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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Welcome to the Southfarthing Smial mathom


Blogger Rymenhild said...

Hi everyone.
Here's a summary or yesterday's discussion. It was a busy meeting, and we discussed dreams at length. There are some interesting aspects to the way Tolkien uses dreams. Tim thought they contributed to characterisation, we distinguished between different kinds of dreams dreamt by different characters. We looked at Frodo's dream of the white tower when he's at Crickhollow, and his, Merry and Pippin's dreams in Tom's house. Tim directed us to the only ref. he had found to Sam and dreams, which was in Mordor, when Sam experiences a state like a waking dream. I asked if it was possibly the location which created this, as Frodo also sees the 'wheel of fire' before his waking eyes. Laura suggested a realistic interpretation - from the poisonous fumes associated with volcanic eruptions. We also got into discussing the 'wheel of fire'. I thought it was the Ring, Ian thought it was more like a cyclic symbol of recurring events. We also discussed Corin's observation from last time: as the hobbits enter the Shire immediately before the Scouring chapter. Merry says it's like the end of a dream and Frodo says it's like falling asleep again. Various things came from this, including the changes they had been through, and the structural usefulness as the hobbits, all alone, are now faced with the destruction that has happened to the Shire, so it's not a return to the place they left as they remembered it. They have had warning of the change, but at that point they don't seem to register it.
Next time we will be looking at female characters of all sorts. It will be our last meeting before Easter. As Reading Day falls on Good Friday we have agreed to read on our own our favourite passage from The Silmarillion and discuss it at the first meeting after Easter. Laura said she would read the bit about Eol the Dark Elf. I don't remember this so I shall read it too.
I'm in the process of sorting out new dates for after Easter. Hopefully we will start back on 9th April, but there will be a break on 23rd as its the AGM.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Hervor said...

I have commented since, in a separate conversation with Rymenhild, that I although I read "wheel of fire", I thought of the Eye (rimmed with fire). However, having thought about it some more, I can recall thinking of the "wheel of fire" as being like the Wheel of Samsara from Buddhist philosophy. Which is interesting, given that Buddhism is a philosophy of peace (aren't they all). However, the Wheel of Samsara includes dukkha, which is sometimes loosely translated as "suffering", and the only way to get off the Wheel is to attain Nirvana, or nirodha - the cessation of dukkha. Buddhist explanations may be stretching a point, but when you look at it, it does have relevance, if one not intended by Tolkien.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

Just a note about 'wheel', I was thinking more of 'the process of turning in circles' i.e. 'As the fishing nets were raised seagulls began to wheel around the stern of the boat'

5:02 AM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

The next Reading Group meetings will be
9th April
30th April
14th May
28th May
11th June
25th June
9th July
23rd July
See you there!

1:43 AM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

I hope you've had a pleasant and productive Reading Day!

With apologies for taking so long to post this, here is a brief summary of what we talked about last time (12th March).

The topic was female characters. We came to the conclusion that most of Tolkien's more noble ladies conformed to the standard courtly/fairy tale description of ladies as fair, and/or beautiful. Most of them have braided hair and are dressed in white when we first meet them. Most are seen first from a distance, in positions that define Galadriel canopied by the branches, Goldberry seated as if on a throne amid water, and Eowyn standing beside Theoden's throne. Images of purity and distance in all its forms are conjured up as well as high status. But there are also the more down-to-earth women, like Mrs Maggot, and Lobelia S-B. Stalwart, hard-working women like these appear occasionally and we applauded Lobelia's stand against the Ruffians, and noted her change of attitude after her stay in the Lockholes, when she gave away her money. We also remarked on Mrs Maggot's care for her husband, and Rose Cotton's practical and understanding attitude to Sam going away, but we could not decide what or who exactly Goldberry is - a water spirit perhaps? She has some of the characteristics of the noble ladies, like Arwen, but she also gets her hands wet, if not dirty, when she does her autumn cleaning. The other female character we considered was Shelob, and she was seen as just Shelob, doing only what was characteristic of her. Although we spent a long time talking about the female characters we did not touch on the more 'political' aspects of their depiction, but we can come back to this. Neither did we touch on courtly love in LotR, the medieval literary motif where the m/f relationship polarises around disdain and suffering.
If there is one episode in the whole book that captures courtly love at its most refined and sublime it has got to be Gimli's devotion to Galadriel. Her sympathetic greeting and generous gift are far removed from the haughty and 'daungereuse' ladies of Chaucer's complaints, and many others, and she shows brilliantly the antithesis of the disdainful medieval lady in her courtesy and kindness to the dwarf. I have always been impressed by the fact that she gives Gimli the gift she denied to her brother, or cousin, I can't remember the family relationship, but in The Silmarillion, or the Lost Tales she is asked for a lock of her hair and she refuses with great indignation. Given that his friend C.S. Lewis wrote what became the definitive book on courtly love for a generation, I wonder how much Tolkien was trying to show a courtly or noble female behaving with absolute nobility of spirit.
In the context of courtly love I also wonder if Aragorn's quest counts because he wins his lady by his exploits. It is not the classic version where the lady is disdainful, but then there are so many versions in medieval literature. His 'errantry' is definitely in the chivalric mode, but maybe closer to the kind found in the Middle English Romances where disinherited young lords have to battle for years to win back their lands and their ladies.
I suppose Eowyn is the 'daungereuse' lady as she dismisses Faramir's tentative declaration of love. She is, of course, recovering as much from a broken heart as from a broken arm, so she's not just acting a socially expected role and her disdain is given an understandable context, which may have been the case with the real disdainful ladies. In the case of both ladies, Tolkien offers us the most refined and beautiful versions. They may not be as complex as the versions we find in Chaucer and Gawain, but they are none the worse for that.

At the first meeting after Easter we will discuss what we have been reading in the Silmarillion for Reading Day.

11:49 AM  

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