Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Dancing Bears of Numenor

So, one distinct feature of THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is the degree to which it emphasizes what we already knew from other sources: that in his final years Tolkien ceased to be as interested in story than in World-building. It's as if he wants to get everything down, every detail as it occurs to him or emerges out of some other text, before it's too late.

 A curious example is the passage (.335) about Numenorean bears and their custom of gathering yearly each fall to perform slow but dignified dances. This seems just amusing but irrelevant detail, but it's interesting to note that it marks the re-emergence of an idea that's been in Tolkien's mind for decades. Recall  Tolkien's reference to what we might call a Bear-moot that occurs off-stage in THE HOBBIT in Gandalf's report of what he cd discover about Beorn's nighttime activities.  And there are also dancing bears in THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS: one picture of NPB dancing with some visiting penguins and another (if I remember it rightly) of bear-cubs, red elves, and young snow-men dancing together in a ring. Trying to absorb all the bits and pieces of information in this new book and relating them to Tolkien's more substained works will be a congenial task for Tolkien scholars for years to come. 

One question though,  regarding the following passage:

[The bears] never dwelt in or near the homes of Men, 

but they would often visit them, in the casual manner 

of one householder calling upon another.  At such times

they were often offered honey, to their delight. Only an

occasional "bad bear" ever raided the tame hives.  (.335)

-- am I the only one who catches a whiff of Milne's Pooh here?  

 --John R.

-- current reading: Douglas Adams biography (flawed but interesting).

P.S.: For those who, like me, are fond of turtles, it's good to know that Numenor was well supplied with these: 

"In the south there were some land-tortosies, of no great size; and also some small freshwater creatures of turtle-kind" (.336)

I think, with the exception of the great Fastitocalon, this is Tolkien's only mention of turtles, at least so far as I can remember.

1 comment:

Paul W said...

He seems to have had an great love of bears.They continually intrude on his imagination.nI can't wait to get my own copy, these nuggets sound wonderful.