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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reading Group meeting 19/11/05

On this day....

'So the days slipped away.......autumn was waning fast...A wind began to blow chill from the Misty Mountains to the east. The Hunter's Moon waxed round in the night sky....'

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Ring goes South

1 Comments:

Blogger Rymenhild said...

19.11.05
We began the afternoon with a discussion on good and evil, although this was not the topic we had nominated! We were supposed to be talking about ‘choice’. A huge and complex topic, but of course, in the end, the choice between good and evil is fundamental to The Lord of the Rings. So we got there in the end.
On the way we agreed that there was no such thing as absolute evil in Tolkien’s work. Even Melkor was good to start with – the Lucifer of Tolkien’s mythology - so it cannot be argued that Tolkien gives a simplistic representation of good and evil, even if some critics have tried to make this point. Gollum may be nasty when we meet him, but he was not always so bad. The question I did not ask, although I should have, was ‘Is the Ring itself absolutely evil?’ I suspect the answer to this would also be ‘No, it is evil only on the scale of those who wield it or want it'. In Sam’s hand, it is seductive but his honest and devoted heart is not susceptible to the Ring. It has a corrupting influence of Boromir, but has none at all on Faramir – or at least he’s strong enough to withstand it.
We went on to our main topic after this and looked at CHOICE. Choices are very frequent in LotR. Everyone is confronted with the need to choose at some point in the story. There are major choices, and minor choices. Some choices are delayed – Aragorn isn’t good at choosing, or he feels he isn’t, and Frodo avoids making his choice about which way to go until Boromir forces the issue. So sometimes choices are forced on characters, as is the case with the choice between Caradhras, Moria, and the Gap of Rohan. From this we realised that choices are not always simple, there are a number of 3-way choices, as Gandalf finds in Moria. So it’s not just an easy choice between a good way and a bad way. Many choices require balancing known factors and unknown possibilities, but this brought us back to good and evil again.
It seems as though the choice to go through Moria is a bad one, but going over Caradhras was immediately and perceptibly worse, and going through the Gap of Rohan was not a viable choice, so the choice of Moria was forced and Gandalf was lost. A bad situation all round. But as Gandalf himself is fond of saying ‘it may have been better so’.
The frequent references to a guiding, overseeing power or destiny suggests that things that seem disastrous, or bad choices, may actually have good outcomes. I wondered how much Tolkien was influenced by Boethian philosophy [and someone has written an article about this, but I haven't read it]. Since Tolkien worked on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it seems likely that he also knew Chaucer’s translation of The Consolations of Philosophy by Boethius, in which Philosophy herself instructs the condemned philosopher to understand that what seem like evil chances in human life only seem so because humans cannot see them on the scale of Divine Providence, but on this scale, nothing is really evil. We didn't take this idea any further. It would involve tracing choices and decisions and other actions right through the book.
Getting into destiny and providence raised the problem of free will, which the captains of the West seem to exercise, as opposed to the absolute will of Sauron and to a lesser extent, of Saruman. We wondered then what happened to the hordes of orcs when Sauron fell – how did they cope without his overmastering will – but we concluded that orcs seem to have wills of their own, if the quarreling in Rohan and in the fight in the tower at Cirith Ungol is anything to go by!
The discussion topics made for quite an intense afternoon's thinking, and much remains that could be discussed on the topic of ‘choice’. A change of pace seemed like a good idea, so the next meeting on 3.12.05 will go on from where we left off in the sequence of chapters and we will read and discuss ‘LOTHLORIEN’ (the chapter). It has been suggested that for our final meeting of this session (17.12.05), we might take the topic of WATER, as symbol and in all its manifestations. That will be finally decided at the meeting on the 3rd, which is also the date for the Yule Feast.

2:22 AM  

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