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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Reading Group meeting 23/7/05

On this day....

'...they [the company escorting King Theoden's body from Minas Tirith, ed] passed into Anorien....and there they heard a sound as of drums beating in the hills...Then Aragorn let the trumpets be blown; and heralds cried:

'Behold, the King Elessar is come! The Forest of Drudan he gives to Ghan-buri-ghan and to his folk....hereafter let no man enter it without their leave!'.....'

The Return of the King, Many Partings


Blogger Rymenhild said...

This is the first of 2 reports for the last 2 meetings. I was away for the first of these, and the ample notes taken show what a fascinating meeting it was. The topic was indeed very topical, perhaps even controversial, but all the more important and worth discussing.
Hervor (our note-taker and chair of the meeting I missed) writes as follows:
Due to recent events, and triggered by Gandalf informing Frodo that many men, warriors and kings … walking the earth, are under {Sauron’s] sway, and in conjunction with the earlier topic of people we do not encounter, this led me to wonder about terrorism in LotR. This was thrown out to the Group.
The first response was that we should consider the author and the time in which he was living and writing, and what was happening at the time, and what influenced him.
The new point was made that Sauron’s use of terror is overt, with the Nazgul as the instruments of Sauron’s power.
This brought up the use of psychological warfare: the Nazgul, black clouds, and brown air, the fury of Caradhras, and the concept of the shadow. The book is filled with dark forests and dark passes. This emphasis on darkness creates many emotions in the readers and creates and oppressive feeling. Evil influences are seeded throughout Middle-earth in the form of orcs and trolls, and other unnatural creatures, but significantly there are no insurgent types or covert terrorism.
It was felt that Rangers could be seen as counter-terrorist force, a kind of covert police force.
Controversially, it was suggested that Sam and Frodo might, from and oppositional point of view, be seen as terrorist types and the question was posed – are they terrorists or commandoes? Could they be ‘sleepers’ with Gandalf as the ‘activator’? Or counter – revolutionaries? This clearly depends primarily on your point of view. Are the Palatirs the Middle-earth equivalent of the Internet with hidden coded messages?
It was proposed that the effect of the Ring itself was a form of terrorism, maybe developing a kind of terrorist cell. Like the teachings of the proponents of terrorism, the Ring has an insidiously evil effect upon the ‘weak-willed’, or those who are vulnerable, as Boromir was vulnerable. Although he was strong and loyal, he was desperate to save his people, and was unable to comprehend the evil influence that Gandalf, Elrond and Aragorn try to explain to him, and this is possibly because the Ring’s influence is already at work on him.
After this intense and thought-provoking discussion some light relief was provided by the query ‘were there any characters who wore glasses. This led to the first of the light-hearted moments, but again it provoked interesting discussion.
Those with bad eyesight include Ringwraiths and Gollum. One member suggested they might need bottle-bottom glasses, another member suggested bi-focals, perhaps for seeing in both worlds?
Elves, of course, have exceptional eyesight (and hearing). Theoden, it was mentioned, was blind, but only due to Wormtongue’s/ Saruman’s spells. And Sauron had his great red eye.
Of the other senses: Smelling is relevant to Gollum and the Black Riders. Speech brough some discussion of the Mouth of Sauron and we did think Sauron could speak for himself. Opinion was somewhat divided as Aragorn says that he revealed himself to Sauron and strove with him.
We missed discussing Saruman’s voice, a sign of the rich vein of material we already had to examine.
A can of worms really got opened when we got round to discussing Aragorn’s insistence on the inclusion of a green stone in Bilbo’s poem about Earendil. It was established that Galadriel and not Arwen actually gave the elf-stone to Aragorn, but the connection with the Mariner eluded us until it was discovered hidden in The Unfinished Tales. The Elessar of Earendil is a green stone worn by Earendil. Of course, one of Aragorn’s many names is Elessar and he is descended from Earendil and Elwing through the line of the Numenorean kings, he is also an elf-friend.
Amusing things again: having had a discussion about the naming of weapons at an earlier meeting, it was found that the Balrog’s whip had no name. Our esteemed blogmeister has named it – Mr Whippy!
Looking through the family tree which incorporates Earendil and Aragorn, there was some concern about the rather artisto-likeinterbreeding of Elven families. One of our number declared this was very un-elf-y.
After that we came back to the insidious effects of the Ring, considering whether or not it was actually evil in its won right. It was considered in its effect on Boromir, and on Tom Bombadil, which led to a discussion on the seen and unseen. Although the Ring has no effect on Tom, when Frodo puts on the Ring in his house, Tom can see him.
A brief digression into Harry Potter followed, starting with the Ringwraiths vs. Dementors. It was observed that in both cases the characters are cloaked in black, as Death is usually represented in the form of the Grim Reaper. This led to a brief overview of some of the religious aspects of Harry Potter and some of the religious iconography of LotR, particularly the idea of Gollum as a Judas-type; and the tripartite Christ-figure – Frodo-Gandalf-Aragorn. This led on to The Chronicles of Narnia, the film which is to be released soon. The religious discussion didi not go into any great depth as we were nearing the end of the session, but it may be worth coming back to.
The Birthday Dinner was proposed for 24th Sept.
As always the meeting was lively, funny, and interesting, covering many and varied topics, and inorporating some rapid research into The Elessar.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

This report brings us up to date before the next meeting. It is neither so long nor so detailed as the last one (sighs of relief all round?)
We did not have a topic this time but were reading on from the Chapter ‘Many Meetings’. The first subject we looked at was the apparent lack of psychological impact on Frodo of the horrors and suffering he had so recently experienced. Although he had seen his friends trapped in a tree, confronted the Barrow wight, and been stabbed by the Morgul blade while in the dimension inhabited by the Ringwraiths, and although he had suffered from the wound for many days, when he wakes up in Rivendell he seems untroubled by all this. Even though the wound takes a few days to heal properly, there is no record of Frodo’s mind needing time to heal. He does not seem to have nightmares, bad dreams, or flashbacks. I suggested that maybe this due to the Elven environment, but other people suggested it reflected the traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’ that Tolkien would have known intimately from his experiences in WW1 and was still an important part of British society in WW2. It was interesting to see such a reflection of earlier British values at this point in the story.
We considered Boromir’s response to the Ring when he calls it ‘the golden thing’, and we realised that he is not afraid of it as Aragorn, Gandalf, and Elrond are fearful of its power to corrupt. This seems like a comment on the wisdom of acknowledging that there are some things of which it is best to be afraid, even though they are only small. They may still represent great danger or evil. To the warrior, however, such a little thing is nothing to fear, and its potential as a weapon overrides any deeper significance. This seems to be a complex topic which we might want to revisit given the perceived association between masculinity and fearlessness.
The significance of Faramir’s dream was our next topic. It seemed worth considering the fact that the riddling dream comes several times to Faramir, but only once to Boromir. Was this an acknowledgement that Faramir should have taken on the mission his brother appropriated to himself? We noted that both brothers were equally valiant in the last defence of the crossing at Osgiliath and we remarked on Boromir’s and Denethor’s marginalising of Faramir when he is clearly capable of doing what his brother can do. Although this keeps him away from the long-term influence of the Ring, and he may have been the ‘safer’ Gondorian representative, it would have had massive consequences. Given the importance of allusions to fate, destiny, and external forces at work, the intervention of proud men seems essential for the success of the interrelated actions of all the hobbits.
I raised a point next that has troubled me for a while – Aragorn’s tetchy remarks about Butterbur and his reference to keeping simple people simple. The group responded by suggesting that the term ‘simple’ in this instance refers to an idealisation of pastoral peace and tranquillity as opposed to the lonely and dangerous life of a Ranger. It was suggested that Aragorn in this respect reflects the feelings of servicemen even today who go into wars and battles believing that they are preserving and safeguarding the peace and security of their homelands, and that the difficulties and suffering they endure is set against an ideal of ‘home’ and that ideal makes their hardships worthwhile. I was also asked to consider whether Aragorn’s remarks about Butterbur and the complacency of Breeland should be read as a complaint, or as a statement of fact. For me, this discussion really demonstrated the value of being part of a reading group, as it offered a gentler, more balanced and considered reading of this small episode than I had been aware of, having been influenced too much, I fear, by modern literary theory.
We spent some time pondering the significance of Aragorn’s wanderings in Rhun and Harad – why did he go? What did he do there? Was he gathering information? An image of Aragorn and the Rangers as Middle-earth SAS sprang to mind, but I should have recalled Tolkien’s use of Middle English verse Romances as sources particularly for Aragorn’s story, and so remembered that all the dispossessed heroes in these stories go off to distant lands. It has something to do with learning to be a good king.
This Saturday (27.August) we are going on with The Council. We don’t have a major topic so we will see what emerges.

More news to follow about the Birthday Dinner.

2:15 AM  

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