Week 8: Sir Orfeo, The Silmarillion: Beren and Luthien, and Beal’s “Orphic Powers”


Image of Lúthien by Matt Stewart

Answer one group of questions on “Sir Orfeo”:

1. How does Sir Orfeo transform the Greco-Roman Orpheus legend? Name several additions and changes:  consider the characters, setting, plot, conclusion, tone. How does realm of faërie compare/contrast with Hades? What are the effects of Sir Orfeo borrowing from the homecoming of Odysseus and the testing of the loyal steward to re-write the ending of the Orpheus legend?

2. Who is Herodis? What is her experience like with Orpheus, with the Faerie King, in Faerie itself, and when reunited with her husband? If medieval fantasy is acting as “psychological allegory,” what underlying social, psychological and spiritual realities might Herodis’ story be revealing?

3. Using Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” for further analysis:  How is Tolkien’s element of fantasy present in the poem? How are the elements of recovery, escape, and consolation present in the poem? Could Sir Orfeo be described as possessing eucatastrophe? Why or why not?

Answer one group of questions on Beren and Lúthien:

4. What does Beren Erchamion mean in Sindarin? What other words in English sound like “Beren” and how might these be related to Beren’s character? What does Lúthien Tinúviel mean? How do they get their second names?

5. What is Lúthien doing when Beren sees her for the first time? How is she like Princess Mee? Like the Pearl-Maiden? How does Lúthien transform over the course of the narrative — physically, emotionally, relationally?

  • Explain the ending of the story: “Yet in her choice the Two Kindreds have been joined; and she is the forerunner of many in whom the Elder see yet, though all the world is changed, the likeness of Luthien the beloved, whom they have lost.”

6. What losses does Beren experience, esp. at the beginning of the story? What rash oath does Beren take / impossible task does he agree to and why? To what extent does he succeed? How do Melian, Luthien, and Huan help him?

7. What are the Silmarils, and what do they symbolize? How do they compare to the pearl in “Pearl”? (Consider http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast548.htm.)

8. Identify two points of interest in Beal’s “Orphic Powers in the Legend of Beren and Lúthien”.

9. Add your own two questions for discussion.




Week 7: “Pearl,” “Princess Mee” & Other Poems, and _The Silmarillion_


1. Answer one or more of the following questions on Tolkien’s translation of “Pearl”:

  • How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?
  • How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically?
  • Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?

2. Answer one or more of the following questions on Tolkien’s “Princess Mee” and other poems found in “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” chapter of Tales from the Perilous Realm: 

  • What imagery does Tolkien use from “Pearl” in “Princess Mee,” and why is it significant, especially in light of the influence of “Pearl”?
  • Which of the poems in “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” appeals to you the most? Why? How does the poem relate to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion?
  • According to Jane Beal’s article, “Tolkien, Eucatastrophe, and the Re-Creation of Medieval Legend,” how does Tolkien’s concept of “eucatastrophe” influence his rewritings of medieval literature (e.g. Beowulf –> “Sellic Spell”; Pearl –> “Princess Mee”; the Norse myth of the valkyrie, Brynhild –> Éowyn in the LOTR?)

3. Answer one or more of the following questions on The Silmarillion:

  • The “Letter to Milton Waldman” prefaces The Silmarillion in the anniversary edition. What do you learn from Tolkien’s letter about The Silmarillion? List three things.
  • In the Creation stories in The Silmarillion, including the creation of Middle-earth, dwarves, elves, and men, do you see any parallels to other creation stories (such as Genesis) or the other mythologies (such as Greek or Norse ones)? List at least three parallels.

Write two discussion questions on the readings for this week.

Week 6: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and “Farmer Giles of Ham”


Read “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” translated by J.R.R. Tolkien. Answer one (or more) of the following questions about it in a post of at least one, full paragraph. Conclude your post with a question for reflection and discussion:

  • What codes govern Gawain’s life, and how do they come into conflict in this poem?
  • What games are played in this poem, and how do they test Gawain’s character?
  • When Gawain makes each of his confessions in the poem (there are three), what level of self-awareness of his choices does he show, especially in relation to the codes governing his actions? What does he confess, what level of responsibility does he take for his actions, and why (and how much) does it matter within the world of the poem?
  • How might we, as readers, interpret the conclusion of this poem, and what might be its relevance for a medieval audience and for us?

You should also read Tolkien’s “Farmer Giles of Ham.” What is the genre of this short story? How does it relate to “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”? Be prepared to compare these two works of literature in class next time!

Write your first discussion question on “Farmer Giles of Ham” and your second discussion question on the literary relationship between SGGK and “Farmer Giles of Ham” (and/or other works by J.R.R. Tolkien).