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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reading Group meeting 28/5/05

On this day......

'...And Frodo said to Gandalf: 'Do you know what this day is that Aragorn speaks of?.....''

The Return of the King, The Steward and the King


Blogger Rymenhild said...

Our latest meeting revealed how rich any topic taken from Tolkien’s works can turn out to be. We were simply discussing transport, or so I thought. But ‘simply’ proved to be quite the wrong way of thinking about this topic. The group came up with some fascinating observations such as: Orome was the only horsed Vala, and perhaps we should count as transport the moving of Tol Eressea. We were alerted to the lovely image of Elven ships that at first were swan-powered, not just swan-shaped. A less lovely but no less important mode of transport is Huan the wolfhound who allows Luthien to ride on his back as they search for Beren. That was the extent of our insights into transport specifically described in The Silmarillion and its various versions.
We discovered that transport in LotR needed careful thought and differentiation. We were reminded that in The Hobbit it is goblins who invent wheels, although the learned skills of the dwarves make them candidates for both their invention and manufacture. It then occurred to us to consider the difference between ‘bad’ wheels in Mordor and Isengard, and the benign, simple, rural uses of wheels in The Shire and elsewhere. We considered whether the naming of the Stonewain valley and what Gan-buri-Gan says about it implied serious commercial enterprise or the industrialisation of stone quarrying, as distinct from the smaller commercial uses of transport implied by the gifts imported from Dale by Bilbo for his Birthday Party.
I wondered if orcs carrying hobbits counted as transport, but other distinctions arose out of this. There are instances of carrying, willing and unwilling – as the eagles carry – willingly but not as a matter course. Huan might be included here, as might Treebeard. As a subdivision of this category, the horses of the Elves carry, as do Beorn’s in The Hobbit, but not under the same conditions as the horses of Rohan which are beasts trained to carry. In this division of trained beasts come the many ponies used by hobbits, the oliphaunts (Mumaks), probably the wargs ridden by orcs, and even the fell beasts of the Nazgul.
We also decided that walking needed to be categorised. Feet, shod and unshod, hairy or flat, are the primary means of transport in LotR. Modes of foot-transport include the rambles of hobbits about the countryside in times of peace, Strider going about at a great rate on his long shanks, running in Rohan, climbing, especially in and around Mordor, Gollum’s famous ‘sneaking’, and his ability to climb down walls, not just like a nasty crawling spider, but also like Dracula! Legolas running on snow, and grass, leaves hardly a mark, and he can cross the rope bridge in Lorien as if it were a wide road. The early stages of the passage through Moria gives Frodo’s impression of walking modes associated with different characters, except Gandalf, whose tread is not mentioned, although Gollum’s ‘pattering’ is.
A further distinction arose as we were asked to consider whether roads, bridges and even water counted as modes of transport. We were reminded of the little ferry over the Brandywine. And the question of roads drew the observation that in and around Mordor the roads were carefully maintained and the roads to Minas Tirith were paved and maintained for defensive purposes, but in Eriador they were mostly ruinous and overgrown. It was suggested that taking old overgrown paths offered the 9 walkers a degree of security.
We ended by considering what transports US into the story, and found it hard to define.
Without meaning to we spent the whole afternoon finely deconstructing Tolkien’s depictions of transport in Middle-earth. Derrida would have been proud of us!

Finally, one of our group observed that the king and queen of Gondor and Arnor were a two-vehicle family. We all know that Aragorn travelled in the van, but Arwen is described as arriving at Minas Tirith with her Escort!

Next week we will return to our reading of LotR, picking up where we left off in Bree, and reading on from the chapter on Strider.

11:33 AM  

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