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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Reading Group meeting 17/12/05

On this day....

'The Company of the Ring shall be Nine; and the Nine Walkers shall be set against the Nine Riders that are evil...'

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Ring goes South

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Blogger Rymenhild said...

This is a double blog report covering the last 2 meetings of 2005, the ones in December. Apologies for being so late with these updates; it is no reflection on the quality of discussion as I hope these reports will show!
For our first meeting in December we tackled the wonders of LOTHLORIEN, concentrating on the chapter of that name in The Fellowship. This seems like another pivotal chapter, like The Council of Elrond, and although we did not mention it, the chapters in which Elven realms are visited seem to share this particular significance in a kind of metafictional representation of the way the Elves influence and control much of what happens in Middle-earth even though this may remain hidden from all but a select few. The readers become included in this number via these illuminating chapters.
We noted that major character changes take place and characters are developed in unexpected ways. There is more foreshadowing of Boromir’s equivocal role, Gimli’s relationship with Legolas alters, another aspect of Aragorn’s character and biography is perceivable, and Gimli’s relationship with Galadriel takes on the dimensions of the purest form of courtly love. Her biography reveals her rebellious youth in contrast to her deep wisdom in the Third Age.
A 3-dimensional aspect to the progress of the Fellowship was noted. There is a distinct change of tone in the narration as the geography of the journey proceeds downwards after the climactic moment of Gandalf’s fall. This 3-dimensional effect included the descent into the pit of Moria, the escape, descent from the Door, then ascent into the trees of Lorien.
Several future echoes are included in this journey: Firstly Mirrormere that reflects only the stars of Durin’s crown prefigures Galadriel’s mirror. The lack of reflection in the Mirromere, it was suggested, probably has less to do with the occult than with the configuration of the shoreline, nevertheless, onlookers do not see what they might expect or hope. Secondly, the straggling of Frodo and Sam was taken to prefigure the later breaking of the Fellowship
We also noted at this point in the story that Sam remains primarily the ‘invisible’ servant and does not undergo significant change, even his wound is overlooked, but then so is Frodo’s – this was taken as a sign of Aragorn’s undeveloped kingship skills at this point – he has not yet learned how to observe the needs of his subjects as well as his own ‘mission’ and grief.
He does continue his kingly healing powers, however, when he tends Frodo and reveals the mithril shirt. This moment leads to changing terms of reference as Frodo is first likened to an elven princeling and then to a prey animal. It is an unsettling moment as it reveals the range of perceptions that dictate Frodo's treatment and prefigures the underlying construction of Frodo in the story: in spite of his external appearance and 'respectable' and quite erudite status, he is always a hunted creature, hunted by Ringwraiths and their master, but even as an elven princeling he would be prey to the forces of evil in Mordor. Although Aragorn’s revelation is masked under the rhythms of our familiar ‘Bye Baby Bunting’ nursery rhyme, this serves merely to increase the pathos of the juxtaposition between the ‘hunted’ allusions, the price of high status, and the comforting familiarity.

Report of the second meeting in December which took WATER as its topic. We found a good deal of water everywhere in LotR and noted that it was usually part of a monochromatic ‘pallette’ in the descriptions of places such as Rivendell, Moria, and the Great River. Its sounds were a major part of any description, and its aesthetic quality is emphasised when it is linked with the Elves. It is often a boundary, and may be cleansing, but may also be contaminated and dangerous to touch – as the pool at the West Door of Moria is. It is seen as protective at Rivendell especially when it rushes down on the Ringwraiths, and in this sequence the monochromatic landscape is abruptly disturbed by Frodo’s dim awareness of the red flames of the torches. This splash of colour was taken to signify Frodo’s returning spirit, or the final flourish of that spirit.
We discussed who controlled the Bruinen and thought Ulmo had contact with Elrond through his pervasive presence as the Vala of water. This suggests the sacred in connection with water, and the Forbidden Pool was seen as having a similar sacred aura even if this was not the actual purpose of the interdiction on it. The Argonath could not perhaps be regarded as sacred in the same spiritual sense but is a watery boundary which has a kind of sacred significance to Aragorn as a memorial to his ancient lineage.
The beneficial aspects of water – cleansing, refreshing, healing, and sacred in various ways can be contrasted with the negative depictions of water. Apart from the pool at Moria’s West Door, other forms of still water, as distinct from flowing water, are consistently negative. The Marish, or marshland of the Shire, the Midgewater marshes, and the Dead Marshes show a developing sense of threat associated with stagnant water.
The most surprising negative form of water seems to be the sea, perhaps because it is unbounded, uncontained, uncontrollable - a reflection of the wild. It is also particularly associated with exile in the minds of the Elves and hence with the loss of ancient beauty and culture in Middle-earth, as well as the loss of a form of protection as the wisdom of the Elves is withdrawn.
Among other negative associations we noted Saruman harnessing water for his machines of war and the alteration of the Mill, but most negative, of course, is the absence of water in the parched wastelands of Mordor. It seems as though the presence of water in any form, even stagnant and murky, allows for some hope to remain, but the absence of water signals an absence of hope which only indomitable spirit can endure.

I forgot to ask what everyone wanted to tackle next, and so reading on from the chapter on Lothorien seems like a sensible way to go.
OUR NEXT SET OF MEETINGS ARE AS FOLLOWS [and thanks to Diane for this timetable]:
Jan 14 and 28
Feb 11 and 25
March 11 and 25
April 8 and 22 (the 8th is the TS AGM [thanks to Laura for alerting me to this] but there will be a Southfarthing meeting for those, like me, who can’t get to Canterbury)
May 13 and 27
June 10 and 24.
See you there!

4:07 AM  

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