Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Flieger on Earendel

So, thanks to A. and D. for sending me to the link where I cd watch Verlyn's talk to the Tolkien Society on the 10th. 

It's basically a look at Tolkien's use of negative space in his mythology. Taking Becket's WAITING FOR GODOT as her touchstone, with its characters on stage constantly awaiting the arrival of of someone who never shows up, Verlyn suggests the lack of The Tale of Earendel may be intended. A real mythology needs gaps, lost material, and Tolkien's failure to provide any full text of Earendel's story looks to her as deliberate, particularly (she notes) because Tolkien put in a number of references that shd lead up to the tale but stop short just where the Tale (or Lay) shd start.

I don't think I agree, at least not without going away and mulling over the argument for a good while.* As so often with Verlyn, who asks the difficult questions, it's thought-provoking and very well written. I conclude that we're going to need a third volume of her collected Tolkienian essays, to go with GREEN SUNS and ALWAYS BE A FAIRY TALE, somewhere down the line.

Here's the link:


--John R.

--current reading: Bebergal's APPENDIX N

*I think it's more a matter of ambition on Tolkien's part: he had the habit where he'd no sooner start a Tale than he'd stop and re-plot it as part of some vastly expanded schema (cf. The Lay of Earendel, THE LOST ROAD, &c), after which the original tale in-progress tended to languish.


Carolyn Priest-Dorman said...

This is timely for my work; thanks for the link!

Ed Pierce said...

I thought the talk was fascinating. I'm not sure either that I agree that Tolkien deliberately intended not to finish fleshing out the story (if anything, I've always assumed that he never got around to it because the tale was at the end of the Silmarillion, and he kept spending his time going back and revising the earlier parts, as was his wont); but regardless of his intention, the fact that there IS a gap there is interesting, and reflects the situation we have with so many other old mythological stories. It's not like (for example) the composer(s) of the Poetic Edda tale of Sigurd was intending their story to have a lacuna, but it's eventually come down to us that way anyway.

Ed Pierce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Bratman said...

Ed Pierce,

There's no doubt that some of Tolkien's lacunae are deliberate, but whether Earendil is one of the deliberate ones I tend to doubt as you do. But the references to Wade gave me pause on that point.