In the depths of Grey Haven’s Palantir

We promised you a post about the Grey Havens Group’s Palantir meetings. Now, on the final day of this wonderful Tolkien week, we give you blogger ilverai’s account of how the love of Tolkien transcends distance. Ilverai conceived of, organized and leads the Grey Havens Group Palantir meetings and he designed the stunning logo that you see below. Thank you, ilverai, for being a vital member of our Fellowship!

ghg palantir with text small

‘You’re reading that again? Don’t you get tired of it?’

As a Tolkien fan, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard these two questions. I am sure they pop up in most fandoms in a variety of forms, but the same thread connects them all: why do we spend so much time reading and discussing what appears to be a mere book, television show or movie which for the layman is enjoyed once and set aside, perhaps to be revisited only once or twice out of nostalgic remembrance?

It can be argued, at times, that even the fanatic is just trying to recapture that magical experience of the first exposure. But the accomplished soon learn this is an impossible goal, and yet still soldier on. Why? It is said the definition of insanity is to do something over and over expecting a different result. And though some (perhaps most) Tolkien readers will be the first to proudly admit to a certain level of madness, nothing could be further from the truth.

Tolkien reveals the answer in both the Foreword to The Lord of the Rings and his seminal essay ‘On Fairy Stories.’ A reader is affected by text in two ways, first internally, then externally. When reading a book, the reader is drawn to the text by how it refers to his or her own life experiences in a process Tolkien calls Applicability. Here, freedom “resides…[with] the reader” rather than the “purposed domination of the author,” adding meaning, depth and nuance to the book based upon their life and beliefs (LotR xvii). It is a visceral effect, which internalizes the story, making it our own. As Iluvatar declared of his great theme, the reader “[shows] forth [his or her] powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices,” creating a work far more vast and intricate than was ever envisaged (Silmarillion 15).

Further, reading evokes an external process, by which the now integrated story affects our experience of and interpretation of the world around us. This is Recovery. As Tolkien explains in ‘On Fairy Stories,’ “recovery…is a re-gaining of a clear view…’seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’. It allows the reader to pierce the veil of familiarity, custom, and expectation to see the myth behind every word, leaf, and cloud. It enervates, much in the same ways as a story is renewed by personal experience, the story renews our experience of life.

This creates a cycle by which the written word evokes insight into the reader and the read, which affects their world view, which in turn modifies that interior reaction. In this cycle, epitomized by the chronic re-reader, we have our answer. This cycle induces the closest approximation to that rush of joy and wonder of the first experience of the tale, but builds it ever higher to new crescendi.

The Lord of the Rings is a preeminent example of this process, given that it was crafted expressly for this purpose.

By the same token, this is an experience that cannot be held back, but must be shared and amplified by the presence of a group. The insights and wondrous vistas of many continually reshape the tales we read and tell.

I’ve been involved with Grey Havens Group now for the last three years, and though I reside on other far shores, our discussion has been truly invigorating. One day, we happened upon a latter day palantir, rough and dull, functional, yes, but probably some goblin-made knock off. Through the murky depths of this palantir I was able to join the discussions of the main group.

Time passed, and thought soon turned to the far flung wanderers of this middle-earth. With great ingenuity, a brave fellowship laid the ground work, finding many more palantiri of various make and model, making the way clear for GHG Palantir. We met for the first time in May, after much toil and stumbling through the great Dark of the Web which winds round this world of ours, but drawn, or rather called, by a common desire of fellowship and recovery. We’ve faced storms and the long dark, chance encounters and near misses, in an adventure that continues to wend its way across Tolkien’s legendarium and all lands of faerie.

GHG Palantir is for all those who wish to travel the perilous realm, whether they be near or far. As it stands, we’ve had participants from all over the globe, which has amusingly led to the slogan ‘the sun never sets on Tolkien.’ We stand in the midst of the Midgewater Swamps, plagued by neeker-breekers, and float with the waters of the Anduin. Though we often traverse the far reaches of the legendarium, across many lands, and delve, perhaps too deeply, into the minutiae of words, dates and coincidence, always we return to the heart: The Lord of the Rings is a book to be lived, lived in and through. In the magic we discover, we also discover ourselves and the true depth of fellowship. Not all those who wander are lost; I hope some Thursday or Saturday you too might gaze into the palantir and find us and Recovery.

Tall ships and tall kings,
Seven stars & seven stones,
Casting off to far shores.
All are welcome on the journey
Tales to tell and hearts to hear
Come together in fellowship
Those who have seen the sea beyond.

In the depths of Grey Haven’s Palantir,
A star shines on the hour of our meeting.
Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.

-GHG Palantir’s convocation


GHG Palantir meets once weekly on Google Hangouts at 9AM EDT Saturday mornings. Hope to see you there! Check in at GHG’s facebook page for more information.