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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Reading Group meeting 10/9/05

On this day....

'So they passed into Eregion....the travellers saw away in the east....Caradhras,Celebdil and Fanuidhol. They were near to the Gates of Moria.
Here ...they tarried, for the time was at hand or another parting....Soon Celeborn and Galadriel and their folk would turn their own country.'

The Return of the King, Many Partings


Blogger Rymenhild said...

Our Meeting on 10.09.05 was very well attended and greatly entertained at the start by the new road signs for Middle-earth that Ian had produced. They were all highly inventive, but everyone’s favourite seemed to be the sign for Rivendell Services. Those of us who have recently travelled the M25 appreciated the difference from Clacket Lane and its orcs, though I have to say I’ve seen more orcs at Fleet.
sparked new insights into some aspects of The Council of Elrond as well as taking on topics we had already explored and finding new depths and perspectives on them. In fact, I never got round to asking the question that had occurred to me – how does such an apparently ‘static’ chapter achieve such drama and fascination? This was because the answers came thick and fast anyway. The chapter was seen as ‘pivotal’, and then we strayed into ‘office-speak’. It was described as a strategy meeting, and other terminology familiar to anyone who inhabits an office. Amusing and perceptive attempts were made to relate the Belbin* team structure to the members of the Council, but one of the categories seemed to refer more to a Balrog than any Council member and the attempt got rather lost in the laughter.
*I think this is the right name, but I may be wrong.
The Council was regarded as (mostly) democratic, at least everyone had a say. Characterisations were seen to emerge and to be expanded, in ways that have structural significance being picked up later in the story. The chapter also exposes the ‘back-story’ to the main narrative, giving a sense of depth and perspective to the whole of Middle-earth and its history.
An incisive point was raised concerning Bilbo’s offer to take the Ring on its journey to the Fire. Was he, we were asked, being ironic, or forcing the issue? This took us all rather by surprise, but it adds a whole new dimension to that moment in the chapter and is well worth considering.
The paradox of the Ring was introduced for our consideration – is it not strange that the evil Ring serves the beneficial purpose of bringing everyone together regardless of their prior conflicts and prejudices? In fact, this bears out Gandalf’s observation that evil may do good it doesn’t intend.
We came back yet again to the problem of fate/destiny/ ‘divine’ purpose, and coincidence. This topic arises again and again and we have not yet resolved our feelings about this. Certainly Elrond and Gandalf give the impression that they believe another will or power directs the actions of those who attend the Council, and yet coincidence cannot easily be ruled out.
We also came back to Tolkien’s creative playfulness as an explanation for some unresolved and/or apparently ‘unconnected’ characters and events in LotR, but I described my feeling about some characters who appear only briefly and fulfil only momentary roles, such as Radagast, and Tom, as if I was seeing them out of the corner of my eye, with peripheral vision. Apparently these are consistent with Jung’s theory of the MYTHAGO – residual folk memories. This is a fascinating insight into Tolkien’s creativity and its effect on us as it taps into our psyche. As an aside to this idea of playfulness attention was drawn to the was the secret Council is summoned by a loud bell! Attempts were made to seriously defend this, including the suggestion that secret meant in camera, not that that security in Rivendell was so bad that even the other Elves couldn’t be aware of the meeting.
We spent some time after this discussing some of the unexplored elements in LotR, and there are many. Our focus fixed on the ‘great black horseman’ that secures victory over Gondor at Osgiliath. My assumption that he was The Witch King, was examined more closely and found to be open to other, rather more thoughtful interpretations. The power of the Witch King was part of this examination and we found it took some time to analyse the way the Black Riders and their lord used their power to terrify. The quick version of the discussion was that their power was governed by the context in which they needed to use it.
It was observed that while everyone at the Council is heard and some characters have lengthy tales to tell of their race’s or land’s relationship to or interest in the Ring, only Frodo is closely questioned about his adventures. The Council seem to have to drag the details of his recent journey out of him, and his story is closely analysed and interrogated. We did not discuss the reasons for Frodo’s apparent reluctance to speak at length.
Gwaihir came into our field of vision briefly, when we were asked ‘is he being cheeky when he tells Gandalf he’s not come to carry burdens?’ We took on this question and thought he was asserting his own lordly status, and that he was one of the few characters who spoke to Gandalf with such candour. Saruman and Denethor are rude to him in their different ways, threatening and talking down to him Wormtongue is just insulting, but Gwaihir speaks as one lord to another, but not with the familiarity we hear between Gandalf and Aragorn.

We agreed to go on to the next chapter – The Ring Goes South – for our next meeting, which is 24th Sept. and is also the date of our Birthday Dinner. Hopefully no one will disappear!

6:38 AM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

This report is for 24th September:
We were somewhat late starting this meeting as 2 of us got distracted by the presence of Imperial stormtroopers in West Quay shopping centre. Not only did we arrive a little late, but we just had to share our experience of being interrogated. It’s not every day an Imperial stormtrooper demands to see the picture you have just taken on your mobile phone!
Following this gleeful digression into Star Wars and our encounter with the forces of the Dark Lord of the Empire, we had other things to catch up with.
Congratulations to Ian, our blogmeister, on his successful participation in the Great North Run.
Thanks to Laura for information about some Tolkien-related art.
On to our topic for the meeting: ‘The Ring Goes South’.
The relationship between Gandalf and Pippin was the matter first debated. It was not something I had taken on board, but we did realise that there is an interesting relationship between the two very different characters as Gandalf supports Pippin’s demand to be included in the fellowship, but ticks him off more than once when he does silly and ill-advised things. The relationship was likened to that between a gruff but affectionate grandfather and a spirited lad. It is a relationship worthy of further examination.
We then got into a long discussion about whether hobbits wear boots. Of course we know hobbits don’t generally wear anything on their feet, but it seemed unlikely that even their leathery soles and curly-haired insteps would cope with the harsh terrain and bitter temperatures of Caradhras. I remarked on Sam’s inclusion of woollen hose in his pack and wondered why he would take thick socks if he wasn’t wearing boots. It was discovered by (michel) delving into the Introduction and other places that hobbits do wear boots under certain circumstances. Legolas, on the other hand, never wears anything but light shoes, but then he skims over rather than trudging through the snow, and can do this on all sorts of ground.
Following this, the question was put ‘Is Boromir sulking in Rivendell while Aragorn and his Rangers, various Elves, and Elladan and Elrohir, are all off scouting the land for Ringwraiths and doing other useful preliminary things?’ Some of us were surprised at the question, but upon further consideration it did not seem so strange. Boromir had been used to being heir to the Stewardship of Gondor; suddenly being confronted with the Heir of Isildur and the Sword that was Broken must have been a shock. However, this was not the only suggestion made to explain his absence from the scouting parties, when he would have been a natural choice. I wondered if he was just resting after his exhausting journey, but this was a rather lame idea in comparison to the suggestion that he may have been already brooding over the Ring, what it meant, and what he believed it could do as a weapon, and the fact that everyone else was intent on leaving it in the hands of this obscure little halfling and throwing it away. We also noted that Boromir was the last member of the fellowship to be chosen, and its is Aragorn, rather than Elrond, who announces his inclusion. This was a very revealing topic to take on. It may not be resolvable but it maed us think.
Finally, it was pointed out that in the chapter under discussion red seems to be a significant colour. The Fellowship journey through a mostly monochrome environment, rocks, earth, mountains, black crebain, and a wintry climate – grey and dreary. Occasionally they come across the shining, but dark green, holly trees, and sometimes these provide the splash of red berries. The mountains too are sometimes suffused with red in the alpenglow of dawn or twilight. Suddenly, and quite briefly, however, as they try to leave Caradhras, Legolas tells them that the sun is away in the south walking among blue fields. The sudden impact of this mention of brilliant blue southern skies is quite startling in the story –the shock of the blue – and might repay more detailed consideration.
We agreed to continue reading the next chapter – A Journey in the Dark – not much blue sky in this one either, but what colours will we come across?
That ended our discussion but that was not the end of our being together on Saturday because we met up again at 7pm for a very convivial and hobbit-like Birthday Dinner in a little restaurant on the Waterside, close to the Forest. The date was chosen as the closest convenient date to The Birthday, and when we had reached the stage of ‘filling up the corners’ we raised our glasses and toasted ‘The Professor’. Thanks to our own Galadriel (Laura), for providing the Light of Earendil’s Star in small phials for those of us who had to brave the dark places of Hythe car park.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Rymenhild said...

Report for 8.10.05
We began with Julie’s response to our deliberations on Boromir’s lack of activity at Rivendell. With her customary sharpness she concurred with the suggestion that he was sulking for various reasons, and described him as The Incredible Sulk!
Moving on swiftly to The Journey in the Dark, we spent quite a while trying to work out what it was that Aragorn had experienced previously in Moria that made him so edgy, and so ‘prophetic’. Gandalf seems very enthusiastic about Moria, although it is the only option left and he might just be buoying everyone else up, but Aragorn is really gloomy. Various suggestions came to account for this. Maybe he had been lost for a while in the awful darkness. Maybe he had felt a sense of evil lurking unseen but quite uninterested in him. Whatever gave Aragorn the creeps, it had to be a really nasty experience to spook a Ranger! Ian suggested that it was the presence of the Ring on this journey that triggered whatever Aragorn had felt, because it hadn’t attacked him or Gandalf. The Watcher and the Balrog seemed uninterested in them until the Ring came in their company.
It also seems that Tolkien builds up the sense of threat, horror and evil by a series of hints, cryptic speeches, and allusions, everyone has a different experience or opinion, all almost all negative – a narrative device that certainly works!
As we discussed Aragorn’s experience in Moria, the great realm of the Dwarrowdelf was revealed as a kind of 3-dimesional maze as well as an alien environment for all races except dwarves. Laura suggested Tolkien’s experiences in the trenches of Flanders might contribute to dark and mazy aspect of Moria, while I added that it plays on the fear of entombment which has already been explored in the Barrow. This was expanded. The sense of entombment is enhanced by the Book found in the Chamber of Mazarbul with the words ‘we cannot get out’. It is significant that the dwarves cannot get out of their own most familiar environment.
In addition, I had just been re-reading Dean Slavic’s article, kindly sent to me before Aston 2005, on Katabasis and Anabasis in LotR. It discusses images of death and resurrection, but on the way, Dean points out that Moriah is the name of the land where the mountain stands on which Abraham intends to sacrifice his son Isaac. There are many echoes of biblical events in the Moria episode, including the demonic Balrog, as well as echoes of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ in the 7 levels, and Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ gives us Pandemonium, the city in hell (apologies to Gimli for likening the great city of Durin to hell, but it is when the Fellowship enter. Even a sense of Dante’s ‘abandon hope all ye who enter here’ is carried over into Aragorn’s statement after Gandlaf’s loss when he says ‘ What hope have we without you? … We must do without hope’.
Working backwards, we went on to discuss the attack of the wargs and wondered if the great warg ‘captain’ was one of the Nazgul. Only 8 seemed to be accounted for in the drowning, and Frodo and gandalf and Aragorn have noticed a ‘shadow’ pass over the stars.
This brought us to consider shadows – lots of them in the book, including the Balrog. We also discussed the matter of dwarf doors, and dwarvish secrecy, which led us on to the idea of a masonic society.
Next time we shall be at The Bridge of Khazad Dum, and I for one will be looking for a nice big Ranger to hide behind!

2:25 AM  

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