of Hurin, but is in The Silmarillion. Now why in the hell anyone would edit that out of the longer version of Unnumbered Tears in Children of Hurin is inexplicable to me! Anyway, trying to stick on topic and not include too much extraneous information, I forced myself cut off the very moving end of that passage myself.
Its very evocative and reminds me of my absolute favorite Dwarf part in the Hobbit films so far--the song in the first movie:
"Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them."
They are incredible in that battle--also providing the Noldor large amounts of armaments in addition to fighting like demons and facing down Balrogs and Dragons. There is a lot of fertile ground with them in which scientifictitious plot bunnies can spawn. From their weapons and magical masks to their own physical attributes which allow them to endure when Elves and Men cannot. Fascinating.
I need to insert two heartfelt thank-yous here for assistance in completing this biography. I must thank Dawn Felagund, who copychecked the essay under tremendous time pressure. She also contributed an additional citation to bolster my argument about the influence of northern myth. She added the reference from Tolkien's Letters relating to the Kalevala.
And, thank you, Elleth, for copychecking my citation from Monsters and Critics against the published version edited by Christopher Tolkien, which I had copied from an ancient PDF of a even more ancient transcript of the original presentation.